Sumo has courted quite a bit of controversy in the past year. After the whole debacle of a wrestler attacking a younger rival with a bottle last year, there was that legendary moment a month ago when a number of women were ordered out of the ring by the announcer at Osaka's Grand Tournament when they jumped in to help a mayor who had collapsed mid-speech. In the announcer's POV, dojo (ring) purity takes precedence and should be observed at all times. The Sumo Association apologised afterwards, but alas.
This year's 'Female Only Sumo Grand Tournament' is even more poignant in this light. Started back in 1991, the 27th edition was held on Sunday May 13, with 60 female wrestlers participating. It's an 'unofficial', amateur tournament as women aren't allowed into the ring; it impossible to imagine the Sumo Association ever awarding the event, and female sumo wrestling in general, professional status.
That didn't stop the women, however. The event is held annually in Fukushimamachi, Hokkaido on Mother's Day, and attracts both domestic and foreign wrestlers. A local shrine dedicated to women was the location of the first tournament, and thus, even the priests have a tacit approval of the female-only tournament. The head priest told the Mainichi Shimbun that 'although only men can enter the ring in professional sumo tournaments, we have established the fine culture of women's sumo. But the two shouldn't be easily compared.'
Similar to their male professional counterparts, women take on a ceremonial wrestling name, often a humorous riff on traditional names ending in -maru or -yama. Names this year included 'Tonkatsu-maru' ('fried cutlet'), 'Onigiriyama' ('rice ball mountain') and 'Manpuku-maru' ('full stomach'). The winner was once again 23-year old 'Mako Deluxe-yama', aka Mako Nishiyama, from Tokyo, who managed to hold on to her win last year.
Considering the debate on whether or not women ought to be allowed in the ring has been rekindled, the bets are on whether female sumo will become a big (and official) hit in the years to come.
Photo courtesy of Hirameshunin