It was a historic weekend for sumo in Japan as the first-ever Wanpaku national championships for elementary school-age girls took place at Okudo Sogo Sports Center in Tokyo’s Katsushika Ward on Sunday.
Previously, girls who had won through regional qualifying events were unable to take part in the national finals as that event is held in the Ryogoku Kokugikan — a venue that does not allow women onto its dohyō (ring).
Girls in grades four to six competed in the day-long event which was live-streamed on YouTube with commentary from Japanese national team members Miku Yamanaka and Kon Hiyori.
All competitors fought in the same uniform: a mawashi over spandex shorts and tournament-issued T-shirt (color coded by year.) As with all Wanpaku competitions, event staff ringed the dohyō to ensure no hard landings on falls from the raised surface.
Another similarity with the original boys’ version of the finals was the bestowing of the title of yokozuna on each grade’s winner.
Shinka Shimabukuro from Okinawa became the first-ever sixth grade holder of the title, while Chiaki Kajiwara took home the fourth-grade title and Ria Ishibashi won the fifth-grade prize.
In total, 180 girls from all over the country took places in the finals, and that number is sure to grow year by year.
With a junior and senior world championships for women now firmly established, increasing the number of girls and women in the sport is paramount if sumo is to achieve its long-held dream of becoming an Olympic sport.