This week’s featured article


A controversy over gender discrimination in sumo flared up again earlier this month when a referee urged two women to stay out of the ring as they tried to assist an official who was unconscious.

The sumo world has long maintained that the ring is a sacred place and that women cannot enter, in a tradition often criticized as discrimination.

Mayor Ryozo Tatami, 66, was delivering a speech in the ring, in Maizuru, Kyoto Prefecture, on Wednesday when he collapsed due to a subarachnoid hemorrhage. He was later rushed to a hospital and underwent surgery. His condition is stable and not life-threatening, one of his secretaries told The Japan Times on Thursday morning.

The referee’s announcement, aired through loudspeakers at the gymnasium, rekindled public criticism and prompted Japan Sumo Association Chairman Hakkaku to later issue a statement of apology.

“The referee was upset and made the announcement, but it was an inappropriate response because the situation could have been life-threatening,” Hakkaku said in the statement. “We extend a deep apology.” He also said the association “deeply thanks the women for giving first-aid treatment.”

Video of the event was repeatedly aired on TV shows Thursday morning, showing several people rushing to help the mayor, including at least two women. Several commentators on different channels argued that the referee should not have urged the women to leave the ring. Numerous people also criticized the sumo tradition on social media outlets.

This is not the first time that the tradition banning women from entering the “sacred” area has come under fire. In 2000, then-Osaka Gov. Fusae Ota asked the sumo association to allow her to enter the ring so she could present the winner’s cup at a local tournament, but the association rejected the request. Ota argued that the tradition should be changed if the sumo association wants to win more fans, including women.

Sumo is linked to Shinto ceremonies and matches are often considered offerings to gods. Critics say the rule banning women stems from traditional Shinto and Buddhist beliefs that women are “impure” because of menstrual blood.

First published in The Japan Times on April 6.

Warm up

One-minute chat about Japanese traditions.


Collect words related to women, e.g., girl, equality, female.

New words

1) sacred: holy, e.g., This statue is sacred to Buddhists.

2) rekindle: be revive, e.g., The new movie rekindled interest in the franchise.

Guess the headline

Women tending to collapsed m_ _ _ _ told to stay out of ‘sa _ _ _ _’ sumo ring


1) What happened to the mayor?

2) Why are woman banned from the ring?

3) How did the Japan Sumo Association react to criticism?

Let’s discuss the article

1) Have you ever experienced gender discrimination?

2) What do you think about the sumo issue?

3) What, if anything, do you think needs to change regarding the tradition/gender issue?




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