A female mayor’s request to deliver a speech from inside a dohyō (sumo ring) was denied Friday in the wake of an incident earlier this week that brought the sport’s rules on gender into the international spotlight.
Takarazuka Mayor Tomoko Nakagawa had asked the organizer of a Friday sumo exhibition in the Hyogo Prefecture city to let her deliver a speech from the ring, but the organizer said no after consulting with the Japan Sumo Association, officials in the municipal office and the local organizing committee said.
The organizing committee cited the long-standing sumo tradition banning women from entering the “sacred” ring, which is often criticized as gender discrimination. Critics say the tradition is based on Shinto and Buddhist beliefs that women are “unclean” because of menstrual blood.
Nakagawa’s request is sure to further fuel the debate over the tradition in Japan’s national sport that many call sexist.
Her request came after she learned that Maizuru Mayor Ryozo Tatami made remarks from a sumo ring at a similar event in the Kyoto Prefecture city on Wednesday. Tatami’s speech was cut short when he suddenly collapsed due to a cerebral hemorrhage, prompting several women — including a nurse — to rush into the ring to perform first aid. But a referee asked the women to leave the ring because of the tradition.
The Maizuru incident became a hot topic in Japan and overseas, rekindling debate over gender discrimination in the exclusive sumo world.
“It’s very frustrating that I cannot (deliver a speech) within the dohyo although I’m a mayor. It’s just because I’m a woman,” Nakagawa said in a speech from outside the ring, according to Kyodo News. “It’s important to have courage to change what should be changed while maintaining traditions.”
When contacted by The Japan Times earlier in the day, Tomotaka Kinoshita, an official at the mayor’s office, said the mayor’s message was that public officials, be they male or female, should be allowed to make remarks from the same place.
Yusuke Ikeuchi, an official with the sumo event’s organizing committee in Takarazuka, told The Japan Times by phone that the committee made the decision to ask the mayor “to refrain from” entering the ring after consulting with the Japan Sumo Association.
Ikeuchi emphasized that it was the committee, not the association, that made the decision. But the committee also knew that the association in general wants to avoid having girls and women enter the “sacred” ring if possible because of “god-related ceremonies.”
The committee took that thinking into account when making its decision, Ikeuchi added.
A spokesman for the Japan Sumo Association declined to comment when contacted by The Japan Times, saying the public relations section does not have any knowledge of how the association responded to the inquiry from the organizing committee.
None of the women who rushed to help the Maizuru mayor on Wednesday has been identified as of Friday.
But according to Masanobu Iio, a Maizuru city official, one of them identified herself as a nurse when she rushed into the ring.
The woman, who had been seated in the audience, asked officials on the scene if it was OK for her to enter the ring and such permission was granted, said Yasuo Shikata, the head of the event’s organizing committee in Maizuru.
“There was no problem as far as people on the scene were concerned,” Shikata said by phone, adding that he himself believes the rule should eventually be changed so that women would be allowed to enter the ring at least on some occasions.
But as the first aid efforts were underway, the sumo referee could be heard repeatedly asking all women to stay out of the ring.
Iio said he heard the nurse wonder aloud why such an announcement was being made when people were attempting to save a man’s life.
Shikata said the committee thanked the woman and asked if it could publicize her name. But she declined, saying what she did was “a matter of course” and that she wants to be left alone.
On Wednesday, the Japan Sumo Association issued an apology, saying the referee’s announcement was inappropriate and that it deeply thanks the women who rushed to offer help.