National / Social Issues

Female mayor takes battle to Japan Sumo Association over its barring of women from entering ring

AFP-JIJI

A female mayor at the center of a fierce debate over allowing women into the sumo ring vowed Thursday never to back down as she prepared to lodge a formal protest with the Japan Sumo Association.

“I won’t give up this time around. … I’m determined to make a petition every six months,” said Takarazuka City Mayor Tomoko Nakagawa before taking her case to sumo authorities in Tokyo.

“I want them never to leave this issue ambiguous. I want the association to hear this voice clearly and start a debate” on the practice of denying women entry into the ring.

Nakagawa later held a 30-minute meeting with senior JSA officials to urge them to treat men and women equally at ceremonies and events.

The officials told her the ban on women entering the ring was “tradition but not discrimination,” and promised to discuss the issue at a meeting of executive officials, Nakagawa told reporters after the closed-door meeting.

Nakagawa said the officials were “sincere” and “gentle” but she also felt a “strong” determination to respect the status quo.”

The association was not immediately available for comment.

The issue made headlines nationally and internationally when several women, including at least one nurse, rushed into a sumo ring in the city of Maizuru, Kyoto Prefecture, after a local mayor collapsed while giving a speech.

As the women attempted to give medical assistance to the mayor, multiple announcements were made over loudspeakers asking them to leave the ring.

According to tradition, the ring — called a dohyo in Japanese — is considered sacred and women are not allowed to enter. Sumo is closely interlinked with Shinto, which considers females to be ritually unclean.

Nakagawa called the situation discriminatory.

“While emphasizing sumo’s prestige and its being the ‘national’ sport, they are ousting women to promote nationalism,” she said.

She has battled for the right to make speeches from the sumo ring, something her male counterparts have regularly done.

Earlier this month, Nakagawa slammed the ban in a speech she was forced to deliver from a podium located outside the ring.

“I’m a female mayor but I am a human being … because I am a woman, despite being a mayor, I cannot make a speech in the ring.”

“It is regrettable and mortifying,” she said, drawing cheers from the crowd.

Two days later, a male mayor delivered a speech from inside a ring.

After the incident in Maizuru, the head of the sumo association apologized over the women providing medical assistance having been ordered to leave the ring, describing it as “an inappropriate act” in a situation that involved someone’s life.

But the association soon after sparked more controversy when an official with the sports governing body asked that girls be barred from participating in another sumo event for school-age children, citing “safety concerns.”

“Sumo is not for people with a specific religion. It is a national sport,” stressed Nakagawa.

“I can’t understand why it is only the sumo world that refuses to change, or is even going backwards,” she added.

“This is the beginning of a battle … Men deliver speeches on the dohyo and women do it from below — this is embarrassing,” she added.