Japanese bullfighting organizers said Saturday they had lifted a long-standing ban on women entering the “sacred” ring in a bid to modernize the traditional activity.
Sumo wrestling has recently come under fire for strict religion-linked rules that prohibit women from entering the dohyō (ring), which is considered a sacred place.
In tōgyū bullfighting, women were similarly barred from the ring, which is ritually purified before matches with salt and sake. But on Friday, organizers lifted the prohibition and allowed female bull owner Yuki Araki to lead her animal into the ring in Yamakoshi, Niigata Prefecture, after a fight on the opening day of the season.
“Equality for men and women is a trend of the times,” said Katsushi Seki, an official with the Yamakoshi bullfighting organization.
“By opening the ring to women, we hope this traditional bullfighting will continue far into the future,” Seki said.
Unlike Spanish-style bullfighting, which ends with a matador slaying the animal, togyu is a bloodless match between two bulls locking horns, with great pains taken to ensure the animals do not gore each other.
“I’m glad that local people openly welcomed us,” bull owner Yuki Araki, 44, told NHK.
Sumo entered the spotlight after women, including at least one nurse, were shooed out of the ring last month as they tried to assist a man inside who was having with a medical emergency.
Days after that incident triggered scathing national and international headlines, a female mayor in Takarazuka, Hyogo Prefecture, was barred from delivering a speech from inside a sumo ring.
Sumo bosses then came under further criticism after trying to prevent girls from participating in a children’s sumo event in Shizuoka Prefecture, citing unspecified “safety concerns.”