The article “Banning women from the dohyō: Sexism or tradition?” in the May 1 edition quotes Chizuko Ueno of the University of Tokyo making an odd special plea.
Women, we learned recently, are forbidden to enter sumo’s “sacred” dohyō (ring) because they are ritually “impure.” Quotation marks were correctly placed around the two words. Both have special meaning only because the Japan Sumo Association says so.
Ueno doesn’t like foreigners drawing inferences from the spectacle of a sumo referee telling a woman to get out of the “sacred” ring while she’s trying to save a man’s life.
The professor objects to overseas media calling the incident “a sign of women’s relatively low social status in male-dominated Japan.” She calls this “Orientalist”—stereotyping Japan as exotic and inferior.
We don’t have to regard Japan as either exotic or inferior to see that the Japan Sumo Association discriminates against women: a sign of their low status.
The dohyō is both a physical setting and, in the minds of JSA members, a symbolic “sacred” site. As the latter, it is forbidden to women because they menstruate.
Ueno doesn’t want to see the incident as “a symbol of the social discrimination against women in Japan.” But it is a symbol. It’s part and parcel of other types of discrimination against women. It should be easy for women, even a sociologist, to understand this. Do Japanese women really believe they are ritually “unclean” because they menstruate?
The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.