Sumo

Sumo 101: Impact of tourism

by John Gunning

Contributing Writer

Sumo’s popularity abroad has exploded over the past few years.

That’s due in large part to recent changes making it possible to watch bouts in real time.

A greater level of awareness of sumo has caused a spike in tourist demand for access to the sport. Visiting a tournament or watching training is increasingly on the to-do list of visitors to Japan.

With tourism figures on the rise as a result of the government’s efforts to have foreign visitors reach 40 million annually by 2020, that’s something which won’t change anytime soon.

The effects, however, haven’t all been positive.

The ability to watch sumo training has been most affected. Fifteen or 20 years ago it was simply a matter of calling up a stable the night before to arrange a viewing, but nowadays many, if not most, do not grant access to the general public.

Guidebooks, travel sites and companies offering guided tours are the main culprits.

Whether it’s writing that anyone can just show up and walk into a stable or charging large groups of visitors for access on the pretense that they have connections to, or represent stables, unscrupulous organizations are directly responsible for sumo becoming less open and a negative image of foreigners being cemented in the minds of many inside sumo.

Watching training involves sitting in silence cross-legged on the floor for several hours. It’s wholly unsuitable for young children or most elderly people, but a lack of honesty by people claiming to be guides about what viewing practice involves or a failure to inform visitors about the etiquette required, has led to people bringing in crying infants, talking, eating and drinking during practice and complaining about there being no chairs or bathroom facilities.

Rather than put up with such distractions and annoyances stables tend to change their policies and limit access to just the media or people with connections.

If things continue at the current rate only a handful of stables may still be open to foreign visitors by the time the 2020 Olympics arrive.