The Japan Sumo Association is putting its considerable weight behind the 2020 Tokyo Games as it looks to use the international extravaganza to promote the country’s national sport.
On Tuesday at the famed Ryogoku Kokugikan in Tokyo, the JSA formally announced plans for Grand Sumo, a special two-day exhibition to be held on Aug. 12-13 between the Olympics and Paralympics.
The two-day tournament, which will replace the jungyō (regional tour) that is traditionally held between July’s Nagoya Basho and September’s Autumn Basho, will consist of a tournament on each day with the winners to face off at the end of Day 2.
“During the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, people from all over the world will be focused on Tokyo and Japanese culture will receive unprecedented interest,” JSA Chairman Hakkaku said. “We hope that Grand Sumo will enhance friendship with the world and contribute to international cultural exchange.”
Touting the success of previous Olympic-related sumo activities held under the banner of the Beyond 2020 Program, a series of events intended to leverage Tokyo 2020’s legacy to promote Japanese culture, officials emphasized that the August exhibition would be used to showcase the sport to a global and diverse audience.
“It will be a great opportunity for all people, including those outside Japan, to know the wonderful and exciting aspects of Japan’s national sport, sumo,” said Tokyo 2020 Vice President Toshiaki Endo.
“It will also be a friendly event for those with physical disabilities, and I’m sure it will offer positive momentum heading into the Paralympic Games.”
Speaking as chairman of the wrestler’s association, yokozuna Kakuryu called it “an honor” to welcome Olympic and Paralympic fans to Tokyo, saying in English that, “We will try our best to introduce sumo to a global audience and show omotenashi hospitality to them.”
According to officials, arena announcements during Grand Sumo will be made in both English and Japanese, and attendees will have chances to mingle with wrestlers and take photos together. Non-wrestling roles such as hairdressers, announcers and referees will also be highlighted.
“We want people to know that you cannot have Japanese culture without sumo culture,” said Takeo Hirata, director-general of the Office for the Promotion of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games. “It’s important that we share that culture not only in Japanese but also in English.”
Both Endo and Hirata stressed the importance of creating a barrier-free environment at the Kokugikan, especially with Japan’s accessibility a focus ahead of the Paralympics.
“Many people had difficulties entering the arena (during previous Olympic-related sumo events), so when young wrestlers helped them into the arena they were grateful that these rikishi were able to show such hospitality,” said Hirata. “Japan is working on offering support to those with accessibility issues, and I think this event will be important toward realizing those goals.”
Asked which Olympic sport he was looking forward to watching, Kakuryu expressed his desire to watch the United States men’s basketball team in person. Fellow yokozuna Hakuho hopes to see Olympic wrestling, the sport in which his father, Jigjidiin Monkhbat, earned a silver medal in freestyle for Mongolia at the 1968 Mexico City Games.
Ozeki Takakeisho said he hoped to see the boxing tournament, which is scheduled to take place at Ryogoku Kokugikan.
“I enter the ring here every day during tournaments and I’d like to see other athletes fight in this arena,” the 2018 Kyushu Grand Sumo Tournament champion added.