Wash Post & BBC: “Japan gets first sumo champion in 19 years”. Really? What oddly racist triumphalism from foreign press!


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Hi Blog.  We have a really weird conceit going on in the foreign press (see Washington Post and BBC below) regarding sumo wrestler Kisenosato’s rise to yokozuna, the highest rank.  (Congratulations, and well done, by the way.)  They are portraying it as “Japan’s first sumo champion of 19 years.”

Well, guess what, guys.  Wrong.  Japan has had other sumo champions in the 19 years, as you mention.  Hakuho, Harumafuji and Kakuryu.  There as also (oddly disgraced and scapegoatedAsashoryu as well.  Yes, they were born in Mongolia.  But guess what.  Who cares?

If you do care, does that mean you are subscribing to the racist theory (widely held in Japan, anyway, dating from the days of Akebono and Musashimaru) that because they aren’t Japanese, they don’t count as “real” sumo champions?  (Both Akebono and Musashimaru are naturalized Japanese, by the way, and were when they were yokozuna less than 19 years ago.  How ignorant of you not to mention that.)

Or are you subscribing to the tenet, as the Sumo Association does, that even naturalized Japanese sumo wrestlers don’t count as Japanese?

Or are you subscribing to the tenets, as expressed by racist fans below, that sumo has somehow “lost something” because foreign-born wrestlers rose to the top?  Is sumo an ethno-sport?  The Sumo Association tried to make it into into an Olympic event, by the way.  And would that mean if Japanese do not medal, as happens in Japan-originated events such as Judo, that the event has “lost something”?

Foreign reporters, kindly don’t racialize the sport with these types of headlines and reports.  Herald the athletes for their physical prowess regardless of origin.  Because you know better.  Articles like these wouldn’t fly if you were writing about a sport in your home country.  Imagine England claiming (and you reporting as such) that soccer has no real champion every time it doesn’t win a World Cup!  Don’t succumb to a racist narrative just because it comes from Japan.  Dr. ARUDOU, Debito


After 19 long years, Japan has a grand champion of sumo once more
By Anna Fifield. The Washington Post, January 25, 2017

TOKYO — After decades of scandals and humiliation at the hands of Mongolian wrestlers, sumo finally has Japanese grand champion again.

Kisenosato, a 30-year-old, 385-pound wrestler, was promoted Wednesday to the rank of yokozuna, the first time a Japanese competitor has been elevated to the highest tier in sumo in 19 years.

“The position of yokozuna is proof of much hard work and he’ll need to continue to work hard and protect the position like hell,” Nobuyoshi Hakkaku, chairman of the Japan Sumo Association, told reporters when announcing the promotion.

Japan’s national sport has been in decline in recent years, partly the result of a generational shift towards sports like baseball, partly because of the health issues associated with the heft needed to wrestle, and partly because of the increasing dominance of foreigners.

All three of the current yokozuna, whose ranks Kisenosato now joins, come from Mongolia. Competitors from Brazil, Russia, China and even Hawaii have also been doing well in past years.

So Kisenosato electrified Japan at the weekend when he won the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament, recording 14 wins and only one loss.

Usually, a wrestler is promoted to yokozuna after winning two tournaments, but the Yokozuna Deliberation Council Monday recommended that Kisenosato be elevated to the top rank after only one victory.

The Japan Sumo Association concurred Wednesday, making Kisenosato the first Japanese wrestler to be promoted to grand champion since Wakanohana in 1998.

“Kisenosato to end long drought of Japan-born yokozuna,” a headline in the Asahi newspaper declared. “Hopes are rising that this new Japanese yokozuna will reinvigorate the world of sumo,” a writer said in the Nikkei Asian Review.

Kisenosato had something of a reputation for fragility, failing to come through high-pressure matches on many occasions. But at the tournament on Sunday, something felt different, he said.

“I was not excessively tense and was able to fight while keeping my calm,” he told Japanese reporters. “In addition to my own power, I felt that some different power was working.”

Indeed, Kisenosato has set another record: It took him 89 rounds of tournaments to become yokozuna, the slowest record in modern sumo history. And his victory Sunday came only after two Mongolian yokozuna pulled out of the tournament.

Some worry that Kisenosato has been promoted too quickly or that rules were bent to allow him to reach grand champion status.

“I like Kisenosato. Of course I want to see a Japanese yokozuna! And I believe his stable results in the past six tournaments were wonderful,” Ebizo, a renowned and outspoken kabuki actor, wrote on his blog this week. “But he became yokozuna with only one tournament win. I wonder if this could be an attempt to produce a Japanese yokozuna after such a long time.”

Yuki Oda contributed to this report.



Japan gets first sumo champion in 19 years
BBC, 25 January 2017, courtesy of JDG

Japan has formally named its first home-grown sumo grand champion in almost two decades, in a boost to the traditional wrestling sport.

Kisenosato, 30, was promoted to the top-most yokozuna rank after his win in the first tournament of the year.

He is the first Japanese-born wrestler to make it since Wakanohana in 1998. Five wrestlers from American Samoa and Mongolia have made it in the interim.

Foreign wrestlers have come to dominate sumo, amid a lack of local recruits.

Kisenosato, who comes from Ibaraki to the north of Tokyo and weighs 178kg (392 pounds), has been an ozeki – the second-highest rank – since 2012.

After being runner-up on multiple occasions, he finally clinched his first tournament victory – and thereby his promotion to yokozuna – in the first competition of 2017.

“I accept with all humility,” Kisenosato said in a press conference after the Japan Sumo Association formally approved him.

“I will devote myself to the role and try not to disgrace the title of yokozuna.”

What is sumo?
PHOTO: Wakanohana (R) competes against Akebono (L) at the Sumo Basho in Vancouver (file image)Image copyrightAFP
PHOTO: Wakanohana (R), seen here fighting Hawaiian Akebono, was the last Japanese wrestler to be promoted to yokozuna

Japan’s much-loved traditional sport dates back hundreds of years.

Two wrestlers face off in an elevated circular ring and try to push each other to the ground or out of the ring.

There are six tournaments each year in which each wrestler fights 15 bouts.

Wrestlers, who traditionally go by one fighting name, are ranked and the ultimate goal is to become a yokozuna.

Many Japanese fans will be pleased to see a local wrestler back at the top of a sport regarded as a cultural icon.

As yokuzuna, Kisenosato, whose real name is Yutaka Hagiwara, joins three other wrestlers in sumo’s ultimate rank – Hakuho, Harumafuji and Kakuryu.

The trio all come from Mongolia, following a path forged by sumo bad-boy Asashoryu, who was Mongolia’s first yokozuna in 2003.

The last Japanese-born wrestlers to reach the top were brothers Takanohana and Wakanohana, who made it to yokozuna in 1994 and 1998 respectively.

In recent years, sumo has been hit by falling numbers of Japanese recruits, partly because it is seen as a tough, highly regimented life.

Young sumo wrestlers train in tightly-knit “stables” where they eat, sleep and practise together and are sometimes subjected to harsh treatment in the belief that it will toughen them up.

In 2009, a leading coach was jailed for six years for ordering wrestlers to beat a young trainee who later died, in a case that shocked the nation.

Those at the top of the sport are also expected to be role models, showing honour and humility – and can be criticised if they get it wrong.

Mongolian wrestler Asashoryu led the sport for many years, but sumo elders were troubled by some of his behaviour

Sumo must also compete with the rising popularity of football and baseball, which have vibrant leagues that draw crowds of young Japanese fans.

But the sport is attractive to wrestlers from other nations, who can earn a good living. Wrestlers have come from Estonia, Bulgaria, Georgia, China, Hawaii and Egypt, as well as Mongolia and American Samoa.

As a child, Kisenosato was a pitcher in his school’s baseball club before he chose to train as a wrestler at a stable in Tokyo.

He made his debut in 2002 and, reported Japan’s Mainichi newspaper, the 73 tournaments he took to become a yokozuna are the most by any wrestler since 1926.

Speaking to reporters after the tournament victory on Monday that sealed his elevation, Kisenosato said he was pleased to be holding the Emperor’s Cup trophy at last.

“I’ve finally got my hands on it and the sense of pleasure hasn’t changed,” he said. “It’s hard to put into words but it has a nice weight to it.”



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4 comments on “Wash Post & BBC: “Japan gets first sumo champion in 19 years”. Really? What oddly racist triumphalism from foreign press!

  • “Japan’s national sport has been in decline in recent years…partly because of the increasing dominance of foreigners.”

    This should be a point for the reporter to reflect on how deep-seated institutionalized racism in the sport and Japan in general is, but is instead treated as a completely normal and natural train of events beyond reproach or question. What an embarassment for the paper.

  • Made me sick when I saw this on TV. Completely downplays the rest of the sumo players who aren’t from Japan. I would suggest a total abandonment of the sport and let it rot

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    Well, this is clearly a novel concept for the Japanese;
    The Law applies equally to all!
    But they are blown away that Trumps executive order affects Darvish and his father who both have dual Japanese/Iranian citizenship!


    See, I’m not famous so I wouldn’t be allowed.

    Also, how ‘very Japan’ to make such a song and dance about Trumps protectionism, racism, and nationalism whilst having turned a blind eye to Japan’s.

  • I was expecting a ban on foreigners in sumo as it happened for Ekiden marathon.
    Anyway I would not consider Sumo or Ekiden as sport events , but rather folkloristic events, like Yasukuni gatherings. In this way it makes sense.


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