Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE column 105: “Media, stop normalizing sumo as an ethno-sport”, Monday, Feb 20, 2017


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Thanks to readers for putting this in the Top Ten most-read JT articles for two days in a row!  — Debito


Foreign coverage of the new Yokozuna Kisenosato is embedding racism
By Debito Arudou
Just Be Cause Column 105 for the Japan Times Community Page
Monday, February 20, 2017


I know that by now this is old news (blame press holidays and timely Trump articles), but congratulations to Kisenosato last month for ascending to yokozuna, sumo wrestling’s highest rank. After all your efforts, well done.

So what does JBC have to say about it? Nothing to diminish that achievement, of course. But let’s consider how the event echoed overseas. Here are some headlines from prominent news outlets:

BBC: “Japan gets first sumo champion in 19 years”

Washington Post: “After 19 long years, Japan has a grand champion of sumo once again.”

New York Times: “For the first time in years, Japan boasts a sumo grand champion.”

The Guardian: “Kisenosato becomes Japan’s first homegrown sumo champion in 19 years.”

Even our own JT: “Kisenosato becomes first Japanese-born yokozuna in almost two decades.”

Hmm. At least three of those headlines make it seem like Japan hasn’t had a Japanese yokozuna – or any yokozuna – for nearly two decades.

That’s false. We’ve had five yokozuna (Musashimaru, Asashoryu, Hakuho, Harumafuji, and Kakuryu) since 1998.

Unless they’re referring to the fact that the last four champions have been Mongolian, not Japanese. But that means they don’t count?

Then what about Musashimaru? He’s a naturalized Japanese, and was one (as the Japan Times duly noted) when he became yokozuna in 1999.

So he’s not counted because he’s not a “real” Japanese? Apparently. That’s why the JT and Guardian slipped in qualifiers like “homegrown” and “Japan-born”. As if that matters.

It shouldn’t. Except to racists.

And it matters in Japan because of the embedded racism of the sport…

Read the rest at



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11 comments on “Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE column 105: “Media, stop normalizing sumo as an ethno-sport”, Monday, Feb 20, 2017

  • Yeah, the story that the international media should have run was;
    “Japanese xenophobia denies identity of every sumo champion for last 19 years.”

    Kind of puts a whole different take on it, doesn’t it?

  • Loverilakkuma says:

    The article seems like a re-emergence of cultural hypocrisy over discourse of racism in Japan. It’s not something new, and I guess some of us (including myself) are getting so sick and tired of iconic idiocracy that can be carved out from arguments of “Wajin privilege or Japanese-ness.(In other words, arguments are so flawed that people have little difficulty in identifying the key players for perpetrating racist discourse.) One thing I found out about the discourse of racism is that many critics and western pundits left out the foreign subjects or agents as part of key players in shaping/reshaping deliberation on race discourse, just because they are outside the soil. That has been bothering me for a long time. I was even pissed at some point when some people in the blog accused me of being pseudo-occidentalist by providing foreign examples to interconnect with Japanese context for critical venues.

    Because such choice among many pundits to portray Japanese society as product of cultural endogeny strikes the false perception of uniqueness that smacks cynicism at us on the head: Japanese social problems cannot be fixed or alleviated because they are product of cultural endogeny that blocks any ideas coming from outside its national soil. So, why not leave it as it is and let it fixed by Japanese?” (Do these line strike you?) This type of thinking is exactly what mirrors the apathetic attitude of people (both Japanese and non-Japanese) who say sarcastically, “if you don’t like Japan, then, why don’t you go back to your home country?”

    I don’t disagree with people saying Japan is a unique democratic society. But that doesn’t mean that they are unparalleled or impenetrable because it is unique in so many ways. I think it’s right time to shift our focus–or expand our scope to key players outside the Japanese soil for critiquing discourse of race/gender/culture in Japanese society.

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    Given that sumo has seen a string of scandals in recent years, I would be surprised if the new ‘ethnically Japanese’ sumo champion was promoted to Yokozuna just because the racist old codgers running sumo can’t stomach Mongolia born top-dogs in their sport!
    The guy’s just lost 3 times in a row, whilst the Mongolia-born Japanese are coming off their 9th straight wins!


    • Loverilakkuma says:

      I’m also curious how media will respond to his buddy Takayasu, who is a half-Japanese and a half-Pilipino, when he gets promoted to ozeki next month.

    • Andrew in Saitama says:

      I thought that the promotion was premature – the very arbitrary “or equivalent” rule coming into play. (The same kind of decision that prevented Konishiki getting the yokozuna promotion. That particular decision proved correct, however)

      Having said that, Kisenosato did win the next tournament, which would have sealed that yokozuna promotion anyway.
      BUT I have an issue with the sudden rise in popularity of the sport following the promotion of a Wajin simply because he is a Wajin and the media hype pushing that angle. (In Japan if you want something to become popular, just get the media to tell people that it’s popular)


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