The Japanese traditional sport of sumo wrestling is suffering from steadily declining interest, not just from spectating fans, but from those looking to participate. A single applicant in Fukuoka this week made it the fewest received since 1958, when the six-tournament system was established. The upcoming Kyushu Grand Sumo Tournament will be the last of this year, and the Japan Sumo Association says that single person taking the exam to become a wrestler makes the yearly total 56, four less than last year’s tally.
Harumafuji, the recently crowned sumo grand champion, says the sport is strict and has harsh tenets, turning more and more people away. Those who are successful in passing the exam must go through rigorous training programs, and junior wrestlers are given jobs like cleaning and cooking for superiors. The Mongolia-born Harumafuji comments that in this life of convenience it’s easy to understand that people would not want to go through painful hardships. But at the same time, success feels so much greater because of those required efforts.
But the sport is also losing some of that tradition-steeped honor, as a series of scandals, including match-fixing among so-called champions, marijuana usage, and illegal betting on baseball games, have weakened its appeal. Real damaged was done in 2007, when a 17 year old apprentice died after the hazing from his superiors. The sumo association has lowered some of its physical standards this year to try attracting more applicants.
Another step to take may be more encouragement of foreigners to participate. Earlier this year Abdelrahman Ahmed Shaalan of Egypt, known by his ring name of the “Great Sandstorm,” made headlines by becoming Japan’s first Arab sumo wrestler. While Japan is often known for lamenting the loss of its traditions being practiced by Japanese, it’s ok to let people of other nationalities learn and practice those traditions. Abdelrahman has been thoroughly trained by his Japanese coach, and there is no doubt he is an authentic sumo wrestler. The point is that the importance lies in keeping the tradition alive, not who keeps it alive.
[via News AU]
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