Sumo wrestling is the official sport of Japan, enjoying special status and support by the Japanese government. It’s more than a sport, really, since it’s closely tied to Shinto religious ceremonies going back centuries, and legendary figures from Japan’s history like Hideyoshi and Nobunaga were sumo aficionados, although contestants fought to the death back in those days. Recently the sport hasn’t been able to catch a break due to a series of scandals that have rocked the Japan Sumo Association and its fans. It started with a marijuana scandal which resulted in several wrestlers being ejected from the sport for trafficking in illegal substances, and things got worse when a teenage wrestler in training died as a result of bullying by other members of his sumo stable. (Not sure why, but a house where a team of sumo wrestlers lives and practices is always called a ‘stable’ in English.) Maverick Mongolian wrestler Asashoryu was forced to quit in shame after he smashed in the face of a patron in a bar, which wasn’t exactly in keeping with the hinkaku (dignity) required of Grand Sumo Champions. Now the existence of gambling ties to yakuza gangsters has come to light, which has enraged fans and caused NHK to boycott broadcasting the Nagoya tournament. I’ve always loved the uniquely Japanese character of sumo wrestling, and hope the sport can clean its house and get things back to normal soon.
The sumo world is facing some big problems.