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What's this? Photo essay on Yokozuna Akebono's retirement ceremony held on Sept. 29, 2001.
Last modified: May 15, 2004

Story and photos by Philbert Ono

Before starting, Akebono passes his son to the referee.

Luckily he had a son because he would not have been allowed to do it with a daughter. Females are prohibited from entering the sumo ring, even at sumo stables. This is one of the things I disapprove of sumo (another thing is the requirement for foreign wrestlers to acquire Japanese citizenship to become a sumo elder or stablemaster). Barring women from stepping onto the sumo ring, even to give an award to a wrestler, is one of the most blatant and preposterous forms of sexual discrimination in Japan. It was devised centuries ago, and for the sake of tradition, traditionalists in the sumo world have maintained this extremely absurd custom and belief that women are considered to be impure (due to menstruation). I'm not saying this as a gaijin (foreigner) who likes to criticize Japan or the Japanese. Nor am I saying this as a women's rights advocate. I say this from the standpoint of plain, old common sense.

Up to 1909, women were actually not allowed enter a sumo arena to view sumo matches. And once upon a time, women were prohibited from setting foot on sacred Mt. Fuji. Can you imagine if these traditions were still being practiced today?

Such discriminatory practices were abolished long ago, and here we are in the 21st century with women still unable to step into the sumo ring. The Japan Sumo Association has constantly rejected requests from important female ministers in the Prime Minister's Cabinet to give an award to the tournament winner in the sumo ring.

Fusae Ota, the current governor of Osaka and Japan's first woman governor, has also requested that she be allowed to give the Emperor's Cup to the winner of the grand sumo tournament in Osaka held every March. But as of this writing, she has not yet succeeded in entering the sumo ring. (Read a news article about it here.) It only makes the sumo association look silly. It's a matter of time before the sumo association will have to acquiesce. After all, you can't produce sumo wrestlers without women. And women (wives of stablemasters) play a major role at sumo stables in raising young sumo aspirants.

I keep thinking, what would finally make them abolish this rule? Probably a female Japanese Prime Minister. The sumo association would look really bad if they even refuse a female Prime Minister from entering the sumo ring to give the Emperor's Cup to the tourney winner. (Note that legitimate female sumo wrestling also exists in Japan, but they are not under the jurisdiction of the Japan Sumo Association who ironically give its blessings to female sumo wrestling.)

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Transmitting from Tokyo, Japan.