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Sumo Wrestlers Must Compete Nude Declares Japan Sumo Association

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Naked sumo is the new law of the land.

Change is not something that occurs quickly or unexpectedly in the ancient and highly conservative sport of sumo. However, that seems to be exactly what happened earlier today (Apr. 1) when the organization that presides over professional sumo in Japan announced that the sport’s top athletes will no longer be allowed to wear any clothing whatsoever while in the dohy┼Ź (sumo ring).

This shocking announcement was made at a roughly 17-minute-long press event in Tokyo organized by the Japan Sumo Association. During the event the head of the Japan Sumo Association, Hiroshi Yamane, explained to reporters that this new “naked sumo (hadaka-zumo) policy”, as Japanese media outlets have dubbed it, applies only to the 42 wrestlers that make up the sport’s top maku’uchi division. Yamane added that although the use of┬ámawashi┬á(the silk cloths normally seen around the waists and groins of wrestlers) would no longer be permitted at any of the six yearly Grand Sumo Tournaments (basho), sumo wrestlers would still be required to don kesho-mawashi (ceremonial aprons) during dohy┼Ź-iri (ring entrance ceremonies).

Sumo wrestlers in the ring wearing the now defunct mawashi

Following the earth-shattering press event, news commentators across Japan took to the airwaves. While a small minority seemed accepting of the new policy, the vast majority called it nothing more than a shameful attempt to distract the public from a recent series of scandals involving senior wrestlers physically abusing their juniors. Yamane, however, told Nippon Rai News that these scandals had nothing to do with the decision to outlaw the mawashi:

“Our motivations are pure. Nudity is not something we Japanese are embarrassed of. We go to onsen (hot springs) and bathe naked in front of others. This is natural and part of Japanese culture. Our [Japan Sumo Association] intention is to allow spectators a better opportunity to appreciate the incredible physical beauty of the best athletes in Japan’s national sport.”

In contrast to news commentators, most sumo wrestlers seem to have embraced this new policy. For example, when asked for comment Kisenosato, who is one of the four current yokozuna, was quoted as saying:

” I do not think it is an embarrassing thing. In the time of samurai it was normal to wrestle naked while training. This is the origin of the proverb ‘Battle naked before you battle clothed.’ As a yokozuna, I consider it an honor to carry on this warrior tradition.”

Not surprisingly, the demise of the mawashi has brought with it many concerns and complications. However, all those affected by this unexpected change are doing their best to address these issues before the start of the next Grand Sumo Tournament on April 30. Stablemasters, for example, have reportedly already begun having their wrestlers train nude and focus on techniques that do not involve grabbing the mawashi. And Japan’s national public broadcaster NHK is apparently rushing to develop a system that will allow them to censor wrestlers’ groins in real-time during live broadcasts.

However, perhaps the most interesting question raised by Japanese media is whether those under the age at which an individual is allowed to watch pornography in Japan (18), will still be allowed into venues like Tokyo’s Ryogoku Kokugikan Sumo Hall during Grand Sumo Tournaments. It is expected that many of these questions will be addressed by April 15 which is when the Japan Sumo Association has said that they will be releasing more details on this matter.

Even with all the lingering uncertainty, though, overall, it seems that the Japanese people are optimistic about the new age that their country’s oldest sport has just entered. And perhaps nothing sums up the general sense of anticipation that seems to be overtaking Japan than this comment by a 19-year-old female college student interviewed in Japan’s trendy Shibuya district:

“I’m definitely going to watch. I mean, they’re going to be completely naked, right? How could you miss that?”

Source: Nippn Rai News (April 1)
Featured image: Shutterstock
Image 1: Wikipedia Commons

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