Saturday, April 15, 2017

My Awkward Experience at the Sumo Stable in Tokyo



Sumo Wrestling has always been one of the interesting things about Japanese culture that I have always wanted to see and experience in person. And so, when I recently came back to Japan with my family this month I tried to book for a ticket to watch an actual match, but it was fully booked for the month. But then, I found out I could instead book for a Sumo Practice Viewing at the sumo stable.

I tried to book via Viator (a company owned by TripAdvisor) for three people... but I found out kids are not allowed. And that I could only book for one person on the dates that I prefer. So what I did was book for myself on one date and book for my husband on another date.

A few days before, I received instructions on email on the meeting time and venue. When I arrived there on the date, there were already people in the queue. At 7:30, the guy at the door (who looks like a Sumo wrestler himself) started asking everybody in line about their booking and to check their names in the list. He did not, however, speak to me. And so I tried to get his attention and pointed out my name in the list.

He told me that there was a mistake in my booking, and that I was supposed to go to another stable close by. I showed him the email that I received where it is written the address of their stable as the venue. After this, he told me it's okay.



By this time, I was already having the feeling that they are not very comfortable about having me watch the Sumo Practice. And I was starting to formulate ideas in my mind as to the reason why. Maybe it's because I'm Asian (as I was the only Asian in the queue), or because I am a woman and unaccompanied by a tour guide or a group or a man.

When we were ushered at the viewing area. There was nobody inside yet, except for the Sumo Wrestlers and a couple of viewers. The guy distributing the pillow seats put a seat for me at the front, but the weird guy at the door moved my seat to the back of everybody else's. Of course, I moved to the front again when he left.

I tried to google "women and sumo" a few days ago, and I found this on Wikipedia:

Professional sumo is notable for its exclusion of women from competition and ceremonies. Women are not allowed to enter or touch the sumo wrestling ring (dohyō), as this is traditionally seen to be a violation of the purity of the dohyō. The female Governor of Osaka from 2000–2008, Fusae Ohta, when called upon to present the Governor’s Prize to the champion of the annual Osaka tournament, was required to do so on the walkway beside the ring or send a male representative in her place. She repeatedly challenged the Sumo Association’s policy by requesting to be allowed to fulfill her traditional role as Governor. Her requests were repeatedly rejected until she stepped down from office.
The view of those who criticize this continuing “men-only” policy is that it is discriminatory and oppressive. In general, women in the sumo world are only expected to be supportive wives of the wrestlers, and, in the case that their husband has become a stablemaster, a surrogate mother for all of his disciples. The view of the Sumo Association is that this is a tradition that has been firmly maintained through the centuries, so it would be a dishonor to all of their ancestors to change it.
This was not always the case. Starting as early as the 18th century a form of female sumo or onnazumo was performed in some areas of Japan. In the cities it was more of a spectacle often associated with brothels. However, in some areas of Japan female sumo had a serious role in certain Shinto rituals. In later years, there were limited tours of female sumo that lasted for a time. However, female sumo is not considered to be authentic by most Japanese and is now prohibited from taking place beyond amateur settings.
I am not surprised about this, as I have always know that Japan is still one of those countries where "machismo" is still very much alive. Women are still very far from being treated as equal to men.




Despite this awkward encounter with the Sumo Stable door guy, I still find the experience very interesting and cool. In all fairness, the guy spoke to me very politely and was not at all mean to me. I think it is just that they are really just not used to seeing an Asian woman watching sumo wrestlers for entertainment. I did not let this experience dampen my enthusiasm for the rest of my stay in Japan. There were still a lot of very nice people I have interacted with during our stay there. I am just writing about this post to share my experience, and to serve as a warning to others like me who would want to watch a Sumo Practice (or a match) by themselves.

For more of my Japan 2017 trip (Hanami, Tokyo, Kyoto and a view of Mt. Fuji from the lake, visit escapecapades.com.

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