Sumo - Japan's ancient sport threatened in 'age of convenience'

Fri Nov 30, 2012 2:22am EST
 

By Alastair Himmer

TOKYO (Reuters) - Aspiring sumo wrestler Mainoumi once convinced doctors to inject silicone into his scalp to meet height requirements for the ancient Japanese sport. Such sacrifice is a rarity now in a sport beset by scandals and with popularity at an all-time low.

With a history spanning centuries, sumo once graced the Imperial courts of Japan and wrestlers were held in the highest regard. Sponsors lavished gifts on the hulking giants and to join the ranks of the sumo was considered a worthy occupation.

Those days are long gone, however.

Tarnished by scandals involving drug use, bout-fixing, violence and alleged links to Japanese organized crime, sumo struggles to fill stadiums and attract new fans.

Such is its decline that last month only one person applied to take the sport's entrance exam.

This brought the total number of applicants for the year to just 56, the lowest since the current system of staging six major tournaments a year was introduced in 1958.

That compares to a peak of 223 in 1992 when muscle-bound Japanese brothers Takanohana and Wakanohana fired up the sport with their dynamic fighting styles.

"We should be wracking our brains to find solutions," said Shoji Kagamiyama, head of a sumo training gym.   Continued...

 
Mongolian-born grand sumo champion Yokozuna Asashoryu, wearing a ceremonial belly band, performs a ring-entering ritual at Meiji Shrine in Tokyo in this January 6, 2010 file photograph. With a history spanning centuries, sumo once graced the Imperial courts of Japan and wrestlers were held in the highest regard. Sponsors lavished gifts on the hulking giants and to join the ranks of the sumo was considered a worthy occupation. Those days are long gone, however. Tarnished by scandals involving drug use, bout-fixing, violence and alleged links to Japanese organised crime, sumo struggles to fill stadiums and attract new fans. REUTERS/Issei Kato/Files