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Sunday, August 29, 2010

Weekend Randomness: The Japanese Sumo Association

The Japanese Sumo Association or JSA made the news this week for taking a step out of character and investing in the latest form of technology for its plus-size members, apple's IPad.

The decision was taken after members complained of the difficulty of sending texts and e-mails using the small keys on a standard mobile phone. Owing to the larger size of the IPad the touchscreen has larger keys which are more navigable by their larger digits. The JSA claimed having one of these in every stable would allow them to keep in contact with their members more easily. They had been using faxes and phones to contact their memories in the past.

The story made me want to learn more about this Association. And me research led me to some fascinating discoveries. The powers of the JSA appear to know very few bounds. For example, owing to a serious car accident involving one of the wrestlers all sumo wrestlers are now banned from driving their own cars.  Sumo wrestlers are also required to wear their hair in the traditional style called chonmage which hearkens back to the days of the samurai in the Edo period. They must also wear traditional Japanese clothes which make them clearly identifiable in public. Punishment for breaking these rules include fining and suspension.

The wrestlers live in what as known as a stable and have specific schedules enforced according to rank. The most junior wrestlers get up the earliest at 5 a.m. in order to train before the more senior sekitori rise at 7a.m. Rikishi are also not allowed to eat breakfast generally. They have a large lunch then a siesta in order to facilitate weight gain. While the sekitori are training the rekishi do chores and often act as servants to their senior counterparts. Rekishi live in communal dormitories while a sekitori gets his own room or may even have his own house, which married wrestlers often do.

Indeed the controversial treatment of young rekishi has dogged the sport in recent years. In late 2007 a 17 year old rekishi was killed after being hit in the head with a beer bottle by his stable master and subsequently being beaten by fellow wrestlers on the command of the same.  The practice of beating young wrestlers to keep them in line is widespread however, after the incident the then Prime Minister demanded the JSA ensure such an event never happens again.

This year's tournament also had an unprecedented 18 wrestlers banned because of their participation in betting on baseball games in a gambling ring run by the yakuza (or Japanese mafia). Also 50 premium seats were purchased by yakuza gang members this year for matches airing on national television. they claim it was to cheer up an incarcerated boss. Others aren't so sure.The sport has also been dogged by allegations of  match fixing and substance abuse.  The sport has been losing fans in droves in recent years due to the scandals and the recession. While there has always been ties between the yakuza and the JSA it appears that the sport has increasingly turned towards the underworld to ensure its financial security.

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