Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Sumo gets even more Japanese

That headline is putting it in the nicest possible terms. Honestly I got a bit angry reading about this, and I'm not even a fan of sumo.

I'm talking about the Japan Sumo Association's recent decision to limit the amount of foreigners allowed to participate in the sport. "Foreigner" here means foreign-born. So tough luck to those naturalized citizens.

I especially like his point:

How about having some international sports leagues limit their Japanese players to one — say, Japanese in Major League Baseball teams? Including those Japanese who have naturalized? Oh wait, do I hear calls of racism from the Japanese Peanut Galleries? Yes, the shoe on the other foot would pinch, wouldn’t it? And the sport as a whole would suffer since innate talent (as we have seen by the number of talented sumo rikishi from overseas) is hardly a nativist issue. But try telling that to the racist JSA.

Let's take it one step further and limit MLB teams to one foreigner per team, not just Japanese. Hey - it's an American sport, right? So let's keep it pure. Let the Japanese wannabe-players compete with all the other foreign-born players.


  1. The interesting thing about this is that it will create some issues for Azumazeki beya, which has a tendency to fish from the foreign side of the pond due to the oyakata's Hawaiian roots and connections. I wonder if the oyakata himself, who is from Hawaii will count as the "one foreigner."

    I understand the Japanese concern that their national sport will consist of non-Japanese, but I don't condone what they're doing. Essentially, they're saying that they can't dominate the sport if it is open to everyone, so they will restrict the number of non-Japanese.

    Personally, I think they should just come out and be honest about the fact that if sumo is internationalized, Japanese pride will suffer because they cannot physically compete in an unrestricted playing field, and then they should just close the door on their insular world and wait for the sport to wither and die the death it has been experiencing for the last decade or so.

    The thing is that this is just a thread in the tapestry of xenophobia in Japan. These sorts of things go on all of the time, but apologists pretend they're not important or justified (that's foreigners as well as Japanese). Japan is special. It's bigotry is "right" and understandable. We're supposed to say it's okay for Japanese to be prejudiced and to act on those feelings. Ironically, the apologists are actually supporting a mindset which has an underlying notion that the Japanese are inferior to Westerners on a cultural level. By sanctioning the way they structure society to shut out and give limited rights to foreigners, we're saying we can't expect them as a culture to grow and be open-minded enough to adapt to others the way that Western cultures have. Foreigners who indulge in apologizing for and accepting Japanese bigotry are patronizing and belittling to the Japanese themselves as it sees them as too rigid, small-minded and immature to adapt.

  2. Well-said, Orchid. I remember reading on your blog that you're a sumo fan, so I bet you must have some strong feelings about this.

    To your knowledge, about how many "serious" foreign sumo wrestlers are there? Is it that the number is growing too large, or that the foreigners are getting too good?

  3. Orchid said it much better than I could have.

    Wither and die, Sumo will.

    JSA cuntz!

  4. Orchid a sumo fan? Azumazeki Oyakata is ex-Ushiomaru, a Japanese, who replaced long time former Hawaiian Takamiyama about a year ago. As for the rule, it's been in place since 2002.The change now came because some of the stablemasters tried to use a loophole and got their guys naturalized, freeing that foreigner spot. The JSA just closed the loophole.To answer your question, there are about 15 "kinda serious" foreigners, only 2 really serious" ones.
    I'd like to see the MBL go with one foreigner per team. No Central Americans..yeah, right.

  5. Yeah, I remember reading that this was "closing the loophole." Either way I think it's an unjust rule - any regulation that excludes people based purely on ethnicity is.
    Becoming a Japanese citizen isn't exactly a minor thing. Unless I'm mistaken, you have to give up any other citizenships you hold. If a foreigner is willing to make that commitment, they should be afforded the same rights and privileges as any other Japanese citizen.

  6. I am always the first person to complain about Japanese racism. This time though, I completely agree with them limiting foreigners. Ever since I went to a sumo match last year I wanted the foreigners out. They won ever match. Really, every match. All 7! Knowing the outcome of every match that has a foreigner in it isn't fun. Also, I went there to see something cultural, not big, muscley Russian guys pushing the smaller Japanese around. No wonder Sumo has zero popularity with Japanese youth. If the rules aren't changed, no new generation will get interested in the sport, eventually all the ojiisans that actually care about it will die, and the sport will die with them.

    I don't understand why anyone would complain about this but not go to Kyoto and wonder where all the Spanish geisha are, or why there's no Americans performing in the Takarazuka review, and think about how Egyptians are conspicuously absent as Noh actors at shrines. Why should sumo be any different? Because it's been labeled a sport? It's no less ancient a ceremony than the oldest of those and has far more to do with Japan's history, culture, and religion.

    Japan needs to become more internationally minded. They need change to survive as a country. They definitely need to stop being so paranoid about losing their culture. This doesn't mean they should give up everything.

  7. Heh, yeah - expected us to be on the same side of this one, Joe.

    You do bring up some interesting points. And while I can sympathize with that viewpoint, I just can't rationalize the practice of excluding someone based soley upon their ethnic background. As far as geisha, there has been at least one white geisha (Fiona Graham aka Sayuki).
    As far as the Takarazuka Review, I thought that the main gimic, if you will, is that they're all women. Granted I haven't seen one of their shows, but I'm not so sure a white or black or brown woman would ruin the show so long as her Japanese was as good as the other performers'.
    As far as sumo, you probably know more about it than I do, but I remember talking to someone last year remember Tom?) who said that the biggest guy isn't always the one who wins. Even if he did, is that a good reason to exclude foreigners? Because they are too good?

    I don't mean to discount your argument - there is something romantic about about an all Japanese cast or team. But so long as the Japanese profess to value equality and they include Article 14 in their constitution, such discrimination should not be legal.

    Article 14:

    All of the people are equal under the law and there shall be no discrimination in political, economic or social relations because of race, creed, sex, social status or family origin. 2) Peers and peerage shall not be recognized. 3) No privilege shall accompany any award of honor, decoration or any distinction, nor shall any such award be valid beyond the lifetime of the individual who now holds or hereafter may receive it.

  8. And normally I would 100% agree with you. It's hard to disagree, honestly. To do that I have to say racism is less important than a game. There are only two outcomes. Either they stay in their own comfort zone where only Japanese people do Japanese things and nothing will ever change or we show them that if they do try to become internationalized we will beat them down and embarrass them and an ancient aspect of their culture dies in the way that Orchid says. Since either way sucks and doesn't lead to progress, let's at least go with the way that keeps some culture.