Women Barred From Sumo Ring, Even to Save a Man’s Life

Asahikawa Current English Study Club

Women Barred From Sumo Ring, Even to Save a Man’s Life

By MOTOKO RICH APRIL 5, 2018     The New York Times

TOKYO — Sumo wrestling, one of Japan’s oldest and most hallowed sports, has all kinds of inviolable rituals. The wrestlers must wear their hair in carefully coifed topknots. Before every match, they scatter grains of purifying salt. And women are never, ever, allowed in the ring.

Even when a man’s life is at stake.

Sumo’s discriminatory practices came under new scrutiny after a referee shooed women out of a ring at an exhibition match in Kyoto on Wednesday when they rushed to offer lifesaving measures to a politician who had collapsed while delivering a speech.

The news dominated television talk shows and social media on Thursday, with a video of the episode — in which a referee could repeatedly be heard over a loudspeaker yelling, “Women, come out of the ring” — attracting more than 800,000 views on YouTube and a fusillade of criticism.

“Believing that tradition is more important than human lives is like a cult that mistakes fundamentalism for tradition,” Yoshinori Kobayashi, a popular comic book artist, wrote on his blog.

In a country that consistently ranks low among developed countries on gender equality in health, education, the economy and politics, the episode was seen as a metaphor for how women are regarded in Japan.

“We are reminded that, ahh, there are some parts of Japan that still just don’t get it,” said Emma Dalton, a specialist in Japanese and a lecturer at the School of Global, Urban and Social Studies at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Australia.

Women in Japan face myriad obstacles to equality. A law requiring that married couples share a surname means that the vast majority of women must give up their names after their weddings. Japan has one of the world’s worst records for women in politics. Women cannot sit on the Imperial throne. Earlier in the week, news emerged of a private day care center where a supervisor scolded a female employee for reportedly getting pregnant before it was her “turn.”

“I think that both men and women in Japan are reluctant to change both the workplace and tradition,” said Kumiko Nemoto, a professor of sociology at Kyoto University of Foreign Studies. “And then they use the name of tradition in order not to change things.”

The women called out of the ring at the sumo event included a nurse from the audience who rushed onto the dohyo, as the straw ring is known, to administer cardiopulmonary resuscitation to the fallen politician.

Ryozo Tatami, the mayor of Maizuru, a city of about 84,000 people in Kyoto prefecture, was giving a speech when he had a brain hemorrhage and collapsed.

In the video, it appears that several male sumo staff members gathered around Mr. Tatami before the female nurse arrived to start CPR. Three other women also rushed to help. When the referee told them to leave, the women backed off, causing confusion and scuffling around the patient.

It appeared from the video that a man took over CPR before male emergency workers from the Fire Department arrived. Mr. Tatami was taken to a hospital for surgery, where he remains in stable condition.

Most of the reaction on Twitter criticized the referee for calling the women out of the ring. “This seems to present the crazy image of Japanese values that old-fashioned Westerners fantasize about,” one Twitter user wrote.

But some commenters defended the tradition, even if they acknowledged that the referee should have made an exception for the emergency. One such Twitter user fretted that “crazy feminists will take advantage of this.”

Historians trace sumo’s roots to harvest rituals associated with the Shinto religion. Various theories exist as to why women are barred from the ring. One theory suggests that sumo matches were originally put on to entertain the goddesses of the harvest, and farmers believed that women in the ring would invoke the jealousy and rage of the goddesses, who would spoil the harvest.

Ceremonies resembling sumo matches were performed in the Japanese Imperial courts as far back as the eighth century, and during the Edo period, which ran from the 17th to mid-19th century, organizers began charging admission to sumo bouts.

Women then were generally not admitted even as paying spectators, although there are some historical references to female wrestlers and referees.

Today’s tradition of barring women from the ring is as much a habit as anything else, said Lee Thompson, a professor of sports science at Waseda University who has researched sumo.

“The people who are in charge now say that’s the way it was as they remember it, and they just want to keep it the way it is,” Mr. Thompson said.

The tradition has been tested before. In 1990, Mayumi Moriyama, the first female chief cabinet secretary to a Japanese prime minister, was banned from giving a trophy at a Tokyo tournament, and in 2000, the sumo association prohibited Fusae Ota, the first female governor of Osaka — and throughout Japan — from awarding a trophy during a sumo tournament in the city.

Both incidents drew controversy, but the tradition remained.

Sumo is very popular among women, who make up about half of most tournament audiences. In 2014, the national sumo association hosted a promotional event where women could get their photos taken in the arms of sumo wrestlers. More than 8,000 women applied for six slots.

After the outcry following Wednesday’s incident, Nobuyoshi Hakkaku, the chairman of the Japan Sumo Association, issued a statement thanking the woman who “quickly provided emergency measures” and apologizing for the referee who told her and the other women to leave the ring. “It was not an appropriate response,” Mr. Hakkaku said.

Women’s advocates said they hoped this episode would ignite a debate about the tradition. “Such sexist conduct shouldn’t be forgiven,” said Mari Miura, a professor of political science at Sophia University in Tokyo.

The reputation of sumo wrestling has already been battered in recent months by a string of scandals involving assaults by senior championson junior wrestlers.

But the scandals have not dented enthusiasm for the sport, and analysts say the sumo association will have little incentive to change.

“They need public pressure from the outside,” said Yasuaki Muto, a professor of sports science at Waseda University. “Because so far they are quite successful despite various scandals and the seats are pretty much full in every tournament; there is no motivation for them to reform.”

Hisako Ueno and Makiko Inoue contributed reporting.



Word of Trump-Kim Summit Meeting Stirs Concern in Asia

Word of Trump-Kim Summit Meeting Stirs Concern in Asia

By MOTOKO RICH    MARCH 8, 2018         The New York Times

TOKYO — As North Korea conducted ballistic missile and nuclear tests and President Trump threatened fiery responses last year, Japan and South Korea feared the worst: a nuclear conflict on their front doorsteps.

But now, as President Trump accepts an offer from North Korea’s Kim Jong-un to discuss the country’s nuclear program, another fear is looming: that President Trump might offer concessions that the North’s Asian neighbors would find unpalatable, or, if the talks fail, resort to a military option.

Shortly after the announcement of the summit meeting, Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, told reporters he appreciated “North Korea’s change” and attributed the diplomatic overture to the pressure of sanctions coordinated by the United States, Japan and South Korea.

“We will continue imposing the utmost pressure until North Korea takes specific actions toward thorough, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization,” Mr. Abe said, emphasizing that “Japan and the U.S. have been and will be together 100 percent.”

He also said he would visit Mr. Trump in Washington next month to discuss the North Korean nuclear issue before the president meets Mr. Kim.

Analysts saw Mr. Abe’s language as suggesting that Japan fears that the North might define denuclearization differently from the rest of the world.


“I think there’s real concern about a deal-maker president talking one-on-one with Kim, accepting something less than” verifiable and irreversible denuclearization, said Tobias Harris, a Japan analyst at Teneo Intelligence, a political risk consultancy based in New York.

“The Japanese government obviously wants the North Korean threat resolved,” he added, “but I don’t think Japanese officials are naïve about the difficulty of achieving a truly meaningful disarmament agreement under these circumstances.”

In remarks released by the White House, an unnamed senior official said President Trump had spoken with Mr. Abe on Thursday night in Washington. The official added that the administration sought a verifiable deal for the permanent denuclearization of North Korea.

In Seoul, a spokeswoman for President Moon Jae-in described the invitation to talk as “another great breakthrough.”

President Trump’s acceptance of Mr. Kim’s invitation to a summit meeting clearly marked a diplomatic victory for Mr. Moon, adding momentum to the South Korean leader’s efforts to steer the nuclear crisis from talk of war toward negotiations.

But analysts quickly noted the risks for Washington and Seoul if Mr. Kim did not live up to American expectations for negotiations, or if South Korea pursued better relations with the North should Mr. Kim not take any steps toward denuclearization.

“Announcing intention for a U.S.-North Korea summit, with so many details yet undetermined, carries risks,” said Leif-Eric Easley, associate professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul. “If the Trump-Kim meeting breaks down, both engagement and pressure campaigns could suffer.”

There was no immediate reaction from China’s Foreign Ministry, but some Chinese analysts were pleased with the news.

“The United States cannot resist North Korea’s proposals, and Trump is grabbing at them,” said Cheng Xiaohe, professor of international relations at Renmin University. “That’s good.”

Wendy R. Sherman, the lead negotiator for the Obama administration on the Iran nuclear deal, said China would be wary of a meeting between Mr. Kim and Mr. Trump even though Beijing wants dialogue between the two.

“North Korea is not about a rush to denuclearize,” she said. “They are about dominance, respect and the reunification of the peninsula on its own terms.”

“Does China want Kim to determine the future of Northeast Asia?” she asked. “China wants to define the future of Asia. The United States is a Pacific power and wants to protect and grow its place in Asia. However China doesn’t want North Korea as a nuclear state. The United States doesn’t want that. There maybe common ground there.”

Any talks could end up offering only a temporary reprieve, given the American readiness for military action.

“What is worth paying attention to is whether North Korea will state very clearly that they are willing to give up their nuclear weapons,” said Zhang Liangui, professor of international studies at the Central Party School of the Communist Party.

“If North Korea tries to beat around the bush again this time,” Mr. Zhang added, “I think the U.S. is ready to resolve the problem with force.”

In Japan, where Mr. Abe has worked to maintain a close relationship with the American president, analysts said officials were keen to rein in Mr. Trump’s impulsive tendencies.

On the same day that Mr. Trump accepted Mr. Kim’s invitation, he announced tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, a move that Japan’s foreign minister, Taro Kono, described as “regrettable.”

During a budget hearing in parliament, Mr. Kono expressed skepticism about North Korea’s intentions.

“Anyone can say that one has the intention to denuclearize,” he said. “So far North Korea has done the same twice, to save time to develop nuclear weapons. So Japan’s stance is unchanged. It’s necessary for them to show concrete actions.”

Euan Graham, director of the international security program at the Lowy Institute in Sydney, Australia, said it was worrying that the North Koreans were dictating the pace of events.

“Kim Jong-un is playing this very well,” he said. “He’s got South Korea acting as his emissary, and now an unprecedented summit with the U.S. president, all on the basis of a vague and untested commitment to denuclearization.”

“My concern is the U.S. is being drawn into a negotiation prematurely, without the internal coherence required to hold the North Koreans to a meaningful bargain that doesn’t compromise U.S. interests, and those of its allies,” he added.

Choe Sang-Hun contributed reporting from Seoul, South Korea, Jane Perlez from Beijing, and Jacqueline Williams from Sydney, Australia.



Turkish Warplanes Said to Kill 40 Pro-Government Fighters in Syria

By ANNE BARNARD, HWAIDA SAAD and CARLOTTA GALL MARCH 3, 2018                                   The New York Times

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Dozens of pro-Syrian government fighters were killed in an assault by Turkish warplanes on the northwestern Syrian region of Afrin on Saturday, according to a local journalist and a militia spokesman.

Fighting has intensified in the region in the past few days, as Turkey has sent reinforcements to press its offensive against towns held by Kurdish groups. Just a day earlier, eight Turkish soldiers were killed, Turkey’s Defense Ministry said in a statement, and more were wounded.

Soldiers loyal to President Bashar al-Assad of Syria had entered Afrin, a Kurdish stronghold, last week to support the Kurdish militia known as the Y.P.G.

Turkey and its allied Syrian rebel fighters say the Y.P.G. is the focus of their operation, which began in January. That has put them at odds with forces loyal to Mr. Assad.

Saturday’s airstrike hit a camp in Kafr Jina, according to a spokesman for Y.P.G. forces in the area and a Kurdish reporter on the ground.

The reporter, Firhad Shami, who was in Kafr Jina, said that at least 40 fighters were killed in the airstrikes, though the exact number could not be confirmed.

“We managed to pull out 23 bodies. The rest are still in the bunker; the Kurdish Red Crescent couldn’t pull them all because of the shelling,” he said in a message.

It was the third time in 48 hours that Turkish warplanes had struck pro-government forces in Afrin.

By Saturday evening, the Syrian state news agency Sana had not confirmed that any pro-government forces had been killed in the region, only civilians who had died in an earlier strike.

“Forces of the Turkish regime and its mercenaries of the terrorist groups on Friday night targeted the Afrin area with all types of weapons, leaving 20 civilians martyred or injured,” Sana reported, calling the attack a “violation” of a new United Nations Security Council resolution calling for a cease-fire.

Despite that, clashes have continued in Afrin and in the rebel-held Damascus suburb of eastern Ghouta where Syrian government forces are conducting airstrikes on residential neighborhoods, home to 400,000 civilians.

The Syrian Democratic Forces, a Kurdish-led, United States-backed alliance, said in a statement that Turkish airstrikes had targeted positions held by the Syrian Army’s “popular forces.”

Prime Minister Binali Yildirim of Turkey on Saturday said that his country’s forces had captured the strategically important town of Rajo from Kurdish forces.

“Afrin is surrounded,” Mr. Yildirim said, according to local news outlet Hurriyet. “We have cleared all nearby border areas of terror nests.”

Turkey views the Y.P.G.’s forces as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, a group that has fought a decades-long insurgency in Turkey. The Kurdistan Workers’ Party is designated a terrorist organization by the United States, the European Union and Turkey. But the Y.P.G. has been an important ally of the United States in the fight against the Islamic State in Syria.

Carlotta Gall contributed reporting from Istanbul and Anne Barnard and Hwaida Saad from Beirut, Lebanon.