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Sunday, March 11, 2001

NO WOMEN ON THE DOHYO

Ota rebuffed again by sumo elders


By CLYDE NEWTON
Special to The Japan Times

Fusae Ota, the governor of Osaka, and the first woman to hold a gubernatorial post in Japan, created a stir by stating her determination, for the second consecutive year, to set foot on the dohyo on the final day to present the winner with the Osaka Governor's Prize. The previous Osaka governor, Knock Yokoyama, who was toppled in a sexual harassment scandal in 1999, used to make the presentation in person on the dohyo.

The Sumo Kyokai rejected Ota's request last year on the grounds that women have not been permitted on the dohyo at any time in over 2,000 years of sumo's history. The Sumo Kyokai requested the governor's "understanding" of the importance of maintaining traditions.

But Ota has made the same request this year.

Initially there were rumors that the Sumo Kyokai would rescind the ban on women mounting the dohyo on a technicality. The dohyo is purified in the Dohyo Matsuri prior to the basho and the gods welcomed to the dohyo in the dedication are sent off in the teuchishiki, a ceremony performed by shindeshi (new wrestlers) at the very end of the program on the final day.

Progressives in the Sumo Kyokai apparently considered inviting Ota to present the Governor's Prize after the teuchishiki, by which time the gods would be gone.

However, diehard conservatives overruled their more liberal colleagues in the Sumo Kyokai. As a result, Tokitsukaze Rijicho, was compelled to visit Ota at her office on March 8 to convey the rejection and his regrets.

Tokitsukaze, the first college-educated president of the Sumo Association, is considered to be a moderate who is having to maintain a delicate balancing act between the liberal and conservative factions.

Ota made it clear that she will raise the issue again next year (her term of office runs for nearly three more years).

The situation may alter next year as there will be a changing of the guard in the Sumo Kyokai with the last of the old guard, born before World War II, stepping aside from the top leadership in favor of younger men born in the 1940s and 1950s.

Inevitably there will be a sense that it will be difficult in the long term to use the protection of tradition as a figleaf to maintain what some of the public may construe as gender discrimination. However, some of the deeply conservative oyakata (stablemasters) in the Sumo Kyokai are from the younger generation, and vice-versa.



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