Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

Sumo Scandal Deals a Blow to International Exchange
NISHIKAWA Megumi  / Journalist on International Affairs

July 21, 2010
The latest "baseball gambling" scandal has deeply scarred the authority and image of Sumo. It is particularly damaging in view of the significant contribution Sumo has made in cultivating goodwill and cultural exchange between Japan and other countries over the years.

Sumo is a traditional sport that has become far more globalized than imagined by most Japanese. According to the Japan Sumo Association(JSA), as of April this year 56 foreign wrestlers from 11 countries were active in the competition. Mongolia tops the list with 33 wrestlers, followed by seven from China, three each from Russia and Georgia, and two each from South Korea, Bulgaria and Brazil. The Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary and Kazakhstan are also represented by one wrestler each.

Together with retired wrestlers, a total of 169 foreigners from 21 countries and regions have participated in the sport over the years. They include 50 Mongolians, 30 Americans, 16 Brazilians, 12 Koreans, Chinese and Taiwanese, respectively, and eight Tongans. There were also British and Canadian wrestlers, too. Africa is about the only region not represented in the list so far.

In Mongolia, which boasts the greatest number of Sumo wrestlers, over 70% of the people have said they feel an affinity with Japan. Japan is also No.1 on the list of countries Mongolia should build friendly relations with. Such pro-Japanese sentiments have no doubt been nurtured by the success enjoyed by Mongolian Sumo wrestlers in Japan.

As Japan's traditional sport, Sumo has contributed to the development of goodwill and cultural exchange with other countries. Sumo wrestlers are called "naked goodwill ambassadors," and a total of 28 overseas venues and tours have taken place since the first venue was held in Hawaii in 1962, up to the latest venue in Mongolia in 2008 (the London venue scheduled for last year was canceled due to the global financial crisis.) Satellite broadcasts of the Grand Sumo Tournament also offer a valuable opportunity for Japanese immigrants and their children to reconfirm their bonds with Japan.

As many as eight countries award friendship trophies to the Grand Champion as of this year's May Grand Tournament. At the closing of the Senshuraku, or the final day of the Tournament, foreign ambassadors to Japan climb onto the sumo ring to read the certificate of merit in their broken Japanese and present the trophy. This familiar scene broadcast on national NHK television has been an opportune moment for each country to demonstrate their amicable relationship with Japan.

Let me share a story I heard from a French Ambassador several years ago. Immediately before his departure to Japan, the Ambassador was summoned by then President Jacques Chirac, who gave his instructions on strengthening relations with Japan, one of which was to cultivate connections with the JSA.

President Chirac was a Sumo aficionado who succeeded in holding the Paris Tournament during his tenure as Mayor of Paris. Even after he became president, he had the daily results sent to him by his ambassador to Japan every day during a tournament. He made sure his visits to Japan coincided with the Grand Tournament whenever possible, never forgot to send telegrams to congratulate wrestlers on the Senshuraku or on their wedding day, and even founded the Cup of the President of the French Republic in 2000.

The President's Cup, which was widely known as the "Jacques Chirac Cup," was abolished upon Chirac's retirement from the presidency in 2007. However, it made a comeback as the Japan-France Friendship Cup the very next year. This was based on the strong advice of a French diplomat who understood the role Sumo had played over the years in the bilateral relationship. The cup was revived with the aim of making it a symbol of friendship between the peoples of Japan and France.

Such hopes held by all those involved were betrayed by the scandal surrounding illegal betting on baseball games within the Sumo world. It will be some time until Sumo recovers its luster as the symbol of Japan’s friendly relations and cultural exchange with foreign countries.

The writer is Expert Senior Writer on the Foreign News Desk at the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

西川 恵  / ジャーナリスト

2010年 7月 21日










(筆者は毎日新聞 専門編集委員。)
一般社団法人 日本英語交流連盟

English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > Sumo Scandal Deals a Blow to International Exchange