Rocked by scandal, can Japan’s most traditional sport keep up with the times?
Apparently, gambling and organized crime have become as entrenched in sumo wrestling culture as topknots and obesity. The Japan Sumo Association (JSA) has cancelled its spring tournament over allegations of match fixing. It is the first such cancellation since 1946 – when Tokyo’s main stadium was being renovated. Police are investigating allegations of match fixing in which 13 senior wrestlers have been implicated.
It follows another scandal over illegal gambling last year which saw live television coverage of the sport dropped by national broadcaster NHK. Dozens of sumo wrestlers and their managers have admitted to betting on baseball games, mah jong, cards, and golf through gambling rings organized by the Japanese mafia. The Yakuza allegedly take a even more hands-on approach: sponsoring wrestlers and even positioning themselves in front-row seats at matches to communicate with their members in prison.
Sumo has its origins in religious rites and wrestlers are expected to observe a strict code of behavior.
Editor’s Note – Anil Cherukupalli
Sumo, the full contact wrestling sport has long been emblematic of Japanese culture. Steeped in rigid traditions that dictate nearly every aspect in the life of a rikishi (wrestler), the sport has of late been rocked by betting scandals and accusations of underworld influence dampening some of its popularity.
The photographs of Paolo Patrizi in this essay offer a rare glimpse into the daily life of the wrestlers, who often attain superstar status in Japan based on their wrestling exploits. The essay moves sedately initially through the mundane life of the wrestlers by offering glimpses of their daily routine as they go about practicing, eating, washing, sleeping and even cycling. These photographs humanize the rikishi as you view them away from the glamor and the rigid rituals they undertake before every bout that normally give them a forbidding aura. The glamor of the sport is not seen until nearly the end of the essay where a series of photos of a bout in the Ryōgoku Kokugikan (Sumo Hall) of Tokyo highlight the great popularity the sport enjoys in Japan. By giving us a 360 degree view of the lives of sumo wrestlers the photographer simultaneously elevates and brings down to earth the strictly traditional world of sumo wrestling.