Last month, two professional Sumo wrestlers got into a fight. But this fight didn’t begin with a highly-ritualized ceremony in a ring before spectators. This fight was a bar brawl. Sumo’s reigning champion, Harumafuji, felt disrespected by a junior wrestler and smashed a beer bottle over the upstart’s head at a party.
Sumo is an ancient sport, rooted in the samurai, and treated more like a vocation than a job. After the brawl, many argued that Harumafuji brought shame upon the institution of Sumo, and he was forced to resign.
Wrestlers are treated notoriously — with highly-regimented schedules, tight living conditions, and high-calorie meals to keep them fat. The scandal has shed light on how different Sumo is from other popular, albeit imported, sports in Japan, like baseball and soccer. The sport’s ties to organized crime have also come to light in recent years.
To discuss Sumo’s place in Japanese society, we’re joined by David Benjamin, author of Sumo: A Thinking Fan’s Guide to Japan’s National Sport. He was the first foreigner to serve as a sumo commentator for a major Japanese-language periodical.