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The Tear Over Sumo Pants

By Christopher Caile

Many young Japanese consider it immodest and non-stylish to wear sumo’s traditional loin cloth which leaves the buttocks exposed. It is thought that this has contributed to the decline of the art among youthful participants.

3/28/05. Japanese sumo is in middle of a major tussle. Contestants aren’t the gargantuan wrestlers you would expect, but conservative tradition-bound elements versus amateur factions, the latter seeking to boost the sports appeal among youngsters. The fight is over one of sumo’s most famous symbols: the loincloth, known as mawashi, which contestants wear around their broad naked midquarters.

The controversy made the front page of Yomiuri, Japan’s best selling newspaper, on March 24, 2005.

Front of rear views of the proposed amateur sumo pants worn under the traditional mawashi, loin cloth.

Faced with declining participation amongst kids, the Japanese Amateur Sumo Federation voted to allow athletes to wear more modest “sumo pants” under the traditional mawashi. The amateurs believe young Japanese men avoid the sport because of the loincloths, which leaves participants feeling uncomfortably exposed as they crouch down, buttocks facing one another over the clay of the sumo ring known as dohyo.

Its vice-chairman, Hidetoshi Tanaka, stated that, “In this age, young people on school holiday wear swimsuits in public baths. It is understandable that many would not want to wear the mawashi on its own.”

Yomiuri quoted on amateur sumo official as saying, "Pubescent kids are not going to want to take part if they don't look cool."

Amongst the Sumo community there is concern about the long term future of the sport faced with declining membership among younger Japanese and a national sports audience seemingly more attracted to non-indigenous sports, such as baseball and football. In 2005 only 70 new professional wrestlers were admitted to the sport compared to twice that number in the early 1990’s.

But the Professional Japan Sumo Association, the Nihon Sumo Kyokai, strong objected, refusing to allow youth tournament participants to wear the proposed pant at the sport’s most prestigious location, the Hall of the National Pursuit in the Ryogoku district of Tokyo. There the clay of the ring (dohyo) is considered a sacred spot. Women are not allowed to set foot on it. And the association that male wrestlers can’t either if they wear the modest pants.

Yomiuri quoted a Professional Japan Sumo Association spokesman who stated, "The national stadium has its rules and ways of doing things. We have no intention of allowing children in pants into the ring."

This is not new. During last year’s high school national championships in this hall, contestants who wore pants were compelled to remove them.

The proposed “sumo pants” are a tight, thigh-length garment, which cover the wrestler’s buttocks as they crouch down to face one another in the ring.

Manufacturers of sumo pants state that they are suitable for Japanese sumo classes at elementary, junior, and senior high schools, as well as universities. They were designed for both sexes and can be worn over undergarments, with the mawashi on top, so multiple participants can use the pants. They also allow provide tournament efficiency since they can be reused in subsequent tournaments.

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About the Author:

Christopher Caile is the Founder and Editor-In-Chief of He has been a student of the martial arts for over 43 years. He first started in judo. Then he added karate as a student of Phil Koeppel in 1959. Caile introduced karate to Finland in 1960 and then hitch-hiked eastward. In Japan (1961) he studied under Mas Oyama and later in the US became a Kyokushinkai Branch Chief. In 1976 he followed Kaicho Tadashi Nakamura when he formed Seido karate and is now a 6th degree black belt in that organization's honbu dojo. Other experience includes aikido, diato-ryu aikijujutsu, kenjutsu, kobudo, Shinto Muso-ryu jodo, kobudo, boxing and several Chinese fighting arts including Praying mantis, Pak Mei (White Eyebrow) and shuai chiao. He is also a student of Zen. A long-term student of one branch of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Qigong, he is a personal disciple of the qi gong master and teacher of acupuncture Dr. Zaiwen Shen (M.D., Ph.D.) and is Vice-President of the DS International Chi Medicine Association. He holds an M.A. in International Relations from American University in Washington D.C. and has traveled extensively through South and Southeast Asia. He frequently returns to Japan and Okinawa to continue his studies in the martial arts, their history and tradition. In his professional life he has been a businessman, newspaper journalist, inventor and entrepreneur.

To find more articles of interest, search on one of these keywords:

Japanese martial arts, sumo, Japanese wrestling, traditional martial arts of Japan, Japanese Amateur Sumo Federation, Professional Japan Sumo Association, Nihon Sumo Kyokai

Read more articles by Christopher Caile

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