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Japan: Inside the Closed World of Sumo (2021)

56m | English | Benoît Chaumont

In Japan, sumo isn’t just a sport. It is almost a religion with its stars hailed as demigods. But it’s also a world closed to outside influence, where scandals are immediately covered up, and women are considered unclean. 


Sumo is the only sport in the world where professional athletes live together 24 hours a day, in schools known as Heyas. Life in a heya is strictly hierarchical, with younger students expected to clean up after the senior ones. It’s a quasi monasterial life that leaves no time for girlfriends or other interests. Women are traditionally regarded as unclean and banned from entering the sacred sumo dohyo ring. But this prohibition was taken to extremes in April 2018, when female firstaiders trying to revive a stroke victim who had collapsed in the dohyo were ordered to immediately leave the ring. 


The event made headlines around the world and the sumo association was forced to apologise. But most scandals in the sumo world are effectively covered up. In 2007, a 17 year old student was beaten to death at an ecurie after he tried to run away. Even though his body was covered with bruises the police accepted the school’s explanation that he had died from overtraining and closed the case. It was only a second investigation by the victim’s family that revealed the truth.


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Japan Sumo

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