With great interest--and not a little envy--I read Emily Thornton's "Lean times for the sport of the huge" (Letter from Japan, June 15). As a longtime fan of sumo and a subscriber to your publication, it was good to see the splicing of two of my interests in life. It is true that attendance at sumo tournaments has dropped during the past 18 months, that "sold out" signs at the various sumo venues have been scarce of late, and that the shadows of recent scandals are still lingering.
With the promotion, however, of the older Hanada brother, Wakanohana, to yokozuna status, following his performance in the May tournament and with the creation of the first-ever set of sibling yokozuna, interest in the sport is again set to rise.
It was interesting to learn that some wrestlers retain their distinctive topknot upon retirement as proof of their former status and a bulwark against being thought of as merely fat. Most top-ranking rikishi have their top knot sliced off in a retirement ceremony, as noted by your correspondent, although they are normally presented with the cut-off ponytail as a lasting reminder. The history and traditions of the sport were nicely conveyed.
The lean times in sumo might not be so lean if there were more competition among the top wrestlers. Five high-rankers, two being grand champions and another a champion, don't have any occasion to compete against each other because they belong to the same stable. Changing the rule to inject the adrenaline of competition is a logical step, but so far, there hasn't been even a whisper for such change.
Maybe a few more empty seats are needed to encourage the reform, but in a country tied up in the Gordian knots of tradition, the adjustment is painful. As with the bleak economic situation, when the pain grows sufficiently acute, change will occur.