[Only 53 new apprentices in a year]…The number of new apprentices in sumo is the lowest ever, and the Sumo Association is not waiting for reform! | FRIDAY DIGITAL

[Only 53 new apprentices in a year]…The number of new apprentices in sumo is the lowest ever, and the Sumo Association is not waiting for reform!

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The Kyushu Grand Sumo Tournament is reaching its climax, and many fans may have noticed the rise of young wrestlers in this tournament. Atamihafuji, 21 years old, has been competing for the championship in the Kyushu Tournament following the fall tournament. Onosato, who is only in his fourth season, is 23 years old and is expected to make his debut in the first tournament of the season, depending on the results of the Kyushu tournament.

Atamihafuji battles for the championship with Takaketsugatsu in the fall tournament.

However, while there are promising young rikishi, the number of new apprentices is decreasing remarkably. The number of new apprentices this year was the lowest ever, at 53. We would like to consider the current decline in new apprentices, which could have a serious impact on the future of sumo.

Fewer new apprentices than after the eight hundred riots

The new apprentice examination for the Kyushu tournament was held on November 6 in Fukuoka City. As a result, the number of new disciples for this year’s tournament was 53, the lowest number since the six new apprenticeships per year system was introduced in 1958.

The previous record for the lowest number of new apprentices was 56 in 2012. The reason for this was the baseball betting problem that was uncovered in 2010, and the eight hundred and fifty-four allegations that came to light the following year in the course of an investigation of the baseball betting. The scandals became a social issue, as the spring tournament of the same year was cancelled due to the difficulties in investigating the allegations of illegal betting.

This year, there were no scandals that shook the Kakunin world. Nevertheless, considering the fact that the number of new disciples is lower than in 2012, one can understand the seriousness of the decline in the number of new disciples.

The highest number of new apprentices was during the “wakaki boom,” with 223 in 1992 and 221 in 1993, two years in a row with more than 200. In 1992, there were 223 new apprentices, and in 1993, 221. In 1992, there were 223 new apprentices, and in 1993, 221, exceeding 200 for two years in a row.

This was followed by the spread of the new coronavirus. Each stable struggled to recruit new apprentices, and in 2009 and 2010 the number of new apprentices dropped to the 60s. And this year, despite the end of the COVID-19 crisis, the number of new apprentices has fallen into the 50s,” said a reporter from the sports department of a national newspaper.

There are several reasons for the decline in the number of new apprentices, the most significant being the declining birthrate. Added to this is the decline in the sumo population. The impact of the increase in the number of professional sports options, including the establishment of the J-League soccer team in 1993, cannot be ignored.

Furthermore, it is undeniable that the younger generation has become less interested in the way sumo stables are run. In a stable, wrestlers live together as a group and are required to prepare chanko and serve as attendants to sekitori. If one does not become a sekitori, there is no salary.

Physique standards for new apprentice inspections may be eliminated: ……

The Japan Sumo Association has a sense of crisis. One sign of this is the elimination of the height and weight inspection standards for new apprentices. Previously, a minimum height of 167 cm and weight of 67 kg was required to pass the test, but this was abolished on September 28. The standard of 165 cm and 65 kg or more for new apprentices who are expected to graduate from junior high school in the spring tournament was also abolished.

It is a well-known story that Mai-no-Kai passed the new apprentice examination by injecting silicon into his head in order to clear the height limit.

The tsuke-dashi system (a system that gives preferential treatment to wrestlers who have proven themselves in their student or amateur sumo days) was also changed. New apprentices who had placed in the top eight or higher in the All Japan Championships, the National Student Championships, and the National Athletic Meet for Adults were all assigned to the “lowest rank in the makushita” rank.

On the other hand, the best four or above in the National High School Championships and the National Youth Athletic Meet are eligible for the lowest rank in the third dan. The aim is to encourage proven high school wrestlers to enter the professional ranks rather than the college ranks. In addition, having rikishi who have proven themselves as amateurs debut at the third dan rank or higher would increase the likelihood that rikishi who entered the ranks as amateurs would be able to compete for championships at oshinokuchi and shoninidan ranks. The elimination of the new apprentice inspection standards and the change in the tsukegashidashi system are major reforms for the JSA.

However, it is not clear whether these changes will halt the decline in the number of new apprentices. Hasegawa of the Ajikawa stable, who passed the new apprentice inspection at the Kyushu tournament, debuted as a former sumo wrestler after waiving his right to be a san-dan-zuke-dashi, although he placed third in the national high school tournament at Goshogawara Agriculture and Forestry in Aomori Prefecture. His willingness to be knocked up from the bottom is to be commended, but …….

If the association is serious about increasing the number of new apprentices, there are many issues to be considered, such as the structure of the stable, salaries for rikishi below the makushita rank, and support for the second careers of rikishi who do not advance in the ranks and leave the world of sumo.

In view of the current decline in the number of new apprentices, there seems to be no doubt that further reform of sumo is needed.

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