Foreign sumo fans finding ways to make voices heard

Japan Times -- May 13
Sumo isn’t anywhere near the level of the only truly global sport. What its overseas fans lack in numbers, however, they more than make up for in passion.

Despite most of the main honbasho action taking place in the early hours of the morning for those in the United States, social media platforms hum with activity during live grand tournaments. Pop into any sumo Discord server at 2 a.m. in New York and you’ll see comments fly by.

In pre-pandemic times, many of those fans also spent thousands of dollars just to fly to Japan and support their favorite rikishi. Since lockdowns began and borders shut, they have funneled their money into buying merchandise. Whether it’s trading cards, autographed tegata handprints or banzuke ranking sheets, sumo fans outside Japan are major purchasers of memorabilia.

As is the case with many of this country’s sports, acquiring merchandise from abroad normally involves using third-party vendors, as foreigner-friendly payment and shipping methods are rarely made available by Japanese retailers.

While a lack of foresight when it comes to fully taking advantage of a growing global market might be partly to blame in other sports, when it comes to sumo it is the fact that the Japan Sumo Association is a public interest corporation — whose remit is to carry on and promote the traditions of sumo — that means that foreign fans are, by default, not its target audience.

All of which still doesn’t prevent people living in Moscow, Marseille or Montreal from being emotionally invested in sumo.

The love and dedication displayed by sumo’s foreign fans rivals anything seen inside Japan’s borders. Sumo Reference, the go-to database for everyone involved in the sport, is a German creation. The definitive guide to sumo trading cards was written by an American. In addition to dozens of sites and blogs in English, Spanish and Russian, you can also find amateur athletes across the world traveling six or seven hours by car just to strap on a mawashi and participate in their favorite sport.

- Japan Times