(Shinjinrui on Sumo)
by Chris Gould
|for the NSK would be much more pleasant if all tournament seats were sold.
Central to the phenomenon of empty seats are, of course, Japan’s under-30s. Although the term ‘shinjinrui’ (‘new race’) has gradually absented itself from Japanese social commentary, I have applied it to the Japanese youth of today because their outlook on life – and, to a lesser but significant extent, sumo – is indisputably different to that of previous generations. The previous two essays have explored many theories as to why shinjinrui take little interest in Japan’s ‘national’ sport, but could it simply be the case that there are basic structural barriers (financial, geographical, logistical and organisational) that prevent shinjinrui from joining in the fun?
Expensive entrance fee?
‘It’s not that I don’t want to come to sumo,’ says Hiroshi, a 25-year-old air steward. ‘I’ll admit it’s hard to get to bouts during the day, but the thing that puts me off most is the high price of tickets.’
My shinjinrui interviews confirm that Hiroshi speaks for many of his peers. The most common reason youngsters give for not attending sumo is the cost of tickets. In the words of the sumo journalist Liliane Fujimori: ‘The prices are pretty high, and… people with modest incomes will, without doubt, pass up the chance to watch live sumo and remain content with [watching] televised broadcasts.’
The cheapest ticket for a Tokyo basho is a ‘day pass,’ which is priced at around ¥2,100 ($17.50). However, few shinjinrui are
|In the final essay of the trilogy, Chris Gould looks at the
structural barriers which – by all accounts – appear to be preventing
Japan’s under-30s from enjoying sumo.
January 10th 2007. Another weekday, another 45%-full Kokugikan. A despondent Englishman, who has briefly departed the arena for a photo engagement, fails to suppress his inner feelings when greeted by his favourite Kokugikan usher. ‘Konde imasen, ne?’ (‘A crowd, there is not, eh?’), the Englishman complains, in Japanese most charitably described as ‘pidgin.’ A nearby oyakata, doubtless itching to break up the monotony of guidebook duty, overhears my remark and offers a response. ‘He says: “Wait until the weekend. Then the crowds will come,”’ is the usher’s English translation.
enough, the weekend comes and so do the crowds; the man’in rei (full
house) banners are lowered on both the following Saturday and Sunday.
But my seeds of doubt continue to germinate. I spend a large portion of
Day 8 contemplating just how the Japan Sumo Association (NSK) – with a
payroll encompassing hundreds of wrestlers, oyakata, officials, guides
and clerical staff – can possibly remain solvent with average daily
gates of 6,000. If a professional football club, cricket club, rugby
team or – dare I say – the
Lawn Tennis Association found itself in a similar position, it would be
bankrupted within a month. I am no more blind to the vital financial
assistance provided by koenkai, kanemochi and other private sponsorship
than I am to the presumably limited capacity of these donors to keep
bailing sumo out. I simply feel that life
Another busy day in the Kokugikan - Carolyn Todd