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Sumo in Japan
2009

In an austere concrete car park in the wings of the Ryogoku national sumo wrestling hall in Japan’s capital a group of young boys are preparing for combat. Like oversized ballerinas they squat and pirouette on quaking legs to improve balance and strength and follow it with stamping, thrusting and shuffling, all techniques unique to the sumo ring.
When Japan was a rice and fish economy boys could enter stables at age 12, now the age limit is 15. Young wrestlers are drawn to sumo not just for the cultural prestige. At the top sumo commands big money and, like boxing, can be the path to fame and fortune. Sumo wrestlers in the top two divisions can command $80,000 to $100,000 a year and the highest ranked wrestlers can earn more than $300,000.
During March and April stable masters travel to regional festivals and speak to local sumo clubs in search of new talent. But the task has become a little more urgent in Japan where the sport’s elite has become increasingly internationalized and sporting imports such as soccer and baseball prove more popular among the young. Sumo is finding it difficult to recruit new stars.

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