Photo/IllutrationThe Fujisan-Shizuoka tournament, a part of the Japan Sumo Association's circuit tour, draws a large number of spectators in Shizuoka on April 8. (The Asahi Shimbun)

The Japan Sumo Association has again caused a stir by denying females entry to the dohyo, this time by barring schoolgirls from a circuit tour it held here earlier this month.

But Shibatayama, chief of the JSA’s publicity division, said April 12 the decision to bar girls from the dohyo was made “out of consideration for their safety” and that it should be considered separately from the JSA’s traditional policy of not allowing women to go on to the sumo ring.

Several girls had been expected to take part in the "chibikko-zumo" program (small children’s sumo) in Shizuoka on April 8, in which wrestlers “train” elementary schoolchildren on the ring, often with humorous moves.

The event is part of the Fujisan-Shizuoka tournament, which has been held at the prefectural-run gym in the city’s Suruga Ward to promote the sport in local areas.

But stablemaster Araiso called the organizing committee of the tournament on April 4 to request that “girls refrain from joining” the program, according to a committee member.

It came as a surprise to the committee.

“The kids' event has been held annually since 2015 and girls have participated in it in the past,” the committee member said.

According to the JSA, it has received reports that girls were injured in the children’s program and other circuit tour-related events.

The JSA has considered the matter since last year and decided against the girls’ participation before the Shizuoka event.

But the intention of the JSA apparently was not clearly communicated to the organizing committee in Shizuoka.

Shibatayama said contacting the organizing committee on April 4 was to remind it of the JSA’s decision, not calling at the last minute to notify it of its decision.

The phone call was made the same day the JSA sparked a huge outcry in Japan and abroad by sticking to its tradition of banning women from the sumo ring, even in an emergency.

When at least two women ran on to the dohyo to save the life of the mayor of Maizuru, Kyoto Prefecture, after he collapsed there, the JSA announced through the public address system that women should leave the ring. They were administering cardiac massage to the mayor at the time.

JSA Chairman Hakkaku later apologized for the instruction, saying it was inappropriate given the seriousness of the situation.

Apart from the children's program, the event in Shizuoka included a session in which fans could shake hands with wrestlers and watch bouts between wrestlers of the top two divisions, makuuchi and juryo.