Japan bullfighting lifts 'men-only' rule

TOKYO (AFP) - Japanese bullfighting organisers said on Saturday (May 5) they had lifted a long-standing ban on women entering the sport's "sacred" ring, in a bid to modernise the traditional activity for the #Metoo generation.

Japanese sumo wrestling has recently come under fire for its strict men-only rules.

In "togyu" bullfighting, women were similarly barred from the ring, which is ritually purified before matches with salt and Japanese sake.

But on Friday, organisers lifted the prohibition and allowed female bull owner Yuki Araki to lead her animal into the ring in Yamakoshi, north of Tokyo, after a fight on the opening day of this season.

"Equality for men and women is a trend of the times," said Katsushi Seki, an official with the Yamakoshi bullfight organisation.

"By opening the ring to women, we hope this traditional bullfighting will continue far into the future," Seki told AFP.

Unlike Spanish style bullfighting which ends with a matador slaying the animal, "togyu" is a bloodless match between two bulls locking horns, with great pains taken to ensure the animals do not gore each other.

"I'm glad that local people openly welcomed us," bull owner Yuki Araki, 44, told Japanese public broadcaster NHK.

One of Japan's other traditional sports, sumo, has found itself in hot water after women, including at least one nurse, were shooed out of a sumo ring as they tried to help a man during a medical emergency.

Just days after that incident triggered scathing national and international headlines, a female mayor in the western city of Takarazuka was barred from delivering a speech inside a sumo ring.

Sumo bosses then came in for further criticism after trying to prevent girls from participating in a children's sumo event in Shizuoka prefecture, citing unspecified "safety concerns".

In an attempt to stop the latest public relations disaster to hit the roly-poly sport, officials met last week, but failed to reach a decision on reversing their men-only rule.

The rings where sumo is practised, known as sumo dohyo, are seen as sacred places.

Sumo is closely interlinked with the native Shinto faith, which considers women to be ritually unclean, meaning they are barred from stepping into the ring.

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