Until the mid-1990s, sumo wrestling in Brazil was almost exclusively practiced by Japanese immigrants and their offspring.The same story appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle.
Today, however, about 70 percent of all sumo aficionados in the country are Brazilians with no Japanese blood, in large part because of efforts by the local association to popularize the sport.
By holding sumo matches in city squares and other public arenas, "we managed to teach a lot of people to appreciate our sport," said Oscar Morio Tsuchiya, the vice president of the Brazilian Sumo Confederation.
The group has more than 2,000 members and organizes an annual national championship for amateur wrestlers....
Sumo was brought to Brazil almost a century ago by Japanese immigrants, who started flocking to the South American country in the early 1900s in search of work, initially on coffee plantations and eventually in agriculture in general.
With coffee sacks as mawashis, the traditional loincloths worn by sumo wrestlers, the first matches in Brazil were held to honor the emperor of Japan's birthday.
And in 1914, the first official Brazilian sumo championship was celebrated in Guatapará, in the interior of the state of São Paulo.
"They did everything they could to cultivate Japanese culture because they intended to return to Japan someday, and practicing sumo was a big part of that, but very few ended up going back," said Célia Oi, the executive director of the Museum of the History of Japanese Immigration to Brazil in São Paulo.
Women's sumo also seems to be spreading in Brazil, but not everyone is happy about it.