Doreen Simmons, 1932–2018
The British teacher who made it big in the world of sumo
When Doreen Simmons watched her first sumo wrestling match on a trip to Japan in 1968, she was instantly captivated. The British-born teacher loved the sport’s ancient rituals—such as how the enormous, loincloth-clad competitors toss salt in the air before bouts to purify the ring—and was struck by what she described as the “calm Buddha-like faces of the men waiting their turn.” This was no passing fancy. Simmons moved to Tokyo five years later and over the next couple of decades established herself as an unlikely authority on Japan’s national sport. She analyzed fights in English for Japan’s public broadcaster for 25 years and became one of the very few women allowed into the heya—the “stables” where the wrestlers lived and trained.
Born in Nottingham, a city in central England, Simmons taught Latin and Greek before moving to Japan, said The Washington Post. She worked as an English-language editor for the country’s foreign ministry by day and immersed herself in the world of sumo in her free time. She lived in Tokyo’s Ryogoku district, “the heart of the sumo world,” and wrote about the sport for Kansai Time Out, Sumo World, and other English-language publications.
Much loved in her adopted country, Simmons “received the Order of the Rising Sun, one of the Japanese government’s highest honors, last year,” said The New York Times. But she never saw herself as a true expert. “The attraction of sumo to the person looking at it for the first time is that you can understand pretty much what is going on,” she said in 1997. “But there is so much else [involved]. I can honestly say I haven’t stopped learning.”