Friday, November 30, 2012

Sumo wrestling

The sumo wrestler (also known as the rikishi) has a handler to carry all his things and walks behind him at all times.
The match begins at any point, but just because they line up to wrestle doesn't mean it will immediately happen.
A ring entering ceremony (dohyo-iri) signals the beginning of the sumo matches for the day.
The sword ceremony takes place during the dohyo-iri, and is usually conducted by the best sumo wrestler in the tournament.
The judge (gyoji) wears a black hat similar the the Shinto priest's hats.  This role has a hierarchy usually delineated by their footwear.  Low level gyojis are bare foot while the highest gyojis will wear socks or straw sandals.
Sumo wrestlers stomp to rid the evil of the sumo ring.  
The raising of the arms and placing the palms upwards is a gesture showing the gods that the wrestlers are not carrying any weapons.
Throwing a wrestler out of the ring is one of the many ways to win a match.
The roof of the ring is intended to look like a Shinto shrine, and the four tassels represent the four seasons of the year.  
Usually the wrestlers will conduct the rituals prior to a match in tandem.  Throwing the salt, washing the face, and stomping the ground are almost always done together at the same time.  
Matches can last over a minute or sometimes just a couple seconds.  This one was locked up and even for a while and went on for about 30 seconds.  

Nearly 1500 years ago the ancient art of sumo was founded for ceremonies promoting peace and bountiful harvests.  These matches were manifested into plays and rituals thus making them part of the ancient Shinto religion of Japan.  Once the Imperial Court in the 8th century brought in sumo for an annual festival, the sport would become an institution in Japanese culture up to modern times.
Sumo matches are two week events where each wrestler will have one match per day for fifteen days straight.  This round robin style tournament gives the tournament cup (AKA Emperor’s Cup) to the wrestler with the best overall record.  Tournaments are held six times per year with a champion declared at the end of each tournament (Osaka, Nagoya, Fukuoka, and three in Tokyo).
              During a typical match day there are several different ceremonies taking place.  Matches begin around 8:30 in the morning with the lowest class of wrestlers beginning first.  The top level wrestlers introduce themselves around 2:30 in a ring entering ceremony followed by a sword bearing ceremony conducted generally by the best sumo wrestler (yokozuna).  Once the ceremonies are completed, the matches start with two wrestlers entering the ring and conducting a “cold warfare” ceremony of their own prior to actually wrestling.   This cold warfare can be sprinkling the ring with salt, stomping the ground, wiping the face, raising the hands in the air, or simply walking away.  Rules now indicate that a match has to commence within four minutes of entering the ring, but prior rules stated there was no such time limit.  While cold warfare can take minutes (where Japanese state that the tension to the match builds enormously), the match is over usually in a matter of seconds.  A bow dance is performed after all the matches are completed, and the day’s festivities are over around 6:30 at night.

How does one win a match?  Several ways: throwing the opponent out of the ring, having your opponent step out of the ring, touching the ground with anything than his feet, or your opponent having unsportsmanlike conduct (eye-gouging, punching, touching the band wrapped around the wrestler).  There are no weight limits so variances in size are common in matches.  What you lack in size you must make up for in speed and skill, and during my day in Fukuoka I witnessed several undersized men win for the day.
This is a great activity if you are in Japan during a sumo match.  Tickets generally run $40 - $200 and are good for the entire day.  You’ll witness a sporting event that felt more like a religious ceremony and a piece of Japanese culture that is still near and dear to the people.


  1. Hello! I can clearly see the fact that you undoubtedly get the sense of what you are speaking about. Do you a degree or maybe an education which is somehow linked with the topic of the blog post? Can't wait to see your answer.

    1. Hey! No, I don't have a degree or education related to the topic. I just observe and ask a lot of questions when I'm there.