Sumo: The Japanese Wrestling
In Japanese, Sumo means "strike each other". It is competitive full-contact wrestling in which the wrestler forces the opponent’s feet or any body part out of the dohyo (a round ring) by throwing, shoving, or pushing. It originated in Japan hundreds of years ago and is the national sport of Japan. Therefore, it still retains many of its ancient traditions even though it has now evolved into a modern martial art form.
History of Sumo
Sumo was originally a ritual dance of Shinto, the traditional Japanese religion, to pray for a good harvest. Vigorous men would offer their strength to Kami, the gods of Shinto, to show respect and gratitude. They placed great importance on ritual and form. For this reason, Sumo wrestlers do not wear anything but mawashi (sumo wrestler’s belt). The traditional rules of Sumo still remain in the current Sumo competition.
During the Kamakura period (1192-1333CE), Sumo wrestling transformed from a ritual dance to a military training method. By the Muromachi period (1336-1573CE), Sumo had become a popular public entertainment and a bunch of wrestler sponsors appeared. Oda Nobunaga, a super fan of Sumo, held a grand tournament with 1,500 wrestlers in the 1570s. To ensure the safety of audiences, he set aside a circular arena to limit the playing field, which is considered to be the debut of the Dohyo, an important part of the sport today. In the Edo period (1603-1867CE), the rules of sumo were established.
The Meiji Restoration in 1868 saw the downfall of the feudal system. Sumo was regarded as an embarrassing and backward relic due to the appreciation of Western culture. It was not until 1884 when Emperor Meiji held a Sumo tournament that sumo wrestling regained its popularity and became a national symbol.
Rules of Sumo
The basic rule of sumo is very simple: the wrestler loses if any part of his body touches the ground outside the ring, or if any part of his body other than the soles of his feet touches the ground inside the ring. There are many ways to win a match. The Japanese Sumo Association distinguishes 82 kimarite (winning techniques), such as buchikamashi (headbutt), nodowa (throat attack), tsuppari (thrust), harite (slap to the opponent’s face), and ashibarai (foot sweep). Some attack moves will make a wrestler disqualified. The illegal moves are called kinjite, which includes strangulation, hair pulling, finger bending, crotch-grabbing, kicking, eye poking, punching, and hitting the opponent in both ears simultaneously.
A particular attraction of sumo is the various customs and rituals that have remained unchanged for centuries. The dohyoiri (ring-entry ceremony) at the beginning of each match, in which the wrestlers appear in the ring wearing elaborate kesho-mawashi, throw salt into the ring and rinse their mouths with water, which symbolizes purification. Moreover, there is a warm-up routine called shikiri before the start of the match.
Ways to Enjoy Sumo
1. Watch Tournaments
There will be six tournaments throughout the year, held every 2 months. Each tournament starts and ends on a Sunday and lasts 15 days. Tournaments in January, May, and September are held at Ryogoku Kokugikan in Tokyo, March in Osaka, July in Nagoya, and November in Fukuoka. You can get tickets in advance, or even on the day of the tournament if the seat is available. There are two types of seats depending on the distance to the ring. You can choose circus tickets if you want to see the wrestlers clearly.
2. Go to the Sumo stables
The sumo stables are where Sumo wrestlers live, train and rest. Every morning, wrestlers have a practice session in the stable. If you happen to miss the tournament when you travel to Japan, watching the Sumo stables' morning practice is quite an option. However, it is difficult for foreign visitors to visit the stables on their own. Therefore, it is necessary to find a guide who is fluent in Japanese and familiar with the customs and traditions of Sumo.
3. Eat as Sumo wrestlers do
Sumo wrestling has no weight restrictions or class. Therefore, weight gain is an important part of sumo training. Sumo wrestlers follow a strict diet, consuming about 20,000 calories a day. The most popular Sumo food is hot pot, which is offered in some restaurants. Sumo hot pot is full of protein and vitamins, which can be said as a healthy recipe. The only issue here is that a single person can’t finish it. It’s a good idea to share the hot pot with your friends and family!