Sumo: Japanese Wrestling

Sumo: Japanese Wrestling

In Japanese, sumo means "strike one another". 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 modern sumo competitions.

During the Kamakura period (1192-1333), Sumo wrestling transformed from a ritual dance to a military training method. By the Muromachi period (1336-1573), 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 (1603-1867), 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. Illegal moves are called kinjite, which includes strangulation, hair pulling, finger bending, 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 are 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 a few types of seats varying in price depending on the distance to the ring. You can choose tickets that allow you to sit up close if you want to see the wrestlers clearly. The closest seats have warnings for customers - neither the venue nor the organizer takes any responsibility for injury in the case that a wrestler falls backward out of the ring and crashes into a customer sitting there.

2. Go to 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 be traveling to Japan when a tournament is not happening, watching the wrestlers at a sumo stable 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 for a foreign visitor to go.

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 to be a healthy recipe. The only issue is that one person probably can’t finish it. It’s a good idea to share the hot pot with your friends and family!

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