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  • Aug 6, 2015
  • by Alina

Culture ALL


Sumo is a Japanese type of wrestling and the country’s national sport, practiced professionally only by men. A wrestler attempts to force another wrestler out of the circular ring, ‘dohyō’ or into touching the ground with anything other than the soles of his feet.


It originated in the Edo period (between 1603 and 1868), as a performance with the purpose of entertaining the Shinto Gods. Today, Shinto is a major religion alongside Buddhism in Japan, and certain shrines still perform a ritual dance, where a human is believed to wrestle with a Shinto divine spirit.


Matches take place on a ‘dohyo’, an elevated ring made of clay mixed with sand. Marches consist solely of a single round and usually last only a few seconds, but they can occasionally last for several minutes. A new ‘dohyō’ is built for each tournament by the bout callers. Bout callers or ‘yobidashi’ are the ones who call the wrestlers to the ring before the beginning of their round, sweep the ring, provide purification salt and display banners that show the match results.


Sumo wrestling is a strict hierarchy based on sporting merit. The wrestlers are ranked according to a system dating back to the Edo period. Wrestlers are promoted or demoted according to their performance in six official tournaments held throughout the year.


Since there are no weight restrictions in sumo and wrestlers can be matched off against someone many times hair size, weight gain is an essential part of sumo training. To gain weight, a wrestler must consume an average of 10,000 calories daily. The most common type of food served is the traditional sumo meal of ‘chankonabe’, cooked at table and which consists of a simmering stew containing various fish, meat, and vegetables. It is usually eaten with rice.
On entering sumo, they are also expected to grow their hair long to form a topknot, or ‘chonmage’, similar to the samurai hairstyles of the Edo Period.


Wrestlers are required to live a highly regimented life by the Japan Sumo Association, and some of them must live in “sumo wrestling stables”, which are shared with other members. Currently there are 43 stables for approximately 660 wrestlers.
Every aspect of their lives, such as diet and way of dressing, are imposed by strict tradition, and they are trained daily by members of the association. The members are all former wrestlers and the only people entitled to train new wrestlers.


There are six Sumo tournaments held each year: three at The Sumo Hall (or Ryōgoku Kokugikan) in Ryōgoku, Tokyo (January, May, and September), and one each in Osaka (March), Nagoya (July) and Fukuoka (November). Each tournament begins on a Sunday and runs for 15 days, ending also on a Sunday.

The best way to see sumo is to attend a sumo tournament. Tickets can be purchased through The Japan Sumo Association (http://www.sumo.or.jp/en/ ) or at certain convenience stores.

For those wishing to understand more about sumo, there is also a Sumo Museum in Sumida-ku, Tokyo (http://sumo.or.jp/en/sumo_museum/index).

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