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Sumo in Japan

Top ranked Hakuho perfroming the Yokuzuna ring-entering ceremony in the Nagoya Grand Sumo Tournament

Sumo is a Japanese style of wrestling that has been practiced for centuries, and it is considered one of Japan’s national sports. Sumo is not just a sport; it is a cultural tradition with deep roots in Japanese history, religion, and society. The rules of sumo are simple: two wrestlers, or rikishi, enter a ring, or dohyo, and attempt to push each other out of the ring or force their opponent to touch the ground with any part of their body other than the soles of their feet.

The sumo wrestlers are huge, with some weighing over 180 kilograms, and their physiques are the result of rigorous training and a specific diet that includes a lot of rice, fish, and beer. Sumo wrestlers are known as rikishi and are divided into six divisions based on their performance. The highest rank is Yokozuna, followed by Ozeki, Sekiwake, Komusubi, Maegashira, and Juryo.

A bout in the Nagoya Grand Sumo Tournament
A bout in the controversial Nagoya summer Grand Sumo Tournament held on the 14th and second final day.

Sumo has a long and rich history in Japan, dating back over 1,500 years. It was originally a religious ritual performed to appease the gods and ensure a bountiful harvest. Over time, sumo evolved into a more organized sport and became popular entertainment for the Japanese people. Today, sumo tournaments are held six times a year, and they attract large crowds of spectators from all over Japan and the world.

Sumo is not just a physical sport but also a mental one. The wrestlers must be able to maintain their concentration and focus in the face of distractions and pressure. They also follow a strict code of conduct, known as the Sumo Association’s rules, which includes rules on how to dress, how to behave, and how to interact with others.

One of the most interesting aspects of sumo is the pre-match rituals. Before each match, the wrestlers perform a series of elaborate rituals, including stomping their feet, throwing salt into the ring, and raising their arms to the sky. These rituals are intended to purify the ring and demonstrate respect for their opponents and the sport.

Another fascinating aspect of sumo is the community that surrounds it. The wrestlers live together in training stables, or heya, where they follow a strict daily routine of training, eating, and sleeping. The senior wrestlers, or sekitori, are responsible for the younger wrestlers’ training and well-being, creating a strong sense of camaraderie and loyalty within the heya.

At the Osaka Spring Sumo Tournament
At the Osaka Spring Sumo Tournament in March 2018

Sumo has faced several challenges in recent years, including declining popularity among young people in Japan and accusations of match-fixing and corruption within the Sumo Association. However, the sport remains an important part of Japanese culture and identity, and efforts are underway to modernize and promote it to a wider audience.

In conclusion, sumo is a unique and fascinating sport that has deep roots in Japanese history and culture. It requires strength, skill, mental toughness, and respect for tradition and opponents. While it faces challenges, its enduring popularity and rich tradition ensure that it will remain an important part of Japanese society for years to come.

At the Osaka Spring Sumo Tournament in March 2018
At the Osaka Spring Sumo Tournament in March 2018