Tuesday, June 3, 2008


Sumo (相撲, sumō?) is a competitive contact sport where two wrestlers (rikishi) attempt to force one another out of a circular ring (dohyo) or to touch the ground with anything other than the soles of the feet. The sport originated in Japan, the only country where it is practiced professionally. The Japanese consider sumo a gendai budō (a modern Japanese martial art), though the sport has a history spanning many centuries.

The sumo tradition is very ancient, and even today the sport includes many ritual elements, such as the use of salt for purification, from the days sumo was used in the Shinto religion. Life as a rikishi is highly regimented, with rules laid down by the Sumo Association. Professional sumo wrestlers are required to live in communal "sumo training stables" known in Japanese as heya where all aspects of their daily lives - from meals to their manner of dress - are dictated by strict tradition.

Origens of Sumo:

In addition to its use as a trial of strength in combat, it has also been associated with Shinto ritual, and even today certain shrines carry out forms of ritual dance where a human is said to wrestle with a kami (a Shinto divine spirit). It was an important ritual at the imperial court. Representatives of each province were ordered to attend the contest at the court and fight. They were required to pay for their travels themselves. The contest was known as sumai no sechie, or "sumai party."

Winning a Sumo bout:

The winner of a sumo bout is either:

The first wrestler to force his opponent to step out of the ring.
The first wrestler to force his opponent to touch the ground with any part of his body other than the bottom of his feet.
On rare occasions the referee or judges may award the win to the wrestler who touched the ground first; this happens if both wrestlers touch the ground at nearly the same time and it is decided that the wrestler who touched the ground second had no chance of winning as, due to the superior sumo of his opponent, he was already in an irrecoverable position. The losing wrestler is referred to as being shini-tai (“dead body”) in this case.

There are also a number of other rarely used rules that can be used to determine the winner. For example a wrestler using an illegal technique (or kinjite) automatically loses, as does one whose mawashi (or belt) becomes completely undone. A wrestler failing to turn up for his bout (including through a prior injury) also automatically loses (fusenpai). After the winner is declared, an off-stage gyoji (or referee) determines the kimarite (or winning technique) used in the bout, which is then announced to the audience.

Matches often last only a few seconds, as usually one wrestler is quickly ousted from the circle or thrown to the ground. However, they can occasionally last for several minutes. Each match is preceded by an elaborate ceremonial ritual. The wrestlers themselves are renowned for their great girth, as body mass is often a winning factor in sumo, though with skill, smaller wrestlers can topple far larger opponents.

Sumo matches take place in a dohyō (土俵): a ring, 4.55 metres in diameter, of rice-straw bales on top of a platform made of clay mixed with sand. A new dohyō is built for each tournament by the yobidashi. At the center are two white lines, the shikiri-sen, behind which the wrestlers position themselves at the start of the bout. A roof resembling that of a Shinto shrine may be suspended over the dohyō.(info from wikepedia)

My dream one day, is to see a live Sumo match. This is one of the reasons that I have always wanted to visit Japan. For those of you headed that way, here is the upcoming schedule:

Sun. July 13th, 2008 - Sun. July 27th, 2008
Aichi Prefectural Gymnasium - Nagoya

tickets now on sale

Advanced ticket purchases can now be made through the Telephone Reservation Service, the July Tournament Official Homepage (see The Chunichi Shimbun Homepage), the various sumo "tea houses" and Play Guides.
* Advanced ticket purchases can be made at the venue from June 12th.(10:00 AM - 5:00 PM / closed Saturdays, Sundays & holidays)

2008 July Tournament Advanced Ticket Information


Barbara said...

Your dream is to see a live sumo match.......hmmmmmm. You are a woman who is full of surprises! My daughter Frances became fascinated with watching sumo wrestling on television when she was 3 and we were in China to adopt her first little sister. It was the only thing she would watch.

maddie said...

I would love to see one as well...
perhaps i can meet you in Japan
one day:)

your photo ~ at the top had me
laughing ...:)

Barbara said...

I'm also a Sumo fan. I've only seen it on TV.

Fliss and Mike Adventures said...

I like watching Sumo... it is quiet interesting... I love that top photo though... to cute...

Anonymous said...

I would love to see it. Those rolls are sexy!

Vivian M said...

We watched alot of Sumo matches in China (had access to a Japanese station). But I have to tell you that the first picture was hilarious. What WAS that boy thinking?
Have you seen that new SUV commercial with the SUMO wrestlers washing the car?

FishermansDaughter said...

I worked for a Japanese company for five years and LOVES to get mah sumo on! The most successful are venerated to very high status in the caste system and given a special brand of respect nation wide. A hybred cross between rock star/religious icon with a smattering of government official. On an entirely different note, woow! Those Jay-paners sure know how to partaayy! I have a rich cache of colorful memories during my time working there -- everything from pounding steaming hot sake with "imported" work colleagues (they were fascinated by my Irish capacity...)to having the company president instruct me in the fine art of tea. Good times.

tangobaby said...

My, my. This is fascinating!

Anonymous said...

another cultural education at the knee of my yoli :) how interesting indeed! what i want to know is the top photo an example of: "The wrestlers themselves are renowned for their great girth, as body mass is often a winning factor in sumo, though with skill, smaller wrestlers can topple far larger opponents." ?
your friend, bird tweet robin from down the road

willow said...

Intriguing post, Yoli!

Nyla said...

Now I want to see a live Sumo match! I never knew it was considered a martial art and was steeped in ancient Shinto ritual. Fascinating.