Sumo wrestling is a deep-seated tradition in Japanese culture and is closely aligned with Shinto, the native religion of Japan. The first sumo matches were held on the grounds of Shinto shrines to honor the kami, or spirits, and to ensure a bountiful harvest. Sumo matches have evolved over time and are now held in arenas in cities across Japan, but the essence of the sport is still performed with Shinto customs, dress and rituals at its core. Today, sumo wrestling has become a world-renowned spectator sport. Head to the Grand Sumo Tournament in Tokyo with Misawa ITT to see live sumo matches!
There are many components that make up the sumo wrestling ring that pay homage to its Shinto heritage. The canopy suspended over the ring, or yakata, is made to look like the roof of a Shinto shrine and its purpose is to represent the sky and designate the ring as a holy place. Colorful silk tassels hang from each corner of the yakata and represent the four seasons. The green, red, white and black tassels signify spring, summer, fall and winter respectively. The clay ring below, called the dohyo, represents the earth. The referee, known as the gyoji, represents the Shinto priest and is always dressed in a traditional outfit. Before each Grand Sumo Tournament, a ring-entering ceremony is held to remind the wrestlers of their religious duties and to purify the ring according to Shinto customs.
The regulations, rules and everyday lives of sumo wrestlers is anything but easy. One may assume that due to their weight, sumo wrestlers have a fun and lavish lifestyle. This is not the case. Wrestlers live, eat, practice and sleep inside the sumobeya, or stable, managed by a stable master. Mornings in the stable begin around 5 a.m. for the unranked wrestlers who help cook, clean and assist higher ranked members. Each sumo wrestler is classified by a ranking hierarchy, or banzuke, which is adjusted by each wrestler’s performance in tournaments. There are six divisions that make up the professional sumo divisions with the yokozuna being the highest possible rank. Once this ranking is achieved, the sumo wrestler cannot be demoted. Newly promoted yokozuna perform their first ring- entering ceremony at the Meiji Shrine in Tokyo.
Matches generally only take seconds to conclude. The first sumo wrestler who is thrown out of the ring or touches the ground with any other part of his body besides his feet loses. Matches do not have weight restrictions and often pair sumo wrestlers with largely different weight classes together, making weight gain an advantage in the sport.