Sumo Wrestling in Japan Facts
– The first sumo match with the public spectators was organized by Oda Nobunaga in the late 1500s. Most sumo rules that exist today emerged in the 17th and 18th centuries during the Edo period.
– The wrestler that pushes the other side out of the ring or makes any part of his body (except the sole) touch the sand, wins the game. Also if the mawashi (loincloth) of the wrestler comes off, he loses the match.
– The wrestlers must put their both fists on the ground and jump simultaneously when the referee gives the sign. The referee points the gunbai (the war fan) at the direction of the side that wins the game. The winning side receives the envelopes with money if the game is sponsored (usually $300 per sponsor).
– The bouts last 20-30 seconds and there is a ceremony before each bout. The wrestlers throw salt to the stage and do irregular warm up routines to distract their opponent. If the bout takes more than 4 minutes the referee asks for a break.
– There are no weight-based divisions meaning the weights of the wrestlers are not equal.
– There are 6 levels of sumo leagues. The lowest level is called jonokuchi (about 50 wrestlers) and the top level is called makuuchi (42 wrestlers). Most televised sumo tournaments are makuuchi wrestlers.
– A wrestler who becomes the champion in two consecutive seasons or who has some outstanding achievements becomes the yokozuna. The yokozuna has the highest ranking among all the sumo wrestlers. Below yokozuna there is ozeki, sekiwake and kamisubi.
– There are only six sumo tournaments a year and each tournament lasts for 2 weeks. 3 of the tournaments take place in Tokyo (Jan, May, Sept.) where the sumo museum is located (Ryogoku Kokugihan). The other tournaments take place in Osaka (March), Nagoya (July) and Fukuoka (November). The last day of the tournament has the matches of the top wrestlers it is called senshusaku (the pleasure of 1000 seasons).
– Just like the geisha system one cannot become a sumo wrestler on his own. He must belong to a sumo house and enter the sumo house in the young age where all of his expenses are paid.
– Junior sumo wrestlers must wake up at 5 am. Sumo wrestlers cannot have breakfast. They have to take a siesta after a bug lunch. Junior members must live in the dorms of the sumo house they belong to.
– Compared to other athletes, sumo wrestlers make relatively less money. The yokozuna (top sumo wrestler) gets approximately $100,000 after winning one tournament and about $ 30,000 monthly salary. Sumo wrestlers in the top division make about $8-10K a month. Most sumo wrestlers (those lower than the 2nd division don’t get salary other than some stipend).
– The reason sumo wrestlers are healthy is they don’t have visceral fat. Their fat is right under the skin not spread among the organs. If the sumo wrestlers stop training they feel unhealthy in a short time. Most past sumo wrestlers are not fat today. Another reason the sumo wrestlers are healthy is the low amount of sugar in their diet.
– There are many foreign born sumo wrestlers. The most famous one being Kotooshu from Bulgaria who has been wrestling in the top division.
The loincloth belt of a sumo wrestler is about 6-7 meters long.
The sumo wrestlers live about 65 years which is shorter than the avg. Japanese life expectancy for males (78).
The sumo wrestlers usually eat a high-calorie dish called chanko nabe which is beef stew and vegetables hot pot. Young sumo wrestlers consume around 20,000 calories of food a day. That is why they can get fat so easily and quickly.
When sumo wrestlers quit or retire, they change their diet and they quickly lose weight. Foreigners are surprised to see ex-sumo wrestlers who look quite skinny.
There are no female sumo wrestlers and women are not allowed to enter the sumo ring. Some say if a woman enters the ring it must be purified again.
Sumo wrestlers are prohibited from driving a car because of a car accident that injured a sumo wrestler years ago.
In the recent past there was a notion in Japan that the champion sumo wrestlers marry with the beauty pageants.
Sumo wrestlers cannot be independent, they must belong to a sumo house or stable. Each stable can only have 1 foreigner.
The gunbai fan the referee holds is the same with the war fan the daimyos had.
In the past 10 years there were only 2 Japanese champions. Most sumo champions are Mongolians.
The referees (gyoji) carry knives to give the message that they are ready to commit seppuku if they make a mistake.
Sumo Wrestling: A Shinto Ritual or Martial Arts?
- Sumo wrestling was a shinto ceremony to entertain gods. It was believed that if the gods are not pleased, they would not bring a good harvest season.
- The sumo stage, dohyo, has been considered very sacred. That is why there is a roof dressed by the purple curtains and tassels that represent the roof of a shinto shrine.
- In the past there were 4 poles carrying the roof but recently the tassels are used instead of poles where each tassle represents one the 4 major gods.
- The dohyo is covered by sand and the sumo wrestlers throw a pinch of salt to the stage, both of which represent purity in shintoism.
- Before the wrestlers start taking on each other there is a dohyo entering ceremony lead by a shinto priest wearing white robes. Also before the ceremony some chestnuts and cuttle fish are placed inside the ring to be presented to shinto gods.
- The Yokozuna (champion sumo wrestler) wears white zigzag shaped strips of paper, exactly the same with the rice papers hanging at the entrance of shinto shrines.
- The wrestlers stop open their legs wide and stomp, this is to scare the demons that may be on or around the stage.
- The salt thrown on the stage is also commonly placed at the entrance of the buildings to ward off evil spirits.
- During the entering ceremony the sumo wrestlers wear decorative aprons called mawashi.
- The lowest ranked enters the ring first and the highest ranking enters the last just like other Japanese ceremonies.
- At the end the rikishi (sumo wrestlers) hold each others hand and hold up their aprons this is an old samurai tradition to show that they are unarmed.
- The fringes of the ropes hanging from the belt symbolize the purified ropes in front of Shinto shrines that must always be in odd numbers (usually 17, 19 or 21 ) that are lucky in Shintoism.
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