Sumo Wrestling in Japan Facts, Meaning, Culture

Sumo Wrestling in Japan Facts

Sumo means "wrestling" in Japanese. More than 1000 years ago there were sumai tournaments where a representative of each province used to travel to a noble court and fight with the other province representatives. Some researchers also claim that the ritual was about a human being and a deity match.
  • Sumo wrestling was born as a Shinto ritual 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 represents the roof of a Shinto shrine.
  • An average sumo wrestler is about 185 cm tall and weighs around 150 kilos.
  • 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 official female sumo wrestlers and women are not allowed to enter the sumo ring. In the past it was believed that if a woman entered the ring, the ring 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 married to beauty pageants.
  • Sumo wrestlers cannot be independent, they must belong to a sumo house or stable. Each stable can only have 1 foreigner.
  • The fan the referee holds (gunbai) is the same as the war fan the daimyos held during the battle.
  • In the past 10 years, there were only 2 Japanese champions. Most recent 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.
  • 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 led by a Shinto priest wearing white robes. Also before the ceremony, some chestnuts and cuttlefish 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 as the mulberry papers hanging at the entrance of Shinto shrines.
  • At the beginning, the wrestlers open their legs wide and stomp, this is to symbolically 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, 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.
  • In the end, the rikishi (sumo wrestlers) hold each other's 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.
  • There are many foreign-born sumo wrestlers. The most famous one being Kotooshu from Bulgaria who has been wrestling in the top division.
  • SUMO


- 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) in 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 komusubi.
- 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 Kokugikan). 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 senshuraku (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 at a 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.
- Sumo wrestlers must wear a kimono and the chonmage hairstyle (similar to the samurai hairstyle) in public. Young sumo wrestlers must wear wooden sandals: the sound of the sandals reminds them that they should still practice!! - In a typical sumo tournament, brothers and the members of the same sumo house cannot face each other more than the final.
- 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 salaries 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.

Sumo wrestlers and Geisha have many things in common

  • Most sumo wrestlers weigh around 150 kgs, the weight of the apprentice geisha’s clothing during the winter time is around 15 KGS!!!
  • The loincloth of a sumo wrestler is made out of silk and is about 7-meters. The sash of the apprentice geisha is made out of silk and about 5-7 METERS
  • They both do jobs that were performed the same way 300 years ago
  • They both must belong to a house; no independent performers
  • They both require a sponsor
  • They both have a historic hairstyle
  • They both must walk outside in kimono/yukata and wear sandals
  • They both have a connection to religion (sumo is a Shinto ritual, geisha started out serving tea to pilgrims)
  • Champion sumo wrestlers wear shimenawa (Sacred Shinto zig-zag papers), all okiyas (geisha houses) also display shimenawa at the door
  • They both must leave from their parents at the young age and live in the lodging house
  • They both live with strict junior-senior relationships in their lodging houses
  • They both have to do house chores as part of their training
  • Both of their expenses are paid by the house they belonged to during their training
  • Both of their earnings directly go to the house until they become pro
  • Retired sumo wrestlers usually take over a sumo house, retired geisha usually take over a geisha house
  • Sumo wrestlers aren’t allowed to drive a car, apprentice geisha aren’t allowed to have a cell phone or carry their own money in their purse
Geisha are like sumo wrestlers


Sumo Wrestling in Japan Facts Meaning Culture