Wednesday, January 30, 2008


Last Sunday, I went to Ryogoku for the first major sumo tournament of the year, which is also one of the most important as it gives wrestlers their first chance to prove themselves for the coming year.

Sumo is over 2000 years old. In Japanese mythology the gods wrestled with each other, which was later adopted as a form of divination and then as a spectator sport.

The rules are simple. Each opponent must try to force the other out of the ring(dohyo), or make the other touch the floor with a part of his body other than the feet.

The tournaments last fifteen days and I went to the final day. I arrived early at nine o'clock so that I could get a seat near the ring. Later in the day when it gets busier, the person who has booked the seat turns up and you have to move back to your own. So it's worth getting there early so you can get close to the action.

Useful Sumo Vocabulary and Stuff

Rikishi - A sumo wrestler.

Senshuraku - The last day of the tournament.

Dohyo - The ring.

Dohyo-iri - A ceremony in which the wrestlers all enter the dohyo together to show
themselves to the spectators.

Yokozuna - Grand Champion

Chonmage - Sumo wrestlers have long hair which is tied and arranged on top
of the head in a topknot.

In the morning I got to see the junior divisions of sumo which was very interesting, although some of them were a lot thinner than I had been expecting.

After this at lunchtime I had chanko nabe, a food sumo wrestlers tradionally eat to build themselves up. This is a vegetable and meat stew which is delicious, although I did make the mistake of ordering enough for four people. I managed to eat it all in the end though.

There is also a museum you can visit with many interesting things relating to the history of sumo and there are plenty of shops selling sumo souvenirs.

After the junior divisions have been completed it gets a lot busier in the stadium.

The most highly ranked sumo wrestlers(Makuuchi) enter the ring at around 3.55 in separate groups from the east and the west. They then all line up in a circle in the dohyo and face outward.

The main bouts began at around 4.00 and the atmosphere was very exciting. This is what I'd come to see. Really fat people wrestling. I saw some very good fights although some were very short.

During the fights there is a lot of ceremony. Before each wrestler enters the dohyo, they drink water offered to them by the previous winner in order to purify the their body.

When the wrestlers step up to the dohyo they squat down facing each other, rubbing the palm of their hands together. They then clap hands and turn their palms upwards. This is called chirichozu-wo kiru and is done to expel defilement.

The tournament was won by Asashoryu. He's seen as the
bad boy of sumo having upset a number of the sumo authorities in the past. Although, having spoken to a number of Japanese people, they seem to think that he does in fact make the sport more interesting.

You can check out all the photos