Kari Grohn's Home Page - Japan - Sumo


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Hono Ozumo
Yasukuni Jinja (靖國神社), Tokyo

The dedicatory sumo match (Hono Ozumo) was held at Yasukuni shrine by some 200 sumo wrestlers (rikishi), including grand champions (yokozuna) Takanohana and Musashimaru. I had a seat closest to the ring within a relatively short distance from wrestlers. The front seats are called sand showering seats (sunakaburi). Spectators on them are covered by occasional sprays of sand and take risk of injury due to falling wrestlers. 

Shinto has played a major part in the development of sumo, which is a national sport of Japan. The shrine-like roof hangs above the ring (dohyo) and the wrestlers wear the traditional loincloth. Sumo involves centuries-old religious rituals and a complicated code of behaviour. When wrestlers enter the ring, they repeat an action of stamping down the dirt. Though this is a basic exercise for them to train the lower body, it also relates with Shinto belief in sweeping away evil spirits and summoning right ones. 

Shinto gods solved their problems by wrestling. According to a legend the gods Takemikazuchi and Takeminakata wrestled on the shores of Izumo along the Japan Sea coast. Takemikazuchi won and took control of the land of Japan. In 23BC Nomi no Sukune, a potter from Izumo, became the immortalised father of sumo when Emperor Suinin requested him to fight Taima no Kehaya, a bully and braggart from Nara. Kehaya was mortally wounded when Sukune rendered some devastating kicks to his stomach and solar plexus. 

Sumo expanded from an agrarian ritual to a large-scale rite to pray for the nationwide peace and prosperity. It was performed at various functions of the imperial court, including at coronation ceremonies. In 642 Empress Kogyoku assembled her palace guards to perform sumo to entertain envoys from the Paekche court of Korea. In the early 8th century wrestlers were recruited from all over the country to perform in the Imperial Palace garden at annual Sechie festivity. This custom continued through the Heian period. 

In the Kamakura era sumo was practiced all the more as a martial art by the warrior class. The most powerful shogun Minamoto no Yoritomo watched sumo along with demonstrations of other forms of military training at Tsurugaoka Hachimangu shrine in Kamakura. When Oda Nobunaga assembled over 1,500 wrestlers for a tournament at his castle, the circular boundaries were drawn on the ground to accelerate the proceedings. Later a ring was demarcated by rice straw bales.

Several daimyos offered their patronage and samurai status to the strongest wrestlers, which guaranteed a good living. Among those wrestlers was Raiden who left remarkable record, 254 wins against 10 losses. But strangely enough he could not obtain the title of yokozuna, though he holds the highest winning percentage 96.2 of history. With the height of 197 cm and weight of 169 kg he was a giant by the standards of the Edo era. Samoan-born Musashimaru (b. 1971) is considered one of the greatest sumo wrestlers of all time. At his heaviest "Moose" weighed over 230 kg. After Hawaiian-born Akebono he was the second foreign sumo wrestler in history to reach the rank of yokozuna. 
























































Rikishi’s diet

A popular nabemono called chankonabe was originally served only to sumo wrestlers. It is served with more ingredients than other nabemono, as it was developed to help wrestlers gain weight. After morning exercises Rikishi’s brunch contains chakonabe (high-calorie stew containing various kinds of meat and vegetables), condiments, pickles and several large bowls of rice and noodles, often washed down with 1 or 2 bottles of beer. In the sumo world, chanko refers to the food that a sumo wrestler eats. Many sumo wrestlers set up chanko restaurants when they retire.






Hitori Zumo (One-man Sumo)

Hitori Zumo ritual is performed at various shrines throughout Japan. In Omishima every year on the fifth day of the fifth month and on the ninth day of the ninth month in a lunar calendar, a priest on his own performs one-man sumo in which he wrestles with an invisible deity of rice plant. Three games are performed and the result is always one to two – the god will win and be pleased. 

Although women are prohibited to climb on the ring in the official sumo game, women’s sumo was not uncommon in the Japanese history. Some shrines still dedicate women’s sumo to the gods for rainmaking. Women’s sumo has been described as early as the eighth century. Variously accepted and banned it served as a rainmaking ritual, entertainment, and celebration. As entertainment, the events often included feats of strength. Celebrations usually included formalised dance, but rarely serious competition.