Probably everyone knows sumo [相撲], to someone it is just “battles between fat with ponnytails” (president Sarkozy), to someone Japanese wrestling-like sport or national heritage.
Sumo dates back some 1500 as a performance dedicated to the Shinto gods with prayers for a rich harvest. Even in contemporary sumo can still be seen many traditions with religious background.
Sumo is Japanese national sport, in its professional form limited only to male wrestlers, although amateur women sumo does also exist.
*Image above – Zabuton no Mai [座布団の舞]
Zabuton no Mai is flying seat cushion. When top-ranked rikishi [横綱] is defeated by lower-ranking rikishi, the crowds throw their zabuton [座布団] (seat cushion) towards the ring.
Rikishi [力士] – Sumo Wrestlers
Even though sumo is Japanese national sport, majority of (in some seasons all) the top level rikishi are actually foreigners. Famous are specially the Mongolian sumo wrestlers (Asashoryu, Hakuho …), also many rikishi come from Eastern European countries – Estonia (Baruto), Bulgaria (Kotoōshū), Russia (Aran), Georgia (Gagamaru), also countries like Czech Republic (Takanoyama), Hawaii (Akebono, Konishiki) or now even Egypt (Sunaarashi) have their wrestlers.
Meeting a sumo wrestler face to face is quite an experience. They are usually very impressive, not just because of their size. They are the impersonation of strength and endurance.
When in public, rikishi are usually very well groomed and dressed in nice kimonos, leaving a trail of a pleasant smell from the camellia oil they treat their hair with.
Two rikishi wearing only a silken mawashi (loincloth) fight against each other in a circular ring – dohyo [土俵]. The first wrestler who touches the ground with any part of his body except the soles of his feet, or leaves the ring, loses.
The sumo techniques use therefore pushing, throwing, pulling, etc, in order to make the opponent touch the ground or to force him outside the ring.
A sumo bout has it’s traditional elements. At the beginning the rikishi rinses his mouth with water to cleanse his mind and body, another act of purification is the raising of arms and feet and stomping in the “ring” to drive away evil spirits. Higher level rikishi also throw salt (another Shinto purificstion symbol), also a symbolic protection from injuries.
Finally they line up facing each other in a “start position” called Shikiri, touching the ground, staring at each other and playing a psychological warfare, waiting for the right moment to attack. This act is usually repeated several times teasing the opponent. Rikishi do get back to wipe themselves, throw some more salt, then get back to the ready-go position. They have up to 4 minutes for this foreplay, then they have to attack and clash frontally, this initial clash is called Tachi-ai.
Every year 6 grand tournaments are held in Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya and Fukuoka, each lasting for 15 consecutive days. The first day of a tournament is called shonichi [初日], the 8th day nakabi [中日] and the last, 15th day – senshuraku [千秋楽].
The grand sumo tournaments:
- Hatsu Basho [初場所] – January tournament in Tokyo
- Haru Basho or Osaka Basho [春場所/大阪場所] – March tournament in Osaka
- Natsu Basho [夏場所] – May tournament in Tokyo
- Nagoya Basho [名古屋場所] – July tournament in Nagoya
- Aki Basho [秋場所] – September tournament in Tokyo
- Kyushu Basho [九州場所] – November tournament in Fukuoka
Sumo Ranks – Banzuke
There are 6 divisions in professional sumo:
- makuuchi (幕内) highest
- jonokuchi(序の口) lowest
Wrestlers in the 2 highest division, makuuchi and juryo are called sekitori(関取).
There are 5 divisions in makuuchi:
- yokozuna(横綱) highest
- maegashira(前頭) lowest
Wrestlers who are on 4 divisions except maegashira are sometimes called yakurikishi(役力士).