Sumo: Japanese wrestling with a real fighting spirit.

Sumo wrestlers wear topknots and traditional loincloths on the tournament ring that follows customs dating back to the Edo period. Sumo is a real fighting sport. Surviving in a Sumo hierarchy needs both mental and physical strength. Get informed about Sumo through this article will make your Sumo experience more enjoyable!

2016-09-13 Wasabi   Culture,

sumo


(Photographed by Eckhard Pecher)

【Contents】
Origin
Rules
The Sumo hierarchy upper Makuuchi division
Annual schedule of the Sumo tournament
Get tickets
A tournament day
Other than Sumo tournaments, are there any other opportunities to see Sumo?

Origin

Sumo is a style of Japanese wrestling and a national sport of Japan. The history of Sumo dates back to ancient times. In the beginning, Sumo was a ritual that forecasted the annual harvest of crops. In the 16th century during the domestic war period in Japan, some wrestlers would show their strength in a Sumo match and would get promoted as warriors. In the following period (Edo period), Sumo matches regularly took place all over Japan and three big named Sumo wrestlers would compete. Thanks to these super stars, Sumo grew in popularity among the public. The Sumo style and customs were almost fully developed during this period and have been handed down to future generations up to today.

sumo 

Rules

Basic Sumo rules are simple. Sumo matches take place on a ring made of clay that is mounted on a 6.70 square meter platform. The fighter who touches any part of his body other than the soles of his feet on the ground, or who has stepped out or is thrown outside the ring, loses the match.

sumo
Photographed by Eckhard Pecher

The ring
The ring

Unlike other fighting sports such as boxing and wrestling, there are no weight restrictions and classes in Sumo. All Sumo wrestlers are very large without exception, and the larger the body, the more advantage one has for combatting their opponent.

In addition, 82 waza (fighting techniques) exist but are difficult to recognize. A Judge declares the wining waza after each match. Punching with the fist, grabbing hair, and other similar actions are considered foul.

 

The judge
The judge

The Sumo hierarchy in the upper Makuuchi division

Sumo wrestlers sitting in the upper hierarchy are called Makuuchi wrestlers (幕内力士).
The hierarchy of Makuuchi is listed in below.
 Yokozuna (横綱)
 Ozeki (大関)
 Sekiwake (関脇)
 Komusubi (小結)
 Maegashira (前頭)

The ranking sheet
The ranking sheet

Sumo is an ever-changing competition. Rankings frequently change from the results of everyday matches. Only wrestlers in the Yokozuna position never loose rank. However, Yokozuna who do not perform well and who don’t meet the requirements of their title, are encouraged to retire. All three Yokozuna wrestlers are currently (as of April, 2016) Mongolians. If a Yokozuna (top ranking wrestler) loses his match, you will see the spectators throw their cushions into the air. This action is prohibited, but always seems to happen.

 According to my mother, who is a big fan of Sumo, watching a match between  relatively large and small wrestlers sometimes brings a lot of excitement. The smaller wrestlers use other techniques to beat their larger opponent rather than just pushing or hitting with their body.

Annual schedule of the Sumo tournament

Six Sumo tournaments tour around Japan every year. The months and locations are listed below. Each tournament is 15 days.

 the flag

 January: Ryogoku Kokugikan (両国国技館), TOKYO
 March: Edion Arena Osaka (エディオンアリーナ大阪), OSAKA
 May: Ryogoku Kokugikan (両国国技館), TOKYO
 July: Aichi Prefectural Gymnasium(愛知県体育館), AICHI
 September: Ryogoku Kokugikan (両国国技館), TOKYO
 December: Fukuoka Kokusai Centre(福岡国際センター), FUKUOKA

 For more details, please see  Japan Sumo Association. 

Getting tickets

Sumo tickets normally go on sale one month before the start of each tournament.  Sumo tickets are available for purchase at the official vendor ( internet and each box office). Convenience stores, Seven Elevens, Family Marts, and Lawson Stations also deal with the ticket sales at their automatic vending machines (some Japanese skills may be required).
See the types of seats available for the tournament held in Kokugikan here.

 We strongly recommend buying tickets in advance. However, if you can’t get them, limited numbers of same-day tickets are going to be sold at the Kokugikan box office at 7:45am on the day of the event (balcony seats only).

Tournament day

Ryogoku Sumo Stadium usually opens at 8:00am. During the morning and early afternoon, lower division wrestlers have their matches. Jyuryo division matches start at 2:30pm.

Sumo stadium
Ryogoku Kokugikan (Sumo stadium in Tokyo)

The top division (Makuuchi) wrestlers appear at about 3:40pm and walk around the ring dressed in beautiful and colorful Keshomawashi (apron like cloth that hangs down to their ankles).

 Keshomawashi

Yokozuna are the last to come onto the ring at around 3:55pm and perform Shiko (stepping strongly and slowly on the platform while spectators call out “Yoisho”). The Makuuchi Match starts at 4:10pm and is concluded with Yumitorishiki (the ending ritual when a Sumo wrestler waves and bows). The schedule is shifted forward by 30 minutes on the last day of each tournament for the victory ceremony.

sumo
Photographed by Eckhard Pecher

We recommend foreign spectators rent a radio device at the stadium information area. An English speaking commentator is broadcasted on the radio channel FM 78.3 from 4:00pm. Rental fee is 200 yen with a 3000 yen deposit (the deposit will be refunded when you return the device).

Other than Sumo tournaments, are there any other opportunities to see Sumo?

If you come to Japan during the off-season, we recommend visiting a Sumo Stable to see them training and practicing.  

All Sumo wrestlers belong to a sumo stable (Sumo-Beya, 相撲部屋). Sumo wrestlers train and practice at their stable and some younger, single, and mostly unknown wrestlers actually live there. The master of the Sumo stable (Oyakata, 親方) coaches his wrestlers on everything from training to eating habits. Most Sumo stables are gathered in the Ryogoku area where Kokugikan (Tokyo’s Sumo stadium) is located.

Sumo wrestlers are passionate and serious about their job. Only a few Sumo stables allow an audience to come and see their everyday training. You have to be obedient and follow their house rules, and avoid disturbing their training sessions. Azumazeki Stable near Tokyo Sky Tree kindly accepts visitors.

 sumo

Azumazeki Stable (東関部屋)

Address: 4-6-4 Higashikomagata, Sumida, TOKYO
Open: No scheduled holidays (Closed during outside Tokyo tournaments)
Time: 7:00-10:30 (come and visit freely without a reservation)
*If you are group of people, please contact them in advance.
Fee: Free of charge
Phone: 03-3625-0033
*Please take note below when you visit the stable:
 -Wear a mask to prevent the transfer of infectious diseases to the Sumo wrestlers
 -Refrain from taking photos with flash
 -No talking inside the stable

Jun-Gyo (巡業) is another option to watch Sumo wrestling. Sumo tournament are only held in the larger cities of Japan. Sumo fans are all over Japan, and they usually watch the match on television. The Japan Sumo association offers opportunities to watch Sumo training and practice matches that tour around Japan. The practice matches follow the real tournaments and ceremonies. The Jun-Gyo is held approximately at each of the 4 seasons except during the tournament period. For details, please see this website.

 Sumo wrestlers will show you their fierce fighting spirit on the ring while demonstrating traditional Japanese culture. I hope you have a chance to witness the excitement of Sumo!

 After watching Sumo wrestling, you may have questions about the wrestlers’ eating habits. The Ryogoku district, where the Sumo stadium in Tokyo is located, is home to Chanko Nabe (the main dish for Sumo wrestlers) restaurants. Please get information on this subject in my other article and try to make visit!

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AUTHOR

Kumo

Writer / Translator

I love travelling and tourists! Where to next? Wherever it is, I hope to find a good onsen (hot spring bath), delicious drinks, and friendly people. I enjoy telling Japanese stories in English, and it fills my life with plenty of learning opportunities!