Sumo, Wrestling with the Divine

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sumo, wrestling with the divine

Aaron Pylinski | Community Writer

Japan’s heaviest hitters are its Rikishi, or its Sumo wrestlers. Like most traditions in this country, Sumo is connected to religious rituals and originally was a prayer for bountiful rice harvest. Sumo is Japan’s national sport that dates as far back as the third century and has taken many forms since.

Originally a sport for the affluent at its earliest inception, Sumo eventually became a more readily available sport for the common folk during the Edo Period (between 1603-1868). Sumo is a bastion for those most interested in feats of strength and is largely popular all over the country.

A typical Sumo tournament today consists of formal routines, traditions, and location for which it is held.
Here are a few:

The Ring: Known as the dohyo, the ring is two feet high and 18 feet square. Within the square is a 15-foot diameter circle (made from rice straw) where the action happens. The dohyo is covered with a thin layer of sand and suspended above is a Shinto shrine.

Rituals: Before entering the dohyo, the wrestlers rinse their mouth with sacred water similar to how one would cleanse themselves before entering a Shinto shrine. Before the bout, the wrestlers rub themselves with a towel to cleanse the mind and body and throw salt into the ring to cleanse the dohyo of any evil spirits. This ritual is called shiko. Each wrestler bows to each other and crouches into the “get ready” position. To get psyched for the bout, each wrestler performs the ritual called shikiri where they stare down their opponents and build up anticipation for the coming melee.

The Match: Each bout begins with a charge and the two men come together. If you’ve never been to a Sumo match, it sounds like two 400-pound slabs of beef pounding together. There are different techniques, dependent on a wrestler’s style and the moments after the initial charge. There are over 70 different moves at each wrestlers disposal and 48 recognized Sumo techniques. A good wrestler begins the match with a hard slap to throw their opponents off and then go for a leg sweep or toss. The object is to get your opponent out of the 15-foot circle or be the last one standing. Beware if you have front row seats to a Sumo match, you could end up with a very large Japanese man in your lap falling at full tilt.

Though reasonably modern now, Sumo keeps some of its original flare and traditions to include the top knot the men wear in their hair called oicho and decorative belly bands called mawashi. As there are many traditional aspects to Sumo it is considered a professional sport, a living example of Japanese culture, and regarded as an ambassadorship for Japan as its Rikishi travel the globe.

Crying Babies

Interestingly enough, there’s a ritual where parents allow Sumo wrestlers to bring their babies to cry to drive out evil spirits. It’s said in Japan that “crying babies grow faster.” What better way to exorcize the demons and get your youngster to sprout up strong and healthy than to have a large-bellied Sumo wrestler drive them to tears. This tradition is held at the Sensoji Temple in Tokyo each year, though other Sumo tournaments have similar traditions elsewhere around the country.


It’s Grand Sumo Tournament season, and Fukuoka is a great place to observe the sights and sounds of Sumo. If you haven’t had the opportunity yet to see a tournament, let Information Tours & Travel take you to Fukuoka for Sumo and shopping fun.

They’re located at the Crossroads and their number is 253-4377. They’re open Mon-Fri 9:30 AM - 6 PM and Sat 9:30 AM - 3 PM.

Catch the exciting Fukuoka Sumo Tournament. Enjoy shopping at Canal City Shopping Mall in downtown Fukuoka before the sumo tournament.

  • November 24 Fukuoka Sumo Semi-Finals
  • November 25 Fukuoka Sumo Finals

Now that you’re ready to head to a tournament, who’s the top dog in professional Sumo? The top-ranked wrestlers in Sumo are considered yokozuna.

At present, the best of the best is Hakuho Sho.

Hakuho Sho a living legend in our own time.

Hakuho is a Mongolian-born Sumo powerhouse. He reached the top Sumo division in 2004 at 19 years old and was promoted to yokozuna in 2007, becoming the second Mongolian native to achieve the rank. He’s an impressive wrestler, holding the record for most wins in the top division and most career wins. He’s also been ranked as a yokozuna for a record 67 tournaments. If you’ve never had the opportunity to see this man wrestle, you’re missing out on watching someone who has truly mastered the art of Sumo.

The Sumo tournament season is rounding out, but the opportunities to get in on the action are still available. Sumo is fun for the whole family, even when the wrestlers are scaring the devil out of your kids (literally). Go see what all the fuss is about.