Sumo is one of the oldest sports in the world, dating back to the middle of the Yayoi Era, 2,000 years ago! Today, it is easily classified as the national sport of Japan. Sumo is almost completely a spectator sport, and the professional wrestlers become internationally famous and popular.
To most western eyes, Sumo is seemingly boring, but it is really exciting, and many foreigners are finding more and more to like about these bouts. Over the ring is a roof of Shinto architecture (Yakata), which first served as a protection from the weather and was supported by four pillars. After the bouts moved inside, the roof stayed, but the pillars were replaced by steel cables to hold it up.
Where the pillars had been, we can now see four tassels which represent the seasons. Black is for winter; green is for spring; red is for summer; and white is for autumn.
To judge the matches, there is a man carrying a war fan, and dressed in the ancient way, in kimono. Around the ring are other judges called “Shimpan.” If they doubt the ring judge’s decision, they call for a mono ii
(ring-center discussion), where they all discuss the match and make their final selection of the winner.
Everything in Sumo is symbolic of something. The square ring edge is made of 28 straw bundles, sunk in the sand. The center ring is made of 20 other bundles and is 4.55 meters in diameter. There are two white lines in the center of the ring that are 1.2 meters apart and about 90 centimeters long.
These lines are the points at which the wrestlers face each other and build their spirit and strategy. Only their feet are allowed to touch the ground. The first wrestler to touch the ground, or be pushed out of the ring, loses.
The belt or sash is usually made of silk for the higher-ranked wrestlers.
While lower ranks wear dark blue cotton, the higher ranks can use any color. Some belts cost thousands of dollars! A string apron hangs from the belt and it always has an odd number of strings made of silk, twisted and starched.
This belt signifies the straw Shimenawa in front of shrines and dispels evil.
Salt purifies the ring and stamping on the ground chases away evil spirits. Obviously, Sumo is a religious sport related to interesting Shamanistic, and Shinto customs. The hair style is the Oichomage (Ginkgo leaf knot) during tournaments.
The wrestlers we are most interested in are those in the Makuuchi division which has only 38 wrestlers. This division is further broken down into the Maegashira (senior wrestler), Komusubi (champion third-class), Sekiwake
(champion second-class), Ozeki (champion) and Yokozuna (grand champion).
All ranks are based on ability and numbers of wins per tournament. Only the Yokozuna cannot be demoted, but they must maintain a high level of wins, or retire. There are about 600 wrestlers in all the Sumo grades.
These days, the young wrestlers are gaining in popularity, and more and more young ladies are watching the tournaments.
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