Alright, who honestly hasn’t heard of Sumo? Let’s face it, it’s maybe one of the most well known sports to come out of Japan. It’s rich with Japanese culture, tradition, and screams the strict, structured lifestyle, that I’ve come to learn as very Japanese. Of course this was something that we needed to see for ourselves.
I became interested in the idea of attending a Sumo Honbasho back in July when the tournament was in Nagoya. Sumo is only practiced professionally in Japan and there are six Grand Sumo Tournaments (Honbasho) per year. Osaka (March), Nagoya (July), and Tokyo (January, May, and September). Sumo is to Japan as American Football is to the U.S. it’s extremely popular, everyone has a favorite rikishi (wrestler), and can at times be difficult or expensive to get tickets.
I learned from some locals in Nagoya that prior to the start of the Honbasho the rikishi practice in various parts of the city and it’s free to go and watch. Of course I hopped on this bandwagon so I could get a glimpse at these infamous sports heroes. I’m not kidding some of these guys are as famous as Derek Jeter or Payton Manning would be at home (ok only sports stars that came to my head at the moment…basically these guys are a big deal).
Here are a few interesting notes about Sumo for those interested:
- The origin of Sumo comes from Shinto traditions and prior to it becoming a professional sport it was an important ritual in the imperial court
- The wrestling ring is called a dohyō. The ring is made up of rice straw bales and on top is clay that is mixed with sand. Above the dohyō is a roof that is supposed to emulate a shinto shrine.
- There are six divisions in professional sumo and each division has a fixed number wresters that are able to be in at one time. From highest rank to lowest rank they are: Makuuchi (42), Jūryō (28), Makushita (120), Sandanme (200), Jonidan (185), and Jonokuchi (40)
- Rikishi are not allowed to eat breakfast. The idea is that they practice in the morning so they eat more at lunch and then nap afterwards, it helps them gain weight. Also, a common staple in a sumo wrestlers diet is beer, these guys drink loads of it. I guess the bigger the belly the better!
- Due to the lifestyle that wrestlers live they don’t have very long life spans. Fun fact is that Japan has the longest life expectancy (average 80 years) of any other country, with the exception of sumo wrestlers which is 60-65
During the practice season in Nagoya I talked John into going to an event where you can meet some of the rikishi and also try a common sumo meal, called chankonabe, a Japanese stew that helps them bulk up. It’s primarily made with whatever is available, but is high in protein and usually has a chicken broth base and comes with udon noodles or rice. It wasn’t bad, tasted like chicken soup. Here are a few photos:
The honbasho in Nagoya was already sold out by the time I knew to buy tickets. Therefore, a trip to Tokyo made sense to see this infamous sport. Needless to say there is a reason sumo is so popular in Japan. It’s very much steeped into Japanese traditions. The infamous stomping of their legs, to throwing salt into the ring, and cleansing themselves overtime they step out all have actual meaning behind it. Because sumo has a religious foundation to it the idea of the stomping to ward off evil spirits from the ring, and the same with the throwing of salt into the ring, it’s meant to prevent evil spirits.
The match or “bouts” are actually quite short once they finally start to fight, maybe only a few seconds. The idea is to push the other wrestler out of the ring or have any body part bedsides their feet touch the ground. However, leading up to the actual bout takes for what seems like forever. Both wrestlers look like they square off a few times, stomp the ground, walk out of the ring, wash themselves, throw salt in the ring, and repeat before they actually fight. It’s fascinating how a sport that really only has a few seconds of contact can be so popular. And people love it. The crowds cheer, everyone has their favorite, and you can’t help but feel excited about it.
The honbasho’s last two weeks and most of the time tickets are sold out. The matches start early in the morning and go until about 6pm, starting with the lowest ranking wrestlers, leading up to the highest. John and I made it mid afternoon for the start of the second highest rank and stayed to see the highest ones fight. Here are a few photos of the afternoon. I feel like a broken record when I say this, but if ever given the opportunity check out a sumo match (basically just check out Japan). It’s fascinating, different from any sport I’m familiar with, and an awesome way to learn more about Japanese culture!
Thanks for following this crazy adventure we are on!
Until next time! Ja Mata