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Sumo Wrestling in Tokyo: Fun Facts and History!

James LauJames Lau
Published Time
Posted on 
February 24, 2023
Modified Time
Updated last 
February 28, 2023
Rear view of sumo wrestlers getting ready to bout in the ring.

A considerable mystique surrounds Japan’s national sport, sumo wrestling. What is it that attracts so many people to the traditional sport? We’ll look at sumo and see why the sport is popular today.

What is Sumo Wrestling?

Sumo wrestling is a traditional Japanese sport with rich history and cultural significance. The sport dates back over a thousand years and has been recognized as the country’s national sport and involves two wrestlers, or rikishi, facing off in a circular ring called a dohyo.

Rules of Sumo Wrestling

Firstly, the wrestlers enter the ring wearing only a mawashi, loincloth, and a pair of sandals. Before the match begins, the wrestlers perform Shinto-related rituals, including throwing salt into the ring to purify and intimidate their opponent. They then face off in the center of the ring, with the referee, or gyoji, standing by to officiate the match. 

Athletes throw salt in the ring to purify it before starting their sumo wrestling match.
The Shinto religion is a significant part of sumo wrestling. Image via Shutterstock

The match begins with the two wrestlers facing off and trying to establish a grip on each other’s mawashi. Once they grab hold, the wrestlers try to push or pull their opponent out of the ring. Whoever knocks their opponent down or out of the ring is the winner!

Sumo wrestlers stretching in the stable.
Sumo wrestlers need to be both strong and flexible. Image via Shutterstock

Sumo wrestling rules are relatively simple, but the sport requires much skill and technique. The wrestlers must be strong and agile, and they must also have excellent balance and coordination. They train rigorously, often for years, to perfect their technique and to prepare for tournaments.

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As wrestlers progress in rank, they accumulate more wins, earn status and improve their quality of life! The top sumo wrestlers, or Yokozuna, are highly revered in Japanese society. 

A bunch of wrestlers in full garb, standing in the ring.
The stadium is always full of excitement before the matches! Image via Shutterstock

In Japanese society, Yokozuna are symbols of strength, discipline, and perseverance. Because of this, Yokozuna participate in various cultural events and ceremonies. There is currently one active Yokozuna, Terunofuji Haruo, who hails from Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.

The History of Sumo

A bunch of athletes practicing sumo wrestling in the morning.
Warm-ups are very tough for sumo wrestlers. Image via Shutterstock

The origins of sumo wrestling can be traced back a thousand years to the Nara period (710-794). During this time, sumo wrestling was performed as entertainment for the imperial court, with the wrestlers often wearing elaborate costumes and masks. Over time, sumo wrestling evolved into a more serious sport, with wrestlers training rigorously to compete in professional tournaments.

Sumo Today

Today, sumo wrestling is a highly structured sport governed by the Japan Sumo Association (JSA). The JSA oversees the training and promotion of professional sumo wrestlers and the organization of tournaments and other events. The JSA also plays a role in preserving sumo wrestling traditions and cultural significance in Japan.

Sumo in Tokyo

Tokyo is one of the main hubs for sumo wrestling in Japan. The Grand Sumo Tournaments are some of the most critical events in the sumo wrestling calendar.

These tournaments happen six times a year in various locations throughout Japan, three of which are in Tokyo. The Tokyo tournaments take place at the Ryogoku Kokugikan, a large indoor stadium in the Ryogoku district of the city, a location famed for its connections to sumo.

Two athletes in about to do sumo wrestling with a Shinto referee nearby.
Most bouts last less than 10 seconds. Image via Shutterstock

Each Grand Sumo Tournament lasts 15 days, with bouts occurring every day. Each day, the wrestlers fight people of similar rankings, with the higher-ranked wrestlers facing off against each other later in the day while the lower-ranked wrestlers compete earlier. 

Wrestlers in the top two divisions will have one match daily, while the lower ranks will compete once every two days. The wrestler who achieves the highest win rate is the tournament champion.

Inside the Stadium

Around the ring are masu-seki, or seating boxes, which can hold up to four people sitting inside. Fans and spectators can catch the action from these up-close seats, while arena seats on the second level are for casual or more thrifty spectators.

An overview of the Ryogoku stadium, with a ring in the middle.
Ryogoku Stadium is one of the largest venues in the city! Image via Shutterstock

In addition to the Grand Sumo Tournament, several other Sumo-related events happen around Tokyo year-round. These include sumo exhibitions, or jungyo, which allow fans to see their favorite wrestlers up close and learn more about the sport of sumo wrestling.

Overall, sumo wrestling is a unique and fascinating aspect of Japanese culture. Attending a tournament in Tokyo can be a memorable and exciting experience for tourists and first-timers alike! Whether you are a fan of sports or simply interested in learning more about Japanese culture, sumo wrestling is a sport that is well worth experiencing!

Have you ever been to a sumo tournament? Do you have an interest in sumo? Let us know in the comments below!

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