While many people have heard of Sumo wrestling, most people don’t realize that the sport has a long and fascinating history as well as a specific place in Japanese culture. In fact, Sumo wrestling has been practiced in Japan for as long as there is recorded history of the country. During the Heian period from 794-1185, Sumo wrestling was known as a part of traditional court rituals for more than three hundred years. The Japanese people have turned to Sumo wrestling to solve feudal political disputes between warlords, similar to the jousting practiced in European countries at the same time. Later, the sport remained popular simply as an organized form of entertainment, and various Sumo “leagues” gathered to form a single professional organization.
Today, Sumo is a hugely popular professional sport in Japan- you can find Sumo arenas in nearly every town. Some people consider Sumo the national sport of Japan, since it is not only native to the country, but also one of the most popular forms of entertainment in the country. Sumo wrestlers are notoriously obese, with some weighing as much as 580 pounds, and many of them wear the distinctive clothing and hair style of the Sumo wrestler. While the sport was originally found only in Japan, it has become popular in a number of other places around the world.
The sport is based in Shinto ritual, and the rules are elegantly simple. Two wrestlers enter a fifteen foot ring, and the first person to be forced out of the ring or who touches the ground with anything but his feet loses. While the rules are simple on the surface, the sport has a governing body that closely monitors matches and has even created a list of seventy ways of defeating an opponent. The Sumo Association lists both common tactics such as under and over arm throws, as well as specialized techniques that are named and described by the Association, and such moves as tripping and slapping are considered legal. Only eye-gouging, punches, and hair-pulling are banned by the rules of the sport.
Competition within the sport is fierce, with opponents fighting as many as ninety matches a year to reach high the upper ranks of the sport. The Sumo Association carefully ranks and categorizes each wrestler, and earning a top ranking is a very prestigious and lucrative position for any wrestler. Many Sumo wrestlers begin training as young as thirteen years old, and the sport had a reputation for abusive tactics until recent years.
Visitors hoping to see a Sumo wrestling tournament should plan on visiting during the odd moths of the year. Major events are held in Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka, and Fukuoka. There are also tours held throughout the year in different parts of the country and even overseas. The sport has become increasingly popular in Hawaii, and there are numerous events held there. Suumo matches among top wrestlers are often televised, and much of Japan comes to a standstill as people stay home to watch matches. The sport is a perfect example of how traditional parts of the Japanese culture remain relevant in this highly modern country today, and experiencing a live Sumo wrestling match may turn anyone into a fan.