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Ancient and National Sport of Japan – Sumo, the Japanese Wrestling
Sumo, a form of Japanese wrestling began as long as 2000 years ago is considered by many to be the national sport of Japan.
Sumo became the professional sport in the Edo period (1600-1868), and although it is practiced today by clubs in high school, colleges and amateur associations, it has its greatest appeal as a professional spectator sport. Today, the ancient sport is still popular and the best wrestlers are revered as national heroes. The highest ranking players are called Yokozuna or grand champions.
The object of this compelling sport is for a wrestler to force his opponent out of the center circle of the elevated cement-hard clay ring or dohyo in Japanese language, or cause him to touch the surface of the dohyo with any part of his body other than the soles of his feet. The ring is less than 4.5m in diameter. The wrestlers may spend as much as the first four minutes in the ring in a ritual of stamping, squatting, puffing, glowering, and tossing salt in the air (as an act to purify the ring from the last bout’s loss), but the actual conflict is only a matter of seconds. To decide who has stepped out or touched down first is often extremely difficult and requires closest attention of a referee or gyoji, dressed in the court costume of a 14th century nobleman, on the dohyo and judges (shimpan) sitting around the dohyo at floor level.
Unique to sumo is the use of belly band or belt called a mawashi which is folded, looped over the groin, wrapped tightly around the waist, and noted in the rear. Most sumo matches center on the wrestler’ attempt to get a firm, two handed grip on their opponents mawashi while blocking him from getting a similar grip on theirs.
The Japan sumo association (Nihon Sumo Kyokai), the governing body of professional sumo, officially lists 70 winning techniques consisting of assorted throws, trips, lifts, thrusts, shoves and pulls. Of these, 48 are considered the ‘classic’ technique but the number in actual daily use is probably half that. Of primary concern in sumo are ring decorum and sportsmanship. There are 15-day tournaments in Japan each year; three held in Tokyo (Jan, May and Sept), others in Osaka(Mar), Nagoya(July) and Fukuoka(Nov).
You can catch the tournament by attending the games yourself or watch it from the local channels since the tournaments are widely covered on television.
Sumo matches held in Tokyo at the Kokugikan.
Address: Kokugikan, 1-3-28 Yokoami, Sumida-ku.
Opening Hours: 9 a.m
Ticket price: ¥2,100 for unreserved seats (400 seats available an only sold on the day of the tournament)
¥8,200 for good reserved seat.
How to get to Kokugikan
On the JR Line, from Tokyo station, get a ticket to Ryogoku station at ¥150/way then walk for about 1 minute. Take the path to the station ticket gate, go down the hallway and continue down the walkway. There’s a big road your left and the building is on your left side.