Sumo Wrestling

Sumo wrestling is a competition contact sport where two usually giant wrestlers or rikishi, battle in a circular area. The sport is more than just a sport, it is bound in historic Japanese ceremony and ritual.


This historic Japanese martial art dates back centuries and includes many ritual elements found in the Shinto religion. The rules have changed much over the centuries, but the principle is still the same.

The match is held in a circle area which is 4.55 metres in diameter. The ring is bounded by bales of rice straw which is covered in clay called tawara. At the centre of the ring are two white lines where the opponents must position themselves before the bout. There is fine sand on the outside of the ring so that it is easy to see if a player has stepped outside the ring.

The Sumo tradition is extremely ancient, it dates back to prehistoric times and is mentioned in many of the oldest written texts found in Japan. Today the sport includes many ritual elements from when Sumo was used in the Shinto religion, such as the use of salt for purification and stomping their legs before the bout to drive away evil spirits.

There are two ways to lose a bout, be the first player to touch the ground outside the circle or be the first player to touch any part of the inside circle with any body part other than the soles of his feet. Matches usually only last a few seconds as the sheer power of the often enormous opponents usually topples and off balances the other opponent.

Professional Sumo is an immense drawcard in Japan, there are some 700 professional wrestlers, and many of them are treated like rock stars earning massive amounts of money. Only the Oyakata, which are former wrestlers, have the right to train new wrestlers, and there is a strict hierarchy based system of merit dating back hundreds of years to the Edo period.

Sumo wrestlers take wrestling names called shikona, which are given to them by their trainer. Sometimes they can change their names several times during their career, making it a bit confusing.

There are six Grand Sumo tournaments, or Honbasho as they are called, held each year with 3 being held in Tokyo and one in Nagoya, Fukuoka and Osaka. Each tournament runs for 15 days.

Life of a Sumo is a lifestyle which controls what they wear, eat and even how they look. All Sumo’s must wear the distinctive hairstyle with a top knot called a chonmage.

Unfortunately, many Sumo’s do not enjoy the long life as the rest of Japan. A Sumo wrestler’s life expectancy is some 10 years less than the average Japanese person, with many older Sumo suffering from heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and stress joints.

Sumo tournaments are often held in January, March, May, July, September and November, if you cant get to a match check out the TV in your hotel late afternoon, as the larger tournaments are often televised and are quite interesting.