For two millennia, Japan's traditional national sport has been Japanese-style wrestling, although it is considered by some a martial art. With ritual pomp and ceremony from the native Shinto religion and the imperial court, two wrestlers wearing only a turned-up and tightened loincloth meet in the central dohyo, a sanded ring 4.5 m in diameter, atop a square mound.
Rules of Sumo
The rules of sumo are very simple compared with those of Western wrestling. Using 70 basic fighting techniques, the wrestlers fight to push the opponent out of the ring or make any part of his body, other than the feet, touch the ground. Matches last from a few seconds to a few minutes. If no decision is reached within five minutes of fighting time, a three- or four-minute extension is allowed. If there is no decision at the end of the overtime, the wrestlers must start all over again after another two bouts. Such marathon matches are rare, occurring only a few times a year.
Professional sumo is one of the most interesting and exciting spectator sports in Japan for overseas visitors as well as the Japanese. Spectators sit in boxes, which consist of four cushions on a tatami mat. The best mats are nearest the dohyo.
The Japan Sumo Association sponsors six annual 15-day tournaments (basho or o-zumo): three in Tokyo at the Kokugikan Sumo Hall (January, May, September), one in Osaka (March), one in Nagoya (July), and one in Fukuoka (November). Leading wrestlers have one match each day. During a tournament, sumo is televised live three hours a day from 3 p.m. (Tokyo's Kokugikan Sumo Arena is north of Ryogoku Station on the Sobu rail line.) Many high schools and colleges hold tournaments. Tickets must be booked as far in advance as possible due to extremely high demand.
Stables and Ranks
Retired champions manage over 40 stables (heya) of about 800 professional sumo wrestlers (rikishi), which are divided into East and West sides for tournaments. The four highest ranks of sumo wrestlers are yokozuna (or tsuna, grand champion), ozeki (champion), sekiwake, and komusubi. Ranked rikishi are demoted if they perform poorly in tournaments, except for yokozuna, who are forced into retirement.
Professional sumo wrestlers generally weigh from 120 to 160 kg (265 to 350 pounds), and sometimes much more. Hawaiian-born Konishiki weighed 263 kg (580 pounds). In 1993, 204-cm (6 ft. 8 in.) Hawaiian-born Akebono (Chad Rowen) became the 64th yokozuna, the first foreigner to achieve sumo's highest rank.
Professional sumo wrestlers adopt a single nom de sumo, so to speak, which is used instead of their real name.
Japan Sumo Association (Nihon Sumo Kyokai), 1-3-28, Yokoami, Sumida-ku, Tokyo 130, 03-3623-5111; http://www.sumo.or.jp/eng/
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