Mysterious Things You Might Not Know About Sumo


The world of Sumo is a little mysterious even to the Japanese. The spiritual (精神的) and physical (物質的) home of sumo, Ryogoku (両国) is where centuries of Japanese tradition continue to live and breathe right in the whirl (渦、回転) of modern Tokyo. Situated near historic Asakusa (浅草) and the symbol of future Tokyo, the Skytree (スカイツリー). If your timing is right, you can witness (目撃する、立ち会う、経験する、証明する) the awesome spectacle of a national sumo tournament held at the Ryogoku Kokugikan National Sumo Stadium.

By the way, do you think sumo wrestlers are healthy? Japanese sumo wrestlers are often used as a popular example of metabolically (代謝的に) healthy obese (太りすぎの). They are morbidly (病的に、過剰に) obese and yet due to their high level of activity have very little visceral fat accumulation (内臓脂肪型肥満), tons of muscle mass (大半、多量). – until they stop training.


And Sumo wrestlers dance. The ring entering ritual of sumo often resembles (似ている)  a dance. When entering the ring the wrestler claps his hands and performs a leg-stomping (足を踏み鳴らす) ritual to drive (追う、駆り立てる) evil spirits from the ring. This is often rhythmic (リズミカルな) and stylized (様式化されて). Wrestlers face each other and clap their hands again. They spread their arms wide to prove they have no weapons.

OK, here’s some things you might not know about Sumo. Let’s have fun learning Sumo.


Why do sumo wrestlers throw salt in the ring?

Both wrestlers throw salt in the air as they prepare for their bout (ひと勝負), clearing thing as a sacred (神聖な) place. They also stamp the ring to squash (鎮圧する、黙らせる、押し潰す) the bad spirits and they sip (少しずつ飲む) water to clear their bodies. Each movement is a religious ritual.



Its origin is…

Sumo originated in Shinto (神道) religious rituals whereby (それによって) a human would wrestle with a Shinto divine (神聖な) spirit. There are still sumo rings on the grounds of many shrines in Japan.

Shinto ritual guides every aspect (面) of sumo. Shinto referees (gyoji) essentially (基本的に、本質的に) act as priests in the ring. For example they perform purification (浄化) rituals to rid (取り除く) the ring of evil spirits before a match. The wrestlers themselves throw salt into the ring before each match to purity it.



How long do sumo wrestlers live?

Sumo wrestlers have a life expectancy (見込み、期待)  between 60 and 65, more than 10 years shorter than the average Japanese male, as the diet (食べ物) and sport take a toll (代償、犠牲、被害) on the wrestler’s body.



Sumo wrestlers used to be skinny but…

As with (~と同様に) many professional sports, Sumo athletes have become larger with time (時間とともにより大きく). In the case of Sumo they have also become fatter.

Today, there are no weight divisions in professional sumo. The weight of top wrestlers varies (変わる) a great deal (極端に多い). It’s common for one wrestler to be twice the weight of another.



Sumo wrestlers must live a traditional lifestyle

Sumo wrestlers are required to live in sumo training stables (部屋、安定した、変動のない、永続性のある). They must dress in traditional Japanese clothing at all times (常に). Every aspect of their life is dictated (規定する) by strict rules.



Yakuza like Sumo

The Yakuza like to keep a low profile (目立たないようにする) and rarely show up on television. An exception (例外) was made in 2010 when the Yamaguchi-gumi (the largest yakuza group) purchased a block of 50 prominent (目立つ) seats at a nationally (全国的に) televised Sumo match.

Needless to say, they stuck out (突き出る) in the crowd. Rumor has it they did it to cheer up their incarcerated (投獄された) boss who was watching the match from jail.



Fans express their disappointment or pleasure by throwing cushions

Sumo fans sit on Zabuton ( thin mats used to sit on traditional Japanese tatami floors). When they’re disappointed or impressed by a ruling or outcome (結果) they throw them into the ring. Major sumo venues  (開催地、場所) such as the venerable (敬うべき) Ryogoku Kokugikan in Tokyo all have sections with Zabuton seats.

In the Sumo world, when a local favorite loses a match or an official makes a controversial (論争の的になる) call it’s customary (慣例で) for crowds to express their disappointment or impressed by throwing their seat. It’s one of the less polite uses for a zabuton. 



There’s a tradition of female sumo in Japan

The Sumo Association doesn’t allow women to enter a sumo ring (it’s considered a violation 違反 of the purity 清浄 of the ring). For example, the Governor of Osaka normally enters the ring to award the Governor’s Prize at the annual Osaka Sumo Tournament. However, when Osaka elected a female governor she wasn’t allowed to enter.

Historically, there was a tradition of female sumo at some Shinto shrines. This is downplayed (軽視されている) by professional sumo though.



Gaijin can sumo

Many of the top contenders (競技者) in Sumo are recruited from abroad. At one time (かつて) there was no restriction (制限) on the number of foreign Sumo wrestlers in professional sumo. 

Today, the Sumo Association strictly limits the number of foreign wrestlers (defined as born outside Japan) to one per stable (部屋、団). Despite this, there are still 15-20 foreigners in the two top divisions at any one time (いつでも).

There’s an unspoken rule that foreigner wrestlers must speak Japanese and be well versed (精通して) in Japanese culture.




Young generations of Japanese are more interested in soccer and baseball. However, Sumo is really fun. In addition, there is a game called kami-zumo (paper sumo), which follows sumo rules. 

One of my friends was apprenticed (弟子入りした) to a sumo stable. If you are interested in sumo so much, please try it. It isn’t an easy job though.