Sumo is the Japanese national sport. It originated in ancient times as a performance to entertain the Shinto deities.  It was performed at shrines to ensure a bountiful harvest and to honor the spirits – known as kami.

In the sport, rikishi (wrestler) attempts to force another wrestler out of a circular ring or into touching the ground with anything other than the soles of his feet. The matches take place on an elevated ring (dohyo), which is made of clay and covered in a layer of sand. The ring is symbolically purified with salt.

A contest usually lasts only a few seconds, but in rare cases can take a minute or more. There are no weight restrictions or classes in sumo, meaning that wrestlers can easily find themselves matched off against someone many times their size. As a result, weight gain is an essential part of sumo training.

The life of a sumo wrestler is highly regimented with the rules being regulated by the Japan sumo association. The wrestlers are required to live in communal sumo training stables, known in Japanese as heya, where all aspects of their daily lives—from meals to their manner of dress—are dictated by strict tradition.

All sumo wrestlers are classified in a ranking hierarchy (banzuke), which gets updated after each tournament based on the wrestlers’ performance. Wrestlers with positive records (more wins than losses) move up the hierarchy, while those with negative records get demoted. The top division is called “Makuuchi” and the second division is called “Juryo”. At the pinnacle of the sumo hierarchy stands the yokozuna (grand champion). Unlike wrestlers in lower ranks, a yokozuna cannot be demoted, but he will be expected to retire when his performance begins to worsen

 Sumo referees, or gyoji, are also divided as per their ranks, the one holding the highest position takes the name Kimura Shonosuke but, unlike the rank of yokozuna, it can only be held by one person at any one time. They also carry a sword about 6 to 12 inches in length, to show that he understands the seriousness of the decisions he has to make – and is prepared to commit seppuku (ritual suicide by disembowelment) if he makes a bad decision.

Six tournaments are held every year. Each tournament lasts for 15 days during which each wrestler performs in one match per day except lower ranked wrestlers who perform in fewer matches.

These sumos embody the Japanese culture and act as its ambassadors when they participate in competitions abroad. They are expected to wear traditional clothes and have a samurai hairstyle all the time.

Tokyo‘s Ryogoku district has been the center of the sumo world for about two centuries and is an attraction for tourists.  You may visit the sumo museum, restaurants or shrines and be amazed. !

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