Kids Web Japan

Web Japan > Kids Web Japan > Virtual Culture > Sumo > What Is Sumo?

Virtual Culture


What Is Sumo?


Two wrestlers start a bout (Japan Sumo Association)

In sumo, two people who are wearing nothing but a mawashi (loincloth), face each other in a dohyo (circular ring) and push, grapple, and try to throw each other. The one who forces his opponent to the ground or pushes him out of the ring is the winner. Even if you have seen it on TV, there may be many things that you don't know about sumo. Here you can find out more!


A sumo ring (Japan Sumo Association)

Sumo began many centuries ago and developed into its present form in the Edo period (1603-1868). Rikishi (wrestlers) wear their hair in a topknot, which was a normal hairstyle in the Edo period. The referee, meanwhile, wears the same kind of clothes as a samurai of 600 years ago. Many aspects of Japan's traditional culture can be seen in sumo. For example, the wrestlers throw salt into the ring to purify it before they begin their match, as the dohyo is considered a sacred place. Sumo has a long history, and it has been called Japan's national sport. Although many professional sports are played in Japan, such as baseball and soccer, sumo is the nation's oldest professional sport.


Koto-oshu after his promotion to ozeki, He is holding a banzuke. (Japan Sumo Association)

Professional sumo is broadcast live on TV. The bouts are intense, as well-trained wrestlers who weigh an average of 150 kilograms grapple with their bare hands. The shouts of support from fans cheering on their favorite wrestler can reach fever pitch.

As of January 2007, there are 702 professional sumo wrestlers in Japan. There are six basho (tournaments) a year, each featuring bouts over 15 days. The wrestlers' rank, which is called banzuke, can change depending on their performance in each tournament, with their new rank announced before the next tournament. The top rank is yokozuna, which is followed by ozeki, sekiwake, komusubi, and maegashira. These are the ranks of the top division of wrestlers, which is called makuuchi. Below the makuuchi division is the juryo division, and these two tiers, known together as sekitori, include all of the ranked wrestlers. There are four divisions below these, but every wrestler aims to reach the level of sekitori.


Yokozuna Asashoryu (Japan Sumo Association)

Sumo wrestlers used to be all Japanese, in recent years there have been more and more foreign wrestlers. Of the 42 wrestlers in the makuuchi class, 13 come from foreign countries. Asashoryu, who is the only yokozuna at present and is by far the strongest wrestler, is from Mongolia. Koto-oshu, ozeki, is from Bulgaria. There are a total of 60 foreign sumo wrestlers in Japan now, including 34 from Mongolia, 6 from China, 5 from Russia, and 3 from the Eastern European country of Georgia.