Kids Web Japan

What Is Sumo?


In sumo, two rikishi (sumo wrestlers) wearing nothing but a mawashi (loincloth), face each other in a dohyo (circular ring) and try to push, grapple, and throw his opponent. 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.

Tachiai, the initial charge at the beginning of a bout (Japan Sumo Association)

Japan's Oldest Sport

Sumo began many centuries ago and developed into its present form in the Edo period (1603-1867). Sumo 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 remain in sumo. For example, 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.

Dohyo, a sumo ring (Japan Sumo Association)

Banzuke (Sumo Rankings)

Professional sumo is broadcast live on TV. The bouts are intense, as pairs of physically massive men weighing an average of 150 kilograms (about 330 pounds) grapple with their bare hands. The shouts of support from fans cheering on their favorite wrestlers can reach a fever pitch.

As of March 2021, there are 652 professional sumo wrestlers in Japan. There are six tournaments called basho a year, each featuring bouts taking place over the course of 15 days. The wrestlers' rank, which is called banzuke, changes depending on their performance in each bout, and their new rank is 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 called Makuuchi. The next ranks below this are the Juryo division, then the Makushita, Sandanme, Jonidan, and Jonokuchi divisions. Anyone who is Juryo or above is considered a fully fledged rikishi and is known as a sekitori.

Shodai after his promotion to Ozeki. He is holding a banzuke, a rankings list. (Japan Sumo Association)

An Increasing Number of Foreign Sumo Wrestlers

In recent years, there have been more and more foreign wrestlers. 11 out of 42 Makuuchi sumo wrestlers are from foreign countries, including Hakuho, a Yokozuna from Mongolia who has won the most bouts of any wrestler in history, and Tochinoshin from Georgia. There are 24 foreign sumo wrestlers in all. By country, there are 18 from Mongolia, one each from Georgia, Bulgaria, Brazil, Russia, Hungary, and Ukraine (as of March 2021).

Yokozuna Hakuho (Japanese Sumo Association)