Sumo wrestler, Kyoto, Japan

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I can’t believed that even though I spent over 25 years in Japan, I had never been to a Sumo tournament before this year.  Sumo, the Japanese style of wrestling, is Japan’s national sport.  In ancient times, it was a performance to entertain the Shinto deities and this is why many rituals with religious background, such as the symbolic purification of the ring with salt, are still followed today.

The rules are very simple: the wrestler who first exits the ring or touches the ground with any part of his body besides the soles of his feet loses. Matches take place on an elevated ring (dohyo) made of clay and covered with sand.  A round is usually pretty violent and lasts only a few seconds.  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.

All sumo wrestlers (called Rikishi or o-sumo-san) are classified in a ranking hierarchy that is updated after each tournament based on the wrestlers’ performance.  At the pinnacle of the sumo hierarchy stands the Yokozuna (grand champion).

Six main tournaments are held every year: three in Tokyo (January, May and September) and one each in Osaka (March), Nagoya (July) and Fukuoka (November).  We were lucky to get tickets to a smaller tournament held in Kyoto in April.  We got some ringside seats, and that was perfect for me to get near the action and get a few pictures of the bouts as well as the wrestlers and the area.  It was a long day (we arrived at 9 in the morning to see the training  bouts), but it was a very exciting and interesting experience.

Sumo wrestler, Kyoto, Japan

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