The hubby and I went and saw a movie on Saturday night at the Toho theater in Roppongi Hills. When we were leaving we passed a gentleman clad in a yukata
with his long hair oiled and pulled back into a topknot
. No, this was not someone in an early Halloween costume–it was a sumo wrestler! We snapped a quick picture, but it was dark and we were trying to be discrete, so you can barely make him out–but he’s there, I promise! Last week my youngest brother ran into Geena Davis on the campus of UCLA–my sumo sighting is my
celebrity sighting for the week. There are 6 Grand Sumo tournaments every year, three of which are in Tokyo. The September 2007 Grand Tournament just started this past Sunday, September 9th. We caught the last couple of matches on TV, and boy was it fun to watch! Hakuho, one of the two current yokuzuna
(grand champion sumo), and the only one to be participating in the current Grand Tournament, was defeated
by fellow Mongolian Ama.
(Image from Wikipedia.)
Can I tell you how much I love this sport? The basic idea of the sport is you take 2 very large and very strong men and put them in a ring. The wrestler who either first touches the surface inside the ring with something other than his feet, or who leaves the ring (touching anything) before his opponent, loses. There are 82 different recognized techniques for winning (involving various combinations of pushing, pulling, tugging, tripping, sweeping, tossing, throwing, twisting, etc.). The matches take place in a dohyō (土俵), or ring, made with a circle of rice-straw bales mounted on a square platform of clay, the surface of which is covered with sand.
There are six divisions in sumo, a hierarchical ranking system that dates back hundreds of years to the Edo period. The yokozuna (横綱, yokozuna) is the highest rank in sumo–the grand champions. Professional sumo wrestling is found exclusively in Japan, however wrestlers of other nationalities can participate. In fact, both of the current yokozuna are mongolian, Asashoryu and Hakuho.
The life of a sumo is very strictly controlled by the Japan Sumo Association (日本相撲協会 or Nihon Sumo Kyokai)
. Sumos are easy to spot as they are expected to grow their hair long to form a topknot, or chonmage
, similar to the samurai
hairstyles of the Edo Period
. They are expected to wear this hairstyle and traditional Japanese dress when out in public. The type of traditional dress expected depends on their rank. Training is rigorous and filled with ritual.
Even a sumo’s diet is carefully monitored. A common lunch will consist of chankonabe
, a simmering stew cooked at the table which contains various fish, meat, and vegetables, eaten with rice and washed down with beer. The random fact
that I love about chankonabe
, is that the chankonabe
served during sumo tournaments is made exclusively with chicken, the idea being that a sumo should always be on two legs like a chicken, not all fours like a cow or off one’s legs entirely like a fish (i.e. in a position of one who has just lost a match). Any regular person can taste this yummy dish. In fact, there is a chankonabe
restaurant within 5 minutes walking distance from my apartment, as well as one in nearby Roppongi called Waka
, which is owned by the famous sumo wrestler Wakanohana who is now retired. If you can’t get out to one of these restaurants, you could always try your hand at whipping up some chankonabe
yourself with this recipe
After World War II, there was very little entertainment for the Japanese people. At this time sumo became a more popular source of entertainment, as well as a source of national pride. Sumo wrestlers became heros for kids, and kamizumou
(paper sumo)became more popular. This is played by making paper wrestlers and drawing a ring on a board. The paper wrestlers are placed standing facing each other in a the ring. Players make the wrestlers move by tapping lightly on the outside of the ring, and they win by forcing their opponent’s wrestler down to the ground or out of the ring, just like in real sumo. If you would like to have a go, you can find instructions on how to fold your own sumo here
. This site
provides wrestlers and a ring that can be printed and then cut out.
This is a kamizumou set that I purchased recently at a 100 yen store: