Japanese American Traditions

Sumo: An Expanding Sport

The sport of sumo wrestling often brings to mind images of obese men in unusual styles of underwear. However comical these images may seem, sumo is actually an ancient and treasured Japanese sport with an impressive history that carries significance in politics and religion, as well as sports.

Sumo was mentioned in the earliest of Japanese writings, the Kojiki, known as the Record of Ancient Matters. According to this text, a single sumo match determined the ownership of Japan. In ancient times, Sumo matches were also dedicated to gods to ensure an abundant harvest. Because of its religious connections, even today’s sumo matches involve ceremonies and rituals. For example, contestants toss salt around the ring to purify it and pray to the gods to guide them to victory.

During the Edo Period, sumo wrestling became a professional sport in Japan. Over the years, the sport has built a devoted following. The objective is simple—to toss an opponent out of the ring or to make a part of his body, other than the soles of his feet, touch the mat. Because there are no weight classifications, a wrestler may find himself competing against a much heavier opponent. A match generally lasts a matter of seconds. However, because of the intensity of the sport, training is long and arduous, and wrestlers must abide by a disciplined training regimen to prepare.

Today, arenas for this sport are numerous throughout Japan where more and more people are discovering the thrills of these tournaments. To win the Emperor’s Cup is a distinction that brings the champion celebrity status. In 1997, even women began to compete, helping to broaden the sport’s fan base. While sumo wrestling is often misunderstood, its growing popularity—in Japan and in other countries—despite its longevity, suggests an even more promising future ahead.

November 2005

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