Taiken Japan

Autumn Leaves 2016

Sumo : Pure Tradition

Sumo : Pure Tradition

Marina Villar

In Japan Sumo is much more than just a sport. It is a living example of Japanese culture, traditions and history. And the rikishi or wrestlers serve as cultural ambassadors when they take part in events overseas.

Sumo shows discipline, hard work and courage but not only inside the dohyō or ring, also outside and in wrestlers´ every day life.


The first tournament of 2016 is being held at the Ryogoku Stadium in Tokyo. And you can join it any day till Sunday January 24th. But please note that, specially the last weekend might not be available at all.

The first time I went to a Sumo Championship was together with my Japanese teacher who explained me all she knew about this almost religious experience. Of course, you will be able to witness it yourself if you decide to be part of one of the tournaments held in Japan all year long.

Some interesting facts and rules about this antique tradition

  • Most of the Sumo wrestlers start their careers at a very young age, usually when they finish primary school at the age of 15.
  • Training is very strict and teachers, most of them, retired Sumo wrestlers, teach them techniques to fight but mainly manners and how to achieve a strong mind and body.
  • Sumo wrestlers have a very tight agenda during their training period. They live, breath and share their life with other (older and more experienced) Sumo wrestlers in order to get used to the new life style.
  • Most of them are required to live in communal sumo training stables known as heya, where all aspects of their daily lives are dictated by strict tradition.
  • It is not a secret that wrestlers put a lot of effort and attention into their diets. The younger ones, in order to gain weight, will eat until they fall down (literally).
  • Average weight of Sumo wrestlers is around 300 to 350 pounds or 200 kilograms but can weigh much more.
    Sumo wrestlers are not allowed to drive a car and they have to wear traditional dresses in public down to the feet. No excuses!!!
  • Japan is the only country where Sumo is practised professionally.
  • There are six divisions: makuuchi, jūryō, makushita, sandanme, jonidan and jonokuchi.
  • The Makuuchi division receives the most attention from fans and at the pinnacle of the ranking you will find the ones ranked as Yokozuna or Grand champions

What to expect to see in a tournament


At the initial charge both wrestlers must jump up from the crouch simultaneously after touching the surface of the ring with two fists at the start of the bout, and the referee can restart the bout if this simultaneous touch does not occur. The referee´s decision may be disputed by the five shimpan or judges seated around the ring. If this happens the judges will meet in the center of the ring to make a decision.

Sumo 1

After that the wrestlers return to their starting positions and bow to each other before retiring. A winning wrestler in the top division may receive additional prize money in envelopes from the referee if the matchup has been sponsored.

Sumo 2

If a Yokozuna is defeated by a lower ranked wrestler it is common to see members of the audience throwing their seats cushions into the ring.

In contrast to the time in bout preparation, bouts are typically very short, usually less than a minute, and often only a few seconds. Extremely rarely a bout can go on for many minutes.

Ryogoku Stadium: useful information

At this point, you might have your ticket ready. You can get to Ryogoku Stadium through JR Chuo / Sobu Line or by subway through Oedo line.

Doors open at 8:00 in the morning but after 3:00 in the afternoon you will be able to see the Makuuchi (top division) in action.

There are plenty of things to do inside the Stadium like buying souvenirs, having a Chanko stew or a Rekishi Bento box for lunch or just taking pictures like a typical tourist every time you see a big boy round the corner.

Girls in kimono are also part of the charming adventure.

If you are in town while a tournament is happening, I would definitely recommend you to join. It is one of those Japanese experiences that no one should miss, because as I mentioned, Sumo is much more than just a sport. You will take part of the Japanese culture with you.