Dohyo Iri: Entering the Ring of Power
Not into baseball, J-League
leaves you cold, K1 turning into WWF? Without pay-TV what are the
spectator sport options in Japan? Bare asses and lots of silk, sound
like something you could get into, then try the official national
sport of Japan, Sumo.
Be warned, chatting about Sumo with anyone under
60 will put you into the cheesier than an old geezer's socks category,
as popularity has followed a curve even worse than the economy.
Why bother with Sumo at all then? Well, to start watching and enjoying
you need minimal understanding of Japanese or the rules.
Sumo is essentially: push, pull, sometimes throw,
sometimes slap. Touch any part of your body outside the straw ringed
perimeter (tawara), or any part, except feet, on the clay mound
(dohyo) and you lose.
What's with the nappies?
Go on, I dare you to call the loincloth (mawashi)
that to the face of a wrestler (rikishi). Several metres of silk
or cotton wrapped tightly around the waist and groin area give essential
Want to know more?
After initial shock, awe and even hilarity subsides,
you'll probably notice, like so much in Japan, underlying a simple
surface, many deeper layers, with long history, very stylistic traditions
and specialist terms to describe them.
Yorikiri (frontal force out) and oshidashi (frontal
push out) are the two most common of the 82 official winning techniques
(kimarite; very literally "deciding hand"), but many exotic
ones like amiuchi (the fisherman's throw) exist. Punches, hair pulling
(see side panel),
eye gouging, finger bending and kicking other than the legs all
cause a loss by default. An open handed slap (harite) is allowed
and often as lethal as a punch.
with the hair, dresses, hand waving and squats?
Tradition dictates top-knots (chonmage), ring
entering ceremonies in elaborate silk aprons (keshomawashi), plus
lots of salt throwing, hand waving and foot stomping to purify the
ring, show no weapons and summon the gods. For their one bout a
day, opponents begin from a crouched position marked by parallel
lines about 1 metre apart, in the centre of the dohyo. Touching
the backs of both hands to the ground signals readiness to start
(tachiai; literally stand and meet). A Shinto priest-like silk clad
referee (gyoji) oversees and declares a winner with the wave of
a fan (gumbai). Five judges (shimpan) seated around the dohyo and
two more in a video booth, make sure the gyoji doesn't make a bad
there weight divisions?
Several divisions exist in professional Sumo (Ozumo),
none are based on weight. Mass, and of course power and strength,
can play a big part in your chances, but as important is technique.
Relatively small guys often come up against a behemoth and win.
Are those their real names?
Rikishi take on a fighting name (shikona), often
derived from their real name, hometown, stable (heya), stable group
(ichimon) or stablemaster's (oyakata) fighting name, but most commonly
a combination of all the above.
What do all those rank names
Ranking and promotion/demotion are based solely
on win/loss record. For the highest division (Makunouchi; literally
"inside the curtain") ranks range from the highest, Yokozuna
(Grand Champion), Ozeki (Champion), to Maegashira (rank and file
wrestler). Higher ranks bring better salaries and privileges, but
more ceremonial and public responsibilities. Yokozuna cannot be
demoted, but a slide in performance beckons honourable retirement.
There are over 700 professional wrestlers (including about 50 foreigners)
in 6 divisions.
Where do I watch or find out
more about Sumo?
Sumo is broadcast on NHK (General Channel 2, BS
and radio). BS offers an English sub-channel with very knowledgable
resident English speaking expert Sumo commentators.
There are 6 professional 15-day Sumo tournaments (basho) a year,
starting the first or second Sunday of odd months (January, March
etc.). Makunouchi bouts are broadcast from 4 p.m. to 6p.m. Waning
popularity means tickets are much easier to come by, even on the
day, at the venue.
This was unheard of in the past, with the Osaka
basho's 23-year continuous sold-out streak only ending last year
(held every March at the Prefectural Gymnasium, Namba). The very
lively Osaka crowd and intimate venue produce a fun day out. Regional
areas get regular exhibition tours.
The Japanese Sumo Council (Nihon Sumo Kyokai)
provides a free live video feed and much other interesting information.
The free, unmoderated, 10 year-old English Sumo
mail list, is very convivial, welcoming to beginners and experts
alike, with many fun games based on picking winners or losers. Details
and a useful searchable archive are at www.banzuke.com. Sumo Ring
is also good for many links http://nav.webring.yahoo.com/hub?ring=sumo&list.
In a time when Hanshin Tigers, Ichiro or Beckham
are much more topical, being a Sumo fan is unlikely to endear you
to Japanese friends or earn Japanophile points. At the least though,
it's an opportunity to make sure you leave work by 5pm to catch
that last hour of bouts.
You can catch some bouts right here in Kansai as
the rikishi's make their annual Autumn Tour of the Kansai area.
2003 AUTUMN TOUR SCHEDULE
Oct.15 Kyoto Oct.17-18 Kobe Oct.25 Himeji
For further info, contact:
NIHON SUMO KYOKAI
Tel: 03-3623-5111 (in Japanese only)
9:30am-5:00pm (closed Sat, Sun & holidays)