Grand Sumo

Three times a year, Tokyo hosts one of 6 grand sumo championships. The Grand Sumo Ryogoku Kokugikan is held each January and had been on me and Andrew’s “bucket list” for things we wanted to do while in Japan. In my handbook from the tournament, the Japanese legend says the very origin of the Japanese race depended on the outcome of a sumo match. The supremacy of the Japanese people on the islands of Japan was supposedly established when the god, Takemikazuchi, won a sumo bout with the leader of a rival tribe. Sumo dates back to some 1500 year and was a ceremonial banquet to celebrate peace on earth and bountiful harvests. In the early days, sumo combined elements of boxing and wrestling with few or no holds barred. After a while, rules were put in place to form what we now see as sumo, today.

Sumo tournaments last 15 days. Each rikishi (sumo wrestler) fights everyday of the tournament with a different opponent. The rikishi with the best record of wins during the tournament is awarded the Emperor’s Cup on the last day after the final match. There are 3 other prizes awarded. The shukunsho is for the rikishi who upset the most yokozuna (a wrestler at a grand champion level) and ozeki (a wrestler at champion level). The kanto-sho is for the wrestler with the best fighting spirit. And finally the gino-sho is awarded for technique. The rikishi must win at least 8 of 15 matches to be eligible for these prizes.

A typical match day starts with the beating of the drums, welcoming fans in to the stadium, usually around 8:00 in the morning. Preliminary bouts start soon after for new sumo trainees not yet officially ranked. The next bout is called Jonokuchi-Makushita. These are from the lowest rank (Jonokuchi) to the junior grade (Makushita). Next, dressed in kesho-mawashi (ceremonial aprons), wrestlers of the intermediate level enter the ring to start the Juryo round. Halfway through the day, on the  opening and final days of the tournament, the Chairman of the Nihon Sumo Kyokai address the crowd … then it’s on to the most interesting bouts and ceremonial entrances.

The Makuuchi (senior) wrestlers step into the ring to perform their ceremonial entrance. Each wearing their kesho-mawashi aprons, they turn to face the crowd in a circle. After this ceremony, the Yokozuna Grand Champion enters the ring. He is accompanied by two attendants. The Champion claps their hands and stomps their feet, drawing calls from the crowd. After this the Makuuchi bouts can start. Wrestlers from the highest sumo level fight for the top spots in the tournament.

Makuuchi wrestlers ceremonial entrance.

The Yokozuna Grand Champion ring entrance.

After the wrestlers throw chalk onto the ring or shiomaki, they go down into this pose. Chiri-o-kiru, Sumo respects fair-play.

The first clash between wrestlers is called Tachi-ai.


A sumo match is won when one opponent forces the other out of the inner circle or throws them down in the dohyo (sumo ring). You do not need to push your opponent out or completely down to win. A knee, or fingertip touching the dohyo or even a toe or heel over the circle and on the straw means a loss.

Although we didn’t stay for the whole day, we were able to see the sport of sumo. It was very interesting. At the end of the day, I still couldn’t believe I had just went to a sumo match. The tradition, respect, and strength or the wrestlers shone through (even from our nose-bleed seats). It was definitely something worth crossing of our list.

For more pictures, visit the More Pictures page 🙂

2 thoughts on “Grand Sumo

  1. Now I know what that remnant of cloth is called–an apron!!!Do you think the aprons of today were fashioned from the Sumo wrestlers? Lindsay, you will have the most enlightened grandmother re: Japan. Thanks, again. Love to you and Andrew. Nona

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