Asa Daniels, senior staff writer
If you had told me a year ago that I would be a fan of Sumo wrestling, I’d have laughed in your face (wearing my mask, of course). I’d known about the sport for several years, recognized the large, overweight, almost-naked men who seemed to just slam into each other with their bellies and make loud noises. But could it really be that entertaining to watch? No way.
Over the last summer, I’ve had a change of heart. Or rather, I’ve come to learn a lot more about the sport, one of the treasures of Japanese culture that has carried on for hundreds of years.
When most people hear about the sport, they think of two things: the big men, and their bodies ramming into each other face first. It seems like an extremely unpleasant game, because you’re not wearing much clothing, you’re sweaty and all you do is to try and not fall over. Plus, the lifestyle of a Sumo wrestler seems unpleasant; shouldn’t there be a dozen health complications that make life painful as a wrestler?
However, that’s not the case. Many Sumo wrestlers, or “rikishi”, as they are called in Japan, are prideful in their ability to gain weight and to do battle. Rikishi follow a number of traditions and beliefs that have been a part of Sumo for centuries.
For one, they eat “chankonabe”, which is a stew they have after a day’s training. The preparing, making and eating of chankonabe all follow rules and guidelines that the Sumo try their hardest to follow. As a side note, the food may not be what you expect. It’s greens and cooked proteins – not fast-food or sugary sweets. They also eat rice and drink huge quantities of beer, apparently.
And, while the rikishi are overweight, they train every morning, so there isn’t really much time to lay around (except for their daily naps after they eat chankonabe). Their exercises are so popular, in fact, that there’s a routine you can do yourself. From the Grand Sumo Highlights program presented by Nippon “Hōsō Kyōkai” (NHK), one can go to their website and follow a fun twelve-step exercise routine (I’ve tried it!).
There are also a number of traditions within the arena. These include, but are not limited to, salt throwing, stomping on the ground, the bow ceremony and the entrance ceremony.
Practically every element of the rikishi life is occupied with the rituals and practices of the sumo wrestler. While that can certainly seem arduous to some, it provides a certain beauty to the sport overall. I find myself having deep respect for the rikishi, the referees (“Gyōji”), the judges, the trainees, and everyone who does their part to help keep the sport alive and vibrant, including the fans. I certainly believe that it is thanks to these traditions that Sumo has persisted for as long as it has, with such a strong, historic and captivating character.
If you’d like to learn more, I’d highly suggest the Grand Sumo Highlights website, where you can find highlights of bouts, see upcoming tournaments, and read more about the sport that so many Japanese, and people around the world, watch with excitement and joy. The next tournament starts on Sept. 12 – tune into Grand Sumo Highlights to catch the action!