This week at my children’s school, the Montessori School of Tokyo (www.montessorijapan.com) the Japanese Culture Committee brought in Sumo wrestlers to meet the children. The two wrestlers, or rishiki, Houchiyama-zeki and Ookouryuu-san, talked with the kids about the sport, let them try a little wrestling and then answered any questions they might have. The committee set up a small “museum” of sumo which contained information about the history and customs of the sport as well as size comparisons and other information. The parents were allowed to join the kids for a short farewell parade to see them off, and those pictures are shown here, with the men dressed not in their wrestling uniforms, but in the traditional garb of men that is akin to the kimono for women.
Sumo is the national sport of Japan and traces its origins back to the traditional warrior dances of shinto shrines. It became popular in the sixteenth century, the Edo Period of Japan, where people watched the matches as a form of entertainment. The matches take place inside a ring called a dohyo, which has specific, and surprisingly small measurements (4.55 meters in diameter and 16.26 square meters in area) The surface is a mixture of clay and sand. The point of the match is for one wrestler to force the other out of the ring or to make a part of his opponent’s body, other than the soles of his feet, touch the ground.
The wrestlers live and train together in communities called stables, where they rise through the ranks as they prepare to fight. Each stable has its own rituals, including a hairstyle and uniform for their particular wrestlers. Loyalty to the stable is expected.
There are six grand sumo tournaments per year, three of which take place in Tokyo at the Ryugoku Kokugikan. My husband and I went to see one of them a few years ago, and it was quite a memorable experience. The referees were dressed so colorfully and the complex dance and salt-throwing, in which the wrestlers engage before the bouts can boggle the mind. We bought the good seats on the floor, and in traditional Japanese style, the seats were literally on the floor, in a square called a masu-seki. Waiters brought us a continual stream of food and drink.
My kids, though, have now interacted with the sumo wrestlers, something that most people never get to do. I think of the experiences they have and the things that they learn and I marvel. What a country we live in! We plan to enjoy each experience to the fullest.