The Power of Sumo

Sport and tradition thriving in the modern world

By Sleiman Azizi    - 2 min read

With behemoths of the sporting world charging at each other with incredible speed, you need to pay attention in sumo. Clashes between wrestlers (known as rikishi) can literally last no more than a few seconds. The energy of the bouts is intense and though often brief, the tension and excitement generated is very real.

The recent (Autumn 2018) Grand Sumo Tournament (aki basho), the fifth of the six annual professional division tournaments, was one of the most exciting of recent times. This year's rendition saw a successful return to action by both the Japanese-born Kisenosato and the Mongolian Hakuho. Both men are grand champions or yokozuna.

Hakuho is arguably the greatest sumo wrestler of all time. During the autumn tournament, he created history by winning an unprecedented 1001st professional division victory, a 41st career tournament victory, and all with perfect 15-0 win-loss record.

Centuries of tradition have cemented sumo as one of the most intriguing mergers of sport and ritual in the world today. Said to originally have been part of Shinto religious ceremonies, sumo retains much of its sacred appeal. For sure, sumo as sport dominates the headlines, but it may be that sumo as ritual is what gives those headlines value.

Whether or not you see these rituals as a modern psyche-out in ancient form, the result is always a solemn tension that captivates. The yokozuna-only ceremonial dances, the obligatory samurai chonmage hairstyle, rikishi throwing salt to purify the ring, the thanking of the divine for success and safety...

Sumo is truly captivating but if you do blink and miss the bout, then at least you'll have everything else to enjoy.

Getting there

Professional tournaments are held throughout the year at:

  • Tokyo's Ryogoku Kokugikan (Toei Oedo Line, Ryogoku Station, A4 Exit or JR Sobu Line, West Exit)
  • Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium (Subway Midosuji Line, Namba Station, South Exit)
  • Nagoya's Aichi Prefectural Gymnasim (Meijo Line, Shiyakusho Station, Exit 7)
  • Fukuoka Kokusai Center (Subway Hakozaki Line, Gofukumachi Station, Exit 6).

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Sleiman Azizi

Sleiman Azizi @sleiman.azizi

A Japanese Permanent Resident who enjoys drooling over proper soba and sushi, Japanese aesthetics ticks all the right boxes for me and I enjoy stringing words together. I've almost one hundred published articles on Japan as well as five English language books written in the traditional Japanese zuihitsu-style.

Join the discussion

Kim B 7 months ago
Still have to get to a sumo tournament myself - I usually just watch it on TV but I imagine the atmosphere in person is amazing. Tochinoshin is my favorite!
Sleiman Azizi Author 7 months ago
Tochinoshin is my favourite too! He had a difficult tournament this time, perhaps he was trying too hard but good to see that he held on to his ozeki rank. Having said all that, Hakuho is simply the best.