The Power of Sumo

The ritual thrill of a national sport

By Sleiman Azizi    - 2 min read

With some of the sporting world's greatest behemoths charging at each other at incredible speed, you need to pay attention in sumo. Clashes between wrestlers 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.

Tokyo's Ryogoku Kokugikan, the spiritual home of sumo
Tokyo's Ryogoku Kokugikan, the spiritual home of sumo (Photo: Goki / CC BY-SA 3.0)

Recent tournaments have provided some top notch entertainment for fans. Hakuho - arguably the greatest sumo wrestler of all time - wins tournaments with perfect records while Tokushoryu's fairytale championship victory brought tears to the normally stoic rank-and-filer. And then there is Enho, a crowd favourite whose pixie bulk energises entire stadiums with his imaginative means to victory. There is no doubt that sumo is a thrilling tournament-to-tournament adventure.

Tachiai, the moment when wrestlers clash
Tachiai, the moment when wrestlers clash (Photo: Gusjer / CC BY 2.0)

Along with the action sits tradition. Centuries of it has cemented sumo as possibly the most intriguing merger 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.

Dohyo-iri ring entering ceremony
Dohyo-iri ring entering ceremony (Photo: Gregg Tavares / CC BY 2.0)

Whether or not you see these rituals as a modern psyche-out in ancient form, the result is always a solemn tension that is mesmerising; the yokozuna grand champion-only ceremonial dances, the obligatory samurai chonmage hairstyles, the shubatsu salt throwing ritual to purify the ring, the dohyo-iri ring entering ceremony...

There is no denying it; sumo is captivating. If you do blink and miss a bout, though, then at least you'll have the power of centuries 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).

More info

Find out more about Ryogoku Kokugikan.

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Sleiman Azizi

Sleiman Azizi @sleiman.azizi

A Japanese Permanent Resident, I have over 400 published articles on Japan as well as 5 English language books written in a traditional Japanese style. I happen enjoy writing. Funny that...I'm also the Regional Partner for Tokyo, Japan's never ending capital, so if you've anything to say about Tokyo - or Japan in general - don't be shy and contact with me via sleiman.azizi@japantravel.com

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Kim B 2 years 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 2 years 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.