Sumo wrestling is to Japan as Baseball is to America. It’s the nation’s most famous sport. The young and elderly flock to see matches. Kids aspire to be wrestlers in the future. Some wrestlers even have their own fanclub. Most wrestlers attain legendary status comparable to basketball players in the west.
It is a high contact sport where two wrestlers, Rikishi, basically face off and try to push the other out of a circular area or force the other to lose his footing and touch the ground. Illegal moves, Kinjite, and having the belt, the Mawashi, undone will also result in losing the bout. A referee, Gyoji, will be the one to judge the winner.
The earliest Sumo matches were deadly, wherein the loser would be sentenced to death. However, as time went on it became a necessary military exercise. The matches were also created to entertain gods to ensure a bountiful harvest. Hence, the rituals and symbolism attached to the sport. The first Grand Champion, Yokozuna, was Ozeki Tanikaze in 1789.
Currently, there has been a surge of international talents coming into the predominantly Japanese sport. As of 2004, fifty-three (53) out of six hundred ninety three (693) wrestlers were of non-Japanese origin. For instance, the current Yokozuna is Asashoryu. He’s a Mongolian wrestler with a career record of 432-121-5. It is fast becoming an international sport due to the injection of new blood.
With old traditions mixed with new ideas, Sumo wrestling in the twenty-first century is shining bright.