Sumo is a form of wrestling which goes back to the earliest historical records in Japanese history.
Sumo appears in the earliest histories of Japan, the Nihon Shoki and the Kojiki, and in early Shinto. By the end of the Heian period (794-1185), it was established as a court ritual for some three hundred years. In the later feudal periods, it was occasionally used as a method of resolving political disputes by sending forth sumo wrestlers to decide the issue; rather similar to the feudalistic European practice of using champions to decide the right of an issue by might.
In the Edo period, sumo became a popular feature of urban culture among the merchant class and it emerged as a professional sport with rules and ceremonies which are closely related to today’s. By the early 20th century the various governing bodies of sumo finally joined to create a single professional organization for the sport.
In modern times, sumo has become a professional sport and is extremely popular, arenas for sumo are plentiful throughout Japan. Since it is native to Japan, it can perhaps better be described as the national sport rather than baseball, the only competitor for the title.
Sumo combines some of the most public forms of Shintoritual with the stupendous sight of wrestlers weighing up to 265 kilograms (around 580 pounds) apiece slamming into each other. At first glance, foreigners are frequently repulsed, but continued exposure converts many into fanatics.
The rules of sumo are majestically simple: one of the two wrestlers loses when he is forced out of the wrestling ring which measures about 15 feet in diameter or if anything other than his feet touch the playing surface.
There are 70 ways of beating an opponent listed by the Sumo Association, including such common ones as uwatenage (overarm throw) and shitatenage (underarm throw), but few methods of attack are banned. Wrestlers may trip or slap with an open hand, but eye-gouging, hair-pulling, and hitting with a closed fist are not permitted and will result in forfeiting the bout.
The wrestling ring is a raised clay platform with bales of straw half buried in the clay to outline the circular ring. Wrestlers wear only a thick belt which can be grasped by the opponent and used to lever the wearer out of the ring.