When we arrived, the lower ranking rikishi had already begun their matches. We watched a few of these lower ranking wrestlers before getting to witness the opening ceremonies for the higher ranking wrestlers.
Sumo has managed to survive with its formalized ritual and traditional etiquette intact making it unique among sports. On each day of the tournament immediately before the maku-uchi matches are scheduled (after the lower-ranking rikishi), the colorful dohuo-iri or “entering the ring” ceremony takes place. Down the aisle in reverse order of their rank comes one team of maku-uchi rikishi wearing kesho-mawashi or ceremonial aprons. These aprons made of silk, richily embroidered with different designs and hemmed with gold fringe, cost anywhere from 400,000 to 500,000 yen (about $4-5,000 US)!
The rikishi climb into the dohyo and go through a short ritual, ancient in sumo tradition, after which they depart to be followed by the other team entering from the opposite aisle to repeat the ritual.
The leading roles in the doho-iri are reserved for the yokozuna who have not taken any part in the ceremony up to now. A yokozuna comes down the aisle attended by a senior gyoji (referee) and two maku-uchi rikishi in kesho-mawashi, one bearing a sword. Over his kesho-mawashi, the yokozuna wears a massive braided hemp rope weighing from 25-35 pounds tied with a bow at the back and ornamented in the front with strips of paper hanging in zigzag patterns. This is a familiar religious symbol in Japan. It can be found hanging in Shinto shrines and in the home over the “shelf” of the gods where offerings are made at New Year.
While the gyoji and two attendants crouch in the dohyo, the yokozuna performs the dohyo-iri ceremony with the greatest dignity. After first clapping his hands together to attract the attention of the gods, he extends his arms to the sides and turns the palms upward to show he is concealing no weapons. Then at climax, he lifts first one leg to the side high in the air, then the other, bringing each down with a resounding stamp on the ground symbolically driving evil from the dohyo. After he has witdrawn with his attendants, the other yokozuna enter, in turn, and repeat the ceremony.
A bit about the rikishi’s “clothing…”
For the match the rikishi are naked except for a silken loincloth called the mawashi. Made of heavy silk approximately 10 yards by 2 feet wide, it is folded in six and then wrapped around the waist from 4 to 7 times depending on the girth of the rikishi. The mawashi is a fundamental part of the rikishi’s equipment. It may be said to have determined the whole form of sumo. There are 70 winning tricks, most of which are achieved by maneuvering the opponent with a grip on the mawashi. The strings hanging from the front are of silk stiffened with glue and as they are purely ornamental, can be discarded when they become detached as they frequently do in the course of a match. Some say that these strings are put there to cover up the men’s area… to make their dress more modest, but I have to say, it doesn’t do a very good job!
After entering the dohyo each rikishi goes through a series of symbolic movements. To cleanse his mind and body, he symbolically rinses his mouth with water, the source of purity, and wipes his body with a paper towel. Certain motions are repeated from the yokozuna’s dohyo-iri, the raising of the arms to the side as well as the stamping of the feet. Each rikishi also scatters a handful of salt to purify the ring. This is further supposed to ensure him against injuries. The salt-throwing is, however, the privilege only of maku-uchi, juryo and maku-shita rikishi.
The rikishi then squat and face each other in the center of the ring, crouch forward in a “get set” position supporting themselves with their fists on the ground and proceed to glare fiercely at each other. This portion of the ritual is called the shikiri. They do not begin the match at once, however, but engage in a kind of “cold warfare.” They go back to their corners for more salt, scatter it, and return to glare. They repeat the process again and again, usually for the full four minutes allowed by the rules. (Lower ranks must being their match at once). Theoretically, they wait for the psychological moment when they both feel ready. At any rate, it gives the rikishi time to work themselves and the spectators up to the proper pitch of excitement.
During the matches with the higher ranking wrestlers, it is common to see people enter onto the dohyo carrying banners, walk around the dohyo and then exit. These banners are telling the spectators that you can bet on these wrestlers. Usually the bet is around $600 on one wrestler!! The winning wrestler takes half of the money for bets placed on him.
The concluding rite of the day is the “bow dance.” After the final match a specially picked makushita rikishi climbs into the dohyo, is handed a bow by the gyoji with which he performs the yumitori-shiki, a brilliant routine with a twirling bow. The ceremony was introduced sometime during the Edo Period when a winning rikishi was awarded a prize of a bow and to express his satisfaction performed the “bow dance.” This may be considered an expression of satisfaction on behalf of the victorious rikishi of the day.
Overall, this experience was incredible to witness! I’m so glad that we were able to experience this trip together! Here are some other photos of our time here at the sumo matches:
***Interesting Fact: Sumo wrestlers make around $30,000 in ONE month, tax free!!***
Our roots will forever be from here, America, born and raised. Yet, life requires us to move more frequently than we care to count. Whether living stateside or abroad, you can always find us traveling somewhere. We scout out places that you only think you can dream of one day seeing and we seek out those that aren’t found in guidebooks. We then bring them to life here in our travel memos, so hopefully, one day you too can visit them or at least be able to live vicariously through us. This blog isn’t just about crossing off places from a bucket list. It’s about absorbing and learning how other cultures grow and fit into the same world that we do. Life is short and the world is big. Enjoy and get out there!