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"Why are you interested in sumo?" I was asked this question frequently, especially after people know that I had the choice to choose among different topics about Japan. Sumo is a Japanese sport which is totally different from the western style wrestling. Sumo wrestlers embody the idea of Japanese male. It reflects power, discipline and fear. The highest branch wrestlers are treated like gods. In Sumo, wrestlers just wear a mawashi (loincloth). They fight each other in a circular ring called a dohyo. Wrestlers move forward each other in order to force the other wrestler to go out of the ring. The one who achieves that wins. But what makes youth interested in sumo? According to Lora Sharnoff in her book entitled "Grand Sumo", the answer to that question depends on the one oneself. Some of them practice it because they just love it, while others may be amazed by the probabilities to be famous. According to Shanrnoff, some find the career in sumo is really challenging whereas some practice it because of their family or friends. Sumo has a long history, and it is considered the national sport in Japan. It is widely believed that sumo started as a part of the Japanese religion Shinto as the men used to dance in which they wrestle with Gods. Others believe that Sumo began many centuries ago and developed into the one we have now form in the Edo period (1603-1868). So where is the truth? To find out, we need to have a historical background in order to appreciate why those wrestlers have this unique lifestyle and sumo itself as an art.
Sumo has a great history which has begun long time ago. According to Sharnoff, the first time sumo was mentioned was in the Kojiki (Records of Ancient matters), a book from 712, which is the oldest example of Japanese writings. The Kojiki tells that sumo is related to an ancient legend which is about the ownership of the Japanese islands was decided by a sumo fight. According to the Kojiki, about two thousand five hundred years ago, the gods Takeminakata and Takemikazuchi wrestled on the shores of Izumo, along the Japan Sea coast which now is called shimane Perfecture, until the Takeminakata lost the wrestle. That's why the control of those islands was given to Takemikazuchi, who is believed to have established the family of Empire from which the current emperor follows his ancestry. That reflects how great the heritage of the sumo is. It also emphasize that as a religious ritual reaffirm the founding of Japan as it honors the emperor, which means that each sumo match is a sign of respect to the emperor. Shanoff then states that it is almost impossible to determine when accurately the sumo began because the Japanese did not continue keeping any writings till the eighth century. However, some ancient paintings on the walls are a sign of its origins. Sharnoof also says that it is very hard to tell whether sumo is totally indigenous sport or whether it was influenced by some other fighting techniques from China, Mangolia, Korea, India, Babylonia, and some other different parts from Asia.(p.38,39) But what is totally true is that sumo has been performed basically as an agricultural ritual to pray for a bountiful harvest. That reflects that sumo celebrates life because it was a way to ask gods to create more and more of their harvest. According to Joel Sackett in his book entitled "Rikishi The Men of Sumo", the origin of sumo is buried in myth and early historical writings. Sackett states that there is no doubt that sumo has been influenced by some form of grappling with its origin in India which came to Japan from China twelve hundred to fifteen hundred years ago.(p. 10). That means that this sport is very flexible one which could adapt other sports in it. Both sharnoff and Sackett agree that the sumo we have today is a developmental one that has been developed through the centuries influenced by some other kind of sports. They also agree that the sumo we have today was first developed in the period of Edo in which Japan was isolated from the world. That reflects how great and huge the history of this sport.
Sumotori, which is sumo practitioner called, has a unique lifestyle. In the beginning of the career, one has to live in a stable in Tokyo as one cannot live with one's family anymore. If the one already lives in a stable, for example the cauch's son, one has to leave to another stable where one lives away from one's family. Sumotoris eat, drink and live together. In the sumo world, almost everything works or done is done by rankings. That's why the new recruit must get up really early in the morning to begin training. Usually, one will have to eat big meals and train for long hours each day. One would have to wear special clothes if one goes in public in order to people know that this one do sumo. Sumo is not only about eating huge meals and training a lot, as the sumo has to eat certain food such as rice and beef so they can put on weight. What really important is that what sumotori do after he eats so that he could keep the weight he gained. But also that depends on the rank one has. So what are the ranks that sumotori could have? According to sharnoff, there is a ranking sheet where the sumororis are divided into six ranks. There are different treatments which are depending on the rank; however, all the ranks should wear the Mawashi which the formal suit for a sumotori. According to sharnoff, "the Mawashi weighs four or five kilograms and is an average of nine meters long and sixty centimeters wide. It is folded into six parts and wrapped, depending on the sumotori's girth, from four to seven times around the waist, hips, and under the groin". Another outstanding physical characteristic is the hairstyle of the wrestlers. Sumotoris keep their hair as a topknot, which was a normal hairstyle in the Edo period. The hairstyle is legacy from the age of samurai. it also protects the wrestlers when they land on their heads. The morning at a sumo heya begins long before the sun rises. No one is allowed to drink or eat before practice as they might get sick during the practice as a result of being hit in the stomach or need to use the toilet which necessitate removing the long mawashi and there is no time for such personal attention.(Sackett p. 13). After some practice, the older sumotoris arrive from their private homes or wake up from their rooms. Then the new recruit helps them by offering water or assists them in wearing their mawashi. On the meantime, those who in the kitchen start to prepare the meal then go to practice again. After practicing, all the sumotoris come together and consume the rest of their energy in doing a series of calisthenics.(Sackett p. 15). After that active morning, one would think that sumotoris would rest. What actually happens is that the afternoon is devoted to different activities such as public relations and promotional activities. The young sumo would attend the sumo school in the heya. When night comes, sumo would, finally, have some rest. After the meal is well prepared by the young sumotoris, visitors are more than welcomed to join this meal. The old sumotoris should devote some time to the photographs and sign autographs for the fans. (Sackett p. 25). Therefore, sumotoris have a very unique lifestyle unlike other sportsmen. In other sports, those who practice it usually do not devote themselves to the sport like the sumotoris. They do not have to leave their homes to live in another place where they do not have a luxury life. They also do not wake up really in the morning in order to train. They have a very normal life as they get enough sleep, they follow especial diets in order to be fit and able to manage their own time by themselves. They do have some time for their personal life so that they can hangout with their friends, anytime. They also have the choice to go to the training anytime they want unlike sumo. That reflects how sumo is a respected sport that is widely appreciated.
Sumo follows many aspects of the Japanese old traditions. Any stable has a ring where a serious of trainings take place but before that, the ring has to be purified according to the Japanese old traditions. A man stands in the middle of ring and uses salt for purification, branches to chase away the evil spirit and sake, which is Japanese alcoholic drink made of rice, to bring luck. Also, the wrestlers throw salt into the ring to purify it before they begin their match, as the dohyo is considered a sacred place. Even among all that activities during the morning, one is not allowed placing his back to the ring as that would be considered as a sign of rudeness. What makes this sport a simple kind of art is that its rules are very simple; one loses when one touches the ground with any part but the feet or be pushed out of the ring. That's why the sumo match does not take more than ten seconds. To have a lot of weight is a good advantage for the sumotori; however, there are so many techniques that are used in order to win the match. Almost everything is legal but the pull the hair or punching or strangle the opponent is illegal. What makes it a unique type of art is that sumo is about breaking the opponent balance without breaking your own body balance. What really amazing is that although sumotoris are usually very fat, they enjoy a very flexible body that is full of muscles. I believe that they gain that through the long hours they spent in their daily practices and stretches they do. Sumo is not only about the physical training but it is concerned with the spirit training as well. No matter how tired someone is, he has to follow the trainer's orders so that he could toughen his spirit. That part is related to the old Japanese belief which is in order to be strong, one should strengthen one's willpower. During the match, one should show open hands mean that the opponent does not carry any weapon. Also wearing the mawashi serves the purpose of not allowing any weapons. Sumotoris should feel happy after wining because the sumo is originated as a fight till death. That's why this sport is a special kind of art.
To sum up, sumo has a great history that back to the eighth century. One cannot tell before that itme what happened because of the lack of writings before that period. But what is widely accepted is that sumo is a very old sport as most of the paintings refer to that. It was first practiced as a part of religious events so that the Japanese could have a good harvest, then it was practiced by both the warriors and the normal people. The valuable question how the life of a sumo wrestler looks like is now answered as being a sumotori means to have a unique lifestyle unlike the other sportsmen who live a normal daily life. Sumotoris have a very active day which starts really early in the morning. The young sumotoris usually are the one who have a lot to work on. First they practice then they help others to be ready for the training. When it comes to the evening, sumotoris enjoy a little rest by socializing and welcoming the visitors to their heya. The sumo is a very especial kind of art that really follows the Japanese old traditions. Those are reflected by many ways in the sumo such as purifying the ring, showing the empty hands, and toughen the soul.