Friday, May 29, 2009

More on Sumo

P5240182The competition itself is a pretty long event. It takes place over the course of 15 days and each competitor competes only once on a given day. There are many, and I mean many competitors, divided up into different classes. At the top of the class, and competing towards the end of the day (close to 6 pm) are the Yokozuna – only one or two Sumo wrestlers can have this title at a given time. Other wrestlers compete earlier in the day, based on their ranks. Given that each match takes about 6 minutes (5 minutes of which is preparation time and the wrestlers sizing each other up) and that each day of the competition starts at 8 am and lasts until 6 pm, one can make an educated guess about the size of the competition.

  P5240183The top 5 class of wrestlers start competing after 3:00 pm which is when most of the crowd comes in. The scoreboards in the arena (the white strip in the picture above) lists each match with the winner highlighted with a red line. The current match has two red lines, one of which disappears after the conclusion of the match.  Between matches there can be other short events like the Yokozuna performing a traditional ceremony or all of the wrestlers in the top category coming out to be introduced. One interesting thing to note is that the wrestlers are divided into two groups – east (東) and west (西) but these merely denote which side of the arena they will start from (of course they also limit who can compete against who since two people cannot start from the same side). People do not cheer for the groups but rather for their favorite wrestlers. As the day goes on and the ranks of the wrestlers increase the amount of passion and number of people screaming the wrestlers’ names also increase.


Even though Sumo is the Japanese national sport, today there are many “foreigners” competing in the sport – quite successfully too I might add. For example both of the “Yokozuna” are actually from Mongolia and in the top two classes of wrestlers the number of Japanese wrestlers is in the minority. In the top classes of Sumo one can see wrestlers from Mongolia, Bulgaria and even Estonia. Of course all of these wrestlers adopt a Japanese name (the names of Sumo wrestlers are special in Japanese. They are not names used by any Japanese person who is not a wrestler himself. This is a bit similar to how a priest has to change his name if he is chosen to be the Pope) so it is a bit difficult – ok, impossible - to guess where they are from just based on their name.

Ok there is still more to come and it looks like this will be a 3 parter… Hey it is almost 1 a.m. in Tokyo and I have work tomorrow. Time to say good night!…


Betty said...

I wonder if Japanese are a minority in the top wrestling classes because 'foreigners' tend to be taller/bigger. Do the wrestlers get bigger as you go up the ranks?

Yifen said...
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Yifen said...

As I remember, wrestling is also a national sport for Mongolians. I think that's why they are quite competitive in Sumo. I am curious if there is also some cultural background for those from east European countries.

Ulaş said...

Wrestlers do get bigger but there ARE huge Japanese wrestlers too. I am not quite sure what's the background for the Eastern Europeans other than the Greco-Roman (olympic) wrestling which is quite different.

Oh and there are (or at least used to be) famous wrestlers from Hawaii too.