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Sumo – History and Facts

January 26, 2018

What do you know about sumo wrestling? Is it just two humongous Japanese men wrestling each other to the end? What is sumo about?

The Sumo Tournament

Sumo wrestling dates back to between the third and the seventh centuries when bouts were performed as a way to pray for bountiful crops or to predict whether that year’s harvest would be good. In the Nara period (710-794) and Heian period (794- 1192), Sumo became an event conducted at the imperial court, and bouts were performed in front of the emperor.

Sumo is Japan’s national sport and it requires years of strict training to become a wrestler at a stable, Heya. The Heya is where the wrestlers live and train and a wrestler will stay with the same stable throughout his career.

Rikishi (力士), is what a professional sumo wrestler is known as in Japan and the name reflects the strength and toughness expected combined with a gentlemanly samurai image. Professional Sumo is divided into six ranked divisions, starting from the lowest divisions Jonokuchi, Jonidan, Sandanme, Makushita, Juryo to the top rank Sumo wrestler division Makuuchi. Only 42 wrestlers can be ranked as Makuuchi and the ranking position is defined by their performance in previous tournaments.

The official professional sumo tournament (Honbasho, is a six tournament system established in 1958. Tournaments are called basho, last for 15 days, and only sumo wrestlers from the top two ranked divisions (Makuuchi and Juryo) are qualified to participate.  Makuuchi is the only division that has live coverage on national TV and has bilingual English commentary. There are five ranks within Makuuchi: Yokozuna, Ozeki, Sekiwake and Komusubi, ranked from the highest to the lowest.


Yokozuna is the highest rank a sumo wrestler can reach within the Makuuchi Division, and he wears a rope around the waist during the dohyo-iri ring entrance ceremony. The ceremony is held before the competitive bouts of the day. One interesting fact about this rank is retirement, as opposed to all other sumo ranks, Yokozuna cannot be demoted.

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