Treat Your Guests to Sumo!
Sumo, Japan’s national sport.
Watching a sumo match at the regal Sumo Hall in Tokyo is enough to make your palms sweat.
However, at the sumo arena, there are no chairs, so you have to sit on pillows on the tatami floor. This can be difficult for small children or international visitors.
But there are plenty of people who come to Japan saying “I want to see sumo!”
Watching sumo wrestlers who have trained most of their lives duke it out on a perfectly constructed ring can be a perfect “sumo experience.”
But in reality, I would bet there’s a lot that you don’t know:
What are the basic rules of sumo?
What do you do during a sumo experience?
How do you treat someone to a sumo experience?
In this article, I will provide some trivia about sumo, and teach you about the ideal sumo experience!
Sumo History and Culture
Before we enjoy sumo, let’s take a look at the deep history of this cultural tradition.
In order to understand the origin of sumo, one might choose to consult historical texts such as the Kojiki or the Nihon-shoki. However, the history of sumo predates even these. All over Japan, ancient pottery and earthenware engraved with images resembling sumo have been dug up.
During the Nara period (AD 710 – 794), sumo was held every year as a ceremony meant to ask the gods for a good harvest. This continued in the imperial court for over 300 years.
Until the Heian Period (AD 794 – 1185), sumo continued to play the role of a Shinto ritual. But it took on a new meaning and importance under the rule of the shogunate.
From the Kamakura period (1185 – 1333) until the Sengoku period (1336 – 1573), sumo became a form of physical and disciplinary training for warriors.
At the Tsurugaoka Hachimangu, an important Shinto shrine, the shogun Minamoto no Yoritomo combined sumo matches, mounted archery competitions, and horse races into large spectator events.
Oda Nobunaga also famously loved sumo, and frequently gathered sumo wrestlers from all over the country to compete in tournaments where the winner would be employed as one of his retainers.
This is the backdrop where sumo as a career first appeared.
Sumo wrestlers also began to adopt stage names around this time.
As peace fell over Japan, sumo as a martial art declined, and sumo began to evolve into its current conception as a spectator sport for the masses.
Because of the enthusiastic support from the common people, sumo developed into an entertainment on par with kabuki.
Over generations, sumo has become a more and more integral part of Japanese culture. From the Jomon era to the present day, it has captured the attention of the Japanese people during many different periods of their history.
Truly, it is the national sport of Japan.
The Rules and Fundamentals of Sumo
– What are the rules of sumo?
– Sumo has so much jargon I can’t get used to it. I’ll never learn it all…
Sumo is more complicated than you might expect, but with just a little bit of basic knowledge, you can enjoy it.
So, let’s take a look at what you’ll need to know to appreciate a sumo match!
Defining Sumo Terms
As a traditional activity, there are plenty of pre-defined actions within sumo. These actions often have their own titles.
First, when the two competitors line up in the 4.55m sumo ring to battle, this is called Torikumi.
Before the torikumi, some detailed pre-match activities need to take place.
The first is Chirichouzu.
This is when the two combatants lower themselves into a crouching position, clap their hands, and spread their arms out wide in order to show that they are not carrying any weapons.
During shikiri, the combatants make eye contact, lower their bodies, and place their hands on the shikirisen, the white lines that mark their starting positions.
During the allotted time, they can do this as many times as they wish.
From this point, the two combatants lock eyes and pull their bodies up at the same time to meet in combat. This is called Tachiai.
Tachiai is a unique way to begin a martial arts bout, and it provides the spectators with a taste of suspense particular to sumo.
What is Considered a Foul in Sumo?
In sumo, fouls include:
– Using any part of your hand other than your palm, such as your first or elbow.
– Kicking your opponent, although hooking their leg or tripping is legal.
– Striking the head, grabbing the eyes or throat, or pulling the topknot of your opponent.
These judgements are handed down by the referee, referred to as a gyoji because of sumo’s history as a Shinto ritual.
About Weight Limits
One of the unique charms of sumo is that there are no weight classes. This means that small wrestlers have to use technique to throw their larger opponents out of the ring.
The current average weight among sumo wrestlers is 166.2 kilograms!
How Does Someone Win?
The three ways a sumo match can end are:
- A combatant leaves the ring
- The back of a combatant’s leg touches the ground.
- A foul occurs.
It’s that simple.
However, there are 82 unique techniques for deciding a match, referred to as “kimarite.” Deciding which technique to use is one of the highlights of sumo.
What Does One Do During a Sumo Experience?
A sumo experience involves meeting former sumo wrestlers, people who have poured long hours and days into their practice and maintained a strict, traditional lifestyle in order to reach their place up in the ring.
First, the former wrestlers will explain the history and the rules of sumo. This explanation can be very interesting and informative for overseas visitors, and it’s likely they will have lots of questions. Being able to ask these questions directly to a former wrestler is a wonderful opportunity.
Then, the sumo wrestlers perform three full-strength bouts in the ring.
You get to watch these huge wrestlers perform a full-strength bout from a position so close you can almost touch them. Right in front of your eyes, you see the collision of their raw strength.
The white heat of their power is enough to make your palms sweat.
This proximity provides a completely different feeling than watching a big match from afar.
After that, the customers have an opportunity to challenge the wrestlers themselves!
A torikumi with a real-life sumo wrestler is not an opportunity you get every day.
It’s impossible to imagine the true strength of a sumo wrestler. Even the rumours don’t do it justice.
The nervousness when you face off against a giant sumo wrestler.
The exhilaration during the moment of tachiai.
These are feelings that are simply priceless.
After fighting as many bouts as you can handle, it’s time for Chanko nabe.
Chanko nabe is a form of hot pot, and the official food of sumo wrestlers.
After a long day of wrestling, chanko nabe will really hit the spot.
Treating A Guest to a Sumo Experience
Due to the stress placed on etiquette, the lifestyle and appearance of a modern day sumo wrestler maintains an air of the Edo Period.
This is because as well as a martial art, sumo was originally a Shinto ceremony, and traces of that lineage still colour it to this day.
If you think about it from that perspective, customers from overseas will be overjoyed by the opportunity to experience part of Japanese culture.
So the most valuable thing about being treated to a sumo experience is its rarity — the fact that you don’t get this kind of opportunity anywhere else. It will be a moving experience for any customer who has come to Japan.
They will get a full taste of Japanese culture, martial arts, and cuisine from their sumo experience. By all means, during their short time in Japan, you want to leave them fully satisfied!
Also Available In a Private Room
For VIP customers, why not treat them to a sumo experience in a private room?
The merit of a private room is that you get the time with the wrestlers all to yourselves, and can enjoy your time with them to your heart’s content.
This means that you can form a stronger friendship with the former wrestlers, and talk to them one-on-one about all sorts of aspects of sumo, leading to a deeper experience.
If you go with a team, then you can all challenge the sumo wrestlers together, turning it into a team building event where you can foster a sense of unity.
Enjoying the chanko nabe afterwards will also be more special.
You can eat at a restaurant overlooking the ring, giving you the exact feeling of dining in the practice room with other wrestlers.
Overseas, especially in North America and Europe, people don’t often share a meal out of the same pot. So, all of you sitting around the table sharing a chanko nabe will be a distinct Japanese experience all on its own.
Of course, the finale is a photoshoot with the sumo wrestlers.
More than anything else, this memento will be a powerful reminder of their time in Japan.
In these ways, a sumo experience in a private room is a great way to provide your customers with a special, entertaining experience.
Sumo is a martial art that serves as a microcosm of Japan’s traditional culture.
The lifestyle of the wrestlers and the look of their practice areas are all carried over from the Edo Period (AD 1603 – 1868), which is sure to fascinate overseas visitors. After all, anyone who travels to a foreign country wants to experience something outside of their everyday life.
On top of this, viewing the wrestlers’ lifestyle is almost like travelling back in time to the Edo Period. This is not a performance; this is the reality of their strict practice regime.
Being able to experience this from up close is like being able to meet the hero in a fairytale.
A sumo experience is a luxurious, pleasant way to get a taste of Japanese culture.