Sumo: Japan’s Famed Sport and Way of Life

Sumo (相撲) is a full-contact sport where two male wrestlers (rikishi) try to push each other outside a ring or cause any part of the other’s body to touch the ground aside from the soles of the feet. The ring (dohyo) is elevated and is made of sand and clay. Bouts usually last for a few seconds, although some can take up to several minutes.

Sumo wrestlers inside a dohyo| Better than Bacon


The Japanese roots of sumo wrestling are centuries old. It was considered a sport that entertained the Shinto gods. Many traditional and ritualistic elements are still being observed in sumo–for example, using a salt purification technique from the Shinto religion.

Life in the Heya

Most professional sumo wrestlers live in a communal training complex or “sumo training stable” (heya) where they follow the sumo discipline stricvtly in all aspects of their daily lives, from their diet to the way they dress. The heya is regulated and managed by a sumo coach, or “stable master.”

Sumo wrestlers practicing at their heya | Joseph Brent

Sumo wrestlers follow a hierarchy, and the quality of their stable life depends on their rank. At the top of the chain is the grand champion, the yokozuna. Once a wrestler achieves this rank, he can keep this status until he retires. Most wrestlers who retire still participate as members of the Japan Sumo Association. The age of sumo wrestlers usually ranges from 20 to 35 years.

The Importance of Weight in Sumo

Sumo wrestling rules do not have any weight classes or restrictions. Wrestlers who weigh less can easily be outmatched by someone who weighs twice as much. This encourages weight gain in sumo training, and is an important aspect in gaining leverage in winning the match. Sumo wrestlers eat hearty meals known as chanko nabe, a stew made of vegetables, fish, and meat.

Sumo wrestlers| fabichan

Grand Sumo Tournaments

There are six major tournaments annually, each one lasting 15 days. Three are held in Ryōgoku, Tokyo (in January, May, and September). The other three are held in Osaka in March, in Nagoya in July, and in Fukuoka in November.

Grand Sumo Tournament in Nagoya | Ms. President

After centuries, sumo wrestling still remains a popular sport that embodies the ancient traditions which make Japan truly