Sunday, November 19, 2006


Saturday I went to Fukuoka for the once-a-year Sumo tournament. There are only six per year in all of Japan, so I was really lucky to catch it. Sumo might seem like a novelty to westerners, but in Japan it has tremendous cultural significance. The sport dates back about 1500 years, when the matches were part of religious ceremonies at shrines. In the ensuing centuries, the matches moved from the shrines to the imperial courts. Rules were formed and within time Sumo became the national sport of Japan. Today, the only remnant of Sumo's religious past is the shrine-like roof that hangs over the ring.

On Saturday, the first bout was at 8:30am, but I didn't make it there until 4, which gave me a couple of hours to get some photos before the final match at 6:00. Besides, I'd fall asleep if I was there for any longer. Inside the arena it's impossibly quiet. Each bout lasts about 10 minutes, but it's really 9.5 minutes of preparation and just a few seconds of action.

I spent most of the time sneaking around the entrance area trying to grab candid shots of rikishi. They aren't as big as you'd imagine–just really wide. Of course, there are a few giants, but most are Eastern Europeans. The #1 in the world now is a Mongolian, Asasyoryu. In the mid 90s, another group of foreigners, Hawaiians, dominated the sport. It's surprising that only a few decades ago rikishi were only Japanese.

Go to my Flickr page to see more photos.
By the way, they pronounce it "smo"–the 'u' is muted in many Japanese words.

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