From Birth to Glory: The Rise of Sumo Wrestling 

Sumo is a traditional culture that is regarded as Japan’s national sport, and its history is very ancient, going back to the times of myths. Sumo has been deeply intertwined with Japanese culture and closely related to people’s lives, but how did it evolve? Here is a brief overview of the history of sumo, which has lasted for more than 1,500 years.

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The origin of sumo

Sumo is a traditional Japanese sport with its roots in ancient myths and legends. Although its origins are not known, clay figures resembling sumo wrestlers have been excavated from the Kofun period. The oldest records of sumo in Japan, Kojiki (Record of Ancient Matters) and Nihonshoki(Chronicles of Japan), describe mythical power contests and legendary matches between "Nominosukune" and "Taima-no-Kehaya". Sumo was originally a ritual for divining the harvest of crops in various regions, but from the Nara period (710-794) onward, it became a court event for emperors and aristocrats. In the Heian period (794-1185), sumo became an annual event called "Sumo Setsukai," which continued for more than 300 years. Sumo has evolved with the times and remains a uniquely Japanese culture that is enjoyed by many people today.

The Kamakura period to the Sengoku period

The Kamakura to Sengoku periods were the era of the samurai. Sumo wrestling was actively practiced as a combat training for warriors. Oda Nobunaga was a great admirer of sumo, and during the "Genki/Tensho period" (1570-92), he held a sumo tournament at Azuchi Castle and other locations in Omi, inviting wrestlers from all over Japan to participate.

In the "Kamakura period" (1185-1333), when Japan became a samurai society, sumo became popular among warriors as a pure contest of strength and training for combat, and Minamoto no Yoritomo, among others, often held jounanzumo (sumo tournaments held in front of the shogun).

After the "Muromachi period" (1333-1573), scenes of common people wrestling by the riverside are depicted in paintings such as "Rakuchu rakugai zu byobu" by Kano Eitoku, indicating that sumo was no longer reserved for those in power. Of course, sumo was still encouraged among warriors as a form of showing off their strength, and even ”Oda Nobunaga” is said to have loved sumo. The feudal lords of various regions began to take on strong wrestlers as their vassals, and sumo became a profession. This trend blossomed during the Edo period (1603-1867), and sumo became an entertainment for the common people. Rikishi became a profession so flowery that they were called the equal of Kabuki actors.

Culture and Sumo in the Edo Period

in the Edo period (1603-1867), sumo became a profession for ronin (masterless samurai) and those who boasted of their strength. They held sumo tournaments throughout the country, and by the mid-Edo period, regular sumo performances began. Eventually, three powerful wrestlers emerged: "Tanikaze", "Onogawa", and "Raiden". They also competed in the Shogun’s ceremonial tournaments, and sumo’s popularity rapidly increased. In this way, the foundation of today’s sumo was established. Sumo became a major element of the general public’s entertainment

The traidition continues from the Edo period

Sumo has a long history as a traditional Japanese culture. Over the course of its history, sumo has established rules and styles that have enhanced its appeal as a sport. Dohyou iri(The ring-entering ceremony), Banzuke(the ranking list), the keshomawashi, the Mage(topknot), the kimono, and the sumo matches have all remained unchanged since the Edo period and have been handed down to the present day. Sumo has various aspects such as history, culture, Shinto rituals, and competitions, each of which has a deep meaning.

In this blog, I will introduce the charms of sumo that cannot be experienced on TV, along with stories from my former days as a sumo wrestler. For example, please take a look at the sumo traditions such as the gyoji, who have existed since the Sengoku period, and the ring-entering ceremony and the keshomawashi, which have continued since the Edo period.

・When I was a rikishi, I took a history class at Sumo Training School. This article is based on what I learned there

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