by Ewa Nowogorski
Sumo, a type of full-contact wrestling, is Japan’s oldest sport/way. Japan is the only country that practices sumo professionally and it is even considered a national sport by most Japanese people, even though Japan has no officially recognized national sport. In these matches, 2 opponents try to force the other out of a white ring on the ground. The rules are pretty simple. If any part of your body touches the ground outside of the ring, you lose. If you manage to stay inside, you win.
With many traditional sports and professions, the aspects of a sumo wrestler’s way of life is strictly regulated. Where they live, when they train, when they eat, what they eat, how often they eat, when they wake up, when they sleep, all these things are controlled. Discipline is highly regarded by all.
The first evidence of sumo wrestling in Japan was found on an old manuscript dating back to 712, describing how rightful possession of the Japanese islands was decided in a wrestling match between the kami known as Takemikazuchi and Takeminakata. The first match between humans was recorded in 720, when a man named Nomi no Sukune fought against Taima no Kuehaya at the request of Emperor Suinin and eventually killed him, making him the mythological ancestor of sumo.Until the Japanese middle ages, sumo matches were often fights to the death.
Today sumo is a less brutal sport, although still very intense. A match can take minutes or be over in seconds. There are some illegal moves in this match, such as strangulation, hair-pulling, bending fingers, gripping the crotch area, kicking, poking eyes, punching and simultaneously striking both the opponent’s ears. Obviously, no killing is allowed today.
Sumo is a sport that slightly contradicts some principles of Japanese society, such as overeating which is considered wasteful and harmful to one’s health. Sumo wrestlers have to eat 4 large meals everyday in order to maintain their size and strength, although many men try to lose weight and live a normal lifestyle after retiring.
Women are not allowed to compete in these matches. There is the age-old tradition that women are not allowed to step into the sacred ring. Of course, nothing bad will technically happen if they do; the ring won’t catch fire and burn the whole stadium down or anything, but nevertheless, the rules formed over a thousand years ago and still uphold today. I don’t think Japanese people are intentionally being sexist, it’s just that they wish to maintain peace through maintaining tradition.