Sumo and Shinto
Do you like Japanese Sumo?
If you like it, I recommend you to understand the close relationship between Sumo and Shinto.
Because Sumo matches become more and more interesting by appreciating the influence of Shinto upon it.
Strong wrestlers consecrated their strength to the gods at shrines.
This is the beginning of Sumo.
Briefly defining, Sumo is a match between two enormous wrestlers.
The match takes place inside a circle separated by Shimenawa called “Dohyo“.
The rule is quite simple.
If each of the wrestlers puts a foot outside the “Dohyo” or touches the ground with any part of the body except the sole, he loses the match.
We call each match Torikumi.
As you might already know, Sumo wrestlers have a peculiar appearance.
Firstly, their physique.
They are all fat. Although very fat, they move very adroitly. This surprising contrast always fascinates us.
Secondly, their costumes.
They wear only a special loincloth called “Mawashi” which is 9 meters long. It is made of satin and never washed (only hung out to dry). Without washing, they change Mawashi every year.
Thirdly, their hairstyle.
They all have long hair and make a topknot called Ma-gé.
By the way, we call the wrestlers Rikishi, which literally means powerful Samurai.
During the civil war period (15-16th century), rikishi fought on the real battlefield as a kind of Samurai. But after the Tokugawa government was established, rikishi left the battlefield and fought again inside the Dohyo.
Thus Sumo restarted as a ritual and entertainment and has continued until today.
Finally, please look at the wrestlers in the photo. Can you notice that the wrestler standing in the centre wears a special apron?
This apron is decorated with a sacred rope, what we call tsuna.
He is the grand champion called Yokozuna.
Zuna is tsuna. Because of the fact the champion wears this special apron, he is called Yokozuna.
Yokozuna gets in the ring last and executes a series of important rituals.
2. Sumo and Shinto
In ancient times, they dedicated Sumo to gods to pray for a bountiful harvest, especially rich harvest of rice.
Moreover, they conducted each match as a ritual to predict the will of the god(s) .
Incidentally, the origin of present Sumo was “Sechie Zumo” conducted in front of the Emperor as a ceremonial show.
The Imperial family are well known Sumo lovers.
Even today you can find the emperor and the empress in Sumo stadium quite often.
As the last note, the Emperor is considered to be the Shinto priest of the highest rank.
As for stories about Rice and Shinto,
Talking of Sumo and Shinto, we cannot forget the Dohyo.
Originally, Dohyo was a circle surrounded by rice-straw sacks filled with earth. But gradually, Shimenawa in the Shinto shrine came to be used instead of sacks.
Shimenawa separates the sacred domain from the terrestrial world.
This fact also shows that they regarded the Sumo as a sacred ritual.
Roof of Dohyo
In old times, they built Dohyo outdoors (as you can see in the photo).
That is why they placed the roof to ensure fair matches even in rainy conditions.
However, we can find roofs even in the stadiums with sturdy concrete roofs.
After all, Dohyo roof (which we call grand roof) is a vestige of tradition which makes Sumo the Sumo.
Inside of Dohyo
Inside of the Dohyo, we can find 6 sacred things:
kaya nuts, washed rice, chestnuts, kelp (Kombu), dried cuttlefish and salt.
According to Shinto, these things protect the place from evil spirits and convert them to good luck.