Sumo and Shinto
Do you like Japanese Sumo?
If you like Sumo, I strongly 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 on Sumo. These two have had a close relationship from ancient times.
Have you ever heard anything about Shinto?
As I have told in the page of Rice and Shinto, Shinto is the indigenous religion in Japan.
It is said that Shinto gradually emerged at the dawn of Japanese history and crystallized itself as a system of imperial religion maybe around the 5th century.
As a result, it has neither a specific founder nor any sacred Scripture.
According to Shinto, gods live in everything in nature.
Briefly defining, Sumo is a match between two enormous wrestlers.
These wrestlers wear only a sumo loincloth called “Mawashi” and make a topknot.
By the way, we call these wrestlers Rikishi, which literally means powerful Samurai.
Moreover, We call each Sumo match a Torikumi.
From the moment the wrestlers enter into Dohyo until they withdraw, you can appreciate various kinds of rituals and conventions which make Sumo the Sumo.
The Sumo takes place inside a circle separated by Shime-nawa called “Dohyo“.
If one 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.
3) Sumo and Shinto
By hearing the word Shime-nawa, maybe you have already recognized the close relationship between Sumo and Shinto. In discussing the relationship between Sumo and Shinto, you cannot forget the existence of Dohyo.
Originally, it was a circle surrounded by rice-straw sacks filled with earth.
But gradually Shimenawa came to be used instead of sacks.
As I mentioned in the page of Rice and Shinto, you can find many Shimenawa in Shinto shrines.
According to Shinto, Shime-nawa separates the sacred domain from the terrestrial world and drives away evil spirits.
In old times, they built Dohyo outdoors (as you can see in the photo). So they had to cover the top to ensure fair matches even in rainy conditions.
Even today you can find Dohyo constructed outdoors and in these cases, the roofs fulfill their original purpose.
But you can also find the roofs even in the stadiums which already have sturdy concrete roofs. In these cases, Dohyo roof (which we call grand roof) is a vestige of tradition which makes Sumo the Sumo.
Next, let’s learn about the inward of the Dohyo.
There you can find 6 sacred things. That is, kaya nuts, washed rice, chestnuts, kelp (Konbu), dried cuttlefish and salt.
All of them come from Shinto.
According to Shinto, these things protect the Dohyo from evil spirits by converting them to good luck.
In ancient times, they dedicated Sumo to the god(s) to pray for a good harvest.
Moreover, they conducted Sumo as a ritual to predict the will of the gods by the outcome of each match.
Interestingly, we know that 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, I’d like to add the fact that the Emperor is considered to be the Shinto priest of the highest rank.