Sumo – History and Facts

What do you know about sumo wrestling? Is it just two humongous Japanese men wrestling each other to the end? What is sumo about?

Sumo wrestling dates back to between the third and the seventh centuries when bouts were performed as a way to pray for bountiful crops or to predict whether that year’s harvest would be good. In the Nara period (710-794) and Heian period (794- 1192), Sumo became an event conducted at the imperial court, and bouts were performed in front of the emperor.

Sumo in the ancient time

Sumo is Japan’s national sport and it requires years of strict training to become a wrestler at a stable, Heya. The Heya is where the wrestlers live and train and a wrestler will stay with the same stable throughout his career. Rikishi (力士), is what a professional sumo wrestler is known as in Japanand the name reflects the strength and toughness expected combined with a gentlemanly samurai image. Professional Sumo is divided into six ranked divisions, starting from the lowest divisions Jonokuchi, Jonidan, Sandanme, Makushita, Juryo to the top rank Sumo wrestler division Makuuchi. Only 42 wrestlers can be ranked as Makuuchi and the ranking position is defined by their performance in previous tournaments.

Sumo Basho Sumo Grand Tournament Japan

The official professional sumo tournament (Honbasho, is a six tournament system established in 1958. Tournaments are called basho, last for 15 days, and only sumo wrestlers from the top two ranked divisions (Makuuchi and Juryo) are qualified to participate.  Makuuchi is the only division that has live coverage on national TV and has bilingual English commentary. There are five ranks within Makuuchi: Yokozuna, Ozeki, Sekiwake and Komusubi, ranked from the highest to the lowest.

Top Ranking Division – Makuuchi

Yokozuna in a New Year ceremony

Yokozuna is the highest rank a sumo wrestler can reach within the Makuuchi Division, and he wears a rope around the waist during the dohyo-iri ring entrance ceremony. The ceremony is held before the competitive bouts of the day. One interesting fact about this rank is retirement, as opposed to all other sumo ranks, Yokozuna cannot be demoted.


  Sumo wrestlers are enjoying their Chankonabe weight-gaining mealChankonabe

This is usually eaten by the sumo wrestler as part of their weight gain diet. The dish contains a dashi (broth made from kelp and smoked skipjack tuna), fish or chicken broth with sake or mirin to add flavour, but the bulk is made up of large quantities of protein sources such as chicken, fish, tofu, or sometimes beef, and vegetables. It is very protein-rich and usually served in massive quantities, with beer and rice to increase the calorific intake. The Chankonabe served during the sumo tournaments is made exclusively with chicken, the idea being that a Rikishi should always be on two legs like a chicken, not all fours!

You can add a Sumo experience and Chanko lunch in Tokyo to your itinerary.

Take part in the Sumo wrestler’s daily life and have Chankonabe, their weight-gain lunch with them. You can witness demonstrations by retired Sumo wrestlers with their stories of its history, practice and tournaments. It is also possible to try on a Sumo costume and challenge a sumo wrestler to match!

You are always welcome to give us a call on 020 8543 8133 or email for more inspiration to your journey to Japan.


Posted in China Travel Blog.