View Full Version : Sumo History

11th February 2006, 06:20
Can anybody direct me to a good source of history on Sumo ? Inparticular I am interested in its origins and its relationship to the bushi of Japan.

11th February 2006, 07:49
It is impossible to know, aside from legend, exactly when sumo first came to Japan. There are paintings in Korean style tombs in Japan which would indicate that it has Korean roots. A form of wrestling which is almost identicle to sumo is still practiced in Mongolia. It is assumed that sumo would have had its roots in the Mongolian steps and passed to Japan by way of Korea with the arrival of the Korean princes.

check these for some info -







P Goldsbury
11th February 2006, 10:05
I have a book in English, Sumo: From Rite to Sport, written by P L Cuyler and published by Weatherhill. The (paperback) edition that I have appeared in 1985, but the book was first published in 1979. I have no idea whether it is still in print. The first chapter on history more or less reinforces Mr Kemlo's suggestions. There is a bibliography with English and Japanese & Chinese language refences, but not Korean.

There used to be a publication in English called Sumo World. It was started by Andy Adams, who I believe first came to Japan with the US military and found it hard to leave. This magazine used to be very good, but I stopped being a subscriber because I stopped receiving copies. Sumo World was published online, also, but a Google search revealed no indication that the magazine was still in existence.

Todd Lambert
11th February 2006, 10:17
For those who are looking for a good sumo magazine, may I suggest Sumo Fan Magazine (www.sumofanmag.com). It is not quite a year old, is currently an online-only publication, but has put out what I believe to be a high-quality product in its short life. A new issue appears bi-monthly.

Joseph Svinth
11th February 2006, 18:45
Try http://www.banzuke.com/ . Go through the archives, too, as they contain gems such as http://www.banzuke.com/99-3/msg01173.html and http://banzuke.com/03-1/msg00370.html .

At EJMAS, we have http://ejmas.com/jcs/jcsart_svinth_0202.htm (about sumo in the Pacific NW before WWII) and http://ejmas.com/jcs/jcsart_svinth1_0600.htm (about sumo in Japan during WWI).

Joseph Svinth
11th February 2006, 19:22
Although wrestling goes way, way back, sumo, as we know it today, is more accurately associated with the early modern and modern eras (e.g. Edo, Meiji, and Early Showa) than pre-Tokugawa samurai.

Some highlights.

In 1578, Lord Oda Nobunaga hosted Japan's first major sumo tournament. Because Oda invited over 1,500 participants, officials drew circles on the ground to speed up the matches and make things safer for onlookers. This is the first known use of standardized rings in sumo. While referees and heroic ring names, or shikona, also date to the 1570s, the straw-and-earthen ring, or dohyo, only dates to the 1670s. While the center of this stage originally measured about 13 feet in diameter, these measurements increased to 15 feet in 1931. The north side of the ring was designated the front, and the teams were divided into East and West. (The East was the place of honor reserved for the previous year's champions.)

In 1684, by defining the 48 acceptable grips and the exact size of a sumo ring, Ikazuke Gondaiyu essentially codified modern sumo. Ikazuke also declared Shiganosuke Akashi, a famous wrestler of Ikazuke's youth, to be Japan's first yokozuna, or sumo grand champion.

About 1690, high-ranking sumotori began doing dohyo-iri, or elaborate Shinto purification rituals, before their bouts. For example, the wrestlers raised their hands and arms to show that they had no concealed weapons, and stomped their legs to drive away demons. Then they clapped their hands to get the attention of the gods (and the audience). And so on for many minutes. These rituals are attributed to two wrestlers named Tanikaze Kajinosuke and Onagawa Kisaburo.

From the 1850s to the 1880s, sumo was not very popular in Tokyo, but in 1884, the Meiji Emperor began patronizing the game, and that led to a resurgence.

In 1885, the first Japanese immigrants to Hawaii gave an exhibition of sumo to the King of Hawaii. (Sumo was popular in Japanese immigrant communities in North America through World War II.) Sumotori also traveled with Barnum and Bailey circuses, and the descriptions I've read, it sounds like K. Aoyagi, whom Frank Gotch beat in Bellingham on September 5, 1904, was more likely a sumotori than a judoka. Matty Matsuda, a US professional wrestling champion of the 1920s, also started out as a sumotori rather than judoka.

In 1904, the word kokugi, or "national sport," was coined in Japan to describe sumo. At the same time, Japanese school gymnastics (heishiki taiso) are renamed "military drills" (heishiki kyoren), as this put the emphasis on discipline and obedience.

In 1907, Japanese national champion Hitachiyama became the first ranked sumo champion to visit the United States. There are photos of Hitachiyama on the Library of Congress and Chicago Historical Society web sites. His companions on the trip included men who became professional wrestlers in both North and South America, Satake among them. To see the pictures, go to http://www.loc.gov/rr/print/catalog.html and http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/browse/ . At the Library of Congress site, look around, as their images of sumo date to before 1910.

In 1909, the Japanese built their first indoor sumo stadium. With a seating capacity of 15,000, it was the largest indoor stadium in Asia. It was also the first Japanese stadium to offer paying admission to women. During WWII, professional sumo was stopped because the military was using the stadium to manufacture balloon bombs.

About 1911, sumo rules were changed to allow pushing and shoving as well as grips on the belt. The reforms were apparently due to more semi-trained performers entering the professional ranks.

Prize cups were introduced to sumo in 1925. Because Crown Prince (and later Emperor) Hirohito presented the prize to the champion in the highest division, the trophies became known as the Emperor's Cup. However, the wrestlers preferred cash to trophies, and in 1931, the entire west camp refused to dress their hair properly or attend tournaments in Tokyo until their disputes over pay were resolved.

In 1928, sumotori were limited to ten minutes for warming up and psyching out their opponents. The reason was that longer periods caused radio listeners to change stations. The current preparation time of four minutes dates to 1950, and the post-World War II resumption of live radio broadcasts.

In 1937, Sekiwake Shinkai became the first sumo champion to announce his retirement from the sumo ring by having his topknot snipped.

In 1957, Maegashira Tamanoumi XIV became the first important sumotori to publicly wear a gold mawashi, or groin wrap, instead of a navy blue or purple silk mawashi. As the new wrap looked spectacular on television, it established a new tradition for sumo.

In 1972, a Hawaiian named Jesse James Walani Kuhaulua (but known as Daigoro Takamiyama) became the first foreigner to win the Emperor’s Cup in sumo. The congratulatory telegram by the United States President Richard Nixon marks the only time that English has ever been officially spoken in a Tokyo sumo ring. (When the Samoan American sumotori known as Konishiki became the second United States citizen to win the Emperor's Cup in 1989, the diplomat sent to read President George Bush’s congratulatory telegram read the President's words in Japanese instead of English.)

In 1976, the Japan Sumo Association ruled that only sumotori possessing Japanese citizenship could be managers or trainers following their retirement. The purpose of the ruling was to keep big foreigners such as Jesse Kuhaulua from taking over the sport.

Sumo probably shares roots with the modern Korean wrestling game called ssireum. (The name ssireum only dates to the 1920s, but there was wrestling in Korea way, way back, too.) See http://ynucc.yeungnam.ac.kr/~ssi/Introduction/What_is_Ssireum_/what_is_ssireum_.html and http://ynucc.yeungnam.ac.kr/~ssi/Introduction/History/history.html . Note, however, that the wrestling in Korea historically took place on dates from the lunar calendar. Thus, the fifth day of the fifth month is NOT the same as May 5 by the Julian calendar. The reason for these lunar dates is obvious if you follow the astrology -- they are very yang days, and therefore optimal for wrestling.