What is the Official National Sport of Japan?

Statue of a sumo wrestler in Tokyo, Japan.  Editorial credit: Manuel Ascanio / Shutterstock.com
Statue of a sumo wrestler in Tokyo, Japan. Editorial credit: Manuel Ascanio / Shutterstock.com

Sport is an important part of Japanese culture. Almost all the popular sports are played in Japan and the majority of these sports were imported and became popular in the country. Some of the new sports enjoyed in the country were invented by changing some elements of the imported sports. The popular professional sports in the country include tennis, golf, association football (soccer), baseball, and sumo wrestling which is considered Japan’s national sport. Japan has also hosted major international sporting events such as Olympic Games, FIBA World Championship, and FIFA World Cup.

Sumo Wrestling

Sumo wrestling is a full-contact sport played in a circular ring known as “dohyo.” The sport involves a wrestler, locally known as Rikishi and an opponent and whoever forces the other out of the ring or into touching the ground with any part of their body is declared the winner. Sumo is a form of modern martial art that originated in Japan. It is practiced professionally only in Japan and played as armature sports in other countries. The sport is regulated and promoted by the Japan Sumo Association. All professional sumo wrestlers are members of “heya,” an organization where sumo wrestlers train and live and all aspects of their lives from their dressing to meals are supervised. Sumo bout consists of a single round that may last from few seconds to several minutes.

Origin of Sumo Wrestling

Sumo wrestling has been, for a long time, associated with Shinto rituals. In some of the shrines, there is evidence of humans taking part in a ritual dance in which they wrestled with Shinto divine spirit known as “kami.” The ritual dance was so important that representatives from all the provinces were required to attend the contest and fight. The contest was known as “Sumai Party” (sumai no sechie). Each participant was to meet their travel expenses. The form and rules of wrestling changed gradually with victory becoming the aim of the contest. The concept of a ring was introduced in the 16th century. Professional sumo wrestling was introduced during the Endo Period as a form of sporting entertainment.

Sumo Costume

At the onset of sumo wrestling tournaments around the 16th century, wrestlers wore loose loincloths as the official sumo costume. However, to prevent wrestlers from using the loose loincloths to take their opponents to the ground, a stiffer loincloth known as “mawashi” wrestling belt was introduced. Mawashi for professional wrestlers is made of silk and is approximately 30 feet long and 2 feet wide and weighs 8-11 pounds. The costume is wrapped around the wrestler several times and fastened at the back with a large knot. It can be worn loosely or tightly depending on the rikishi’s preference. As part of ring entry, some wrestlers wear “kesho-mawashi.”

Winning a Sumo Bout

For a wrestler to win a sumo bout, one must force his opponent to step out of the ring or touch the ground with any part of the body other than the feet. The use of illegal techniques will automatically lead to a loss. Other instances where one can lose a match include failure to show up for the bout or if one’s mawashi is completely undone.


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