Have you ever noticed an influx of big men sporting topknots in November? That’s because the November Tournament (aka “Kyushu Basho”) of the Grand Sumo takes place in Fukuoka every year. This year, the tournament will be held at the Fukuoka Kokusai Center Nov. 11 to 25. When the matches are in session, the area around the venue comes alive with colorful flags, and sumo fans from far and wide flock to see their favorite wrestlers compete.
Sumo is now considered the national sport of Japan, but did you know it originated as a Shinto ritual? Even today, honozumo, or ceremonial sumo matches dedicated to Shinto deities, are held at shrines throughout Japan. In modern day professional sumo, there remain many relics of these ritualistic origins. One is the strict adherence to etiquette. Another is the shiko, the high legs lifts that wrestlers do upon entering the ring, which are meant to ward off evil spirits.
Meanwhile, sumo as a spectator sport dates back to the Edo era. Popular wrestlers were featured in woodblock prints, and groups of wrestlers visited outlying areas to participate in regional tourneys. Today, you can just flick on the TV to watch a sumo bout, but if you’ve never seen the sport live, you ought to consider going when the wrestlers are in town. Live sumo has a certain electricity you can’t experience through the TV. It’s also fascinating to catch a behind-the-scenes look at all the people who make a sumo tournament possible.
During the November Tournament, temporary sumo stables pop up around town, some of which you can tour. Fukuoka is known for having produced many a sumo wrestler, and with a new crop of young wrestlers coming up, the sport finds itself back in the spotlight. There are also many foreign-born wrestlers whose dazzling performances add some extra excitement to the sport. So, why not find a wrestler to root for and go enjoy a match or two this fall in Fukuoka?
Originally published in the Fukuoka Now Magazine (fn215, Nov. 2016)