For two weeks in November, Fukuoka will transform into the home of sumo. The streets of the city will be made more exciting by the odd glimpse of the rikishi (wrestlers), their hulking mass, elegantly fanned top-knot, full kimono and aroma of talcum powder making them an easy spot amongst the regulars.
Six sumo basho (tournaments) are held each year. Fukuoka hosts Kyushu’s iteration of the tournament, a spectacle that sees Fukuoka’s average BMI rise 12 points and draws crowds of people from across the region. A cornerstone of Japanese culture, the ritual-like combat takes place within an intricate league system accompanied by ancient traditions.
Ones to Watch
The biggest, beastliest and best of the sumo are the yokozuna. To become a yokozuna, rikishi must win two basho in a row, a uniquely difficult feat. There are currently only three yokozuna out of some 660 competing wrestlers.
• Hakuho: 白鵬
The undisputed champion is Hakuho. He has 37 championship wins, the highest number in history. After winning the March and May basho, he sat out the September tournament due to injury. He’s expected to be back to full form for the Kyushu Basho.
Height: 192cm. Weight: 155kg. DOB: 11 Mar. 1985. Country: Mongolia. Championship Wins: 37
Hakuho performing his dohyo-iri ©日本相撲協会
• Harumafuji: 日馬富士
With eight championship wins is Harumafuji. He was promoted to yokozuna in 2012 and in 2015 was the lightest wrestler in the top division at 133kg. Harumafuji is in good form, and won this year’s July championship.
Height: 186cm. Weight: 137kg. DOB: 14 Apr. 1984. Country: Mongolia. Championship Wins: 8
• Kakuryu: 鶴竜
The most recent yokozuna is Kakuryu, who was promoted after two remarkable championships in 2014. His 2015 season was plagued with injury and he sat out the July 2016 tournament with injuries to his back and ankle.
Height: 186cm. Weight: 155kg. DOB: 10 Aug. 1985. Country: Mongolia. Championship Wins: 2
• Goeido: 豪栄道
You should also keep an eye out for the ozeki wrestler Goeido. He won September’s championship with all 15 bouts. If he repeats this performance in Fukuoka, he’ll be promoted to the lofty rank of yokozuna.
When to Turn Up
The competition lasts all day, starting with the juniors at 08:25. Rikishi in the lower leagues tend to be younger and lighter and matches focus more on speed than power.
The show really gets going with the colorful dohyo-iri (entrance ceremony) of the juryo – second tier wrestlers – at around 14:15. These guys are battling for the honor of entering the top-division and it is in the juryo that future stars are born. At 15:40, the makunouchi (top division) rikishi enter the ring with a special dohyo-iri performed by the yokozuna. Earth-shaking bouts commence, with an average time of just six seconds.
Lingo that will take you from amateur spectator to sumo pro.
• Rikishi 力士: The big guys doing the pushing and shoving.
• Basho 場所: Two-week sumo tournament. Six each year.
• Dohyo 土俵: The raised clay platform where the battles take place. Buried within is salt, washed rice, torreya nuts, squid, kelp and chestnuts.
• Dohyo-iri 土俵入り: Colorful entrance ceremony performed by the top two divisions.
• Mawashi まわし: The sumo belt. Protects genitals and gives grip. Colored silk for top wrestlers; black cotton for lesser wrestlers.
• Yokozuna 横綱: The best rank in sumo: the grand champions.
• Ozeki 大関: Not quite yokozuna, but the second best ‘champion’ rank.
• Heya 部屋: The ‘stable’ in which the rikishi train, eat and sleep.
The Fukuoka Kokusai Center will be hosting this November’s basho. Tickets range in price from ¥2,100 for the outer-circle chair seats, to ¥14,800 for the ring side seats (you may be crushed). Mid-level box seats for two to four people are available from ¥9,500.
• 11/13 (Sun.) ~ 11/27 (Sun.)
• Fukuoka Kokusai Center
• 2-2 Chikkohonmachi, Hakata-ku
• Tickets: ¥2,100~¥14,800
Text by Oscar Boyd
Originally published in the Fukuoka Now Magazine (fn215, Nov. 2016)