Dohyo (sumo ring): where gods dwell

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prof Yorio Fujimoto

Updated on Jan 18 2018

  In Japan, there will be big sports events like the Rugby World Cup in 2019 and Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics in 2020. We will introduce some sports that either have their roots in Japan, or were introduced to Japan and have gained popularity.

〜「相撲」〜 SUMO,Japanese-style Wrestling



Sumo Dates Back to the Mythological Age?


           Sumo is thought to have developed from contests of strength, and there have been other similar games since ancient times, such as wrestling, that have originated all over the world.

           The beginning of sumo dates back to the mythological times. The oldest mention appears to be the myth of Kuniyuzuri (meaning “ceding of the land”) in the Kojiki (Records of Ancient Matters), in which there was a contest of strength between the gods Takemikazuchi no Kami and Takeminakata no Kami.

           In addition to this, Ame no Tajikarao no Mikoto, who was proud of his superhuman strength and who opened up Ama no Iwato (cave of heaven), is seen as the god of sumo.

           According to the Nihonshoki (Chronicles of Japan), the contest of strength between Nomi no Sukune and Taima no Kehaya in the article for 26 B.C. is said to be the origin of sumo. Nomi no Sukune, who won, has also been worshiped as a god of sumo. Throughout Japan, 26 shrines are dedicated to Nomi no Sukune, with the Nominosukune-Jinjya Shrine in Sumida Ward, Tokyo, being the most often visited by sumo wrestlers and officials.

           Sumo became a part of annual imperial ceremonies, called Sumai no sechie, and held around the time of Tanabata (Star Festival) every year. Elite sumo wrestlers are chosen from all over the country and wrestle in a tournament.

           During the Kamakura Period, Minamoto no Yoritomo became a patron of sumo, and tournaments came to be held on festival days at numerous shrines. These exhibitions became popular among Shoguns and their powerful commanders. Later, during the Edo Period, “Kanjin Zumo” tournaments were held frequently as charity for temples and shrines. This led to the remodeling of the organization of the tournaments, leading to the current Grand Sumo Tournaments. From this perspective, sumo can be seen as one of the earliest sports to be commercialized and professionalized in Japan.

Dohyo (sumo ring): where gods dwell


           You may have seen sumo wrestlers clapping their hands in prayer during Dohyo-iri (the ring-entering ceremony) of a Grand Sumo Tournament. They perform this action because Dohyo is considered to be a place where Gods dwell.

           The Dohyo-Matsuri Festival is conducted by a tate-gyoji (the head referee in sumo). Joining him are the saishu (head priest), the makuuchi-gyoji (referee for makuuchi division), the juryo-gyoji (referee for juryo division), and the waki-gyoji (two assistant referees) the day before an official tournament begins. This festival is part of the Jichinsai (ground-breaking ceremony), which is performed over a newly constructed dohyo. The saishu recites a Shinto prayer and offers gifts to pray for the safety and success of the tournament. The well-being of the nation and a huge harvest are also prayed for. At the ceremony, items of good tidings such as salt, seaweed, dried squids, dried chestnuts, rice, torreya-nuts, etc., are buried in the center of the dohyo as offerings to the gods protecting the dohyo.

           The Dohyo-Matsuri Festival is performed at all sumo tournaments held for shrines. These tournaments are held to pray for peace, family prosperity, a rich harvest, and bountiful fishing, just to name a few things.


A Shinto ritual becomes the origin of the term



           In Japan, “Hitori-zumo,” which translates to “wrestle with oneself,” is used to mean someone working desperately on something for no one in particular, or even pointlessly. The term originated in the Shinto ritual held at Oyamazumi-Jinjya Shrine in Omishima, Ehime Prefecture. This Shinto ritual is performed during both the Ondaue-Matsuri (rice planting festival) every spring on May 5 and the Nukibo-Sai (rice harvesting festival) every autumn on September 9, both by the lunar calendar. It is performed to pray for a good harvest on a dohyo constructed between the building called the “Osajiki Den” and a special rice field offered to the gods called the “Shinsen Den.” A three-point match is held between an invisible rice spirit and a sumo wrestler. In this contest, the rice spirit will always win by 2 victories and 1 defeat. It is quite comical to witness since the man seems to be wrestling by himself. This ceremony is where the term “hitori-zumo” originates. Originally, though, it was an important ceremony for praying for a rich harvest.




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