Origami Sumo (紙相撲)

My son attends a Japanese school on the weekends. He’s in first grade, and after spending the summer in Tokyo, his Japanese is better than mine. Japanese school lets him keep is Japanese skill level up and this weekend they made origami sumo wrestlers. As you can see, the dohyo is a paper plate. My son and his sister had a little sumo tournament. If you click on the gif, you’ll find the instructions for making the little origami wrestlers. However, when I Googled ‘origami sumo wrestler’, there are some insanely good origami wrestlers that I think look a lot better and more realistic. Just as paper football can get really competitive with a few beers, I think this could be a good drinking game…though it might lead to some real drunken sumo.

Origami Sumo
Origami Sumo

Mythical Creatures

“When I say hey, thou shalt not say 鵬.”

Many shikona use kanji for mythical creatures.The most notable ones are 竜, 龍 and 鵬. 竜 & 龍 (ryuu/ryou) mean dragon while 鵬 is a mythical bird that I’ve seen translated as phoenix. Aside: “Thou shalt spell pheonix, P-H-E-O-N-I-X, not P-H-O-E-N-I-X, regardless of what the Oxford English Dictionary tells you.”

In the makuuchi today, two of our yokozuna have these characters, Hakuho and Kakuryu (白鵬 & 鶴竜). Kyokushuho and recent retiree Kyokutenho also share the character 鵬 while a further four wrestlers in the makuuchi for the most recent tournament use the alternative kanji for dragon, 龍. These are Myogiryu, Tokushoryu, Chiyotairyu, Asasekiryu.

This is a statue placed near the beach in Kochi of Sakamoto Ryoma, a samurai from the time of the Meiji Restoration. There's been a revival of interest in him in Japan because of a drama series based on his (short) life. Sucks to take a sword to the head on your 33rd birthday.
This is a statue placed near the beach in Kochi of Sakamoto Ryoma, a samurai from the time of the Meiji Restoration. There’s been a revival of interest in him in Japan because of a drama series based on his (short) life. Sucks to take a sword to the head on your 33rd birthday.

When I think of the character for dragon, I’m reminded of Ryoma (坂本龍馬). I had put a picture of a statue of Ryoma in a previous post but here it is again. When I think of actual dragons, I think of Skyrim. As for Peng birds, I don’t really have much context for that. I play too much Skyrim for that.

錦 (nishiki): Brocade

I’m familiar with the meaning of many of the popular kanji used in wrestlers’ shikona. I’ve had a post about kiku/giku before, and in the future, between tournaments, I’m going to try to post a bit more about them – mostly to help myself study Japanese. I chose to post about 錦 because I really had no idea what that meant. The best part was that after I looked it up, I still had no idea what the English word (brocade) meant. So, I had to go to Wikipedia to get my answer.

Basically, if you clicked the link, you’d see it’s a loom-woven fabric. Wikipedia talks about how they were generally luxury items but I’m still a bit puzzled as to why wrestlers like Aminishiki, Homarenishiki, or Kaonishiki would use it in their shikona. Is it a reference to the keshou mawashi they wear for the ring entering ceremony? Those are made of fabric, heavily decorated, often with their sponsors’ logos or symbols from the cities or countries that they come from.


When I looked more into the Japanese term, it’s clear the Japanese meaning is more complex beyond the literal translation. There are references to animals and kaleidoscopes and artwork that incorporate the term.

But, for perhaps the best example, we’re all familiar with Koi fish particularly because they’re commonly found in Japanese gardens. I’ve got a picture here which I took at a beautiful garden a block away from Kokugikan (the main sumo venue in Tokyo). There are koi in this pond and many are 錦鯉(nishikigoi) which are prized for their decorative colors – gold, red, black, white. I’m sure you know the ones I’m talking about.

Clicking the picture will take you to a Google Map of where you can find the garden. Like I said, it’s very close to the Kokugikan (you can actually see its distinctive roof behind the trees) so if you’re in the area for a tournament, this is a great place to visit. I walked around here for a few hours, taking pictures and just enjoying the peace and quiet. Anyway, there are fish and turtles in the pond and cranes and ducks. It seems a lot of people bring their lunch or bento and eat while pausing to feed the ducks. There’s a shrine in the back, over a little red bridge, behind the trees.

Anyway, this context certainly gives more of an idea of why the term is incorporated into shikona. It still could be something as straightforward and literal as their keshomawashi but Aminishiki, in particular, seems like a rather colorful character. That may be stretching the meaning a bit too far but to me it makes a bit more sense and will at least help me remember the meaning of the kanji.

*Update 1 – (10/4/2015)*
How could I neglect to mention the most famous modern nishikiKONISHIKI (小錦)? Maybe a future post will be about the kanji for 馬鹿 because sometimes I can forget the most obvious stuff that’s staring me in the face. (For some reason horse and deer equals idiot.)