Andy’s Bookshelf: Sumo Reference Books

Sumo is a simple sport. Force your opponent out of the ring or to touch the ground and you win. No closed fist punching, no kicks, eye gouging, hairpulls or punches to the groin…and try to keep your modesty. As soon as you get into it, though you discover the rich history, traditions, and complexity and there’s a range of resources available to learn about it.

There’s an amazing dichotomy between the old and the new in that this ancient sport, maintaining traditions and symbolism held over for decades, yet an early adopter of video review. There are a few resources in English but most, however, are in Japanese like those below. Those books can be a gold mine for the content even with a basic level of Japanese. Many of the books have a decent amount of illustrations.

These are the books that are on my bookshelf and I use them as reference. I bought these in Japan or last time I was in NYC at Kinokuniya. There are several Kinokuniya around the US but I can only speak about the one in Manhattan. It’s a pretty big store with three floors. I wasn’t surprised that there are four in California…but three in Texas? They’ve got Bruce boxed in down there! There’s another in Chicago, New Jersey, a couple in Oregon…

If you click on the links, it looks like some of the shippers for a few of these books are gouging purchasers with 500% markups. DON’T GET GOUGED. In that case, look for used copies (you’re not getting mine unless you pry them from my cold, dead hands) or buy at Kinokuniya or other Japanese book stores.

Many Tachiai readers have been taking trips to Japan and I would definitely recommend hitting up book stores while there for sumo resources. There’s a decent bookstore in just about every mall and a selection of books available in the little shop in Kokugikan. I’m usually going to the one in Kameido or Soga Department store in Yokohama.

The books below start with intense Japanese language skills needed to those which have more illustrations.

Resources in Japanese

The insider’s view of sumo. There are not many illustrations in this book and is clearly more for an advanced Japanese reader. Without advanced Japanese language skills, this book has limited use. This book starts from a historical perspective, discussing how the sport was started and popularized in seventh century feudal Japan, and how its popularity re-emerged during the Meiji restoration and how it evolved through to the modern era, to how in the year 2001 a dozen new kimarite (winning moves) were added to the original list of 70. Another gem in here is a list of international Jungyo tours, including New York and Mexico.

What is SUMO? This book is more dedicated to teaching the fundamentals of the sport with a bit of a perspective from the practitioner rather than the spectator. It came with a DVD when I bought it. If you’re getting it used, make sure the DVD is there or look for a discount. I sure wouldn’t pay full price (or a markup) when you’re missing out on content. This is much more about the actual sport side, looking at the mechanics, grips, etc., and could be quite useful to those who are interested in following or pursuing amateur sumo. Again, it’s in Japanese but this one is more visual than the previous one with physical demonstrations but requires at least moderate Japanese language skills.

This book describes modern sumo to the new sumo fan. It has information about each of the main tournaments and the venues. It dives deeper into the sumo calendar, covering the Jungyo (promotional tours), and a discussion of how certain wrestlers are popular for different reasons. Tochinoshin is popular for his butt, apparently. There’s a good description of pre-bout and post-bout routines, even kesho mawashi and kensho. This book is a very casual, easy read for those with intermediate Japanese language skills. It is still useful to those with beginner skills or those just starting out who want to learn more sumo-specific vocab.

This is another book about the sport of sumo, going into a lot of detail about many topics, like the dohyo, yokozuna, kimarite, etc. This book has quite a few helpful illustrations but still maintains more of a serious, academic quality to it more than the previous one. It’s got a great breakdown of tachiai techniques, training, and quite a bit more of behind-the-scenes. This is another great resource for those hoping to learn Japanese with sumo-specific vocab because many of the key themes or terms have illustrations and descriptions (in Japanese). This one shows key differences between gyoji in higher and lower divisions, discusses the roles of NSK staff, oyakata, okamisan, hair dressers, even tsukebito.

I checked and this book is absurdly expensive, so I apologize for that ahead of time. It’s also rather unfair because I bought it for ~2200 yen which is about $25. Perhaps it’s out of print or something? It’s just a reference book of yokozuna. The edition I have ends with Harumafuji. It is an excellent resource for those who want to learn more about Yokozuna. Maybe try buying it used but I wouldn’t be paying those absurd prices for something that’s out-of-date. No Kakuryu or Kisenosato in this edition.

Sumo Kimarite guide book. This is an illustrated guide book of sumo winning moves, “kimarite,” literally “deciding hand.” It’s a fascinating book but it seems to be another absurdly expensive book according to some of these shippers. Some of these are saying $70+. Buy it used and you can get it for $15-$30. Or, as I mentioned above, try getting it at a Japanese bookstore.