Today is setsubun, the last for the current Emperor. Herouth’s got some great highlights on her Twitter feed from this year’s mame maki events. Goeido was back home in Osaka with Hakuho, Mitakeumi, and Okinoumi? in Kanto. Hakuho walked rather gingerly down the temple stairs. Great timing for a month break.
I was re-reading my post from last year…are the giant maki rolls still a thing? Also, has anyone seen the stage version of Groundhog Day?
The origin of sumo is an ancient one, filled with mysticism and mystique. The sport of giants we so fondly love today, came into being over two thousand years ago when two Kami (Shinto gods) clashed in a tumultuous battle for the fate of Japan. Legend has it that the god of thunder Takemikazuchi met his rival, Takeminakata, on the shores of the Sea of Japan in the first recorded sumo bout. Takemikazuchi bested Takeminakata, and thus the thunder god’s followers inherited Japan and established the imperial line that continues to the present day. Henceforth, sumo and Shinto were irreversibly married, and the sport became an integral part of Shinto festivals to entertain the very Kami who gifted sumo to humanity. Sumo also held a key part in the annual rice planting, as wrestling matches played the role of prayer for a bountiful harvest. During the Heian Period (794-1185), the status of sumo was further elevated when the sport became a regular form of entertainment for the Emperor and the Imperial Court. Not to be outdone, the Daimyo lords began holding sumo matches in their own fiefs across the nation. As rikishi during this era were typically samurai or ronin, they would be invited into the armies of lords who valued their combat prowess.
As Japan descended into turmoil during the Sengoku period (1467-1600) the practice of Kanjin, or public sumo bouts emerged, primarily as a means to fund temple renovations. Over time public sumo events spread out from the temples and into the streets of the major city centres of Japan. However, this street sumo was no longer the dignified sport that had enthralled Emperors and warlords alike. It was far more brutal, bloody, and lewd. Fearing the sport was negatively affecting public morals, the Tokugawa Bakufu (Shogan Government) put a moratorium on the sport, including events organized by shrines to pay for repairs. This ban was short lived and by the Genroku Period (1688-1704) public sumo returned stronger than ever, with the first sanctioned tournament taking place at Tomioka Hachiman Shrine in 1684. It was during this revival that many of the Shinto traditions and rules commonplace in modern sumo were adopted. These additions, such as a strict list of sanctioned techniques, were no doubt a move to improve the sport’s image in the eyes of the Bakufu. By the latter half of the 18th century, sumo’s popularity had grown to the point of being profitable and for the first time competing as a rikishi became a genuine profession. Rikishi such as Tanikaze and Raiden became superstars, and massive temporary venues were constructed to accommodate the throngs of fans desperate to see their favourite athletes compete. Professional sumo, Ozumo, was born.
While one could see sumo throughout the country, the Tokugawa capital of Edo was the largest centre for sumo in the country. In 1761, the first banzuke was published, and the group tasked with developing these rankings became the foundation for an organized sumo association that would become the Nihon Sumo Kyokai. Edo, However, was not the only Ozumo hub in Japan. Osaka had also emerged as one of the major powers in the sumo world, and its rivalry with Edo (later Tokyo) Sumo would continue through to the 20th century. With the end of Tokugawa rule in 1868 came the most serious threat sumo had ever faced. The end of the Bakufu saw Japanese society go through a massive restructuring during the Meiji Revolution, and sumo was seen as archaic and counterintuitive to the nations urgent efforts to catch up to the western world. Furthermore, with the Shogun and Daimyo system abolished, regional Ozumo organizations and rikishi no longer had the financial backing they once relied on to hold tournaments and make a living. In an attempt to weather these financial constraints, Tokyo Sumo established the system of salaries and governance that is still in place today.
Sumo remained in a state of uncertainty until Emperor Meiji endorsed the sport through his attendance of a tournament 1884. While the Emperor may have incorporated sumo back into the Japanese consciousness, it wasn’t until the heated rivalry between Hitachiyama Tamien and Umegatani Taro II in 1902 that the sport would regain national prominence. Sumo was once again one of Japan’s most popular forms of entertainment. This success, coupled with the poaching of talented rikishi away from Osaka to the “big leagues” in Tokyo, lead to the merger of the two regional Associations in 1927. Thus the Nihon Sumo Kyokai was formed, the governing body that would shepherd the sport through the 20th century and it’s greatest boom period ever. Despite its divine origins, sumo has weathered many trying times that nearly saw its extinction. Yet the sport that has delighted both rulers and commoners refused to fade into obscurity. Sumo persists into the current day and survives as the physical, spiritual, and lasting link to the ancient past of Japan.
In this video, I give a brief review of Discover Sumo by former Tate-Yobidashi Hideo Yamaki. Hideo does an excellent job not only documenting the life and responsibilities of a yobidashi, but also goes into detail about heya life, the careers of rikishi, the origins of sumo, and the inner workings of each basho. Discover Sumo is an excellent pocket guide to sumo and is a fantastic read for both newcomers to the sport and longtime fans.
Yamagata prefecture is not only an unknown entity for me, my wife admitted she knows very little about Yamagata. Yamagata is a rural, mountainous prefecture known for its produce, mainly fruits. Cherries, pears, grapes and apples from this region are specialties. The pears are “La France” western-style pears, not the Asian pears. Yamagata is known for its Hanagasa Festival, which centers around women performing a traditional dance, and actually just happened last week, ended on Tuesday.
The Jungyo event will be held in Nanyo, just outside the eponymous capital city, Yamagata. The city of Tendo is also nearby. This city is where most shogi pieces (koma) are made and features an annual spring human shogi festival.
The Yamanashi — oops, sorry, Yamagata — Jungyo event will be a homecoming for Makushita yusho winner and Juryo promotee, Hakuyozan. He was first promoted to Juryo for the May tournament but finished with a poor 5-10 record. He fell back into Makushita but with impressive, and at times dominant, wins over Jokoryu, Toyohibiki, TYT, and Enho, this homecoming will hopefully give him a chance to enjoy center stage for the day…and perhaps a bout with Endo? Will he manage to get that mawashi undone?
I got a wee bit behind in my jungyo site posts and suddenly we’re already back in Tokyo. Aoyama Gakuin University, informally called AoGaku, is in a fantastic location. If you’ve never been to Tokyo, Aoyama is in the Shibuya area, not far from Omotesando. Aoyama and Omotesando seem to have a more posh reputation than Shibuya, itself, and neighboring Harajuku. The university is found out the opposite side of Shibuya station from most of the famous stuff. Walk along Aoyama-dori about half way to an entrance for Omotesando station.
The university, itself, has ties to the sumo world. Last year, an event was put on here with the help of proud parents of current and former AoGaku students, Isegahama Oyakata, Takanohana Oyakata, and Harumafuji. It is known as a school for the children of celebrities. Private Universities like AoGaku and Keio have grade schools, as well. So many kids who go to the private grade schools go straight into the Universities when they graduate.
Omotesando is a shopping district not far away, but far enough from much of the hustle and bustle of Shibuya. Omotesando Hills is probably having its 10th anniversary about now? It’s a nice mall there that used to feature a wine bar with a wall full of what are essentially wine vending machines. It’s been a long time, though, so it may not be there anymore but I will need to do some research next time I’m back. As with all of these posts, it’s my goal to update and repost them with more information (especially pictures if I get a chance to go).