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Nearly 8,000 spectators attended the ceremonial Spring Festival sumo event held outdoors at Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo on Monday.

The headliner was top-ranked yokozuna, Hakuho, the most successful sumo wrestler of all-time with a record 36 career tournament wins.

The Mongolian beat compatriot and fellow yokozuna, Kakuryu in his bout, one of almost 30 that took place between wrestlers.

The annual Honozumo at Yasukuni Shrine, seen as a symbol of Japan’s past militarism by many in Asia, started with a blessing of Shinto’s religious gods and wishing peace for all.

Traditional foot-stamping ceremonies took place before the bouts begun.

One fan felt this year’s event was more somber than usual after the biggest in a series of earthquakes to hit Japan struck near Kumamoto city early on Saturday.

“This time I hesitated to come and enjoy it after the earthquake disaster,” said Mieko Nakamura, who also attended as a spectator last year.

“Some of the wrestlers, however, are from Kumamoto so we decided to come and cheer them up.”

The next grand tournament, the Natsu Basho, will take place in Tokyo on May 5 and will feature all the sport’s top ranked wrestlers.

A sumo wrestler hold up a child, who might not be such a big fan now but give it time.
A sumo wrestler holds up a child, who might not be such a big fan now but give it time. | REUTERS
Sumo wrestlers wearing colorful and ornate kesho-mawashi, which often bear the names of corporate sponsors, assemble to pray before the start of the  Honozumo.
Sumo wrestlers wearing colorful and ornate kesho-mawashi, which often bear the names of corporate sponsors, assemble to pray before the start of the Honozumo. | REUTERS
After prayer, yokozuna wearing tsuna — thick rope decorated with paper that alludes to lightning — exit the shrine and head for the ring.
After prayer, yokozuna wearing tsuna — thick, tightly wound rope decorated with paper that alludes to lightning — exit the shrine and head for the ring. | REUTERS
Yokozuna Hakuho performs a traditional ring-entering rite, called dohyo-iri.
Yokozuna Hakuho performs a traditional ring-entering rite, called dohyo-iri before the exhibition tournament begins. | REUTERS
A sumo wrestler grabs a handfull of salt before competing in a Honzumo bout on Monday at Yasukuni Shrine.
A sumo wrestler grabs a handful of salt before competing in a Honzumo bout on Monday at Yasukuni Shrine. | REUTERS
Mongolia-born grand sumo champion Hakuho throws salt, which is believed to purify the ring before a bout.
Mongolia-born grand sumo champion Hakuho throws salt, which is believed to purify the ring before a bout. | REUTERS
A referee stands between Mongolia-born grand sumo champions Hakuho (left) and Kakuryu  as they face off before a exhibition bout.
A referee stands between Mongolia-born grand sumo champions Hakuho (left) and Kakuryu as they face off before an exhibition bout. | REUTERS
A sumo wrestler sends this opponent flying during a Honozumo bout at Yasukuni Shrine on Monday.
A sumo wrestler sends this opponent flying. | REUTERS

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