One of the most striking sights in sumo is the giant roof suspended over the ring.
The 6.5-metric-ton structure is modeled on the roofs of Shinto shrines and held in place by 2.2-cm thick wires that can bear almost five times as much weight — meaning there is little danger of it falling.
From the mid 1700s, when the roof was introduced, it was supported by pillars in the four corners, but when sumo started being televised in the 1950s those were removed to improve the viewing experience.
Now colored tassels hang from the tsuriyane — as it’s called in Japanese — instead.
They are symbolic of the four mythological creatures in traditional East Asian astronomy.
Green represents the Azure Dragon of the East and spring.
Red represents the Vermilion Bird of the South and summer.
White represents the Tiger of the West and autumn.
Black represents the Turtle of the North and winter.
A purple canopy-like curtain bearing the logo of the Japan Sumo Association is draped from the roof. It helps to hide the lights, cameras and microphones attached to the underside of the structure.
When amateur sumo tournaments are held at Ryogoku Kokugikan, the curtain is replaced with one carrying the logo of the respective governing body. The tassels though remain in place.
Above the roof is a Japanese flag as well as four large banners emblazoned with the characters.
That is read “maninonrei” and the banners are unfurled when there is a full house. In the past couple of years that has been practically every day, with the notable exception of the Fukuoka tournament that, for various reasons, has generally lower attendances.
Only about half the lights under the roof are used for the lower divisions. When the full set is switched on just prior to the juryo division bouts, it invariably draws oohs and aahs from newer visitors.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.