Sumo is a world where success or failure in the ring has direct and tangible effects on a wrestler’s life.
The more you win, the better your situation becomes in many ways.
One visible sign of how well a rikishi is doing is what’s on his feet.
Hear the clip-clop of wooden geta (clogs) and it’s one of the new recruits or men in the lowest two divisions.
Traditional sandals, known as seta, are allowed for wrestlers who reach the sandanme division and those can be paired with split-toed tabi socks when promotion to the makushita division is achieved.
It’s a similar story with the clothing rikishi normally wear. Even in the depths of winter, no matter how cold it gets, coats and scarves are only allowed for those in the top three divisions. Everyone else has to make do with just a thin yukata (light summer kimono).
Every little point is regulated right down to the kind of sash used to hold the yukata closed. Makushita-ranked wrestlers and higher can sport formal hakataori. Anyone in the bottom three divisions has to use the more casual and lighter chirimen.
The yukata that wrestlers wear are custom-made and normally covered with the names of other rikishi. That’s something that often surprises newer fans. The reason behind it is that yukata material is bought in bulk and giving your own personal design to other wrestlers is both a gesture of friendship and a good way to get some variety into a wardrobe with numerous restrictions.
Specialized plain white undergarments that come with outsized neck holes (to avoid messing up the topknot) are standard, but it’s common for rikishi to wear boxer shorts with all kinds of cute and colorful patterns and designs.
That so offended the sensibilities of former Japan Sumo Association chairman Hanaregoma that he issued a public demand in 2011 for rikishi to exercise underwear restraint.
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.