Sumo

Sumo 101: Ring-entering ceremonies

by John Gunning

Contributing Writer

A normal day of a sumo tournament starts around 8:30 a.m. and ends just after 5:45 p.m.

From the silent early morning atmosphere, with just friends and family of wrestlers watching the bouts and talking in whispers, to the raucous packed-out arena where fans roar out their favorite rikishi’s name, there is something interesting and unique to see throughout the day.

For first-time visitors, however, or fans without a deep knowledge of, or interest in the lower divisions, nine straight hours of sumo is too much.

That’s why I usually recommend people start their debut sumo experience around 3 p.m.

This gives you enough time to take a stroll around the arena and find your seat in time for the makuuchi and yokozuna ring-entering ceremonies.

The first of those is a copy of one that happens before the juryo division wrestlers fight. It’s simply a parade of the rikishi in that division in ascending order of rank up onto and around the ring as their name, stable and place of origin is read out.

Once both the east and west side rikishi have finished, the ring is swept clean and the yokozuna perform their ceremony.

One wrestler walks in front of the yokozuna as he enters the arena to act as his “dew sweeper” and one behind as his “sword bearer.”

The latter man holds a sword aloft while the yokozuna performs a particular set of movements designed to drive evil spirits from the ring.

The position of his hands during the ceremony as well as the number of loops on the back of his white rope indicates which of the two variants (Unryu or Shiranui) the yokozuna is performing.

Yokozuna never change variant. Many factors go into the decision but regardless of the choice the first public performance of the ceremony is not in a tournament but at Meiji Shrine in central Tokyo watched by thousands of fans.