Sumo

Sumo 101: Souvenirs

by John Gunning

Contributing Writer

Sumo is a unique sport and its merchandising reflects that fact.

While many sports rely heavily on wearable items like hats, T-shirts, and replica uniforms, sumo tends to focus more on traditional Japanese goods and edibles.

Tegata (autographed handprints), banzuke (ranking sheets) as well as various confectionaries, snacks and other foods branded with sumo logos or shaped like wrestlers are among some of the sport’s more popular souvenirs.

While it’s possible to buy goods such as key chains, pens and tote bags, the focus on historical merchandise reflects the fact that the ceremonial aspect of sumo is a big part of the sport’s attraction for many people.

Wrestlers’ image rights are controlled by the Japan Sumo Association, and the organization’s conservative bent means you don’t see a lot of non-JSA issued merchandise.

The items that are made haven’t always been easy to come by either, but that is changing.

For many years the souvenir store located in Ryogoku Kokugikan or those in the various arenas during tournaments were the only places where you could buy merchandise.

If you couldn’t physically get to either location, there was no way to purchase sumo souvenirs.

Nowadays, however, the Kokugikan store allows orders online at (shop.kokugikan.jp), but it still only ships domestically.

That has meant that the recent surge in demand for merchandise abroad, sparked by rising interest in sumo, is being met by sites like (bigsumofan.com).

One thing all outlets have in common is the fact that generally speaking only items featuring the likeness of active wrestlers are available.

That’s due to a JSA policy of ending the manufacture of souvenirs bearing someone’s name or image once they retire.

With the occasional exception of commemorative memorabilia, normally limited to yokozuna, if you want a T-shirt, poster or towel with a retired rikishi’s name on it you’ll have to look for used items online.