Memos from Asia

The Unique World Of Sumo

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Color woodblock print of the sumo

Sumo wrestling is quintessentially Japanese. When you think Japanese sports, most people think baseball or soccer, but for those who live in Japan, know nothing sparks passion amongst the Japanese more than Sumo.

The word “sumo” translated literally means “bruising together.” It is the national sport of Japan. Sumo can be dated back as far as 2000 years, and the first professional tournament was held during the Edo period in 1600.

The first stadium for Sumo was built in Tokyo in 1909; by 1930, Sumo was broadcast on national radio. But it wasn’t until 1985, when an 11,000 seat stadium was built in Tokyo, that Sumo gained in popularity.

What Do Sumo Wrestlers Eat?

Sumida Train Station ,Tokyo, Japan – May 13,2017: Famous Sumo Wrestlers portraits and handprints iexhibited in Sumida Train Station

Although sumo wrestlers look fat and out of shape, they are actually incredibly strong, flexible, and muscular. To maintain their weight and perform 6 hour training days, calorie intake for a sumo wrestler is up around 20,000 calories a day.

The primary go-to meal for sumo wrestlers is “chanko-nabe.” The dish, flavored with fish stock or miso, is packed full of chicken, fish, red meat, and vegetables piled up high. Any vegetable is suitable, but popular choices are cabbage, onions, spring onions, mushrooms, and Japanese radish.

A typical look of chanko-nabe

An interesting side-note is that sumo wrestlers add anywhere up to 10 bowls of rice to the soup and the higher-ranked wrestlers drink up to 6 pints of beer at lunch. The Sumo Calendar

Professional sports like tennis and golf play between 35-40 tournaments a year, and baseball season consists of 70-80 games; Sumo, however, only has six tournaments a year.

The tournaments are based around the four seasons and visit Japan’s four largest cities. A typical calendar looks as such:

  • New Year Tournament (Tokyo)
  • Spring Tournament (Osaka)
  • Summer Tournament (Tokyo)
  • Summer Tournament (Nagoya)
  • Autumn Tournament (Tokyo)
  • Autumn Tournament (Fukuoka)

I haven’t been lucky enough to attend a tournament; however, I’ve attended numerous sumo training camps that are open to the general public and offer an excellent chance to get up close and personal with the wrestlers.

How Much Money Do Sumo Wrestlers Make?

Sumo wrestlers performing dohyo-iri taken from Contributor: Nickdrj released into public domain by author

The Japanese Sumo Association is a non-profit and, as such, are not taxed. The wrestlers themselves are exempt from paying tax on cash gifts if they come from an individual and not an organization such as a sponsor.

The “Yokozuna,” the Grand Champion, receives a monthly salary with estimates ranging from $20,000 to $30,000usd per month. Coupled with prizemoney, cash gifts, and performance bonuses, a top wrestler can make between $2,000,000 – $3,000,000usd annually. An interesting aspect of Sumo is the envelopes the wrestlers receive after winning the bout. The envelopes contain cash and are called “kenshokin.” Each envelope contains about $800usd, which sponsors pay.

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