“Sumo, the Japanese wrestling, is said to date back to the 3rd century B.C., and originally was often employed as a sort of divine judgment, each wrestler representing one of the contending parties.
“It later became one of the military arts, but finally developed into a purely professional sport, the two main ‘camps’ of organized wrestlers belonging to the Kwanto and Kwansai (the East and West of Japan ).
“The men, sumō-tori, are of huge, bulky stature and unprepossessing mien, often enormously fat, weight being of almost equal account as strength. They wrestle naked except for a loin-cloth; when entering the ring the champions wear a large, stiffly embroidered apron and a shimenawa [sacred rope] belt.
“The ‘ring’ itself is small and circular, the boundary formed of rice-bales, and protected from the weather by a tent on four posts. An umpire, in ceremonial garb, wields a fan.”
– Transactions of the Asiatic Society of Japan, Second Series Vol. XIX, 1940
Kokugikan (National Sport Hall).
Sumo wrestler Hitachiyama, c. 1910.
“The national sport of Japan is Sumo. It is an old sport mention of which may be found in the oldest books of myths. The Emperors and the Shoguns patronized it for it is the best exhibition of the comparative manly strength and skill of two individuals.
“The contestants, wearing nothing but an ornamental loin-cloth, carry on the match within a small soft sanded ring. The ring being marked off with rice-straw.
“… The ‘hands’ or tricks in wrestling are forty-eight in number, according to the traditional canons of the sport. Some authorities put the number more and some less, but all tricks were originally classified under four categories” or throws, kake or trips, sori or backward-bendings, and hineri or twistings.
“Even a semblance of unfair play is scrupulously avoided, for otherwise a heavy thud on the ground would easily involve a broken bone or dislocated joint.
“The patronage and encouragement by the high-spirited classes of nobility and samurai have instilled in the minds of wrestlers a keen sense of honour and sort of invincible courage.
“What seems a mere boredom to the uninitiated, but what is truly thrilling to appreciative spectators, is the intense watching by the two contestants for the right moment to deal a short but decisive blow before they actually grapple with each other.
“The umpire sees to their squatting on the right spots, at equal distances from the edge of the ring. Whichever feels ready to strike stands up with a shout, but the other will call out matta or ‘not yet’; both will then go outside the ring for a sip of water and a sprinkle of salt, the original meaning of this was purification and prayer for success and personal safety.
“Back on the ring they stamp heavily on the ground as if to make their limbs nimble … In some close games these preparatory acts will continue for ten, twenty, even thirty minutes, while the real contest often takes only one or two minutes.”
– “Sumo, the National Sport of Japan”, by “A Third-Grade Judoist”, The Asian Review, Vol. 1 No. 5, July 1920