Sumo is more than a sport. It is deeply rooted in tradition and spirituality. The life of a sumotori is strictly regulated. When in lower ranks, sumo wrestlers must be obedient to their seniors. Wrestlers live in stables, large living complexes that feature, sleeping, eating and training facilities. Several times a year, all wrestlers meet at the major tournaments.
I had the chance recently to attend a Sumo tournament held in Tokyo at the Kokugikan. Upon arriving at the Ryogoku station, one notices the Sumo wrestlers getting off the train and the large posters of sumo wrestlers in the station. The stadium itself, the Kokugikan, is quite peculiar. The seats are divided into two sections. The upper one consists of normal seats. The lower one has what is called a masu-seki. It is a flat space with cushions large enough to fit four people. The sumo stage is at the center, under what looks like the roof of a shrine hanging from the ceiling. The sumo ring is indeed a very sacred place. The ring itself is covered in sand and is encircled by a rope.
Sumo matches are very short. Most lasted a several seconds and rarely exceeded a minute. When the two wrestlers put their fists on the ring the bout starts. They accelerate rapidly towards each other and hit with a phenomenal force. From then on, wrestlers try to force their opponent out of the ring or to fall on the floor. Once the bout is over the sumo wrestlers withdraw and two new wrestlers come for the next match.
Sumo tickets are sold for a whole day of competition. The day starts with the lower ranks and ends with the best wrestlers. Between every division, a ceremonial cleaning of the ring is carried. Most spectators come to watch the upper divisions so it is generally quiet in the morning. Before the uppermost division, Yokozunas, the best wrestlers, performs a special ceremonial entrance.