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Home » 5. Rites and Festivals » Performing Arts
Sumō
Also written . In ancient times pronounced sumai. In China, from before the Former Han dynasty (202 B.C.E. – 8 C.E.) there was a kind of wrestling called kakuteigi or kakugi (juedixi or juexi in Chinese) which resembled sumō and belonged to the miscellaneous arts of sangaku. Some of these arts entered Japan and formed the basis of sarugaku, although it is not certain whether juedixi was among these. That competition were decided through sumō wrestling in ancient Japan can be inferred from the existence of Kofun-period haniwa clay figures representing wrestlers, as well as from myths and legends, such as that of the test of strength between the kami Takemikazuchi and Takeminakata, recorded in the Kojiki, or the wrestling match between Taima-no-Kuehaya of Yamato and Nomi-no-Sukune of Izumo on the seventh day of the seventh month in the seventh year of the reign of Emperor Suinin, as recorded in the Nihon Shoki. Sumō wrestling bouts were also held as new year's divination rites (toshiura) to predict the outcome of the coming agricultural season. Vestiges of sumō as a ritual Shrine offering survive in various parts of Japan. The Nihon Shoki records that in the seventh month of 642, on the occasion of the visit to Japan of the envoy of the Korean Kingdom of Paekche, "strongman wrestling" (chikarahito no sumō) was held in the presence of Prince Gyōki of Paekche, who was already in Japan at the time. This is the earliest reliable record of sumō. During the Nara period (710-784) sumō became established as a court event. According to the Shoku Nihongi, in 719 the court position of nukide no tsukasa was created to oversee sumō wrestling, and on the seventh day of the seventh month in 734 ceremonial sumō was held for the emperor. In the Heian period (794-1192) the sumō banquet (sumai no sechie) became a customary court function. The imperial guards sent messengers to the various provinces to recruit sumō wrestlers. On the day of the banquet, the sumo bouts, called meshiawase were held in the presence of the Emperor. Wrestlers from the two sides (left and right) were matched to make up approximately 20 bouts. The banquet was accompanied by bugaku music and was a large-scale, spectacular event. The sumai no sechie banquet also included the function of divining the harvest of the various provinces. This banquet, which enjoyed great popularity from the early Heian period on, came to an end in 1174, when the last such event was held. During the Kamakura period (1193-1336), sumō seems to have been carried on only as a form of training for the samurai. During the Muromachi period, however, with the growing economic prosperity of towns and villages, sumō became popular among the common people, and professional sumō appeared. The subscription sumō (kanjin sumō) which began at this time, flourished throughout the Edo period in both the Kamigata (Kyoto and Osaka) and Edo (modern Tokyo) regions. A high point of this golden age of sumō was reached in 1789, when the wrestlers Tanikaze and Onogawa were both promoted to the newly created top rank of yokozuna. This subscription sumō can be regarded as the direct historical basis of today's sumō. As for ritual shrine sumō, one of the most well-known examples is the one-man sumō presented at the Otaue Matsuri of Ōyamazumi Shine in Ōmishima, Ehime Prefecture. The sumō itself functions as a form of prayer for a rich harvest. Following the shrine ceremony, three sumō bouts are held between a wrestler and the rice spirit, with the human contestant losing the first and third matches.

— Takayama Shigeru
"Establishment of a National Learning Institute for the Dissemination of Research on Shinto and Japanese Culture"
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