Sumo Wrestling History
The oldest Japanese document, Kojiki, mentions a legend that starts off Sumo wrestling history. It says that over 2,000 years ago, rival gods decided who would rule the islands of Japan by a Sumo match. However, the Japanese did not keep many written records of their history before the 8th century. The first recorded Sumo match was in 720 A.D. But the man who has been called the father of Sumo, Sukune, is said to have wrestled in the presence of Emperor Suinin in 23 B.C.
Sumo wrestling's popularity increased with the establishment of the first Shogunate in 1185. The warrior class then began practicing it. In February of 1578, the Shogun Oda Nobunga invited 1,500 Sumo wrestlers to his castle to compete. The match ring had previously had no specific boundaries. Nobunga was the first in Sumo wrestling history to draw the circular boundary lines on the floor.
In the Edo period, from 1603 to 1867, feudal lords sponsored Sumo wrestlers. They were paid handsomely and received samurai status. It was also during this time that a ranking system was developed. The Heya system states that wrestlers, called rikishi, belonged to a specific stable under the guidance of a single coach. This system is still in place today. The first westerner in Sumo wrestling history to witness the sport was Commodore Matthew Perry when he arrived in Japan on a trading mission in 1854. Reportedly, Perry was unimpressed.
Sumo wrestling history is also steeped in Shinto tradition, a religion based on ritual rather than a system of beliefs and ethics. As far back as 250 A.D. Sumo matches were staged at festivals to entertain the kami (gods) to ensure a bountiful harvest. The decor and arrangement of the bout ring is symbolic. For example, different colored tassels represent each season. Referees are often attired in a manner similar to Shinto priests. There are even specific tasks every wrestler, based on hierarchy, does every day during a basho (tournament), involving how and when they practice and train to how and when they eat. Elaborate ring entering ceremonies also occur where Sumo wrestlers wear attire resembling aspects of Shinto temples. Salt and sand are used as purification symbols. Sumo wrestling history has shown that it is much more than simply fat men grappling with each other.