There was excitement and anticipation in the air, when, two years ago, I walked the periphery of the Ryogoku Stadium to watch the September 2015 tournament bout.
Colorful banners waved in the air, cheerfully showcasing the names of the dozens of wrestlers I would be seeing today. Each one of them would only have one match today. With most matches lasting only less than 10 seconds, for each wrestler, it was a do-or-die situation in a timespan of less than a minute.
I’d arrived just before they introduced the makuuchi-rank wrestlers. Sumo has six divisions, and Makuuchi are the cream of the crop, who are proven veterans and winners of the sport. I watched as they circled the ring, clasp then raise their hands to the air.
Matches were short, but intense. At the shout of the referee, each wrestler would run towards one another with great energy, and attempt any one of the many maneuvers that could land their opponent out of the ring or onto the floor.
There were several ways they could do it. In the following picture, the wrestler on the left attempts to control his opponent by grabbing on the the waistband of the loincloth, or mawashi. His opponent pivots fiercely to the right to the avoid him.
In the same match, the tides change as the opponent outmaneuvers and successfully pushes the wrestler down the ground and out the ring. It’s a resounding win for the sumo in the dark blue mawashi, and a cunning one that showcases not only the brawn, but also the brains of the sport.
In some cases, the climax of the match would get so heated that both wrestlers would tumble out of the ring, making the front-row audience suffer a minor panic at the thought of 300-pound wrestlers squashing them.
The bout ended with a brief ceremony by the highest-ranking sumo wrestler present. Facing the crowd, he danced, as he held and twirled a bow longer than his own height. The ceremonies highlighted one key thing: the immensely long history and culture behind a sport that started out as a ritual.
Photos were taken September 2015 on a well-loved and much-battered Canon EOS 550D.