Last week I started my new weekly series: Weekly Shiritori. The first word was “shiritori” (the name of the game!) – click here if you missed that!
So, “shiritori” is written しりとり, which means that this week’s word has to begin with り (ri).
I had one topic suggestion from a fellow blogger, Alyse of Alyse Goes to Japan, but she admitted herself that the word was a no-go because it ended with ん (you can’t play a word ending in ん because no words start with ん). She suggested “rikon” (りこん), which means “divorce”. So I tried to think of other topics. A natural choice would have been Rilakkuma (りらっくま), but I’ve written about him so many times before.
In the end, I decided that this week’s word would be:
Rikishi (りきし / 力士)
“Rikishi”, which literally means “strong man”, is the most common term for a professional sumo wrestler. Sometimes the word “sumotori” is also used.
When asked to name something about Japan, sumo is probably one of the words most people will come up with. Indeed, sumo is Japan’s national sport, with professional sumo dating back to the Edo period.
I still remember turning on the TV in the hostel on my first night ever in Japan (after having accidentally paid for a card which would allow me to watch sport and porn), and being delighted to find that sumo was really on TV in Japan:
(Believe me, it was much better than the porn!)
Despite the popularity of sumo and its clear attraction for tourists, sumo wrestlers themselves are often thought of simply as “fat guys”. We’ve all laughed at the image of the fat sumo wrestler as depicted in the West, and here’s a classic example:
Although I do love the ad above for its comic value, it does nothing to show the strength and skill of sumo wrestlers, focussing instead on their ample guts.
In fact, it wasn’t until I saw a rikishi for myself, that I actually stopped and appreciated them for what they are. Although I have since seen sumo live, I will never forget the first time I saw an actual sumo wrestler in the flesh. I was at a train station in Japan (I seem to remember it was Osaka, on the shinkansen platform), and suddenly it was like everything went into slow motion and the crowds parted. I could almost hear the heavy beat of a taiko drum as the man strode down the platform in his yukata. Everyone simply watched him. There was no doubt in my mind that this was a rikishi, and not just some fat guy.
I’m not actually into sports of any kind (a fact most people find quite shocking), and when I went to see sumo in Nagoya in 2008 it was actually my first ever live, professional sporting event.
I found myself very intrigued by the rituals involved in sumo, and realised that it’s more than just a sport. Sumo is an art form full of ancient traditions, in much the same was as karate and judo are (although sumo is not actually a martial art). I liked all the salt throwing (to purify the ring) and bowing, which seemed to make it about more than just two fat guys trying to knock each other out of a ring.
The wrestling itself was much more exciting to watch than I had anticipated, and I found myself getting quite into it and shouting for my favourite to win.
In a way, I think being a rikishi must be something like being a modern-day samurai. Rikishi have to lead a very strict, regimented way of life, which even includes a regulation haircut and particular clothes.There are different rankings, and of course the lower ranking rikishi are treated the worst.
Rikishi are required to live in what is known as a “stable”, making them sound like animals. Junior rikishi have to get up early to do more training than the senior rikishi, and they have to do all the chores. Sounds like hard work! On top of that, rikishi don’t usually eat breakfast, so they must be starving! (I can’t even leave the house if I haven’t had breakfast.)
In order to put on the weight required to be a sumo wrestler, rikishi usually have no breakfast and have a large lunch instead. Lunch is washed down with beer (!) and then they have a little snooze. It doesn’t sound like the healthiest of lifestyles, but these guys are really strong! Of course, with relatively unhealthy eating habits, rikishi don’t usually live as long as normal Japanese men, and often develop diabetes or high blood pressure.
Sumo is a big part of Japanese culture, and the fact that it remains so popular today just goes to show that there’s got to be something worth seeing. I would say that going to see sumo should be on any tourist’s list of “essential things to do in Japan”. No Japan photo album would be complete without at least one snap of a rikishi!
Sumo is held throughout the year in Japan, in Tokyo (January, May, September), Osaka (March), Nagoya (July) and Fukuoka (November). For more information, please visit the Nihon Sumo Kyokai Official Grand Sumo Home Page. Tickets can be booked online, in English.
This week’s post was about “rikishi”, which is written りきし in hiragana. Therefore, next week’s post will begin with し (shi). If you have any suggestions for a Japanese noun beginning with し (not ending in ん!) that would make a good topic for next week, leave me a comment below. If I like your suggestion, I’ll give you (and your Japan-related blog, if you have one) a mention next week. ^_^