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In face of the country’s fixation on baseball, the title of Japan’s official national sport belongs to sumo.
With prehistoric wall paintings suggesting the martial art has its roots in ritual harvest dance and a first mention in the Kojiki manuscript which dates back to 712, there’s no denying the sport isn’t an old one, making it easy to see why it reigns as Japan’s national sport. Despite this, actually witnessing a sumo event in person is a relatively hard task, as there are only a handful of tournaments that take place each year.
If you want to get in on the action, it’s best to reserve tickets for a honbasho (本場所) or “main tournament” event, of which there are only six throughout the year to choose from. Lasting for 15 days, a honbasho event sees wrestlers ranked in the top two divisions go head-to-head in a battle for increasing rank and ensuring promotion to the next event.
One of these official events – the Hatsubasho (or Opening Tournament) – is currently underway at the Ryōgoku Kokugikan, where those attending this year might notice some familiar and friendly faces amongst the venue decor and event media.
That’s right, this year’s event has been taken over by Pokemon.
Now, whilst this may seem like a somewhat odd pairing, the collaboration itself poses a great opportunity for the sumo sports industry to grasp the attention of a younger audience.
With western sports like football, baseball and tennis hogging the limelight in Japanese educational settings, sumo is struggling to ensure a future despite being the country’s official sport.
That’s why collaborations like this one are important; by exposing the competition, sportsmanship and enjoyment of sumo to young minds, the sport will hopefully see a much-needed leap in interest.
So what exactly is going on behind the venue doors?
Well, amongst the traditional sumo aesthetic, fans will be greeted by more than 200 banners featuring designs inspired by sumo wrestling, pokemon characters and classic Japanese art. These hanging banners are on rotation, and will change day-by-day to keep the tournament spirits up.
If you know sumo, then you’ll be aware of how the athletes fight in almost complete bare nudity, with only a loincloth – known as the mawashi – covering the groin area. The mawashi comes in a variety of colours, though during competition they’re almost always black or white.
As part of the collaboration, there will be a collection of artistically adorned mawashi featuring pokemon designs.
Above you can see a mawashi embellished with fan-favourite Pikachu and sumo-inspired Hariyama.
Whilst the athletes battle with nothing but their mawashi to protect their dignity, the event referee – known as the Gyoji – observes the bout in close proximity whilst dressed in a uniform based on Heian and Ashikaga era clothing.
During the current event visitors will be able to see a selection of Gyoji costumes featuring designs with a pokemon twist.
Though the Hatsubasho event is approaching it’s finale, it’s likely that we are to see more of the pokemon X sumo mash-up this year, following an agreement made back in October of last year announcing a partnership between the Japan Sumo Association (JSA) and Pokemon.
Honbasho “Hatsubasho” 2022 (Grand Sumo Tournament “Opening Tournament”)
Dates: 9 January – 23 January 2022
Tickets sales and information
Location: Ryōgoku Kokugikan, Sumida Ward, Tokyo
Next Event in the Tournament Schedule
Honbasho “Harubasho” 2022 (Grand Sumo Tournament “Spring Tournament”)
Dates: 13 March – 27 March 2022
General ticket release date: 13 February 2022
Location: Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium, Naniwa Ward, Osaka