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Unique Designs Add Color to the Sumo Tradition

TOKYO – Before the match begins, sumo wrestlers go into the arena to line up and show their faces to the audience. This ritual is called “dohyo iri,” which simply means “entering the arena.” In the ritual, wrestlers wear colorful apron-like garments called “kesho mawashi.” The word “kesho” means to beautify the appearance and “mawashi” is the loincloth band that wrestlers wear when they battle. This photo demonstrates various kesho mawashi while the wrestlers are showing their faces. A theory says that this ritual was originally a prayer dedicated to gods. Unlike the simple belted loincloth used for the battle, gorgeous designs using hand-made embroidery and meticulous patterns are weaved onto a kesho mawashi. Many of them are gifts from sponsors or supporter’s associations. The designs include company logos, historical structures and popular prefectural characters. You might even spot a Kumamon design to show regional features.

After the ritual, they leave the area and a bout begins. The name of each wrestler’s hometown is announced along with his name when he goes up to the arena. The history of sumo is long. Sumo was mentioned as a mythical legend even in “A Record of Ancient Matters” (Kojiki) and “Chronicles of Japan” (Nihon Shoki). Since the 7th century, believed to be the dawn of historical sumo, this national sport has continued until today. Throughout history, its significance has often changed and its popularity goes up and down. Although only men are permitted to become sumo wrestlers, their global origins are becoming more diverse. More foreign wrestlers are drawing attention lately. As of January 2017, there are three yokozuna wrestlers, the highest rank. All of them are from Mongolia. On Sunday January 22nd, however, Japanese wrestler Kisenosato from Ibaraki Prefecture won his first championship in the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament.

When you have a chance to watch sumo, enjoy the fashionable kesho mawashi before the real match starts. 

Photo by Eri Minouchi, text by Motomi Takahashi