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News Navigator: What are the sumo ring ceremonies held ahead of competitions?

A dohyo ceremony held ahead of the opening of the Nagoya Grand Sumo Tournament is seen in this July 3, 2021 file photo. (Mainichi/Koji Hyodo)

The Mainichi Shimbun answers some common questions readers may have about sumo wrestlers' dohyo ring entry ceremonies ahead of the Autumn Grand Sumo Tournament starting on Sept. 12 at Tokyo's Ryogoku Kokugikan arena.

    Question: I hear that new Yokozuna Terunofuji will perform the ring-entering ceremony at the dohyo sumo ring, but what exactly is it?

    Answer: The Japan Sumo Association, which hosts the Autumn Grand Sumo Tournament, has ring regulations stating that the area of competition where sumo contests take place is referred to as the dohyo. Soil known as "arakida" and 20 small tawara straw bags that in all measures 15 shaku in diameter -- about 4.55 meters -- must be used to create these rings. One tawara straw bag, called tokudawara, is set slightly further out at the northern, eastern, southern and western points of the dohyo. This practice is said to be done because it offers good drainage.

    Q: I didn't realize even the soil is specified. Why is that?

    A: The soil, a kind of wall clay, gets its name from where it was taken from the Arakida plain in the former Arakawa River basin (now the Sumida River). It is considered highly adhesive and difficult to break apart. The creation of a sumo ring is called "dohyo-tsuki," and the yobidashi announcer is in charge of it.

    Q: It also has a sacred image, doesn't it?

    A: Sumo is also a kind of Shinto ritual. The day before major sumo tournaments begin, the dohyo matsuri ritual is held throughout the venue to pray for safety. At the ritual, the sumo head referee serves as its head priest and gives the "katayakaiko" declaration outlining the principles for victory, defeat and other elements of the sport. As part of this, they speak about the dohyo, saying, "The Gokokujoju ritual is performed by placing purified soil and tawara in this pure place." Items including rice, salt and seaweed are buried in the ring as "shizume" sacred objects.

    Q: Why do they hold a ceremony for entering the dohyo?

    A: The yokozuna's entry to the ring is thought to be done to pray for a bountiful harvest and peace throughout the world, and is held on each day during tournaments. Sumo wrestlers take on the roles of Tachimochi sword-bearer and Tuyuharai escort. Raising both open arms upward is the Shiranui style, while the style in which only the right arm is raised is called the Unryu style. Makuuchi and juryo ranked sumo wrestlers make their debut at daily ceremonies based on abbreviated versions of the Yokozuna dohyo ceremony. We hope you can feel the attraction of sumo not only as a competitive discipline, but also as a Shinto ritual.

    (Japanese original by Hironobu Murakoso, Sports News Department)

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