The sun peaked over the horizon, and in a matter of minutes, the darkness which had cloaked me for hours vanished, replaced with a warm, orange glow. Though a good sized crowd was gathered at the summit, you could have heard a pin drop, such was the silent reverence for the place. © Shutterstock
With a history spanning over 2,000 years, sumo offers an exhilarating taste of Japanese culture.
Shinto is ‘the way of the gods’ and, just as it is for many mortals, sumo wrestling is a favourite pastime. For nearly 2,000 years, sumo wrestlers have performed their martial art, first in intimate shrines, and then in stadiums before thousands of spectators. At least as early as the 3rd century AD, the wrestlers would perform complex rituals to purify both their body and their spirit, and then fight for the entertainment of the gods during the matsuri (religious festivals). It was a sacred act of ritual, not a sport. Yet what began in the temples later spread to the courts, and sumo became something to be enjoyed by all involved– competitors and spectators.
There were few rules, wrestlers frequently drew blood, and you could box your opponent as well as wrestle him to the ground. In fact, not all the wrestlers were men: one particularly celebrated sumo wrestler was a nun! With topless women pitted against blind men, and prostitutes and warriors fighting one another to settle the political scores of their patrons, the sumo ring was not dissimilar to a gladiator arena.
Over the centuries, it gradually evolved to the extent that the sumo these earlier wrestlers practiced would be almost unrecognisable to their modern counterparts.
The Evolution of Sumo
250-858: Between 250-552, sumo bouts were performed at Shinto shrines to entertain the gods during festivals. 710-794 saw the first recorded accounts of sumo bouts at the imperial court. According to legend, in 858, the Emperor Seiwa secured his throne after winning a sumo bout.
1185-1684: Between 1185-1333, sumo was used to train samurai warriors and to settle disputes. In 1684, the first professional sumo tournament was held at the Tomioka Hachiman Shrine in Tokyo.
1761-1884: 1761 saw the introduction of the banzuke, the written rankings for sumo wrestlers. In 1853, sumo wrestlers performed for Commodore Matthew Perry, one of the first foreigners to witness the sport. The Meiji Emperor visits a sumo match in 1884, raising its status to a national sport.
1909-1949: In 1909, construction of the first dedicated sumo stadium began. 1912 saw the birth of Futabayama Sadaji, the sumo wrestler who set an all time record by winning 69 consecutive bouts, and 12 yūshō (sumo championships). A merger of the Osaka and Tokyo sumo into a single, pan-Japanese organization took place in 1927, becoming the Japan Sumo Association. In 1931, the standard diameter for a dohyō – the wrestling ring – is set at 4.55m. The basho, or sumo tournament, is extended from 10 to 15 days in 1949.
1950s: In 1953, there was the first television broadcast of a sumo tournament. A year later in 1954, there was the opening of the Sumo Museum at Kuramae Kokugikan, the home of professional sumo prior to its move to Ryōgoku Kokugikan.
1984: There is the reconstruction of the Ryōgoku Kokugikan, the home of sumo tournaments in Tokyo.
1990s: In 1993, Akebono, an American sumo wrestler from Hawaii, becomes the first foreign sumo wrestler to obtain the highest sumo rank, yokozuna. In 1994, sumo was rated as the most popular sport in Japan, significantly ahead of soccer and baseball.
2000s: The first US Sumo Open, the largest annual sumo tournament outside Japan, took place in the USA. In 2016, Sumo wrestler Hakuho wins his 37th championship with a perfect 15-0 score.
Read more in Asian Geographic Passport, ‘Travel Through History’, Collectors' Edition 2016-2017.
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Original article by Sophie Ibbotson, Photos by Lord K2.
ASIAN GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE celebrates Asia in all its rich diversity, from its natural environment to its assortment of wildlife, cultures and scientific discoveries. Based in Singapore, the team has its fingers on the pulse of Asia, with its award-winning contributors scouring the region to bring powerful stories and images to you. Titles under Asian Geographic Magazines include its flagship title ASIAN Geographic, PASSPORT, JUNIOR, and its diving titles, Asian Diver and Scuba Diver.
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Here are some essential information for the June 2017 trip to Silk Road, Dunhuang China
Departure : 4th June 2017, Shanghai Pudong Airport
Return : 10th Jun 2017, Shanghai Pudong Airport
Min : 10 guest
Max : 16 guest
- Dunhuang - Established in 111 BC it was an important gateway to the West as a centre of commerce along the Silk Road. It was a meeting place of various people and religions such as Buddhism.
- Mogao Caves - A system of Buddhist cave temples near the city of Dunhuang, they were a center of culture on the Silk Road from the 4th to the 14th centuries which contain religious artworks spanning the entire period. It is the 3rd heritage site in China to be inscribed on UNESCO World Heritage list.
- Gobi desert – The most notable desert in history as part of the great Mongol Empire,. It is the location of several important cities along the Silk Road.
- Yadan National Geological Park and Devil town - famous for its largest scale of landforms with unique rock formations developed over a period of 700,000 years.
- Crescent Lake - An oasis in the Gobi desert, it is surrounded the numerous sand dunes. Camel rides and mesmeric sunset photo opportunities at Mingshashan sand dunes.
- Zhangye Danxia Landform Geological Park - Rows of reddish rock formations streaked in pink, white, yellow, grey and green in a colourful formation
- Jiayuguan - The first pass at the west end of the Great Wall of China, it is one of the most intact surviving ancient military building in China.
- Lanzhou - A hot spot on the ancient Silk Road. The only provincial capital city with the Yellow River flowing through. Experience the traditional way of cruising down the Yellow River on an ancient-style sheepskin raft made up of a dozen inflated sheepskins.
- Fully private tour in vehicle (33seat- 45seater)
- 6 nights accommodation in comfortable hotels (a mixture of 3 - 4star, local standard)
- Room is twin sharing basis (Single supplement is additional SGD250)
- All entrance fees and permits
- Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner 3 meals a day
- English speaking guides for the entire trip
- XA tour leader X 1 , Asia Geo tour leader X 1 (if it is maximum capacity 16)
- 3 domestic flights include tax and surcharges (Shanghai to Lanzhou return, Dunhuang to Lanzhou one way)
- China domestic Travel insurance covered.
- International flight to Shanghai , China
- Arrangement to Shanghai Pudong Airport
- Visa entry to China (if applicable)
- Additional beverages (including alcohol) not included in meals
- Any other incidental expenses incurred by participants
- Tips for both driver and local guide per person (voluntary basis)
Here are the detail of the itinerary, for Silk Road China, scheduled for 4th to 10th Jun 2017.
Day 1 - 4th June 2017 Shanghai - Lanzhou, Ganshu Province
Day 2 - 5th June 2017 Zhangye Danxia National Geological Park
Day 3 - 6th June 2017 JiayuGuan Pass
Day 4 - 7th June 2017 Dunhuang and Gobi Desert
Day 5 - 8th June 2017 Yumen Pass, Dunhuang Yardang National Geopark
Day 6 - 9th June 2017 Mogao Caves
Day 7 - 10th June 2017
Cost per head: SGD2,488 only*
Include One year subscription plus an official (One) polo T-shirt
*Refer to inclusions and exclusions of cost per head
Booking for our Uzbekistan and India expeditions are not yet open. However, send us your details in an expression of interest and we will update you with the itinerary and dates in due course.
In 28 September 2017 - 4 October 2017, explore Samarkand and Bukhara in untouched Uzbekistan. A crossroad of cultures and a centre for Islamic scholarly study, Samarkand boasts a history going back hundreds of years. Bukhara, a World Heritage Site, has over 140 architectural monuments waiting to be explored.