By Miho Saeki / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterGrand sumo is becoming increasingly popular following Kisenosato’s promotion to the highest rank of yokozuna. In turn, more people are visiting the Sumo Museum located on the first floor of the sacred Ryogoku Kokugikan sumo site.
As many as 30,000 items are kept at the Sumo Museum, including nishikie color prints, banzuke ranking charts and keshomawashi decorated belts collected since the Edo period (1603-1867).
Because the museum’s exhibition space is relatively small, at about 150 square meters, exhibited items are changed six times a year to hold special exhibitions.
Sumo became an Imperial Palace ritual in the Heian period (late eighth century to late 12th century), when people who were proud of their physical power gathered there from all over the nation as wrestlers.
Sumo was developed as a martial art in the Kamakura period (late 12th century to early 14th century) and the following Muromachi period. The basic structures of grand sumo today, such as the title of yokozuna, were established during the Edo period.
Some of the key items stored at the museum were collected by the late Tadamasa Sakai, the first head of the museum, who was dubbed “the lord of sumo.” These items cover all aspects of sumo’s history and culture.
The museum is currently holding a special exhibition about sumo wrestlers’ tegata (palm prints). Fifty-two prints, including those of historical yokozuna, are on show.
All the items are eye-catching, but two kakejiku scrolls each measuring almost two meters in length are particularly magnificent. One bears 14 lines of yokozuna palm prints and the other bears 15 lines.
There is also a scroll on which Takanohana and Akebono placed their palm prints. Looking at this scroll reminds visitors of the heated matches between the two wrestlers.
Palm prints are symbolic of sumo wrestlers, along with their keshomawashi ceremonial aprons and mage hairstyles. Wrestlers promoted to the juryo rank and higher are allowed to make palm prints.
Many sumo wrestlers give palm prints as thank-you gifts to supporters. The prints prove they have become full-fledged wrestlers.
In the Edo period, there was a custom of commoners seeking to acquire sumo wrestlers’ palm prints to ward off evil.
The palm print of Ozora Buzaemon, an Edo period wrestler with a huge physical form, is displayed along with an explanation saying that putting his palm prints on doors was believed to drive away evil.
Museum officials said more and more young people have recently been visiting the museum. They include young female sumo fans nicknamed “suujo.”
Fumihiko Nakamura, 45, a curator of the museum, said, “I’m glad if visitors understand that sumo is not merely a win-or-lose game, but part of Japan’s precious culture.”
Kisenosato — the first Japanese-born yokozuna in 19 years — is attracting the attention of fans at the ongoing Spring Grand Sumo Tournament.
It might be interesting to learn about the history of Japan’s national sport before watching the tournament.
■ The Sumo Museum
The museum opened in 1954 at the same time as the completion of the Kuramae Kokugikan, which was located in Taito Ward, Tokyo.
In 1985, the museum moved to the current sumo arena, Ryogoku Kokugikan. The museum is run by the Japan Sumo Association. The palm print exhibition runs until April 21. From April 25, the museum will hold an exhibition featuring the white belts of yokozuna and their yokozuna certificates, among other items.
Address: 1-3-28 Yokoami, Sumida Ward, Tokyo
Opening hours: 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The museum is closed on weekends and public holidays, in principle.
Admission: Free. A tournament ticket is required to enter the museum during grand sumo tournaments held in Tokyo.