In Japan, figurines of sumo wrestlers have been unearthed dating back to between the third and seventh centuries, and the sport is mentioned in the eighth-century history books of Kojiki and Nihonshoki.
This traditional Japanese national sport has been both a festival ritual and a contest of strength through nearly 2000 years. Shinto, the native religion of Japan, means “way of the gods.” Indeed, originally sumo was performed as entertainment for the gods during festivals. As part of Shinto ritual, sumo dates as far back as the Tumulus Period (250-552).
At various times, sumo bouts were also used to pray for a bountiful crop or to predict the next harvest. In the Nara (710-794) and Heian (794-1192) periods, sumo became an event conducted at the imperial court, and contests were performed in front of the emperor. Since the Edo Period (1603 and 1868), sumo has experienced widespread popularity as entertainment.
Today, the world of sumo remains immersed in rituals and traditions. Everything is suffused with meaning – from the sand used on the floor of in the ring, or dohyo, to placing kelp, cuttlefish and chestnuts in the ring along with prayers for safety. A tradition you may have seen in movies happens at the beginning of a bout when a wrestler raises first one leg and then the other high into the air, then stomps down hard on the floor of the ring. This is said to insure that evil spirits will be warded off. Salt purification also plays an important role. As they enter, wrestlers toss handfuls of salt into the ring to purify it.
The life of a sumo wrestler is highly regimented, with rules laid down by the Japan Sumo Association. Each wrestler is part of sumo stable. The training rooms for these athletes are closed to the public, but through special access, we can take you into a training room of Japan’s popular sumo wrestlers. You witness firsthand the backstage world of sumo wrestling and the intensity of practices. You begin to see the resolve of these men by observing a sumo master participate in serious practices in preparation for the official sumo tournament. As part of the experience, you will be able to take part in the sumo wrestlers’ daily life by dining with them. You will eat Chankonabe, the must-have energy source of sumo wrestling that provides the nutrients needed for bodybuilding. Authentic Chankonabe is a traditional stew prepared by the wrestlers themselves.
We have also sought out other original Japanese adventures such as a private tour in Kyoto with host Peter Macintosh, the foremost Western expert on geisha. He was married to an ex-geisha, studies Japanese arts and is a lecturer on Geisha Studies at a Kansai University. In the evening, as you walk through some of the city’s geisha districts, he will explore the geisha’s world – past, present and future. Then, you sit down to a sumptuous dinner in the private room of a traditional restaurant. You’ll also enjoy an hour of private maiko or geisha entertainment with conversation and dancing accompanied by the shamisen (Japanese stringed instrument).
You can also experience making sushi with a sought-after sushi-chef who has undergone training at a Michelin restaurant; or set out on a sake brewery excursion; or enjoy a VIP visit to an exclusive evening of Karaoke, a favorite activity in Japan. All these experiences and more can be incorporated into a customized Japan journey geared entirely to your interests.