But Sumo is a deeply rich and culturally significant event. Current tournaments are structured on ritual moves and actions that have origins in ancient Shinto rituals as well as more modern forms of sports and competition. The matches happen on an elevated earthen ring called dohyo. It is the focal point for all action. Around the ring, judges sit, and upcoming wrestlers wait their turn. The yobidashi with fan and arm extended announces the wrestlers: “Nishi, Higashi,” which means west and east, roughly equivalent to the Western “In the blue corner, in the red corner.”
The tournament lasts the most part of a day, with lower-ranking wrestlers going first, and ending late in the evening with the Ozeki, the highest-ranking group of wrestlers, and the Yokozuna, the overall tournament champions. The day seems like a dance of men and deities, a scripted and structured ritual imbued with mystery and magic.
Richard Alomar is a landscape architect and teaches at the landscape architecture department at Rutgers University. He’s based in New York City and is co-founder of NYC Urban Sketchers. See more of his work on his website and the Sketch Out/Loud blog.