Sumo is, to the untrained eye, arguably the simplest sport on earth – it’s literally two large men rushing at each other, then each trying by any means necessary to force the other onto the floor or out of the ring. That’s it. And yet there are centuries’ worth of ancient procedures, rules and rituals surrounding the whole activity, as well as a complex and detailed hierarchy of those who take part in it,from child apprentices to national superstar champions. There are special hairdressers whose job it is to do the wrestlers’ signature top knot. Meals are prepared for them by dedicated chefs (many men in sumo who don’t make the grade as wrestlers often end up as cooks) – it’s a lifestyle, basically.
Of course the Western idea of sumo is rather unfortunately infected by crass comedic takeson the image of two huge, practically naked men grappling with each other – hence, for example, Mike Myers’ Dirty Bastard character from the Austin Powers films becoming a sumo wrestler. But in fact the practice of sumo is all about dignity and samurai-style stoicism. If you’ve ever watched a proper match, you’ll probably have noticed that whether they win or lose, sumo stars rarely show much emotion. It’s part of the whole deal, and these photos show magnificently just how extraordinary the whole sumo culture really is.