What are the dimensions of the ring?
The rikishi fight their bouts in the ring (dohyo) which is made according to precise specifications called the “Ring Rules.”
How large is the ring?
The height of the ring is 34-60 cm. Dirt is packed into a perfect square 6.7m x 6.7m at its outer edges. The ring in the middle has a diameter of 4.55 meters, and is surrounded by straw bales. The term dohyo echnically refers to the entire structure. During a bout, however, the dohyo implies only the smaller circle in which two rikishi compete.
What is the origin of “special bales” (tokudawara)?
Because the four points where the special bales are placed are slightly outside the circle prescribed by the rest of the bales, they give the rikishi a slight (or “special”) edge at those particular spots. That is said to be the origin of the name. The actual reason for them is that in the past, sumo was held outdoors, and it was necessary to be able to remove some of the bales to drain rainwater from the ring.
What is inside the bales?
The bales are filled with dirt, sand, and gravel. They are set in the ring, leveled with a stick, and tied together with rope. The surface is then beaten with beer bottles until level.
What is the “snake’s eye” outside of the ring?
The 25 cm strip of dirt surrounding the center ring has a somewhat thicker layer of sand. This is called “snake’s eye sand.” If a rikishi steps out of the ring, it will leave a clear print. If a call is in question, judges will often examine the sand for footprints before making a final decision. You will not find this extra layer of sand in practice rings.
How long and wide are the face-off lines?
In the center of the ring facing south and north are two white face-off lines. They are 90 cm long and 6 cm wide, with 70 cm between them. Yobidashi paint them on in many layers of white enamel paint. During tournaments, the lines are re-painted and cleaned everyday.
Are women allowed in the ring?
No. According to custom, the ring is sacred, and no women are allowed in it. Once, a female Minister of Education asked to step into the ring to present the championship flag, but her request was refused.
Are there names for the sides of the ring?
First of all, the “front” side is chosen. When facing the ring from the “front,” the side to the left is “east” and that to the right is “west.” The remaining side is called “opposite front.” The names do not necessarily comply with the actual directions of east, west, south and north.
Where do gyoji and rikishi wait for their turns?
The east-side rikishi make their entrances from the “east” aisle and wait on the east side of the ring, and the west-side rikishi come from the “west” aisle to wait on the west side. Gyoji wait on the opposite-front side.
What are the meanings of the colors of the tassels attached to the four sides of the hanging roof?
The colors are green, red, white, and black. If a hanging roof is not used, tassels are hung from poles raised at each comer instead. The tassels have religious significance; each represents a direction and a god to protect it. They also symbolize the four seasons.
- East green tassel spring Green Dragon God
- South red tassel summer Vermilion Sparrow God
- West white tassel fall White Tiger God
- North black tassel winter Black Tortoise God
Tassels are made of embroidery thread that is spun together. They are 2.1 meters in length, with a distance of 2.12 meters from the ring floor to the tip of each tassel.
How heavy is the hanging roof at Kokugikan?
The hanging roof weighs 6.25 tons, and it measures 6.65 m X9.9 m. It is suspended from the roof by two wire ropes. Each wire has a width of 2.2 cm and can hold up to thirty tons, so there is no danger that either will break. The roof remains in place even when the hall is used for other events.
Making the ring
Who makes the ring?
The yobidashi are in charge of making all rings. All stables have practice rings, and new rings are required for tournaments, tour (one in each town), and overseas exhibitions.
When is the Kokugikan ring made?
All yobidashi assemble to make the ring several days before a tournament begins, usually on a Tuesday. The project takes three days. Only the top 20 cm of dirt is replaced. This is called uchinaoshi, or “reworking,” and is said to require two truck-loads of dirt. The yobidashi use a number of special tools for the job (tamper, beater, rake, hoe, pole, shovel, wheelbarrow, etc.), but no machinery.
Has the ring always been round?
At various times it has been round and square. During the Edo years there were no clear boundaries at all. Rikishi and spectators formed a ring called a “human structure” (hito-kataya). The aim of the bout was to knock one’s opponent down or throw him into the human fence. This often resulted in injuries and fighting, and benefit and street sumo were frequently banned.