Sumo wrestling isn’t an ordinary sport. All sumo wrestlers pledge their lives and adopt a lifestyle per the stringent codes that rikishis have adhered to for centuries. A few codes mandate what sumo wrestlers can wear, and these rules apply not only to clothes but also hair and shoes.
Sumo wrestlers wear a 2’ (0.6 m) wide and 30’ (9.14 m) long belt called mawashi. It is wrapped around the waist and knotted at the back in the form of a loincloth. Elite sumo wrestlers can wear kesho mawashi, which is a more ornate version of the simpler belt.
Sumo wrestlers wear different mawashis for formal bouts and practices. Also, they must wear clothes per their official rank in the sumo hierarchy, which they strictly follow inside the heya and outside. This “what do sumo wrestlers wear” article explains the nitty-gritty.
The Dress Code for Sumo Wrestlers
Rikishis or wrestlers live in a heya or sumo stable. A sumo stable is generally home to 15 wrestlers. All sumo wrestlers must wear a mawashi when training or practicing at their stable.
They must put on a kimono or yukata (Japanese gown) whenever they go outside the heya.
Elite sumo wrestlers can wear canvas or cotton mawashi for practices and silk belts for formal bouts at tournaments. However, amateur or unranked wrestlers can only wear cotton mawashis. Likewise, higher-ranked wrestlers can wear silk kimonos when they step outside their stable.
The fabric, color, and ornamentation of mawashis vary among the wrestlers, depending entirely on their ranks. The rank decides a rikishi’s official place in the hierarchy, dress code, lifestyle, and other privileges.
Amateur or low-ranked wrestlers have the strictest regimens.
Types of Mawashi
A mawashi is made of silk or cotton and, in some cases, linen. In its simplest form, a mawashi is a loincloth with a firm knot at the back. A wrestler chooses the firmness of the mawashi wrapped as a belt around his waist.
The tightness or looseness is per a rikishi’s strategy or preference.
A mawashi weighs between 8 and 11 lbs (3.6 and 5 kg). It may weigh more if ranked wrestlers put on sagari or fronds. Elite sumo wrestlers may wear stiffened silk fronds hanging from their mawashi.
The fronds are usually an odd number, ranging between 13 and 25.
Also, elite wrestlers can wear a kesho mawashi. This distinct style involves leaving one part of the belt unwrapped to hang from the waist in the front, much like an apron. Low-ranked wrestlers cannot wear kesho mawashi, and their fronds must be only of cotton and unstiffened.
The Kimono Code for Sumo Wrestlers
Lower-division sumo wrestlers can wear a cotton yukata when not practicing at their stable and going out. A yukata is a humbler version of the traditional Japanese attire known as kimono.
Also, lower-ranked sumo wrestlers cannot wear silk overcoats on their cotton or linen yukata.
Professional sumo wrestlers like Juryo and the elite rikishis of the 5 highest ranks can wear silk kimonos. Also, elite sumo wrestlers, from Maegashira to Yokozuna, can wear silk overcoats. Sekitori wrestlers can opt for embellished kimonos inside and outside their stable or heya.
Like mawashi, the kimono code has color restrictions.
Amateur rikishis must wear white or its shades. Professionals may choose other colors. Yokozuna and the elite sumo wrestlers can wear purple, dark blue, and different rich hues. The kimono code applies to the stable & outside.
The Footwear Code for Sumo Wrestlers
Amateur wrestlers in the Jonokuchi and Jonidan divisions must wear wooden sandals known as geta. The Sandanme and Makushita wrestlers may wear straw sandals called zori when they go outside the stable.
Also, the Sandanme and Makushita rikishis may wear short cotton overcoats.
Like the mawashi code, footwear restrictions ease as a sumo wrestler ascends the ranks and becomes a part of a higher division. In the past, sumo wrestlers have used other footwear apart from wooden sandals (geta) and straw shoes (zori), but primarily for training.
Rikishis may wear Kurogane geta or iron shoes to strengthen their feet, legs, and core muscles. Each Kurogane geta weighs approximately 11 lbs (5 kg). However, the footwear code doesn’t mandate the use of Kurogane geta in life or outside the stable by sumo wrestlers.
The Hair Code for Sumo Wrestlers
All sumo wrestlers must grow their hair long as they join a group and start living in a stable. This code applies to all rikishis, irrespective of their rank or division. Every rikishi should wear a bun and tie a topknot known as chonmage before participating in bouts and attending formal events.
The Sekitori rikishis must sport an oichomage during major tournaments or competitions and special occasions. Juryo, Maegashira, Komusubi, Sekiwake, Ozeki, and Yokozuna wrestlers should form an elaborate topknot resembling a ginkgo leaf, known as oichomage.
The topknot hair code applies to all sumo wrestlers during bouts and outside the stable.
However, amateur rikishis that aren’t a member of a stable or not in a division yet are exempt. Also, the strict code is applicable during public practice but not when one is inside his stable.
The Privileges of Elite Sumo Wrestlers
Elite sumo wrestlers enjoy several privileges as the strict codes provide exemptions. For instance, the lowest-ranked rikishis cannot wear overcoats even in winter. Also, these amateur wrestlers must always wear wooden sandals.
Elite rikishis are exempt from both these codes.
Silk kimono and mawashi aren’t the only two privileges of elite sumo wrestlers. Higher-ranked professionals can make a loop with their mawashi belt at the front of their waist. Also, the champions crowned as Yokozuna wear tsuna, a ceremonial rope with five strands, and a bow.
Furthermore, Yokozuna has a private entrance to the ring or dohyo.
The higher-ranked rikishis or elite sumo wrestlers have considerable liberty to adorn their kimonos and mawashis. They opt for finer fabrics, eclectic embellishments, and sponsors.
The Dress and Footwear Codes for Sumo Wrestling Referees
Sumo wrestling referees known as gyoji have several codes, too.
Lower-ranked referees must regulate a bout barefoot. Mid-level gyojis can wear tabi, which is a type of socks. Senior or higher-ranked gyojis can wear zori, a kind of straw sandals. Also, referees wear traditional hats.
Two gyojis are at the helm of the hierarchy of referees, known as tate gyoji or chief referees. The highest-ranked referee is the tate gyoji, who adopts the name Kimura Shonosuke. The second chief referee or lower-ranked tate gyoji adopts the name Shikimori Inosuke.
Both tate gyojis or chief referees wear purple ornaments on their robes, symbolizing their status. Kimura Shonosuke, the highest-ranked tate gyoji, carries a sword or dagger. This blade symbolizes the traditional pledge that the tate gyoji will sacrifice his life after a wrong judgment.
Sumo Wrestlers Pledge Their Lives to Shinto
This “what do sumo wrestlers wear” article may perplex you due to the stringent codes.
However, the aspiring sumo wrestlers pledge their lives to Shinto, an ancient religion in Japan. Everything about the sport we know as sumo is a ritual to honor the spirits and ward off evil.
The only way a professional sumo wrestler can violate the codes regardless of rank is by quitting the heya life. Subsequently, the sumo wrestler will no longer be known as a rikishi. A similar rule applies to the referees or gyojis.
The gyojis may resign after a wrong call in a bout.
Ancient Shinto rituals are at the foundation of sumo wrestling. The sumo wrestlers stomping their feet and throwing salt are specific acts to ward off evil spirits and negative energies. Thus, the codes for mawashi, kimono, hair, socks, sandals, or shoes are integral to a rikishi’s life.
Contrary to what may seem evident, sumo wrestlers don’t have to put on enormous weight to become professional rikishi. Most professional sumo wrestlers gain weight to use it as an advantage during bouts. Besides, there’s no off-season for a break, diet, and washboard abs.