How They Make Japanese Sumo Rings!

Final sumo ring

Sumo is the national sport of Japan, and it is clothed with so much tradition and beauty. If you have ever seen Sumo on TV, or are one of the lucky people to see it live, then you are familiar with the Dohyo or “Sumo ring”. It is where all of the Sumo matches during the 15-day tournaments occur, and it is the hallowed ground of the sport. But have you ever wondered how the Dohyo is made? Well, today you will find out!

The Japan Sumo Association is the body that operates and controls professional Sumo wrestling in Japan, and they maintain a twitter account with tons of wonderful pictures and information about Sumo in Japan: Sumo Kyokai  Recently, they gave us a behind the scenes look at how the Dohyo is built, and it is nothing short of amazing.

The Yodibashi or “beckoners” are the Japan Sumo Association’s handymen, who have the task of building the Dohyo to very precise specifications. And they take this job very seriously, and work with the meticulousness that you would expect of Japanese craftsmen. It takes them three days to finish this important task.

First, they start with a huge mound of clay from the banks of the Arakawa River in Saitama Prefecture, and they drop it in the center of the Sumo stadium.

Sumo dirt mound.jpg

Then  they start molding the large clump of clay into a square platform that is 6.7m on each side and 34 to 60cm high, using traditional tools, such as shovels, hoes, and large wooden mallets. This is a slow, labor-intensive task, but that is the only way to properly get the job done.

Sumo precise measure

Once they have the basic shape of the Dohyo, they need to continuously compress the clay platform, so that it can bear the weight and pressure of 15 days of Sumo battles. This requires a lot of pounding, and a little bit of coordinated shuffling. You can see a video of what I mean here:

While that work is being done, another group of Yodibashi began the painstaking work of making 66 Tawara or “rice-straw bales” which are used to form the center ring. The center of the ring is 15 “shaku” (4.55 meters).

As you can see, the rice-straw bales have clay in the center and are tied tightly with twine. But the funniest part for me is that the Yodibashi use empty Asahi beer bottles to assist them in compressing the rice-straw bales, and the bottles don’t even break! That is skill.

Next, they measure the diameter of the ring, and begin to dig-out the outer border of this area, which is where the rice-straw bales will be placed.

Sumo diameter.jpg

Sumo rice straw bale.jpg

They continue digging on the border of the Dohyo, which is where they add an outer row of rice-straw bales too. You can see why they need 66 rice-straw bales now!

Sumo outer edge border

After all that work is done, they need to create some steps to allow the Sumo wrestlers to get into the Dohyo. So with the help of some hoes, wooden mallets, and some very good Asahi bottle skills, the Yodibashi cut-out some clay and rice-straw steps.

And after three days of work, we get to see the completed ring, which is ready for the battles to come.

Sumo ring

So there you have it, a step-by-step look at how the Dohyo are built for each of the Sumo tournaments in Japan! Now sit back, grab some Japanese snacks, and watch SUMO!

Sumo watch.jpg

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