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Mass movements

A debate between presidential candidates? Better than that. From November 14 to 28, in Fukuoka, Japan, Kyushu Basho was held, one of the biggest sumo tournaments of the year, a real event in the country. The opportunity to see the so-called Terunofuji Haruo attempt by all means to send his opponent, Takakeishō Mitsunobu, out of the limits of the dohyō (the combat zone), or to make him touch the ground with another part of the body than the soles. Because that is the ultimate objective of this struggle between living demigods.

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Lords of the ring

In this secular art, mentioned in the oldest Japanese language book, Chronicle of ancient facts, dated VIIIe century, everything is traditions, rituals and strange details. Thus, the dohyō is surrounded by small bundles of rice straw. Four of them are set back slightly from the line of the circle. A wrestler pushed to the edge of the ring can therefore try to approach one of these points to use it as a support in order to repel his opponent more effectively. Obviously, the process is often desperate and doomed to failure. This is the case here.

With cords and cries

It goes without saying that sumo outfits are also receiving a lot of attention. The two fighters wear the very becoming mawashi, that is to say a strip of fabric six to eight meters long, surrounding, in very tight loops, the pelvis, and tied in the back, at the lumbar region. Here, since it is an important competition, an apron made of cords is also attached to the mawashi. Be aware, the latter is purely decorative, and even has a good chance of falling during the confrontation.

  • These wrestlers with extraordinary measurements are revered and adored in Japan.  Photographers Alexis Armanet and Vanessa Lefranc followed three days during the daily life of these colossi with feet of clay.  In this street of Chuo district, Tokyo, is the Arashio sumo team.  Founded in 2002 by former champion Oyutaka Masachika, it hosts 14 rikishis (wrestlers) and is one of the forty heyas in Japan.

    These wrestlers with extraordinary measurements are revered and adored in Japan. Photographers Alexis Armanet and Vanessa Lefranc followed three days during the daily life of these colossi with feet of clay. In this street of Chuo district, Tokyo, is the Arashio sumo team. Founded in 2002 by former champion Oyutaka Masachika, it hosts 14 rikishis (wrestlers) and is one of the forty heyas in Japan. Alexis Armanet and Vanessa Lefranc for M Le magazine du Monde

  • Recruited in China, Sokokurai (in the hands of the barber of the stable) is the only member of Arashio to fight in the first professional division.  This rank earned him several privileges, including that of being the first to sit at the table.

    Recruited in China, Sokokurai (in the hands of the barber of the stable) is the only member of Arashio to fight in the first professional division. This rank earned him several privileges, including that of being the first to sit at the table. Alexis Armanet and Vanessa Lefranc for M Le magazine du Monde

  • After lunch, the wrestlers spend their time as they see fit.

    After lunch, the wrestlers spend their time as they see fit. Alexis Armanet and Vanessa Lefranc for M Le magazine du Monde

  • Rikishi Fukugoriki grappling with an amateur wrestler.

    Rikishi Fukugoriki grappling with an amateur wrestler. Alexis Armanet and Vanessa Lefranc for M Le magazine du Monde

  • The fights, which take place inside a sacred circle, are brief but extremely violent because of the weight of the adversaries.

    The fights, which take place inside a sacred circle, are brief but extremely violent because of the weight of the adversaries. Alexis Armanet and Vanessa Lefranc for M Le magazine du Monde

  • The training, very intense physically and mentally, takes place between 7 a.m. and 10 a.m.

    The training, very intense physically and mentally, takes place between 7 a.m. and 10 a.m. Alexis Armanet and Vanessa Lefranc for M Le magazine du Monde

  • The afternoon is free.  A professional career lasts about ten years.  Once retired, these exceptional athletes lose a lot of weight, without necessarily regaining an ordinary weight load.

    The afternoon is free. A professional career lasts about ten years. Once retired, these exceptional athletes lose a lot of weight, without necessarily regaining an ordinary weight load. ALEXIS ARMANET AND VANESSA LEFRANC FOR “M, THE WORLD MAGAZINE”

  • The young wrestler Goushi.

    The young wrestler Goushi. Alexis Armanet and Vanessa Lefranc for M Le magazine du Monde

  • Un rikishi opposé au champion Sokokurai.

    A rikishi opposed to champion Sokokurai. Alexis Armanet and Vanessa Lefranc for M Le magazine du Monde

  • Sumos from another team to fight.

    Sumos from another team to fight. Alexis Armanet and Vanessa Lefranc for M Le magazine du Monde

  • Watatani, 17, joined Arashio at the end of college.  Many apprentices leave their families very early for an almost monastic life in a stable.

    Watatani, 17, joined Arashio at the end of college. Many apprentices leave their families very early for an almost monastic life in a stable. Alexis Armanet and Vanessa Lefranc for M Le magazine du Monde

The wick is said

The competitors wear a funny hairstyle called chonmage. This originally allowed the samurai to stabilize their helmets on their heads. Today, the function of this hairstyle is symbolic. His haircut even became the key moment in the sumo retirement ceremony. Dignitaries and other important people in a wrestler’s life are then invited to take one of his locks of hair, the last of which goes to his trainer.

Blood scruples

Finally, note the presence of several women in the audience. The observation is not anecdotal, because access to the dohyō is prohibited for them, according to a tradition considering blood as a stain and therefore excluding women due to menstruation. In 2007, in Tokyo, when, for the first time in the history of professional sumo, a spectator tried to enter the arena, a wrestler rushed to block her passage. Conclusion? Even more misogynistic than a debate between presidential candidates, it is possible.

Also read (archive from 2018): Article reserved for our subscribers Sumo gets stuck in sexism