What makes sumo wrestling so popular in Japan?

Originally published at: What makes sumo wrestling so popular in Japan? | Boing Boing


Count me up to date on my sumo knowledge.


I’ve watched a little sumo before, and it’s actually pretty cool. That said, I do Brazilian jiu jitsu, so I’m probably primed to enjoy watching people push each other around. But there’s a fair bit of skill that only becomes noticeable once you start watching it.


my PBS station has English-language NHK World on its sub-channel, which is like the Japanese BBC. they show sumo matches very regularly and at the end there are short explanation videos to explain different aspects of sumo to westerners. it’s pretty good viewing!


+1 to this. I’ve been hooked on NHK World for travel docs for a long time, but only recently started watching the sumo tournaments. I’m not a sports fan generally, but there is something fascinating about the detail once you begin to understand it.

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I remember being glued to the sumo when it was shown on Channel 5 in the UK back in the late 90s.

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Not a fake like WWF.

What makes NASCAR so popular?

Don’t sumo wrestlers have a shorter life expectancy? I would hate to encourage any sport that encourages people to shorten their life for my entertainment.

I’m going to guess it is “because all the sumo wrestlers live there.”

Was I close? Did I win?


I remember that. It was massive.

I watched that (I was back living in England at the time), it had really useful analysis for people new to the sport. Sumo coverage here in Hawaii tends to assume you already know the nuances.

ETA: Also, not all Sumo wrestlers are “portly”. Terao had an excellent career, he was over 6’ tall and weighed around 250 pounds. By US standards that’s skinny.

Perhaps not fake, but there is match fixing at play

Although, one form of fixing is an honor code thing

I apologize if this was answered in the video(not currently in a position to watch it); but what does ‘so popular’ boil down to relative to other sports and other things Japanese consumer entertainment spending is directed toward?

By way of (rough) example, you could describe professional ‘wrestling’ as ‘so popular’ in the United States, it’s clearly well above minimum-viable and apparently the company behind WWE has revenues of ~ $1 billion/year (all sources all markets; but with a heavy skew toward the US); but when you compare that to football with American Characteristics(~$12/year billion for the 32 NFL teams exclusively, college, high school, and other football excluded), or video games (~$57 billion in 2020) it starts to look popular only in the sense that it’s not desperately obscure and that it’s definitely much more of an American thing than it is elsewhere.

At least in rough numbers where does Sumo fall on the charts between ‘relatively-minor-but-culturally-visible’, ‘sport of overwhelming popularity’; and ‘area of entertainment spending that has its own gravity well’?

I don’t think there’s huge money in it, but this article says that it’s not unusual for sumo viewership rates to exceed 20%, and calls the most recent broadcast’s viewership rate of 16.1% “stagnant.” Then again, sumo matches only happen a few times a year (in multi-day blocks), so it’s kind of an event. Famous rikishi are pretty famous and make big bucks appearing in ads while getting the tabloid treatment.

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