It is not out of the ordinary to see ‘rikishi' walking in the vicinity of their ‘beya' sporting ‘mawashi' post workout. This post may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase, My Modern Met may earn an affiliate commission. Please read our disclosure for more info.
The story of sumo goes back centuries. But despite it being considered Japan's national sport and even being recognized by the International Olympic Committee, little is known about the world of the wrestlers. London-born photographer Lord K2 was granted unprecedented access to capture the more secretive side of rikishi—that is, professional sumo wrestlers–and compiled his evocative pictures in a new photography book simply titled Sumo.
“Within the Japanese establishment exists a great sense of pride that during the last millennium very little about the sport has changed”, explains Lord K2 in the book's introduction. “As Japan has surged forward into modernity, this corner of culture has remained anchored to ancient tradition. Sumo is an entity in which history, culture, pride and athleticism combine.”
While matches attract large crowds these days, what goes on behind the scenes is more guarded. “Sumo stables are not tourist attractions; only a few stables can be visited, and only as long as the list of behavioural restrictions is strictly adhered to,” explains the photographer.
As he shows us their training stables, known as beya, as well as Kokugikan Stadium, regarded as sumo's top venue, Sumo shares the nuances and obstacles of the sport. It fell out of popularity at the beginning of the century and came roaring back, but it's increasingly difficult to attract Japanese youngsters into the sport given the gruesome routines the rikishi take on. Additionally, the life expectancy of a sumo wrestler is 10 years less than the average Japanese man because they are more prone to high blood pressure and other ailments.
“Those who dedicate themselves to the sport give not only their body but their lives. They give themselves as a relic, an offering to the past masters and gods. Rikishi are not just wrestlers, they are the antiquated, traditional Japanese gentlemen. A century after the last samurai, their cousins live on,” declares Lord K2. “Wrestlers are highly revered by their fans, not just for their sporting prowess, but also for the nobility and dedication with which they live their lives.”
Sumo is published by Ammonite Press. The book is already available in the UK, and it's being released globally in March 2023. You can pre-order it on Bookshop.
Photographer Lord K2 was granted unprecedented access to capture the more secretive side of sumo.
Even though ‘rikishi' have a fierce demeanour when performing, they are seen by the public as gentle giants and may display an affectionate side.
His compelling images now are part of Sumo, a new photography book published by Ammonite Press.
Fans fill the Kokugikan Stadium to capacity in order to honour Kyokutenhō during his ‘danpatsushiki.' The next generation looks up in awe at one of the all time favourites.
“As Japan has surged forward into modernity, this corner of culture has remained anchored to ancient tradition. Sumo is an entity in which history, culture, pride and athleticism combine,” explains Lord K2.
Lower ranked ‘rikishi' return to their ‘beya' by train after competing in a tournament.
A ‘rikishi' struggles to his feet during a ‘butsukari-geiko' session. Wrestlers regularly push each other to their limits of physical endurance in training sessions in order to become formidable warriors.
‘Rikishi' at the Kise ‘beya' go through a final drill to wrap up training.
Okinoumi Ayumi entertains his fellow wrestlers outside Hakkaku ‘beya' in Ryogoku. Even though sumo wrestlers take their careers very seriously, outside of work they are often playful and relatively approachable.
Wrestlers perform ‘shikiri-naoshi' before the bout commences.
A rikishi collapses with exhaustion during a ‘butsukarigeiko' session with Georgian wrestler Gagamaru Masaru at the Kise ‘beya.'
‘Rikishi' sit patiently outside their ‘beya' on a hot summer’s day as they await breakfast after training.
‘Sumo' by Lord K2, Ammonite Press, RRP £20/ $29.95, available now in the UK and globally from March 2023.