Sumo wrestling & Nara go hand-in-hand. According to the oldest collection of Japanese historical documents, the Nihonshoki (or Chronicles of Japan), the first sumo match took place sometime between 29BC and 70AD in present day Katsuragi City in Nara Prefecture. A local man named Taimano Kehaya, credited by the Nihonshoki as having “superhuman strength” boasted that, “There is no one in this world who can defeat me. If there is such a person, though, I want to fight him.”
When then Emperor Suinin heard of this boast he asked the members of his court and his servants if they knew of a man with the strength to challenge Taimano Kehaya. A man named Nomino Sukune was recommended by one of the Emperor’s servants and Sukune was promptly summoned from his home in Izumo (present day Shimane Prefecture) to fight against Kehaya. The fight between Taimano Kehaya and Nomino Sukune is credited with being the first sumo match.
The Kehayaza Sumo Museum
Even though Katsuragi City’s local hero Kehaya lost the fight and died of the injuries he incurred (so much for his bragging) Katsuragi City established The Kehayaza Sumo Museum in 1990 to teach visitors about sumo history and tradition. The museum has its own dohyo, or sumo arena, made of earth and built to the same specifications as real competition dohyo. Under traditional Shinto traditions, a competition dohyo is considered a sacred space where women and shoes are not permitted.
Despite its authenticity, the Sumo Museum’s dohyo is considered a display piece and does not have the same restrictions. As such, you are free to enter the ring and get a firsthand experience of what it's like to face battle as a sumo wrestler. What may surprise you is how small the ring is and how hard the flooring is. On TV, the dohyo looks quite sandy, as if designed to offer giant tumbling sumo wrestlers a somewhat soft landing. But the reality is quite different. The dohyo may as well be made of concrete - it is rock hard and unforgiving.
Luckily, proceedings here at the museum aren't so serious; sumo workshops, complete with bulky sumo body suits and rubber sumo hair topknot skull caps are available to all visitors to dress up and have some lighthearted fun. You will love dressing up and having a good-natured sumo match with friends or fellow visitors.
On the 2nd floor, you can explore exhibits that delve into the rich history and cultural significance of sumo wrestling. Computer tablets, available in six languages provide detailed explanations of the exhibits, facility overview, and insights into the profound history and culture of sumo wrestling.
On the first Sunday of every month performances of Sumo Jinku, Sumo-themed songs, are held at the museum along with special events featuring real sumo wrestlers and performances two to three times per year.
The shokkiri comedic sumo show is easily the most fun of the special event held by the museum. Shokkiri means, “A humorous display of fouls,” and shokkiri shows feature sumo wrestlers engaging in the type of behavior that would get them disqualified in a real sumo match. The 4th-wall breaking slapstick performance of a shokkiri show recalls the antics of Bugs Bunny cartoons and The Three Stooges films and transcends language and culture. Even non-Japanese speakers will find themselves rolling with laughter. Best of all foreign visitors receive free admission to the Sumo Museum by presenting their passport at the ticket window.
From Osaka: The Kehaya-za Sumo Museum is a short 400 meter walk from Taima-dera Station on the Kintetsu Minami-Osaka Line. From Osaka get a local or semi-express train from Kintetsu Osaka-Abenobashi Station directly to Taima-dera, a 37-minute ¥680 train ride.
From Kyoto: Get a Kintetsu Line Express (¥1,210 and 95 minutes) or limited express train (¥2,130 and 77 minutes) to Kashihara Jingumae Station and then change to a local or semi-express train on the Minami-Osaka Line for Taima-dera Station.
Address: 83-1 Taima, Katsuragi, Nara 639-0276
Hours: 10:00 - 17:00
Closed: Tuesday & Wednesday
Sumo Wrestling & Nara: Cosplay
If your schedule doesn't allow for a trip down to Taima-dera and the Sumo Museum, you can alway try a little bit of sumo cosplay with us instead. We have several costumes freely available for visitor to try on and have their pictures taken - unsurprisingly, the sumo costume is the most popular!
Here is a video of a fun sumo demonstration that was part of one of our summer festivals.
Author: NARA Visitor Center & Inn