Passengers on a fragile boat

Hakuho, maybe the biggest sumotor in the globe in history. The white and crimson flag of Japan flies over the canopy and off-center.

Once in the ring, he dances like a tropical bird, like a bird of paradise, Hakuho, maybe the biggest sumo wrestler in the globe in history. Flanked by two attendants — its tachimochi, his tsuyuharay sword, their dew sweeper, who makes the path for him clear — Hakuho climbs the trapezoidal block of clay two feet high and over 22 feet wide with his kesho-mawashi, his cloaked ropes, and complex cloth loops. Here is the cycle, the Dohyo, known as the top of a skyscraper, marked with rice-straw bales: Just one step across the line and dead.

Before the competition, a Shinto priest cleansed the Dohyo; above this, a six-ton canopy hanging from the ceiling of the arena, a floating roof of the temple, makes it the holy place. The Four Divine Beasts of the Chinese constellations dangle colored tassel from the corners of a canopy: the east azure Dragon, the south vermilion, the west, white tiger, the north black tortoise. The white and crimson flag of Japan flies over the canopy, off-center and illuminated by lighting. 

Sumo Wrestling

A deep squat, Hakuho bends. Twice he claps, then rubbing his hands. He’s gently turning his hands up. He’s 6-foot-4 and 350 lb bare-checked. His hair is tightened up. His smooth stomach strains at his waist against a spinning belt, his literal point of reference: yokozuna, horizontal rope. He rises diagonally up his right arm, palm down to demonstrate that he is unarmed. With his left, he repeats the gesture. He lifted his right leg into the air, tilted his left torso like a cane, then slammed his foot over the clay. On hitting it, 13,000 people in Japan’s sumo arena, Ryogoku Kokugikan, shouted together, “Yoisho!” “Yoisho!” — Come on! Come on! Do this! Could you do it?

His second foot crashes down: “Yoisho!” It’s as though it might hit the crowd in the abdomen. He then squat again, holding his arms wing-like on his side and turning in the waist till his back is close to the floor in parallel. Imagine someone with a bit of child playing with an aircraft. With his feet’s strange sliding thrust, he glides over the sand of the ring, raises and lowers his head in a manner that faintly lifts his back; when he is again erect, the audience roars. 

Sixty-nine men were promoted to yokozuna in 265 years. Only 69 since an adolescent George Washington. Only the holders of the highest rank can enter this way. The ornate dohyo-official IRI aims to scare the devils away. (And you should note this about sumo, a sport that has telephone contracts, and millions of income, fan blogs, and yogurt commercial athletes – that it is a sport that concurrently serves the official goal of demo-fearing.) But at the human level, the ritual is also territorial. This is a statement to opponents, a method of indicating that this ring is mine. Make yourself ready for what occurs if you are insane enough to enter it.