Photographer Lord K2 has been granted access to Japan’s secretive world of Sumo Wrestling. Here is a snippet of his ongoing documentation.
Crowds of aging seniors shuffle in to the stadium and take their seats on floor cushions as the sand stage in the centre is swept to perfection, as has been the scene for hundreds of years. The spectators mumble quietly as warm sake is poured into small cups. The mumblings grows to a clamour as from the corner of the arena the giants emerge. Immense 330-pound men in loincloths and stern faces waddle into the ring as applause ripples across the near empty crowd.
The sport, in its current format, is one of the oldest in the world, stretching back nearly 1000 years. Within the Japanese establishment exists a great sense of pride during the past millennium very little about the sport has changed. As Japan has surged forwards into modernity this corner of culture has remained anchored to the past.
Wrestlers still live by a strict code, in and outside of the dojo. They can be seen on the local trains of downtown Tokyo in traditional kimonos, as they’re forbidden from driving cars or wearing contemporary clothes. This, along with the stringent dietary and training requirements necessitates enormous dedication. The life expectancy of wrestlers is on average 10 years less than the rest of Japan’s population.
To commit to the sport requires complete dedication from an extremely young age. In today’s hyper neo-capitalist Japan, this age of convenience, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to attract new recruits to the sport. To the dismay of many in the Sumo community, the vast majority of Championships has been won by Mongolians over the past 20 years.
Behind the scenes the sport is shrouded in secrecy. Outsiders are forbidden from entering most of the Sumo stables, where wrestlers live and train. Those in the upper echelons in the sport are deeply dogmatic about modernisation. While this has kept Sumo as a fascinating antiquity it’s popularity and relevance in contemporary Japan is rapidly waning. Once packed stadiums now often welcomes small gaggles of tourists and aging enthusiasts.
Sumo’s governing body sees itself as more of a cultural institution than a sport. One that guards the soul of traditional Japanese culture and to that end their hands are tied from making any kind of significant reform. Sumo wrestling now sits on a knife’s edge, reform or potentially become a tourist attraction. A living, breathing showcase of ancient Japan.
Lord K2 (David Sharabani) is an award winning photographer. He has spent the past three years completely immersed in the sport of Muay Thai, documenting its culture and lifestyle with unrestricted access throughout Thailand whilst simultaneously documenting the Sumo Wrestling ensuring he remains in warm climates throughout the year. He is the author of two books ‘Street Art Santiago’ and ‘Tokyo Graffiti’.