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Submitted by on May 4, 2022

Sumo is a type of full-contact wrestling in which a rikishi (wrestler) tries to force his opponent out of a circular ring (dohy) or to touch the ground with any part of his body other than his feet (usually by throwing, shoving or pushing him down). Women are barred from professional sumo competitions and celebrations.

Sumo is the only country where it is professionally performed, and it is considered the national sport of Japan. Although it is classified as a gendai bud, which refers to current Japanese martial arts, the sport has a long history. Sumo has kept many historical traditions, and the sport still contains many Shinto ritual components, such as the usage of salt cleansing.

Wrestling is a highly structured sport, with the Japan Sumo Association enforcing strict restrictions. Most sumo wrestlers are expected to live in communal sumo training stables, known in Japanese as heya, where rigid tradition governs every part of their daily existence, from food to clothes.

From 2008 to 2016, the sumo world was shaken by a series of high-profile incidents and scandals, which had an impact on the sport’s reputation and ticket sales. These factors have also had an impact on the sport’s capacity to recruit new players. Despite this setback, sumo’s popularity and general attendance have revived, thanks to the presence of several yokozuna (or grand champions) for the first time in several years, as well as other high-profile wrestlers capturing the public’s interest.

Sumo is thought to have evolved as an agricultural ceremonial dance done in prayer for a successful crop, according to prehistoric wall murals. The oldest reference of sumo may be found in a Kojiki text from 712, which portrays a wrestling battle between the kami Takemikazuchi and Takeminakata over ownership of the Japanese islands.

Takemikazuchi was a god of thunder, swordsmanship, and conquering who was born from Izanagi’s blood after he slew the firedemon Kagu-tsuchi. Takeminakata was a god of waterwindagriculture, and hunting who descended from Susanoo, the storm god. Takeminakata challenged Takemikazuchi to a hand-to-hand fight as he attempted to conquer the country of Izumo. Takemikazuchi grabbed Takeminakata’s arm and smashed it “like a reed” during their fight, beating Takeminakata and capturing Izumo.

The Nihon Shoki, written in 720, dates the first mortal sumo fight to 23 BC, when a man named Nomi no Sukune fought against Taima no Kuehaya at Emperor Suinin’s request and finally killed him, establishing him as sumo’s legendary ancestor. According to the Nihon Shoki, Nomi fractured Taima’s ribs with a single strike and then murdered him with a rear kick. This uncontrolled type of wrestling was frequently fought to the death of one of the fighters until the Japanese Middle Ages. Sumo battles were first recorded in 642 at Empress Kgyoku’s court in order to entertain a Korean delegation. Sumo’s popularity among the court heightened its ceremonial and religious significance in the centuries that followed. The sumai no sechie, regular festivities at the Emperor’s court, and the introduction of the first set of sumo rules all fell under the Heian period’s cultural peak.

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