Sumo wrestlers turned away from flight over weight concerns

An airline in Japan was forced to scramble when too many sumo wrestlers tried to board a flight to a small island.

By: Tim Bissell | 2 months ago
Sumo wrestlers turned away from flight over weight concerns
Sumo Wrestler Kirishima waiting for a flight to his native Mongolia. | Kyodo News, IMAGO

Sumo wrestlers too heavy for flight

Japan Airlines were forced to improvise this weekend when a group a of sumo wrestlers tried to board flights out of Tokyo and Osaka to head to the island of Amami Oshima for an exhibition event.

According to Sky News the airline had to turn the rikishi away and arrange separate flights over fears the wrestlers would literally take down the planes. The decision was made after calculating that the wrestlers’ average weight was 120 kg (265 lbs), which is far more than the 70 kg (154 lbs) that they calculate as their average passenger weight.

The 460 wrestlers were spread across multiple flights and all made it to the island without incident.

Sumo might be getting leaner

Weeks before this spot of airport trouble, the Japan Sumo Association dropped the height and weight requirements for recruitment into the sport. Before this announcements, prospective wrestlers had to be at least 167 cm tall (5’4″) and weight at least 67 kg (147 lbs).

According to The Asahi Shimbun the move comes due to concerns about the lack of young Japanese men entering the sport. That fear comes from a lack of young Japanese men in general, with Japan struggling from a declining birthrate.

The JSA has seen recruitment numbers plummet as of late with just 34 new recruits signing up before the spring tournament this year. In 1992 the spring recruitment drive brought in 160 recruits.

Sumo will always be a land of giants

The easing of height and weight restrictions will allow a wider range of kids to apply to become a rikishi. They will still need to complete some studies, a physical exam and gain entry to a stable.

Most wrestlers begin their careers as skinny teenagers before blossoming into very large men. The transformation occurs through ritualized daily feasting and napping intended to give each wrestler an ‘armour of fat’.

While they put on fat, wrestlers undergo gruelling daily workouts which add muscle and increase their flexibility (every wrestler, no matter the size, can do the splits).

However, not all wrestlers became massive. There are plenty of smaller men who have been able to compete at the highest levels.

Smaller wrestlers like Enho, Midorifuji, Kiho and Asakoryu are famed for being able to take down men who are a foot taller and can weigh 300 lbs more than him. These wrestlers are often crowd favourites, too.

Despite the popularity of these smaller wrestlers, they remain very much an exception to the rule. It’s very difficult for someone of smaller stature to win enough bouts in a tournament, against larger opposition, to seriously contend for a championship. However, this was not always the case.

Our perception of what rikishi look like is a product of modern sumo, where easy access to nutrition and more wide-ranging recruitment networks mean finding and producing large bodies is easier than ever. A few decades ago most sumo wrestlers were muscular men with a bit of a belly.

See this recent upload from the JSA as an example of that.

This video shows the great Iwakaze, who was 5’8″ and around 260 lbs, and some of his most iconic victories (including those against one of sumo’s GOATs; the taller and heavier Taiho).

If you want more sumo content, please consider subscribing to Sumo Stomp! on Substack. That’s where you can find in-depth analysis, daily updates on tournaments and notifications for when this kind of content drops on BE.

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About the author
Tim Bissell
Tim Bissell

Tim Bissell is a writer, editor and deputy site manager for Bloody Elbow. He has covered combat sports since 2015. Tim covers news and events and has also written longform and investigative pieces. Among Tim's specialties are the intersections between crime and combat sports. Tim has also covered head trauma, concussions and CTE in great detail.

Tim is also BE's lead (only) sumo reporter. He blogs about that sport here and on his own substack, Sumo Stomp!

Email me at Nice messages will get a response.

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