Sumo fashion

It’s no secret that I love sumo. As with all things Japanese, the visual aspect of the whole thing is part of its appeal. I would therefore like to dedicate this post to sumo attire.

The wrestlers, or rikishi, are best known for their typical ring fighting outfit consisting of a colourful, silk, thick-waisted loincloth, called mawashi. But they also have a more elaborate ceremonial dress. It consists of an ornate apron that is inserted into the mawashi. The apron, or keshō-mawashi, is worn at the ring entering ceremony.

Two wrestlers fighting in their silk mawashi
Two wrestlers fighting in their silk mawashi – image from Wikipedia
Sumo wrestlers, or rikishi wearing their ornate aprons, or keshō-mawashi, at a ring entering ceremony – image from Wikipedia

These gorgeous embroidered aprons are very expensive. They are usually paid for by a sponsor or one of the rikishi’s support groups. I had expected that all the aprons would depict traditional Japanese scenes, but that is not always the case. Sometimes the sponsor’s product will be featured and foreign rikishi sometimes wear a keshō-mawashi with their national flag. Some aprons even show funny pictures or scenes inspired by modern popular culture. Others refer to the wrestler’s ring name.

The keshō-mawashi with a more ‘typical Japanese’ feel to them seemed the most difficult to find. Ironically it is Bulgarian wrestler Aoiyama who provides us with a traditional Japanese scene based on a woodblock print.

aoiyama keshō-mawashi
Bulgarian wrestler Aoiyama

Below is another keshō-mawashi based on a woodblock print by Hokusai, worn by Okinoumi. The choice of design might refer to his ring name, which means ‘the sea of Oki’. Oki-shotō or Oki islands is the island group where he was born.

okinoumi keshō-mawashi

Also very Japanese but not quite what one would expect from a tough sumo wrestler: a design with cherry blossom, worn by Osaka-born rikishi Goeido.

goeido keshō-mawashi

Some designs draw inspiration from a very different aspect of Japanese culture: manga. Have a look at this funny design worn by Ikioi.

ikioi keshō-mawashi

Estonian rikishi Baruto pokes fun at himself with a cute caricature. He also has an inception thing going on, where his image on the keshō-mawashi is wearing a keshō-mawashi with his image (it looks less confusing than it sounds).

baruto keshō-mawashi

The most surprising reference to popular culture that I saw was on Takayasu’s keshō-mawashi. It features an image of Charlie Chaplin. I wonder what the story behind it is. I am terrible at reading kanji so the only thing I can make out on the apron is the word ‘clinic’.


Some other interesting keshō-mawashi:

Some rikishi just have writing on their keshō-mawashi, like Yoshikaze.
Brazilian rikishi Kaisei proudly wears his national flag on his apron
Beautiful dragon motif, worn by Chiyotairyu
A Japanese mask on Toyonoshima’s apron. Is it perhaps a demon in a kabuki play?
A personal favourite of mine: Tochiozan’s keshō-mawashi features a dog dressed as a yokozuna (sumo grand champion). My only question is, why?!

All images of rikishi in keshō-mawashi are from the Nihon Sumo Kyokai website. If you would like to have a look at some more keshō-mawashi, you can find them on this page by clicking on the wrestler’s names.

21 thoughts on “Sumo fashion

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  1. Great article!
    I saw my first sumo tournament 3 years ago in Tokyo, it was so amazing I spent the whole day there! I wish I will be back soon to Japan and that I will get to see more sumo!
    I recommended your article in my post about the Sumo clothing, I love the visual examples and explanation you are providing!

    1. I agree, seeing live sumo really made an impression on me as well. There is something special to the atmosphere and the rhythm of the bouts. I read your post. Nice! And thanks for referring to my blog! 🙂

  2. HI there, lovely blog you have especially your photos. This sumo post is especially interesting and I love the explanation and the wide variety of their attire. I don`t know why I`ve never watched sumo but I haven`t!! There`s always another chance though (I hope). Have you been to many matches? Thanks for stopping by my blog : )

    1. I only went to see one day of matches, in the Nagoya tournament, when I just arrived in Japan (pictures on: That experience really got me hooked on sumo and I watched the other matches on TV. NHK provides an alternate audio track with English commentary. Very convenient for learning a thing or two about sumo.

      The next year when sumo came back to Nagoya, I didn’t see any matches but I went to see the wrestlers’ practice. It was very interesting to see them up close. (pictures on:

      Thanks for visiting my blog! ^_^

      1. Great I must have a look at those two links. The only contact I did have with sumo was passing by the well-known stadium in Tokyo (as I was leaving the Tokyo-Edo Museum next door). I still have the photos of the outside of the museum – the mural of the sumo wrestlers : )

    1. I didn’t know that about Charlie Chaplin. Thanks! I had the good fortune to attend a cormorant fishing demonstration in Inuyama once. Very impressive, at night with the large fires hanging in front of the boats.

  3. Love it! Just wish western women had not started following Sumo fashion by bulking up unbearably and exposing way too much flesh! Not that I think most men are much better but they tend not to be exposing bare flesh so much in the current fashion cycle. Thank heavens!

  4. I’ve always been interested in the kesho-mawashi, as well. I’ve been a big fan of sumo, though haven’t watched much in the past 2 years. Now, the regular mawashi for while they’re fighting, I often wonder how the chose their colour.

    1. I have wondered the same thing. Most of them seem to use the same colour every time. I wonder if it’s a rule or just their preference. But then again I have seen Baruto in at least three different colours: yellow at the picture of the ring entering ceremony (he is the one with the large knee bandage), blue in the kesho mawashi picture and white whenever I’ve seen him fight.

      1. They can choose their own colour, as long as they’re Juryo or above. Some change colour when they want a change of fortune, I think. But why do they choose the colour that they choose?

        1. That’s a good question. I have no idea. Maybe to match the colour of their kesho mawashi, or the same colour as a rikishi that they look up to? I’m just guessing though.

    1. Is the shishou the sponsor that paid for the kesho mawashi or is shishou the stable master? Sorry, again my lack of kanji skills catches up to me. I am working on it though 🙂 In any case I know it is the stable master (oyakata) who decides what the ring name of his wrestlers should be.

  5. Nice post, I didn’t know sumo attire was so beautiful! I thought they only wore the mawashi. What concerns the one with Charlie Chaplin: the characters says “Nobitome Clinic”, the sponsor, I suppose. It is the same with the other keshō-mawashi, the sponsor’s name is embroidered horizontally at the bottom part, while the name of the rikishi is written vertically next to the image. They even provided kanji names for the foreign rikishi. My personal favorite is the orange and gold one. Its characters tells “courage”. The fabric and embroidery of all these aprons look indeed very expensive!

    1. Thank you so much for explaining about the kanji! When I first saw the foreign rikishi in sumo, I was impressed at how familiar they seemed with everything. They often speak flawless Japanese and appear to be treated no different than the Japanese rikishi, for example in terms of kanji names, duties and what is expected of them.

  6. Great article, thanks! I’ve never seen sumo except on TV (although it’s on my bucket list for before I leave Japan, whenever that is), so this was a really fun and informative read. 🙂

    1. My first introduction to sumo was at the Nagoya tournament in July 2011, when friends invited us to join them for a day of sumo. After that I started following it on NHK every time there was a tournament. With the convenient bilingual button it is possible to switch on English commentary (as you probably already know). The commentary taught me the basics of sumo and helped to get to know about individual wrestlers. Now that I don’t live in Japan anymore, I can only get the live stream from the Kyokai website but that is without commentary and it’s a bit harder to keep track of what’s going on now.

      I absolutely recommend you to go see live sumo. Most people just go for the final two hours of the day, but I like to arrive earlier on. You can see the formality of the matches increase during the day and in the early afternoon it is possible to briefly sneak up to the good seats and see the lower ranking wrestlers up close.

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