Back in the 700s most Japanese were Shinto and worshipped kami spirits that lived in mountains, trees, and waterfalls. It’s a belief that’s still popular today. …As I soon discover a nearby Omishima
Island. Oyamazumi Shrine has a rather unusual way to honor its local spirit – Hitori Zumo. “Hitori” means one person. “Zumo” means sumo. The local spirit, they tell me, is a long time sumo fan. Once a year in a special ceremony he gets to wrestle with the local sumo champ – best out of three. The shrine god, she says, always wins. Sumo has long been associated with the Shinto faith. Part of the sport’s popularity is the way it celebrates its religious heritage. This tournament is a part of the shrine’s yearly rice festival dating back at least 700 years. Children were a lot more patient back then. Once it’s over the village maidens
symbolically harvest the rice crop if they can figure out how. The sacred rice and other delicacies are then offered to the shrine God though if he really eats everything they put in front of him it’s no wonder he wins. The tournament isn’t as much a contest of strength as it is an act of worship. And even though we all know the outcome everyone gets caught up in the event. To win by losing is a common – and respected strategy in Japan. It means to accept a short-term loss in order to win a much greater victory down the road. The Shrine God wins again. He can always try his luck next year.