cloth, model, wrestler, iki-ningyo, doll
Date Made/Found: around 1890
Material and Medium: silk, human hair, wood, wax
Dimensions: Overall: 2240 x 1480 x 715mm (88 3/16 x 58 1/4 x 28 1/8in.) - model
This life size wood carving (iki-ningyo also known as 'living dolls' and 'lifelike mannequin') represents an illustrious bout which took place in AD 1176 between the Samurai Sumo warriors Matano Goro (on the left) and Kawatsu Saburo (on the right). After some 21 matches Kawatso Saburo emerged victorious symbolizing the flavour which still persists in Sumo to this day; contact between man, strength and spirit. Matano would not admit defeat and had Kawatso assassinated on his way home.
Sumo was first recorded in 23 BC. Its origins are based on a set of religious beliefs known as Shinto or ‘the way of the gods’. It is now a national sport in Japan. Sumo started as a form of ritual to entertain the gods (kami) during festivals, known as matsuri, and dedicated these rituals to the kami as prayers for a good harvest. These early links with Shinto are still evident in the purification rituals of sumo bouts today. The sand which covers the circular ring (dohyo) in which the bout is fought reflects purity and the canopy (yakata) covering the ring is in the style of a Shinto shrine. The referee (gyoji) resembles a Shinto priest in traditional robe, and the purifying salt is thrown into the ring before start of a match.
It was during the 8th Century when Sumo was introduced into the ceremonies of the Imperial Court, but for centuries after it became useful for military training during the age of the Samurai. During the Middle Ages, sumo wrestlers were very popular subject for the artists and they got treated to free meals by their fans. From the 17th Century onwards, Japan was in peace and prosperity which led to the rise of a new wealthy merchant class. Professional sumo groups were formed for entertaining this class and soon after, sumo became the national sport of Japan. Today, it is a popular sport and sumo wrestlers have similar status as actors and singers.
This model was given to the museum in 1891 by Harry Deakin who emigrated from Sheffield to Japan.