Sumai no Sechie (相撲節会)

Sumai no Sechie was one of the ceremonies that took place in the imperial court between the Nara period through to the Heian period. The event was part of what was known as the 'three occasions' along with the Jarai archery ceremony and horseback archery (later on horse racing). Many references to sumai (currently known as 'sumo') can also be seen in the Kojiki (Records of Ancient Matters) and the Nihonshoki (Chronicles of Japan). It is certain that sumo itself has taken place since olden days.

However, it is believed that the oldest record of Sumai no Sechie events is that referred to in "Secret Imperial Events Chronicle" etc in the year 726 when we are told that Emperor Shomu had sumo wrestlers ('rikishi') who were subjects in his court controlled domains pay tribute. Something not recorded in the official "Shoku Nihongi" (Chronicle of Japan Continued) history that occurred two years later (on June 11, 728) were entries about the tributes from participants in horseback archery and sumo having fallen into arrears. Moreover, noted in the same book on July 29, 719 is mention of an a predecessor of a 'sumo organization' and mention of establishment of a spin-off organization is seen around this time. With the arrival of the Tenpyo era in 729, 'Tanabata' (Festival of the Weaver) and sumai events were held together on July 7 (lunar calender).
Meanwhile, emissaries from the central government sent to the various provinces to urge contribution of sumo wrestlers were called 'sumo emissaries.'

Sumo wrestlers were originally apprenticed as imperial and military guards and, the majority of them were sumo wrestlers contributed by the various provinces on this basis. However, afterwards the various provinces were compensated for their contributions and, selected individuals (tournament winners) were employed as imperial/military guards as well as being appointed to local government roles upon return to the provinces. During the Heian period, a temporary sumo office, the Sumai no tsukasa, was set up and supervised by Imperial princes given honorary roles as Betto (chief of the sumo office). However, due to the death on August 9, 824 of Retired Emperor Heijo, the dates of Sumai no Sechie events were shifted to July 16 and subsequently faded away. Afterwards, Emperor Koko promoted sumo which lead to a revival, but from the middle of the Heian period, the events were called sumo 'Meshiawase' (invitation) events that were smaller in scale and in fact organized by the imperial guards. After being sporadically held in 1158 and 1174, the event was finally abolished.

[Original Japanese]