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Monday, October 17, 2016

Sumo Stereographic Photo And T. Enami

I'm a fan of Japanese sumo wrestling, pretty much picking up most of the sport's intricacies from watching every tournament on television between 1990-1993, and talking and asking a lot of questions of the male teachers at my various schools who all watched it.

The female teachers - not so much.

It's like every stereotype you can think of being true.

The men like sports. The women say they like to watch sports, but usually the only intelligible comment I could get from the women was that Takanohana was a very handsome man.

I know the women did sports in school as a student and even as the teacher in charge of certain club activities. I know there were female physical education teachers.

But when it came to Japan's national sport, it was a male dominated industry.

Perhaps that has more to do with the fact that women were not allowed to be sumo wrestlers even as youngsters, for fear that that whole bleeding once a month thing would befoul the purity of the sport.

As stupid as it sounds, in sumo there is a lot of purification of body and soul and of the ring going on by the ritualistic tossing of salt done by the combatants before each match.

Still... no female sumo athletes is silly. I know some clubs have been progressive in allowing female sumo wrestlers in their club, but problems invariably arise when less-enlightened clubs refuse to allow a female fighter to battle one of their own - claiming that purity thing.

Up above, we have a stereograph photo of some sumo wrestlers from - and I am guessing here - from the turn of the 20th century or within 30 years before it. Image is from

However, from what I have learned, this print may be from 1903 or later, simply because that was when the photographer began placing his imprint on the FRONT of the sterograph cards. It does not mean that the photograph was taken at that time, just that that was when this card was manufactured.

 A stereograph photo is created when two photos of the same scene are taken, with one photo shifting the angle ever so slightly. When viewed through a special sterograph viewer, it presents a single image in 3D.

The photographer would shoot his or her images in black and white film, with artists later hand brushing in color.

The hand-painted aspect of the sumo dress garb was more often than not done for the foreign visitor market, or for booklets shipped and sold overseas, as many western nations achieved their own Japanese version of Beatlemania back in the 1870s or so.

The sumo-san look little like the images we have of sumo, who are always huge mountains of flesh hiding thundering muscles... but this group above... they are powerfully built - especially when you compare shoulder width of the bare-chested men against the others.

Back before WWII, the majority of sumo wrestlers were buff men like the ones pictured above. Very few were the huge, fat guys we imagine was the norm for the sport. However, those who were big and fat-looking were immortalized via various ukiyo-e paintings. 

Below, someone took the time to combine the two images of the stereograph photo to create a moving Gif file.

But who's kidding whom?

I like history. And while I can't tell you who the men are in the photograph, I can tell you that they are from the Yokohama area, and were photographed by T. Enami (江南 信國 Enami Nobukuni, 1859 – 1929, born in Edo (now known as Tokyo).

T (maybe Toshi) Enami, circa 1909.

While all of the 'famous' Japanese photographers of the era would include a few photos of sumo wrestlers in the albums they created, Enami was one of the few create an entire album devoted to sumo wrestlers, featuring champions and well-respected beya (stables of wrestlers).

The image above is S363 from Enami's known 3-D Catalog.

You'll notice that the man in the far left of the image at the very top is a 'ghost', an effect seen in older photography because he moved his head during the snapping of the photos.

I am in the process of communicating with another website (where the photos were found) to determine if they know WHO is in the photo and from what sumo beya/stable and when the photo was first taken - at which time, I'll add an amended or updated notation at the title.

For more on T. Enami and magic lantern images IE sterograph photos, look to

Andrew Joseph

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