Two sumo wrestlers talking in a fighting ring

Meiji Military Worship in Print

Two sumo wrestlers talking in a fighting ring

To most, warriors seem crude and violent. There is an assumption is that if someone chooses to settle conflicts with violence, then they must turn their back to reason; but the Japanese saw no conflict between the soldier and the thinker. They used the soldier as their personification of Japanese worth in the face of western power. Even though the nation was divided, both the Imperial and Shogun sides turned to military might as the savior from the west. The painting of sumo wrestlers, by and unknown author, depicts the wrestlers as thoughtful and powerful; suggesting that the Japanese see their warriors not as brutes, but as well-rounded exemplars, putting the soldier at the top of the social hierarchy and setting Japan up for militarism and soldier worship.


Firstly, the sumo wrestlers seem unusually thoughtful in the painting. Their hands are far away from any weapons, and one is even rubbing his chin in the transcultural expression of thought. Their foot positioning is open and non-aggressive, and their bodies are in relaxed states. Although they stand inside the traditional fighting ring, they remain at ease. These men are conscientious and open to learning new ideas from each other, as shown by their suggested dialogue. Their peaceful behavior and openness with each other make them much more intelligent than the average soldier. Furthermore, the letter A in the foreground implies that they are willing to learn from outside, non-military sources. The intelligence of the warriors may be emphasized because during the time of the painting in the Meiji era, the traditional samurai was being replaced with common, conscripted men. I think the wrestlers represent the samurai caste that the artist thought should either be maintained and brought into the modern era, or, if the samurai cannot continue, their spirit should be idealized and infused into the soldiers of the modern era. In the end, the continuation of the samurai spirit, instead of the outright preservation of the samurai, won. An example of the passing on of the spirit can be seen in the warrior in the right, who is fully decked out in swords passing his knowledge on to the unarmed warrior. The unarmed warrior, clearly a student ready to learn, is being taught the ideals of the samurai by the warrior on the right who is a samurai because of the swords on his hip. By passing the honor of the samurai down to the next generation of soldiers, the Japanese made their soldiers worthy of worship. Because even the common soldier now had a great duty in the maintenance of their honor, the army thirsted for victory, seen in the aggressive Japanese military tactics after the Meiji.


In addition to the suggestion of intelligence, the warriors are represented as very physically strong. They both have wide shoulders, strong cores, and imposing frames. They have the bodies of well-trained military men. The fan in the background, called a gunbai, is a fan used by generals(Japan Info). It is another example of the growing militarism of Japan. In the chaos caused by the introduction of the western powers, the Japanese were looking for their saviors, and the two warriors seem to have the qualities to rally and save Japan. They are representations of what is needed to bring Japan to the forefront of the world. Their high military status makes them representative of the might of the Japanese forces. They stand as the strength of Japan before the West. They are leaders that have the strength and intelligence to lead Japan forward through unsure times. The drawing serves, at the same time, to encourage the Japanese people to grow into what they could be, and reassure the people of Japan that Japan is still strong in the face of difficulty.


Overall the picture is extremely flattering to the two sumo wrestlers. They appear to be at the pinnacle of the human form. With indominable strength, they stand fearless against any possible aggression against Japan. Because the Japanese were fearful of what could happen to their country, they placed their hopes in their growing military strength. The soldiers are a creation of a militarized Japan, of what Japan can be in the future. By embodying the virtues of strength, intelligence, and leadership, the artist expresses their great admiration of the Japanese soldier, an emotion that should be pretty wide spread if the aggressive, colonial actions of Japan after the Meiji era are any indication.

“Japanese Culture and the Use of Fans.” Japan Info, Accessed 3 Nov. 2017.

Unknown. Sumos.     /20_427_narr_ChapSumo.htm. Accessed 20 Oct. 2017.


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