Sumo time limit
Once the gyoji (sumo referee) gives the signal to start the bout, the sumotori - the wrestlers - have only a limited amount of time on their hands before they must begin the match. Seigen jikan (lit. "time limit") is 4 minutes. It may sound like a lot of time, but there are many things the wrestlers "must" do before time runs out.
Before the actual tachiai - the start of the match - the sumotori will spend a lot of time staring malevolently at each other, walking to and fro, stomping and throwing salt into the ring. They will crouch at the starting lines, the shikiri sen, get up again, go and get water or more salt, and so on. Once the 4 minutes are up, the rikishi (wrestler, lit. "strong man") are actually not obliged to start wrestling right away, but they are now no longer allowed to leave the ring! Should one of them do so, he has lost the bout.
TV-viewers out of Japan rarely get to see this spectacle, which is a shame. It builds up the tension and anticipation in both wrestlers and spectators, and it is a very important part of sumo. The bout itself rarely lasts a full minute.
The seigen jikan was not always there. In 1928, with the rise of radio sports reporting, a 10 minute limit was introduced, and with the growing media-pressure it was reduced further to the present 4 minutes for makuuchi1 bouts, 3 for juryo2, and 2 for makushita3. The lower ranks must start immediately, without further ado.
- Makuuchi is the top division in sumo.
- Juryo is the second highest division in sumo.
- Makushita is the third highest division in sumo
My sources are:
www.scgroup.com/sumo, www.sumo.or.jp/eng and www.sumoforum.net/glossary.html