Sumo & Art in Towada City

My friend recently had some of his works exhibited at the Towada Art Center ( for a temporary exhibit about the world of Sumo. Sumo is the national sport of Japan, but it is even more a big deal in Aomori since many talented wrestlers have come from here.

The Towada Art Center is located in Towada City, and it really is an “art center” instead of a museum. I think the creators of the center were aiming for something that doesn’t sit static in the town, but actually interacts and energizes the entire community. I found this out firsthand during my visit when I got to not only see the art, but meet and talk with the friendly local people. In fact, Towada City is aiming to become a city that vigorously promotes the arts. The art center is still in its infancy, having opened in the spring of 2008. A gigantic red ant, a house that looks like it was made out of marshmallows, and a gigantic flower horse are just a sample of some of the permanent installations on the grounds. I could fill an entire blog just about the permanent collection, but today I want to talk about SUMOAURA, the exhibit I went to see.



In the Sumo world, handprints are the way wrestlers give autographs.

Unfortunately photography wasn’t permitted inside the galleries, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty to show or tell about.


"Flower Horse" by Jeonghwa Choi

This is the gigantic flower horse located at the entrance of the center. It has come to be a symbol of the center and a beloved resident of the city. Towada City in fact is famous for its history of being a prime horse raising area for samurai since feudal times. Anyway, what’s unique is that during the SUMOAURA exhibit, the whole town was involved in the “MAWASHI” Project. If you have ever seen Sumo, then you’ve no doubt seen “mawashi” as these are the only garments the Sumo wrestlers wear when it’s time to compete. As part of the project, various objects all around town were decorated with these symbols of manhood and Sumo spirit. Each of these objects is also given a suiting Sumo name, here “Flower Horse” is rendered into old fashioned Japanese.


Even the mannequin at the local boutique got in on the "MAWASHI" Project. This lovely lady's Sumo name is "Hara-Nishiki" which means something like "Brocade Gut" perhaps due to her satin stomach.

After I toured the galleries, I was wondering if I should go home or stick around. The docent at the gallery told me that this was only half of the whole thing, and that I should check out the rest of what was happening around town. In order to do this, they started a stamp collection scavenger hunt, in which visitors are given a sheet of paper to tour the downtown shops surrounding the center. I’ll admit I wasn’t too gung-ho from the start, but that all changed when I saw this:


This is a Sumo wrestler nebuta, or traditional festival craft from Aomori carefully made out of Japanese paper on a bamboo frame.

Close-up of the Sumo Nebuta.

The Sumo Nebuta was lit-up in the upstairs storage space of the local women’s fashion boutique. The shopkeeper was very friendly and kind encouraging us to go up and see it. I was really impressed with the use of color, it reminded me of a famous print-making artist from Aomori, Shiko Munakata. Speaking of Shiko Munakata…


Shutter Art- Shiko Munakata Style

I found this beauty while walking the main street downtown. The shop was closed as it was a Sunday afternoon, but the design is an imitation of some of Shiko Munakata’s works. Towada was becoming more and more of a creative artistic city by the moment.


Cardboard Sumo Tournament

Even in the park (where they also have the town Sumo ring naturally!) there were things going on! I was lucky to catch the Cardboard Sumo Tournament. Children created and designed their own unique Sumo wrestlers out of cardboard and made them wrestle by fiercely slapping the base of the Sumo ring. The whole town was going Sumo!

I continued to gather stamps while peering in every shop window looking for more “mawashi” creations. One shop was a general store and the stamp was the bottom of the elderly owner’s cane who smiled as he stamped my paper. This stamp was the top of a nail polish container in the local beauty parlor. The woman running the shop was so nice that it made me want to get my nails done, but I didn’t because I am a guy.


Yep, there were even motorcycles Sumo'ed up in "mawashi"

I finally managed to collect all but one stamp. Only one shop was closed as it was late Sunday afternoon when I went. One shopkeeper even opened up her whole shop to show me around even though she was closed. We had a great conversation about how the power of the arts is bringing their community even closer together and bringing Towada City closer with the outside world. I agreed.

My stamp scavenger hunt complete, I went back to the art center to claim my prize, a cool SUMOAURA pin. The pin was a great way to end a fun day filled with experiencing the arts. I guess however, that my biggest prize had to be the all the great smiles I got in Towada.

3 Responses to “Sumo & Art in Towada City”

  1. This piece encourages me to visit Aomori much sooner than later. The pictures captures the true essence of the show.

  2. I’d love to see that Sumo Nebuta! It looks beautiful!

  3. […] influence is often just around the corner.  As Zack mentioned in a previous entry on art in Towada, even store front designs are showing Munakata […]

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