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Sumo wrestling takes centre stage at Canberra Nara Candle Festival

When most people think of Japan, sumo wrestling is one of the first things to come to mind along with sushi, Mount Fuji, and geishas.

But if they think sumo wrestling is all about large men pushing each other around, they'd be wrong, according to the president of the Australian Sumo Federation Katrina Watts.

All lit up: Candles glow at last year's Canberra Nara Candle Festival.
All lit up: Candles glow at last year's Canberra Nara Candle Festival. Photo: Supplied

As the federation's motto says: "Nobody is too light, nobody is too heavy, sumo is for everyone".

And on Saturday they can see for themselves when a group from Sydney, along with some local enthusiasts, demonstrate the ancient sport as part of the 12th annual Canberra Nara Candle Festival.

In a bind: Sumo wrestlers Oscar Skrbinsek,13 and Matt Duncan,12 both of Forrest at the Canberra Nara Peace Park.
In a bind: Sumo wrestlers Oscar Skrbinsek,13 and Matt Duncan,12 both of Forrest at the Canberra Nara Peace Park. Photo: Melissa Adams

This year's festival celebrates the 21st anniversary of Canberra's sister city relationship with Nara in Japan and is expected to attract more than 10,000 people under the light of 2000 candles.

"Most people don't make the distinction between sumo as the competitive sport in Japan and the amateur sport in 80 countries," Ms Watt said.

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"One of the great things about sumo is the rules are very straight forward," she said.

"The souls of the feet are the only parts of the body that can touch the area inside the circle.

All lit up: Candles glow at last year's Canberra Nara Candle Festival.
All lit up: Candles glow at last year's Canberra Nara Candle Festival. Photo: Supplied

"Even someone who's watching sumo for the first time can see who wins or loses – it's the first person down or out of the circle."

Despite its long cultural tradition linked back to the samurai, Ms Watt's said the sport was growing in popularity, but the difficulty finding experienced trainers meant it was hard for the federation to set up more clubs beyond Sydney, Melbourne and the Gold Coast.

"It's great for cross-training … and lots of fun," she said.

"Some football players join us in the off season and we have martial artists who want to train.

"We compete in the world championships every year … and also to the World Games which are like the Olympic Games for non-Olympic sports."

Ms Watts said wrestlers required a lot of skill to overcome their opponent with strength or strategy using the game's 84 winning techniques.

Along with sumo wrestling, Saturday's festival at the Canberra Nara Peace Park at Lennox Gardens will feature ikebana and drumming workshops, calligraphy, origami, lantern making, kite flying, and martial arts demonstrations.

Japanese entertainment will include drumming ensemble Wadaiko Rindo, Australia's Got Talent stars George Kamikawa and Noriko Tadano and local talent Steve Allen. 

The festival will be held from 4.30pm to 9pm on Saturday, October 25. 

Parking is available in the parliamentary zone, with a free shuttle bus every 10 to 15 minutes.