There’s always some form of heckling or booing that goes on at live sports matches when players don’t perform, especially with sports like soccer, when empty cans and trash are thrown at the field. But the traditional Japanese sport of sumo wrestling may actually top the charts with the usually reserved and law-abiding spectators getting up and flinging their seats–or rather, cushions–at the under-performing rikishi (sumo wrestlers), with the cushions often not reaching the dohyo (wrestling ring) but hitting some other angry spectator on the head!

How did such public outbursts of anger become acceptable in the context of a sumo match? This tradition of cascading cushions is said to have roots in the Meiji era when personal items would be thrown onto the dohyo to congratulate and reward the winner. This was banned when the Ryogoku Kokugikan opened in 1909, so it is thought that spectators stopped throwing their personal items, but the next available thing in reach–their seat cushions. So cushion throwing can either be congratulatory or derogatory–depending on the context.

The bottom line is, Yokozunas–the highest ranking players–are not supposed to lose matches. In fact, in the sumo world, Yokozumas are expected to retire if they lose a tournament, which consists of several rounds of matches played over several days. For practical reasons of comfort (as the Yokozuna match is always the last one), cushion throwing is usually saved for the last match.

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