When most people imagine their dream honeymoon, it probably doesn't involve spending a week with teenage sumo wrestlers at a remote high school in Japan. Yet that's exactly what London-based photographer Daniel Ali wanted to do. Ali was curious for an inside look at the culture surrounding the traditional Japanese sport—a competitive form of full-contact wrestling that originated centuries ago as a ritual of Japan's Shinto religion.
While traveling in Japan for his honeymoon in the spring of 2014, Ali visited the Kaiyo High School in the coastal town of Nou, where students have the opportunity to practice sumo in addition to their academic studies. Interested in confronting Western stereotypes about the sport, Ali spent a week documenting the sumo students' intense training.
At Kaiyo, boys typically start sumo training at age 12 or 13, and their schedule is rigorous: they spend the morning training, and focus on academics after lunch. "It's part of their daily routine," Ali explains. "For children their age, they're so serious and dedicated. It wasn't until I went to eat dinner with them at night that you'd see they're just regular kids, joking around."
Ali says he was most struck by the sense of serenity that pervaded the practice. "Even though it's an aggressive, full-contact sport, it's really quite calming and soothing to be around. It's a really respectful atmosphere," he says. The training room has a clay floor, and a damp, cool feel. "Everyone bows as they go in and pays respects. As soon as the session begins, there's a sense of calmness. There's an air of spirituality that was nice to be a part of," Ali says. "Even the colors and tones—everything was neutral and soft, gentle and relaxed. That's what I wanted to capture."
Here, Daniel Ali shares an intimate look at the sumo wrestling rituals at Kaiyo High School.