When you hear the words “sumo wrestler,” what exactly comes to mind? Whatever you’re picturing, the work of Paola Patrizi is about to change it forever. In his fascinating Sumo series, the Italy-born, Tokyo-based photographer captures intimate images of the extremely regulated lives of professional sumo wrestlers. Required by the Sumo Association to live in communal training stables known as heya, everything from the style of their hair to what they eat for lunch to the clothes that they’re allowed to wear in public is strictly dictated by tradition. These grown men are forced to take naps (usually after a big lunch, to help put on weight) and do chores (like holding a higher ranking wrestler’s towel), all for a salary that maxes out at around $30K a year.
Despite all of that monitoring — or perhaps, because of it — trouble recently seems to have found its way in to sumo society, forcing the Sumo Association to crack down, and even cancel some big matches. “Apparently, gambling and organized crime have become as entrenched in sumo wrestling culture as topknots and obesity,” Patrizi writes in his artist statement. His photos serve as a reminder of a unique way of life that will be lost if Japan’s most traditional sport — which has its roots in the Shinto religion — gets thrown over by scandal. Click through for slideshow of images from the series.