[From September Issue 2012]
At this July’s sumo tournament (basho), ozeki (champion) Mongolian wrestler, Harumafuji won the tournament for his third time. If he wins the tournament in September, he will be assured of a promotion to the highest rank of yokozuna, or grand champion. Sumo is said to be Japan’s national sport, but in fact, over the past ten years, 55 tournaments out of 60 were won by wrestlers (rikishi) from foreign countries. Of these victories, the majority were won by former yokozuna Asashoryu and reigning yokozuna Hakuho. Both men come from Mongolia.
Having won 25 tournaments, Asashoryu holds the third most tournament victories, after Taihou’s 32 and Chiyofuji’s 31. Kitanoumi, who has 24 victories, comes in fourth place. With 22 wins, Hakuho shares fifth place with Takanohana. Currently Hakuho is the only person holding the title of yokozuna. At the next rank down of ozeki there are six rikishi, but only two of these – Kotoshogiku and Kisenosato – are Japanese. The rest are Harumafuji and Kakuryu from Mongolia, Baruto from Estonia and Kotooshu from Bulgaria.
The ranking below ozeki is sekiwake, followed by komusubi and maegashira. Those rikishi holding these ranks fight in the makuuchi which is the top division in sumo; roughly equivalent to the first division in football. Juuryou is the second division. Below juuryou is makushita, followed by sandanme, jonidan and jonokuchi. At juuryou and above, rikishi are called sekitori, and are considered to be fully developed.
For the shikona, which is the name wresters use in the ring, it’s popular to use the name of the ocean, mountain or river of their place of birth or the shikona of their stable master (oyakata). For instance, Baruto’s name was derived from the Japanese name for the Baltic Sea, which borders his native Estonia. The “koto” in Kotooshu’s name is derived from his stable master’s name, while “oushuu” refers to Europe, where his native Bulgaria is located.
In sumo there are many ceremonies and unique traditions. Rikishi wear their hair in samurai style called mage. Rikishi wear only a loincloth, but before makuuchi bouts begin they appear before spectators wearing a ceremonial apron. Yokozuna perform a ring-entering ceremony called dohyou-iri. At the end of a day of sumo bouts, a bow twirling ceremony called yumitori-shiki is performed. NHK broadcasts every sumo tournament nationwide on TV and radio.
How is the Tournament Champion Chosen?
Rikishi are generally large men, but they can differ in weight. Despite this, they don’t fight in weight categories. In exciting matches sponsors offer prize money to winners. Rikishi enter the ring (dohyou) when called by the yobidashi (usher), then scatter salt to purify the dohyou. Before the fight begins, a ceremony called “shikiri” (warming up) is carried out to boost the confidence of the rikishi.
Bouts are won by pushing an opponent out of the 4.55 meter wide dohyo, or by making the opponent touch the ground with another part of his body. Usually a bout is over in few seconds. The referee (gyoji) in kimono raises his fan to the winner. If the result is controversial, five judges sitting beneath the ring choose the winner by checking video footage and conferring amongst themselves. There 82 ways to win a fight.
Sumo tournaments are held six times a year. One tournament lasts 15 days and each day rikishi fight against a different opponent. The champion is the one with the highest number of wins over the 15 days. Besides the winner, three prizes for outstanding achievement are given to those of sekiwake rank and below. They are the Shukunshou (Outstanding Performance Award) given to those who managed to defeat a yokozuna or ozeki, the Kantoushou given to those who did well and displayed fighting spirit, and the Ginoushou for excellent technique. The rank (banzuke) of wrestlers is set depending on the result of the tournament.