In every sumo match there is always three men on the dohyo; the two rikishi and the Gyoji or referee. The gyoji over sees the match; makes sure it starts correctly, all the proper rituals are observed and determine who the proper winner is. Every Gyoji is dressed in traditional garb of different colors (denoting ranking which will be explained later) which includes a war fan or gunbai. The gunbai is always pointed towards the winner of the match, even when the match ends with no clear winner, the gyoji must always point the gunbai at who he THINKS won the match. Along with the gyoji there are five shimpan or judges outside the dohyo that observe the match. A shimpan is usually a retired sumo rikishi or at least a member of the Sumo Association (the governing body of Sumo) that has plenty of knowledge of sumo. In occurrences where a bout has ended with no clear winner (ie both rikishi fall out close to the same time, one rikishi steps out while his opponent is falling out of the ring, etc) the Shimpan will enter the dohyo and conduct a mono-ii where they will discuss who the winner of the match should be. Due to modern technology the shimpans can now watch instant replay of the match to help them make the proper decision. Once the mono-ii is conducted the head Shimpan will announce the decision to either support the gyoji’s decision, over turn it OR order a rematch or torinaoshi.
Homasho vs Aminishiki
In the above match between Homasho (left) and Aminishiki (right) the gyouji points the gumbai to Aminishiki…watch the match and see if you agree with his decision.
FYI the head of the Shimpan (the one who makes the final announcement on the microphone) in this match is former Legendary Yokozuna Takanoyama…the guy has lost over 250 lbs!!!!
A little fun fact, the gyouji carry a small ceremonial sword called a Tanto. This is the same sword that Samurai would carry and use to commit Seppuku (or Harakiri), a suicidal stab into the stomach in order to die with dignity and save face. Legends say that the Gyouji back in the day would commit Seppuku if they ever made a wrong decision, today of course the Gyouji dont do that…. Fortunately for the gyouji in the above match.
As it will be explained later, the sumo rikishi’s are ranked every tournament due to how they performed in the prior tournament. The gyoji’s are also ranked in a similar system. The criteria for their ranking is determined by experience as well as how accurate they choose the correct winner. If a gyoji’s decisions are overturned by the shimpan then they will drop in ranking. The goal of the gyoji is to obviously referee the matches that the Yokozuna are involved in. Only the top ranked gyouji can referee the top matches or matches involving the higher ranked rikishi like the Yokozuna. The rank of a gyoji is determined by the color of the tassel on his gumbai with the top rank being a solid purple tassel.