Another installment of Sumo 101 giving you everything you need to know about the wonderful world of Sumo in preparation of the first basho of the year on January 8th, 2012. Enjoy!
The banzuke is the list that ranks all the active rikishi and is a vital part of Sumo. A rikishi is ranked based on how they performed the prior basho and the goal of each rikishi is to work their way up the banzuke until they are at the top as Yokozuna. Right after a basho has ended, a group of 20 shimpans and sumo officials will discuss what ranking to give each rikishi based on how they performed in the basho. The shimpans and officials will take into account all the rikishi’s with makekoshis (losing records) and kachikoshis (winning records) and will move the rikishis up or down accordingly until they make a new banzuke. The banzuke holds as many as 800 rikishi names and is divided up into six different divisions. Once the new banzuke has been made it is guarded and wont be released until 13 days before the next upcoming basho. Not only does the banzuke determine rank for the rikishi but will also determine who the rikishi will fight against each day, as similar ranked rikishi will fight each other.
As stated before, the rikishi rankings are divided into six divisions with two key divisions sitting on top; the Juryo and the Makuuchi. There are many differences between being a rikishi in the bottom four divisions and being in the top two. For one thing the rikishis in the top two divisions compete all fifteen days during the basho and another thing is that the lower division rikishi’s must serve the upper division rikishis in such tasks as carrying their luggage, serving their food and cleaning their toilets. That’s why the key to many rikishi is to at least gain Juryo so they can have the lower ranking rikishi be sorta like man servants to them.
The second highest division is fixed at 28 rikishi and they compete in their matches right before the makuuchi matches take place. A juryo rikishi is paid a monthly allowance compared to the salary that the makuuchi rikishi make which motivates many Juryo rikishi to try their hardest to advance from the juryo division to the makuuchi divison as well as motivate the makuuchi rikishi from sliding back down to juryo.
The top division in sumo is filled with 42 of the elite rikishi. The makuuchi rikishi fight at the end of the day in about 21 bouts. The Makuuchi division is divided into two parts: the Sanyaku or titleholders (which consists of the Komusubi, Sekiwake, Ozeki and the top champion Yokozuna) and the Maegashira, those rikishi that aren’t titleholders. A rikishi must move through each part of the Makuuchi division Maegashira to Komusubi to Sekiwake to Ozeki to finally reach Yokozuna and be considered the best rikishi in sumo.
The group of titleholders sit on top of the banzuke and accordingly will fight at the end of each night. Not only do the Sanyaku get paid the most money they are usually the more recognized rikishis to the public. For a rikishi to achieve a Sanyaku rank they obviously have to consistently score kachikoshis during bashos and move up the rankings. The only point where it is slightly different is when the rikishi is trying to gain Ozeki status.
Ozeki is considered the second highest ranking in sumo right below the kingly Yokozuna. To gain Ozeki ranking is an honor in itself and is very hard to obtain. A rikishi can not simply become Ozeki by gaining kachikoshi once he becomes a Sekiwake (the ranking right below Ozeki). He must NOT only get kachikoshi but also at least have two back to back GREAT bashos. The definition of great means he has to either win a basho (yusho) or at least be in contention to win it (ie being runner up). If a Sekiwake ends up having a good tournament but then has a bad one the next tournament he will have to start all over again in trying to achieve Ozeki. Conversely as hard as it is to obtain Ozeki, once a riksihi becomes Ozeki its kinda hard to lose it. If an Ozeki ends up with a makekoshi he will NOT be demoted from Ozeki immediately. Instead he will be considered “in danger” or Ozeki in “kotoban” and will have to score a kachikoshi the next tournament to secure his Ozeki spot. If the Ozeki scores back to back Makekochis then they will be demoted to Sekiwake. BUT if the newly demoted rikishi can score at least 10 wins the next tournament he will instantly become Ozeki again and not have to go through the previous process of having back to back successful bashos. Currently there are 5 Ozekis (with the newest Ozeki, Kisenosato, having just been promoted last November), 2 sekiwakes and 2 komosubis. There is no maximum or minimum number of rikishis that can hold each title but usually there is at least one of each ranking at all time, and the Japanese do like to have an even number of title holders (including Yokozunas) at the top of the banzuke to balance it out.
The king of sumo, Yokozuna is the highest ranking a rikishi can achieve. Once a riksihi is Yokozuna he makes the most money, is the most recognized and is pretty much treated like a king in most places of Japan. To become Yokozuna is even harder than becoming Ozeki. To become a Yokozuna you have to have won back to back tournaments as an Ozeki as well as shown proper etiquette and abide by the cultural rules of Sumo (ie no fighting with civilians or public drunkenness). There have been times in the past where dominant Ozekis have won numerous tournaments but have NOT been promoted because they were seen as not following the sumo ways. Once a rikishi becomes Yokozuna he CAN NOT be demoted. If a Yokozuna does poorly in two straight tournaments he is asked kindly to retire. Most of the time the Yokozuna will retire to save face, for such poor performances but there have been times when Yokozunas refuse to retire. If he does NOT retire he can be forced to retire. Thus being a Yokozuna can be lucrative (the most winningest Yokozunas can make any where from $100k to $500k PER tournament) but there is also A LOT of pressure. Like the other sanyaku ranks there is no maximum or minimum number of rikishi that can be Yokozuna at one time there can even be none (as occurred for 8 months back in 1992). Currently there is only one Yokozuna, the mighty Hakuho.