“I’ve never really wanted to go to Japan. Simply because I don’t like eating fish. And I know that’s very popular out there in Africa.”
-Britney Spears (maybe)
The history of Sumo (or Sumo Wrestling), is one of the most overlooked corners in the sporting world. Where every other sport embraces the new, Sumo relishes in it’s history. Although it has such a rich background of tradition and respect, very few understand the true nuance of it’s hierarchy and unspoken rule set. For the sake of brevity we will only be focusing on the divisions of Sumo today, but if you’d like to learn more you can request a follow up by e-mailing email@example.com. Now let’s get into it, so you can impress your friends with more sports tidbits than “Did you know the Cubs hadn’t won a World Series in 108 years?!?”. We already know. And you should be better than that.
The rikishi make up the sport’s wrestlers. And no, I’m not talking about that Rikishi. They are broken up into a hierarchy of different divisions according to skill and rank. Because visuals are better than a mindless paragraph of words, here is a breakdown:
As you can see we have a system of prestige if you will. Junokuchi being the lowest, and the Makuuchi being the highest. The two highest divisions, including the Jūryō and Makuuchi is where the wrestlers unofficially reach the rank of “professional”. Even further than that we have another breakdown among those those highest divisions called San’yaku, which is basically their “champions”.
Respectively, here are the champions from highest to lowest:
It’s a bit of an understatement to call the hierarchy for the wrestlers complex. Not only does each subsequent promotion include benefits of salary, fancier clothes, increased independence, and less grunt work for their stable (click here to read more about stables). Promotion most importantly grants you respect among your fellow wrestlers.
Now who is in charge of keeping track of this nonsense? The Japanese Sumo Association of course. I wish I could say the JSA was a simpler organization. Like one dude sitting in a chair who likes ranking things, but unfortunately the JSA is just as complex as every other god damn thing in the sport. Breaking them down would be even MORE confusing than the wrestlers themselves, so we will avoid getting in too much detail about them. Alas, there is a subset group of judges within the organization, which take into account win-loss records, their tournament history, as well as opponents when considering a rikishi for promotion. The top most goal being, of course, to reach the level of Yokozuna.
We’ve finally reached the pinnacle of Sumo. Yokozuna. It is the highest possible ranking for any rikishi to reach, and the most prestigious title in all of Sumo. These are the superstars of the Sumo world. There have been a total of 71 (at the time of writing this) Yokozuna in the sports history. With a bare minimum requirement being two straight tournament victories (click here to learn more about Sumo tournaments), a special counsel among the members of the JSA will decide on whether the specific rikishi is worthy of the title. Once you have been granted the title of Yokozuna, you are officially baller status in the sport of Sumo, and around the country of Japan. With a much higher monthly salary, and tournament bonuses, the Yokozuna are a far cry from living the subservient life of being a low level rikishi in training. There can be multiple Yokozuna still active in the sport, but due to the fact very few reach this level, there aren’t a flood of Yokozuna walking around the streets of Tokyo.
What you have learned today
- The Japanese like ranking things
- A sport where the goal is throwing people out of a circle, is complicated as hell
- Yokozuna are prestigious AF