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The Sumo Federation holds six Grand Tournaments per year.  Nagoya hosts the annual July tournament which this year was from July 8th through 22nd.  Mike, Ashley, and I went on the final day of the tournament, normally the most crowded besides the opening day.  We didn't have reserved tickets so Mike showed up to wait in line at 6:15 a.m. to get tickets when the ticket office opened at 8:20 a.m.  Ashley and I got there around 7:00 a.m. and found Mike waiting in line and joined him, a couple minutes later they came through and gave people numbers for their tickets, we were 123, 124 & 125.  There were only 200 tickets available to purchase!  The doors opened at 8:30 a.m. and after we got our tickets, we went in and got some seats (the top 2 rows on the far ends of the arena).  The first matches, basically A and AA wrestlers, started at 9:45 a.m. with the AAA starting at 12:55 p.m. and the Major Leaguers at 3:15 p.m.  Read more to get the real names and information about the divisions.

Sumo (相撲, sumō) is a competitive contact sport where two wrestlers called rikishi face off in a circular area. The sport is popular in Japan and is surrounded by ceremony and ritual. The Japanese consider sumo a gendai budō: a modern Japanese martial art, even though the sport has a history spanning many centuries. The sumo tradition is very ancient, and even today the sport includes many ritual elements, such as the use of salt for purification, from the days sumo was used in the Shinto religion.

Origins of Sumo
Sumo was mentioned in Nihon Shoki, one of the earliest texts in Japan, under its earlier name sumai, from the 8th century A.D. However, these early forms would not be sumo as it is known today, as in many cases the wrestling had relatively few rules and unarmed fights to the death were still referred to as "sumo".

In addition to its use as a trial of strength in combat, it has also been associated with Shinto ritual, and even today certain shrines carry out forms of ritual dance where a human ceremonially wrestles with a kami (a Shinto 'spirit' or 'god'). It was an important ritual at the imperial court. Representatives of each province were ordered to attend the contest at the court and fought. They needed to pay for their travels themselves. The contest was known as sumai no sechie, or "sumai party."

Over the rest of Japanese recorded history, sumo's popularity has changed according to the whims of its rulers and the need for its use as a training tool in periods of civil strife. The form of wrestling combat probably changed gradually into one where the main aim in victory was to throw one's opponent. The concept of pushing one's opponent out of a defined area came some time later.

It is believed that a ring, defined by more than the area given to the wrestlers by spectators, came into being in the 16th century as a result of a tournament organized by the then-principal warlord in Japan, Oda Nobunaga. At this point wrestlers would wear loose loincloths, rather than the much stiffer mawashi of today. During the Edo period, wrestlers would wear a fringed kesho-mawashi during the bout, whereas today these are worn only during pre-tournament rituals. Most of the rest of the current forms within the sport developed in the early Edo period.

Professional sumo (大相撲, ōzumō) can trace its roots back to the Edo Period in Japan as a form of sporting entertainment. The original wrestlers were probably samurai, often ronin, who needed to find an alternative form of income.

It should be noted that nations adjacent to Japan, sharing many cultural traditions, also feature styles of traditional wrestling that bear resemblance to sumo. Notable examples include Mongolian wrestling, Chinese Shuai jiao (摔角), and Korean Ssireum.

Winning a sumo bout
The winner of a sumo bout is mainly determined by two rules:

1. The first person to touch the ground with any part of his body other than the soles of his feet loses.
2. The first person to be pushed out of the ring loses.

On rare occasions the referee or judges may award the win to the wrestler who touched the ground first; this happens if both wrestlers touch the ground at the same time and it is decided that the wrestler who touched the ground second had no chance of winning as, due to the superior sumo of his opponent, he was already in an irrecoverable position. The losing wrestler is referred to as being shini-tai (“dead body”) in this case.

There are also a number of other rarely used rules that can be used to determine the winner. For example a wrestler using an illegal technique (or kinjite) automatically loses, as does one whose mawashi (or belt) becomes completely undone. A wrestler failing to turn up for his bout (including through a prior injury) also automatically loses (fusenpai). After the winner is declared, an off-stage gyoji (or referee) determines the kimarite (or winning technique) used in the bout, which is then announced to the audience.

Matches often last only a few seconds, as usually one wrestler is quickly ousted from the circle or thrown to the ground. However they can occasionally last for several minutes. Each match is preceded by an elaborate ceremonial ritual. The wrestlers themselves are renowned for their great girth, as body mass is often a winning factor in sumo, though with skill, smaller wrestlers can topple far larger opponents.

The wrestling ring (dohyo)
Sumo matches take place in a dohyō (土俵): a ring, 4.55 meters in diameter, of rice-straw bales on top of a platform made of clay mixed with sand. A new dohyō is built for each tournament by the yobidashi. At the center are two white lines, the shikiri-sen, behind which the wrestlers position themselves at the start of the bout. A roof resembling that of a Shinto shrine may be suspended over the dohyō.

Professional sumo
Currently professional sumo is organized by the Japan Sumo Association. The members of the association, called oyakata, are all former wrestlers, and are the only people entitled to train new wrestlers. All practicing wrestlers are members of a training stable (heya) run by one of the oyakata, who is the stablemaster for the wrestlers under him. Currently there are 54 training stables for about 700 wrestlers.

All sumo wrestlers take wrestling names called shikona (しこ名), which may or may not be related to their real names. Often wrestlers have little choice in their name, which is given to them by their trainer (or stablemaster), or by a supporter or family member who encouraged them into the sport. This is particularly true of foreign-born wrestlers. A wrestler may change his wrestling name several times during his sumo career. The current trend is towards more wrestlers, particularly native Japanese, keeping their own name.

Sumo wrestling is a strict hierarchy based on sporting merit. The wrestlers are ranked according to a system that dates back hundreds of years, to the Edo period. Wrestlers are promoted or demoted according to their previous performance, and a carefully prepared banzuke listing the full hierarchy is published two weeks prior to each sumo tournament.

There are six divisions in sumo: makuuchi (fixed at 42 wrestlers), jūryō (fixed at 28 wrestlers), makushita (fixed at 120 wrestlers), sandanme (fixed at 200 wrestlers), jonidan (approximately 230 wrestlers), and jonokuchi (approximately 80 wrestlers). Wrestlers enter sumo in the lowest jonokuchi division and, ability permitting, work their way up to the top division. Wrestlers in the top two division are known as sekitori, while lower division wrestlers are generally referred to by the generic term for wrestlers, rikishi. For more information, see Professional Sumo Divisions.

The topmost makuuchi division receives the most attention from fans and has the most complex hierarchy. The majority of wrestlers are maegashira and are numbered from one (at the top) down to about sixteen or seventeen. Above the maegashira are the champion or titleholder ranks, called the sanyaku. These are, in ascending order, komusubi, sekiwake, ōzeki and, at the pinnacle of the ranking system, yokozuna. For more information on this division and it's ranks, see makuuchi.

M
akuuchi Yokozuna, or grand champions, are wrestlers who generally are regularly in competition to win the top division tournament title near the end of a tournament. Hence the promotion criteria are very strict. In general, an ōzeki must win the championship for two consecutive tournaments (or an equivalent performance) to be promoted to yokozuna.

Exhibition competitions are held at regular intervals every year in Japan, and approximately once every two years the top ranked wrestlers visit a foreign country for such exhibitions. None of these displays are taken into account in determining a wrestler's future rank. Rank is determined only by performance in Grand Sumo Tournaments (or honbasho).

Professional sumo tournaments
There are six Grand Sumo tournaments (or honbasho) each year: three at The Sumo Hall (or Ryōgoku Kokugikan) in Ryōgoku, Tokyo (January, May, and September), and one each in Osaka (March), Nagoya (July) and Fukuoka (November). Each tournament begins on a Sunday and runs for 15 days, ending also on a Sunday. Each wrestler in the top two divisions (sekitori) has one match per day, while the lower ranked rikishi compete in seven bouts, approximately one every two days.

Each day is structured so the highest-ranked contestants compete at the end of the day. Thus, wrestling will start in the morning with the jonokuchi wrestlers and end at around six o'clock in the evening with bouts involving the yokozuna, or the ōzeki in the case of the yokozuna's absence. The wrestler who wins the most matches over the fifteen days wins the tournament championship. If two wrestlers are tied for the top, they wrestle each other and the winner takes the title. Three-way ties for the top position are rare, at least in the top division. In these cases the three wrestle each other in pairs with the first to win two in a row taking the tournament. More complex systems for championship playoffs involving four or more wrestlers also exist, but these are usually only seen in determining the winner of one of the lower divisions.

The match-ups for each day of the tournament are announced a day in advance. They are determined by oyakata (or sumo elders) who are members of the judging division of the Sumo Association. As there are many more wrestlers in each division than match-ups during the tournament each wrestler will only compete against a selection of opponents, mostly from the same division. With the exception of the sanyaku ranked wrestlers the first bouts tend to be between wrestlers who are within a couple of ranks of each other. Afterwards the selection of opponents takes into account a wrestler's prior performance. For example in the lower divisions the last match-ups often involve undefeated wrestlers competing against each other, even if they are from opposite ends of the division. In the top division in the last few days wrestlers with exceptional records will often have matches against much more highly ranked opponents, including sanyaku wrestlers, especially if they are still in the running for the top division championship. Similarly more highly ranked wrestlers with very poor records may find themselves fighting wrestlers much further down the division. For the yokozuna and ōzeki the first week and a half of the tournament tends to be taken up with bouts against the top maegashira, the komusubi and sekiwake, with the bouts between them being concentrated into the last five days or so of the tournament (depending on the number of top ranked wrestlers competing). It is traditional that on the final day the last three bouts of the tournament are between the top six ranked wrestlers, with the top two competing in the very final match-up, unless injuries during the tournament prevent this.

There are certain match-ups that are prohibited in regular tournament play. Wrestlers who are from the same training stable cannot compete against each other, nor can wrestlers who are brothers, even if they join different stables. The one exception to this rule being that training stable partners and brothers can face each other in a championship deciding playoff match.

Bout preparation
A top division wrestler will arrive at the stadium in the afternoon and enter the changing room. There are 'East' and 'West' rooms so competing wrestlers do not meet their opponents of the day prior to the match. The wrestler will change first into his kesho-mawashi, an ornate, embroidered silk 'apron', which he will wear during the ring entering ceremony, or dohyo-iri. There are four dohyo-iri on each day, two for jyuryo and two for makuuchi division wrestlers. In each case there is a procession of those in the east changing room and one for those in the west. During the ceremony the wrestlers are introduced to the crowd one by one in ascending rank order and form a circle around the ring facing outwards. Once the highest ranked wrestler is introduced they turn inwards and perform a brief ritual before filing off and returning to their changing rooms. Yokozuna have a separate, more elaborate dohyo-iri; see yokozuna.

Once in the changing room the wrestlers change into their fighting mawashi and await their bouts. The wrestlers reenter the arena two bouts prior to their own and sit down at the side of the ring. There are no weight divisions in sumo, so an individual wrestler can sometimes face someone twice his own weight. When it is their turn they will be called into the ring by a yobidashi and they will mount the dohyo. The referee or gyoji will coordinate the bout. On mounting the dohyo the wrestler performs a number of ritual moves involving leg stomps and clapping whilst facing out towards the audience. He also cleans his mouth out with chikara-mizu lit: power water). He then throws some salt into the ring to purify it. The wrestlers perform another brief ritual when facing each other and then adopt a crouch position to "charge" at each other (called the tachi-ai). The wrestlers do not necessarily charge on the first occasion but can instead stare and return to their corner. This can happen a number of times (about four, or even more in the case of the highest ranks) until on the last occasion the referee informs them they must start the bout. The total length of time of this preparation and attempts to psyche themselves or opponents is around four minutes for all wrestlers, but in the lowest divisions the wrestlers are expected to start more or less immediately.

A professional sumo bout
At the tachi-ai both wrestlers must jump up from the crouch simultaneously at the start of the bout, and the referee can restart the bout if this does not occur. Once the bout is complete the referee must point his gunbai or war-fan towards the winning side. The wrestlers will return to their starting positions and bow to each other before retiring. A winning wrestler may receive additional prize money in envelopes from the referee if the matchup has been sponsored. The referee is obliged at the end of the bout, even in bouts too close to call, to immediately designate a preliminary winner. For all matches, there are five shimpan (judges) around the ring who can query the referee's decision. If this happens they will meet in the centre of the ring to hold a mono-ii (lit: a talk about things). After reaching a consensus they can uphold or reverse the referee's decision or order a rematch, known as a torinaoshi.

In contrast to the time in bout preparation, bouts are typically very short, usually less than a minute, and often only a few seconds. Extremely rarely a bout can go on for many minutes (up to 4 minutes), in which case the referee may call a mizu-iri or water break. The wrestlers are carefully separated, have a brief break and then return to the exact position they left off in. It is the referee's responsibility to reposition the wrestlers. If after four more minutes they are still deadlocked they may have a second break, after which they start from the very beginning. Further deadlock with no end of the bout in sight can lead to a draw, which is an extremely rare result.

The last day of the tournament is called senshuraku, which literally means the pleasure of a thousand autumns. This colorful name for the culmination of the tournament echoes the words of the playwright Zeami to represent the excitement of the decisive bouts and the celebration of the victor. The Emperor's Cup is presented to the wrestler who wins the top division (makuuchi) championship. Numerous other (mostly sponsored) prizes are also awarded to him. These prizes are often rather elaborate, ornate gifts, such as giant cups, decorative plates, and statuettes. Others are obviously commercial, such as one trophy shaped like a giant Coca-Cola bottle.

Promotion and relegation are determined by a wrestler's score over the 15 days. The term kachikoshi indicates a record having more wins than losses, as opposed to makekoshi, which indicates more losses than wins. In the top division, kachikoshi means a score of 8–7 or better, while makekoshi means a score of 7–8 or worse. A wrestler who achieves kachikoshi will almost always be promoted further up the ladder, the level of promotion being higher for better scores. Similarly, makekoshi almost always results in relegation to a lower rank. In the sanyaku ranks, simple kachikoshi are often not sufficient to be promoted. Wrestlers in this highly competitive subgroup of the highest division may require nine, ten, or even eleven out of fifteen possible wins to gain in rank. There are special rules for ozeki and yokozuna promotions (see above). A yokozuna can never be relegated, but an ozeki is demoted if he has two makekoshi tournaments in a row. If an ozeki loses his rank due to two consecutive makekoshi records, he can regain ozeki status in the next tournament by posting at least 10 wins. If he fails to win 10 matches in that tournament, he will have to satisfy the full original criteria (see above) in order to once again be promoted to ozeki.

A top division wrestler who is not an ozeki or yokozuna and who finishes the tournament with kachikoshi is also eligible to be considered for one of the three sanshō prizes awarded for technique (ginōshō), fighting spirit (kantōshō), and for the defeating the most yokozuna and ozeki (shukunshō).

The wrestling ring (dohyo) is 4.55 meters in diameter, made of rice-straw bales on top of a platform made of clay mixed with sand.

The makuuchi and juryo pairings for the day ... and Mike and Ashley sitting in our seats.

The five gentlemen in black kimonos are the five shimpan (judges) around the ring.

The first bout of the day involves the jonokuchi wrestlers.

Sumo wrestlers gather in a circle around the gyoji (referee) in the dohyo-iri (ring-entering ceremony) to start the jūryō division bouts.

The wrestlers gather in a circle around the gyoji (referee) in the dohyo-iri (ring-entering ceremony) to start the makuuchi division bouts.

Yokozuna Asashoryu performing the dohyo-iri (ring-entering ceremony), accompanied by a sword-bearer (top right) and a dew-sweeper (bottom right).

The guy with the banner is showing the number of tournaments this wrestler has won ... I think.

... smile every day!

The seat of defeat.

Now this is a bunch of wins.

Three of the top six wrestlers getting ready for the final three bouts of the tournament.

 

The final match in the top division was Asashoryu versus Hakuho.  Yokozuna Asashoryu won the match for his 21st Makuuchi Division title and a 14-1 record during the tournament.

Preparation of the final bout.

concentration ...

... now THIS is a bunch of titles ... 20 to be exact and by the next tournament there will be 21.

VICTORY!

The Emporer's Cup

The beginning of the other sponsored awards. No. 1, ...

No. 2, ...

No. 3, ...

No. 10, ...

No. 20, ...

... No. 23!