Professional rankings: The Banzuke

In each division of sumo, rikishi are ranked numerically, and each numbered slot has an east and a west side man, with the east side rikishi being slightly more prestigious. For example, there can be thirty men in the Maegashira ranks, from number one east to number fifteen west.

Here is an ASCII diagram of the way that rikishi are ranked. - Masumi Abe

Yokozuna                              \
==========                             |
Ozeki           \                      |
----------       |                     |- Makuuchi or Maku-no-uchi
Sekiwake         |- Sanyaku            |
Komusubi        /                      |
----------                             |
Maegashira                            /
Juryo (Jumai-me) "ju" = ten, "ryo" an ancient coin: ten ryo was the salary.
    |--------- All ranks above called "sekitori," below called "deshi."
Maku-Shita  (Below Maku)
San-dan-me  (Third Rank)            "san" = three
Jo-Ni-dan   (Second from the start) "ni" = two
Jo-no-Kuchi (Entering to start)     "kuchi" = mouth
    |--------- All ranks above have names on the banzuke
Ichi-ban Shusse |-- Names will be on the next banzuke, the first and only time
Ni-ban Shusse   /       allowed to wear Kesho-mawashi before Juryo at "Hirou"
Mae-zumo        |-- Just entering the world of sumo

Yokozuna and Ozeki

The rank of Yokozuna is the highest and most visible of Ozumo. Understanding how one becomes a Grand Champion will help understand the lower ranks and the climb up the ladder.

By the time a rikishi reaches the rank of Sekiwake, he has been able to consistently string together kachi-koshi records, and it is common to see sekitori stalled at the Sekiwake rank with eight or nine wins out of each 15 day basho. When more promise is shown and the wrestler gets into double digits, stays in the race for the yusho during the second week, and occasionally upsets a Yokozuna, the Sumo Kyokai will consider the Sekiwake's promotion to Ozeki. If found worthy, the new Ozeki will be brought the news by emissaries from the Kyokai, and there is much celebration. One of the benefits of Ozeki rank is no automatic demotion on the strength of a make-koshi record; to be demoted back to Sekiwake requires two consecutive losing records. Even then, if the former Ozeki next basho tallies 10 wins, he is waived back to his Ozeki rank. If he fails to make ten wins, he will have to chase the Ozeki rank as if he was doing it anew.

When an Ozeki overpowers his opponents and starts to consistently win yusho or jun-yusho (runner up to the tournament championship) he is judged by the Yokozuna Shingi Iinkai (Promotion Council) for fitness. If they recommend him to the Riji-kai (Board of Directors) of the Sumo Kyokai, they will examine the issue. The first thing they consider are the previous three basho. Out of those 45 bouts, 38 would be a minimum number of wins to be mathematically considered, but this is not all. Two consecutive yusho are desirable. Other criteria to be considered are character and attitude, such as obligation to Sumo Kyokai's rule and tradition, and respect toward seniors. There are many things to consider including the quality of sumo. If the Ozeki has not mastered the basic sumo technique, such as Shiko and Suri-Ashi, he does not gain any extra points toward promotion. In 1991, Konishiki lost points because of his Shiko, for example. Shiko is the way rikishi hold a leg and a foot aloft, then pound it onto the ground. When you raise the foot high, both knees are supposed to be extended and not bent. Suri-Ashi is keeping the bottom of the feet almost always touching the ground while moving in any direction. Being a model of basic technique, honor (hinkaku) and ability is required of the Yokozuna.

Once the Riji-kai approve the promotion, it will be officially and finally decided by the Banzuke Hensei Kaigi (Ranking Arranging Committee). Two oyakata will represent the Sumo Kyokai as messengers to deliver the great news to the newly promoted Yokozuna and his oyakata at his heya.

Historically, the great Ozeki Tamanishiki, rival to the greatest Yokozuna Futabayama, was not promoted to Yokozuna even after winning three consecutive basho. His attitude toward sumo practice was unprecedented; he was diligent to the extreme in matters of practice, but he was a lone wolf. He was liked and respected by young rikishi but he did not pay attention to the authority of Dai-Nippon Sumo Kyokai. He loved brawling, including street-fighting. He was close to being Yakuza, a gangster. Later, he did become Yokozuna and lead the Nishonoseki group, but died while he was still Yokozuna.

When an Ozeki wins two consecutive basho, all he needs is a simple majority decision by members of the Yokozuna Shingikai. If the Ozeki record is only "close enough" to the guideline, then he needs a unanimous decision. If the Ozeki does not get approval by Yokozuna Shingi Iinkai, he needs to try to convince these people with a much better performance in the next basho. Since the first year of Showa (1926), only Futabayama, Yochinishiki, Taiho, Kitanofuji, Kotozakura, Asahifuji, Akebono and Takanohana II were promoted based on two consecutive yusho.

There is no limit to the number of active Yokozuna, although a practical limit seems to be five or six; during 1992, there were no Yokozuna at all. There are always a minimum of two Ozeki.

Makunouchi Division

Unlike promotion to champion rank, moving up to the rank of Sekiwake can be done by simply winning more than losing. Sumo being a strict meritocracy, any winning record results in promotion, losing records in demotion. The more lopsided the numbers are, the more dramatic the fall or rise. A rikishi ranked Maegashira 9 West with a record of 8-7 is guaranteed a promotion to 9 East at the very least, depending on how other men around him did. This is a half-step promotion, a full step being a rise on the same side (West, in this example) from 9 to 8. If all men above you have subpar performances, it is possible to float as many as seven or eight steps up with a bare 8-7 record. Similarly, a record like 2-13 from the Sanyaku rank of Komusubi often results in a plummet to the bottom of the division, putting the sekitori in danger of demotion to Juryo.

Juryo - Masumi Abe

The gap between the top of Makushita and the bottom of Juryo is huge. For most rikishi, getting into Juryo is the best memory; for some it's better than becoming Ozeki. The difference is just like heaven and hell.

When you become a Juryo rikishi, you are "sekitori". You don't need to do any chores for any other rikishi or heya, and you can use at least a few deshi as your "tsukebito" to take care of you as personal valet. Non-sekitori rikishi, even at the top of Makushita does not have any "tsukebito". Sekitori is a shiny start and non-sekitori is their shadow. Yokozuna typically have four tsukebito, sekitori have two or three depending on prestige and seniority.

In current system, there are 26 Juryo and up to 40 Makuuchi rikishi.

Juryo is the most commonly used name for this level, but sumo insiders call them Jumai-me. I think this is from Maegashira Jumai-me, the tenth rank of Maegashira. Of course, in the current system, Maegashira 10-mai-me (jumai-me) is close to the middle of Makuuchi Maegashira rikishi, not even near Juryo. On the banzuke, Juryo rikishi are listed in the second layer from the top (the top layer is only for Makuuchi rikishi) as "Maegashira", same as other Maegashira rikishi in Makuuchi.

All the Lower Ranks

Being "in front of the curtain" from professional sumo means that even your appearance shows your rank. Being a sekitori means having tsukebito, oitcho mage (your hair styled into a fancy ginko-leaf shaped topknot), fancy embroidered Kesho-mawashi, colored mawashi for matches, rigidly starched sagari (the starched fringe that hangs from the front of a mawashi), whitish mawashi for practices, seasonal kimono and yukata. You sit down to eat first and be served by the lower ranked deshi, have your own room, and take part in a dohyo-iri, which is like a parade to exhibit your rank. Not having this rank means being tsukebito, having a simple chon-mage topknot, no Kesho-mawashi, dark grayish mawashi for both matches and practices, soft sagari, and wearing only yukata even when it's a bit chilly out. You also get to do grocery shopping and cook under the guidance of the Okamisan (Oyakata's wife), and you have to eat last even having done all the work.

Most young men wanting to join Ozumo start in their teens in Mae-zumo, and take years to make it to Makushita. College champions are given a break, they start at the bottom of Makushita. All rikishi are given physicals, and the new recruits endure schooling in such subjects as anatomy, law, sumo history and culture, calligraphy, and shigin, an ancient form of singing. Minimum requirements for height and weight are 170 cm and 75 kg, respectively.


This adapted from the book "Sumo: From Rite To Sport" by Patricia L. Cuyler. - Richard Webb, D. Riley, Achim Pawelczyk

A monthly wage system for Ozumo was established in May 1957, but only sekitori rikishi are salaried. As of January 1996, the salaries are for sekitori:

Yokozuna  2,107,000 yen
Ozeki     1,753,000
Sekiwake  1,264,000
Maegashira  977,000
Juryo       773,000

Those below Juryo rank are given no monthly wages, although each tournament (every odd numbered month) they receive the allowance called basho teate as follows:

Makushita   120,000 yen
Sandanme     85,000
Jonidan      75,000
Jonokuchi    70,000

In addition to these basic sums there are many other allowances and bonuses, making it nearly impossible for an outsider to compute the actual income of a specific rikishi. These include:

25,000 yen for all sekitori after every Tokyo tournament.

150,000 yen to each Yokozuna before a Tokyo basho to cover the expenses in making a new tsuna, the white Yokozuna hawser worn around the waist during the dohyo-iri.

Bonuses after a tournament for Sanyaku of:

Yokozuna 200,000 yen
Ozeki    150,000
Sekiwake  50,000
Komusubi  50,000

Also there is the championship money for each yusho winner as follows:

Makuuchi        750,000 yen
Juryo           550,000
Makushita       250,000
Sandanme        100,000
Jonidan         100,000
Jonokuchi        50,000

Sansho winners (in Makuuchi only) also receive 550,000 yen each.

Wages and allowances are linked to a man's performance only as far as it affects his rank. A drop or rise in rank will mean a corresponding change in salary and bonuses.

Before the establishment of the monthly pay system, the only financial reward received directly by a rikishi was the mochi kyuin (accumulated money), or hoshokin (incentive pay) as it is officially called. This is computed for every rikishi after each tournament, beginning with the passage from maezumo, but nothing is paid on the figure until the rikishi reaches Juryo status. It is primarily based on the number of wins over losses the man records in his career. A beginner starts with a credit of three yen. For each victory over the half-mark, the basic sum is raised by fifty sen (half a yen) though nothing is taken away if he has more losses than wins.

Promotion to Juryo status raises the figure to forty yen, in case the rikishi has not accumulated that amount, and it is at this level that the man begins to get extra pay based on the figure. Promotion to Makuuchi ensures a minimum figure of sixty yen. A Maegashira who beats a Yokozuna is awarded a kinboshi (gold star) which adds another ten yen to his basic sum. The top-division championship is worth a thirty-yen addition, or fifty yen if the winner is undefeated. With the exception of the promotion additions, which are lost by demotion, the accumulated figure is always added to and never subtracted from. When a rikishi suffers more losses than wins, there is simply no addition to his basic amount, although gold star increments are always added regardless of the rest of the man's performance.

The basic figure is used like this: following every tournament, each rikishi over the Makushita rank is paid 1,500 times the sum he has accumulated. This can run to incredible amounts. While in September 1970 the Yokozuna Kitanofuji had accumulated 324.5 yen-points, the then Komusubi Takanohana, 68, and the third Maegashira Takamiyama, 90, the Yokozuna Taiho had a total of 1,442 yen-points. (At his retirement, Takamiyama had still only advanced to a total of 266.5.) At that time Taiho had won the championship thirty-one times, eight of these undefeated. Just for the championships, his basic figure was increased by 1,090 yen-points. The fifty sen he received for each of his kachikoshi wins from his first matches in Jonokuchi division in 1956 brought his total in September 1970 to the 1,442 figure. In those days the basic sum was multiplied by 1,000, so he received after that tournament nearly 1,500,000 yen in hoshokin, which, when added to his monthly salary and other bonuses, brought him a considerable income by any account.

As a follow-up to that 1985 information, here is a section from Lora Sharnoff's 1989 edition of "Grand Sumo: The Living Sport and Tradition" - Richard Webb, D. Riley, Achim Pawelczyk

At the conclusion of a bout, both men climb back onto the dohyo and stand on their side of the ring. The sumotori must lower their heads to each other before leaving the ring. The loser leaves first. The winner must express thanks to the three gods of creation: Amenominakanushi no kami, Takamimusubi no kami, and Kamimusubi no kami, by swiftly swinging his hand in the four cardinal points while crouching on his heels before the referee's paddle. This is called tegatana o kiru (cutting with the hand like a sword), and it must be performed by the winner of each match, whether or not some white envelopes have been presented from the referee's paddle.

Each envelope contains money, and their number depends on how many banners were carried by yobidashi circling the ring at the start of the warm-up rituals. The banners represent companies, groups of patrons, and other sponsors who offered 60,000 yen (in 1996) as special prize money called kensho-kin (encouragement money) for the bout. Some companies are mainly interested in the name value of the association with sumo. Others intend to sponsor one of the sekitori. A winner takes all on the paddle, although only 30,000 yen is actually in each envelope. The Sumo Association keeps 5,000 yen as expenses for printing a sponsor's name on the program for the day and announcing it over the loudspeaker. The remaining 25,000 yen is set aside in a fund to help the rikishi pay his taxes at the end of the fiscal year. This system was instituted apparently because in the past many sekitori tended to spend their money as soon as they got it and would later find themselves unable to pay their taxes.

The practice of giving kensho-kin to the winner of a match dates back to the Edo period, and was especially popular in Kyoto and Osaka. Later, particularly during World War II, items of food and clothing were even flung to the winners. After the war the kensho prizes were standardized to a specific amount of money.

The most kensho-kin ever placed on a bout was twenty-six for Yokozuna Taiho versus Ozeki Tochinoumi in January 1964.

Physical Characteristics of rikishi

Body Size of Makuuchi Rikishi (as of Kyushu-basho in 1995)

shikona     height (cm)    weight (kg)
Akebono        203            222
Akinoshima     174            154
Aogiyama       180            150
Asahiyutaka    191            146
Asanosho       184            136
Asanowaka      175            150
Daishi         181            166
Daishoho       187            145
Hamanoshima    179            131
Higonoumi      183            141
Kaio           185            148
Kasugafuji     177            141
Kenko          189            140
Kiraiho        189            159
Kirishima      186            126
Kitakachidoki  183            158
Konishiki      183            284
Kotobeppu      178            192
Kotoinazuma    181            134
Kotonishiki    177            142
Kotonowaka     190            176
Kyokudozan     182            105
Mainoumi       170            100
Minatofuji     186            162
Misugisato     185            158
Mitoizumi      194            192
Musashimaru    190            196
Musoyama       184            167
Naminohana     179            133
Oginishiki     184            142
Oginohana      187            133
Takanohana     185            152
Takanonami     197            166
Takatoriki     180            147
Tamakasuga     180            144
Terao          186            114
Tochinowaka    189            158
Tomonohana     175            115
Tosanoumi      185            140
Wakanohana     180            134
Wakashoyo      180            168
Averages:    183.73 (6'1/3")  152.85 (336.28 lbs)