the artful ranking of pro sumo wrestlers…
(translated by Julien Griffon, proofread by John Gunning, many thanks to Thierry Perran for his valuable help on numerous translations from Japanese)
The banzuke (or banzuke-hyo) is a calligraphied document drawn up after each tournament, giving the positions of the fighters, depending on the results of each participant. But it also contains the full list of gyoji (referees) and oyakata (masters). By extension, banzuke is also the name used for the ranking itself. It is set by an assembly (banzuke hensei iinkai), composed of the 23 members of the shimpan-bu: the 20 shimpan (judges) and the 3 kanji (supervisors). They gather especially for that purpose a few days after the tournament. Their task is to give no less than the 800 fighters belonging to the 6 divisions of sumo new positions. No rule indicates precisely the place a rikishi will occupy the next session; the only basic rule governing the banzuke is the following one: “a kashi-koshi (more victories than defeats during the former tournament) means a promotion, whereas a make-koshi (the opposite) forces the rikishi down the ranking. The wider the gap between wins and losses, the greater rise or fall in position”. Of course, like any other rule, there are exceptions to this one… but this is out of the focus of this article!
During the assembly, led by a gyoji, the discussion goes from the top of the previous ranking down to the apprentices in the jonokuchi division. The gyoji writes on a paper roll (maki) the new rank of each rikishi. After the meeting, once each position is assigned, they place the precious roll into a safe for it to be kept secret until it is revealed to the public, several weeks later, on the Monday, 13 days before the beginning of the next tournament. Actually, the safe gets opened one week before for the gyoji to draw up the final version of the ranking. He spends one entire day tracing the characters composing the names of the fighters, with a particular style called negishi-ryu. He uses black ink and a traditional Japanese sheet of paper (washi), 108cm large by 78cm wide. Many tenths of thousand smaller copies (58cm x 44cm) are then printed and provided to the different schools, where they are folded and sent to the sponsors and “friends” of the establishment. A number of them is also provided to the shops on the site where the basho takes place, where one can buy them only during the tournament. Some people consider the banzuke-hyo to be art pieces. Still, a sumo lover who does not have any knowledge in Japanese language will not be able to read them. For lack of a full “translation”, here is a few elements that will help getting familiarised with the layout of these rankings.Reading is from right to left and from the top to the bottom.