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When a sumo wrestler is travelling to attend tournaments - as he does every two months - his belongings and paraphernalia travel with him, contained in a box: an akeni. It is a light box made of Japanese paper (washi), and it is the job of the tsukebito (the helpers) to make sure it is brought along on the first day of the basho (shonichi), and taken home again on the last day (senshuraku).

The akeni is quite a piece of art. It measures some 80*45*30 cm, weighing roughly 10 kg. The colour is (almost) always a rich green, with the wrestler's shikona (ring name) painted in a special red hue, tinted with yellow. Despite being made of paper mounted on a bamboo frame, the akeni is very durable and tough. Only the corners, which are the points most exposed to wear and tear, are reinforced with iron. Fully laden the akeni will weigh around 40 kg, and will contain the wrestler's mawashi (both the cotton training mawashi and the silk mawashi for the actual fights), keshomawashi, a flask for water, some towels, and a change of clothes. A high ranked wrestler1, eg. a yokozuna or an ozeki will have more than one akeni, since they will have more stuff. The yokozuna will be travelling with his tsuna, the heavy, white hemp rope that is the most visible sign of his status as Grand Master.2 Furthermore he - and the ozeki - will have more than one keshomawashi for dohyoiri (ring opening ceremony).

The akeni is in itself proof of a wrestler's status, since only a sekitori is allowed to have one (a sekitori is a wrestler who is in one of the two top divisions3). When a wrestler is promoted to juryo, his heya comrades (dokisei)4 all chip in to buy him an akeni. All who are still active pay a share when one of their number is promoted, which means that high ranked rikishi like eg. the youkozuna may well pay part of a newly promoted sekitori's akeni.

Since only sumotori5 (sumo wrestlers) and gyoji (sumo referees) use the akeni nowadays, the number of manufacturers have dwindled dramatically over the last 30 odd years. Today only one person in Japan makes akeni: Takekazu Watanabe in Kyoto. He was persuaded to take up the trade when the two remaining akeni makers in Ryogoku retired. Whether he has any appretices is not known to me. I really hope he does.

  1. The ranks in the top division, makuuchi, are, from the bottom up: maegashira, komusubi, sekiwake, ozeki and yokozuna.
  2. The ozeki is 'Master' and the yokozuna is 'Grand Master'.
  3. The divisions are, from the bottom up: maezumo (not included in the banzuke), jonokuchi, jonidan, sandanme, makushita, juryo, and makuuchi.
  4. The young men who join sumo at the same time, are dokisei.
  5. The terms 'rikishi' and 'sumotori' can be used rather interchangeably.

My sources are, besides my overwhelming interest in all things sumo, http://www.banzuke.com/00-3/msg00357.html and http://tinyurl.com/mdvkv. Here you will find a small picture of an akeni. Here is another picture. The wrestler in the picture is Terao, a truly remarkable wrestler.

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