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Hon-basho, the Official Sumo Tournaments
Six times a year, every two months beginning in January, the great Sumo tournaments are being held in Japan. The venues are always the same and they always start at the same time of month:

  • January: Hatsu Basho. Shonichi (first day) is 2nd Sunday in January.
    Held at Ryogoku Kokugikan, Tokyo
  • March: Haru Basho. Shonichi is 2nd Sunday in March.
    Held at Osaka City Gymnasium, Osaka
  • May: Natsu Basho. Shonichi is 2nd Sunday in May.
    Held at Ryogoku Kokugikan, Tokyo
  • July: Nagoya Basho. Shonichi is 1st Sunday in July.
    Held at Aichi Prefectural Gymnasium, Nagoya
  • September: Aki Basho. Shonichi is 2nd Sunday in September.
    Held at Ryogiku Kokugikan, Tokyo
  • November: Kyushu Basho. Shonichi is 2nd Sunday in November.
    Held at Fukuoka Kokusai Center, Fukuoka

Each Basho lasts for fifteen days. The sumo starts early in the morning with the newest recruit's and the lowest ranking wrestlers' bouts. As a rule, not many spectators show up for these matches. (The lack of on-lookers could seem pretty discouraging for the - mostly young - wrestlers, but on the other hand they have something to strive for: higher ranks mean bigger audiences. They just have to keep bettering themselves...).
The highest ranked sumotori (wrestlers) go on late in the afternoon. By then the seats will be all but filled and the TV-cameras will be rolling. Tickets for the last day of a basho will often be completely sold out.

Each rikishi (wrestler, lit. "strong man") fights once a day, and the Torikumi or "starting list" of who meets whom is determined from day to day, depending on how the rikishi has performed on the previous days. In this way the wrestlers will always (in theory) be evenly matched. Every day of the basho ends with the highest ranking sumotori: the Yokozuna's bout (or bouts, when there are more than one Yokozuna).

The winner of a basho is simply the sumotori with the most wins. If there is a tie, the tied wrestlers go head to head until there is a winner. This does not happen all that often: the last time was in the 2007 Haru Basho, where Yokozuna Asashoryu and then Ozeki Hakuho both ended up with a 13-2 result. Hakuho won their final bout and collected the grand prize: The Emperor's Cup (for the second time in his career).

The Banzuke, the list with the current rankings as decided by the previous basho, is made public thirteen days before the basho is due to start.

My sources are, besides being glued to the TV whenever sumo is on, www.scgroup.com/sumo and www.sumo.or.jp/eng/ticket/honbasho_ichi_nichi/
Thanks to Shro0m for helping with the kanji.

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