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The final cut
One of many features that identifies a sumo wrestler is his hair. The oichomage, a top-knot carefully made to resemble a ginkgo leaf1, may only be worn by sumo wrestlers. When a sumotori (sumo wrestler) retires he cannot keep his top-knot. It must be cut off, and this is done at a ceremony called danpatsushiki or "hair-cutting ceremony". The ceremony is performed roughly six months after the official retirement announcement has been made. (A successful wrestler's danpatsushiki will take longer to prepare, while eg. a wrestler from the lower divisions2 can have his danpatsushiki within days of announcing retirement).

The choice of venue for the danpatsushiki will depend on the retiring sumotori's status; it can take place on a dohyo or in some other appropriate locale, eg. in the sumotori's heya (training school). (When the 66th yokozuna, Wakanohana, retired in September 2000 the ceremony was held at the Ryogoku Kokugikan in Tokyo, Japan. More than 13000 people paid to watch the ceremony, and 380 dignitaries participated in the cutting). The wrestler will be seated as the center of attention, be it on the dohyo or elsewhere, flanked by a gyoji (a referee) holding a tray covered with white cloth, on which the scissors are placed. Then, one by one, the sumotori's training-mates and other fellow sumotori will come forth, and cut off the mage, strand by small strand3. The more famous the sumotori, the more people will attend the ceremony. The final cut is often made by the shisho (owner of the heya), and from this moment the sumotori is officially retired.

It is a very emotional ceremony. A sumo wrestler lives and breathes sumo, often from the age of fifteen or sixteen; training, eating, and sleeping in the heya with his comrades4. With the cutting of the top-knot, the symbol of his dignity, this part of his life is over, and a different life is waiting. It is not uncommon to see tears flowing in the dohyo when the last cut is made.

  1. The ginkgo leaf - the oichomage - is only worn on special occasions. The rest of the time, the hair is worn in a flat chonmage
  2. The divisions are, from the bottom up: maezumo (not included in the banzuke), jonokuchi, jonidan, sandanme, makushita, juryo, and makuuchi.
  3. Fans will pay lots of yen for the honour of cutting a strand of their hero's hair.
  4. If and when a sumotori marries he will move out of the heya.

My main sources are, besides being glued to the TV whenever sumo is on, Sumo information, Goo Sumo, and Sumoforum.net

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