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In Japan Sumo is a professional sport. Sumotori (sumo wrestlers) in the two top divisions1 are paid a salary, and in addition to this they get different allowances depending on rank. But the really big money comes on the dohyo in the form of kenshokin2. The kenshokin are prize money sponsored by companies and/or afficionados. The money is put up for a bout - not for a specific sumotori. Whoever wins the bout in question will take the money home3. If you have watched a couple of sumo bouts, you will almost certainly have seen the winning wrestler crouch down, and pick up a bundle of white envelopes from the gyoji's paddle. The sumotori will make a "cutting" motion with his hand, thanking the three gods of creation: (Amenominakanushi no kami, Takamimusubi no kami, and Kamimusubi no kami), before taking the kenshokin - all with his right hand.4

Kenshokin originates from the varying gifts lords and other dignitairies awarded their favourite sumotori after a bout well fought. It dates back to the Edo period, when it apparently was most popular in Kyoto and Osaka. During WWII fans even threw clothes and food for the wrestlers. After the war kenshokin became standardized, and today each kenshokin amounts to 60,000 yen5, though only 30,000 is actually in the envelope. 5,000 goes to covering the costs of making the banners and printing the torikumi (the daily program folder), and 25,000 is put aside for taxes6.

The amount of kenshokin vary; matches between lesser known sumotori may have a few sponsors (many bouts have none) while meetings between yokozuna and other top-ranked7 wrestlers draw a lot of attention - and a lot of sponsors. Yokozuna Asashoryu has had to use both hands to pick up his kenshokin on more than one occasion. He holds the current record of 32 envelopes, won in the March Tournament (Haru Basho) 2004.

Before each sponsored bout banners are carried around the dohyo, presenting the sponsors' logos and/or names (Tv-viewers outside Japan seldom get to see this, though). If you would like to see your name on one of those banners, here is what you do:

  • Call the Nihon Sumo Kyokai (Japan Sumo Association), and tell them you wish to become a sponsor. You must do this no later than 4 days before the basho begins.
  • Pay five times 60,000 yen, (since you must sponsor a minimum of 5 days).
  • Make sure the kyokai get adequate information about what to put on your banner (70cm * 120cm). A 15 letter phrase printed on the torikumi is included in the price.
  • Choose a bout to sponsor, and inform the officials before 2.00 pm on the day before the bout.
  • Sit back and enjoy.

  1. The divisions are, from the bottom up: maezumo (not included in the banzuke), jonokuchi, jonidan, sandanme, makushita, juryo, and makuuchi.
  2. Of course the really big money lies in winning the whole basho: 10,000,000 yen for a makuuchi basho, and 100,000 for juryo.
  3. Another example of the meritocracy of sumo: being high ranked or famous does not automatically get you the money. Only a winning performance will.
  4. Yokozuna Asashoryu had a hard time remembering to use the right hand when taking his kenshokin, much to the outrage of some of the members of the Nihon Sumo Kyokai.
  5. Currently 100 JPY = 0.86734 USD or 0.489826 GBP.
  6. There was a time where wrestlers were paid the full amount, but alledgedly not all remembered to save some money for taxes and suchlike. This is now taken care of.
  7. The ranks in the top division are, from the bottom up: maegashira, komusubi, sekiwake, ozeki and yokozuna.

My sources are, besides being glued to the TV whenever sumo is on, http://sumo.goo.ne.jp/eng/index.html and http://www.scgroup.com/sumo.
http://www.banzuke.com is a really great site to find information, and http://sumoforum.net/glossary.html#H is absolutely indispensable.

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