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'At beck and call'

A tsukebito is a helper - in this case in a sumo training school. The younger and less experienced wrestlers act as helpers for the higher ranked rikishi (sumo wrestler, lit: 'strong man').1

The sumo beya or training school (or stable, if you will), is the home away from home for the many hopeful, and hopefully talented, young sumo wrestlers who dream of making it big in Japan's national sport. They live in the heya from the day they enter sumo, to the day they leave sumo - or marry (married sumotori live in their own apartments with their families).

Life in the heya is very structured and strict, and every wrestler knows his place. The 'newer' the wrestler, the lower he ranks in the hierarchy, and the more chores he has to perform. The newest recruits get up at the break of dawn to get breakfast ready, serve it, and only sit down to eat when all others (higher ranked) have eaten their fill, to make do with whatever is left. This goes for all three meals of the day. They help in the kitchen, clean the dormitories, and generally make themselves useful around the place. And they get to be tsukebito.

Being a tsukebito to a sekitori (a wrestler in juryo division or higher2) involves a lot of duties. The tsukebito is responsible for maintaining the mawashi and keshomawashi, transport the akeni (a box, app. 30cm*45cm*80cm, containing the sekitori's paraphernalia), and running errands. If he is tsukebito to a yokozuna3 his duties will also include tying the tsuna, the heavy white rope that shows the yokozuna's status. A yokozuna can have as many as 11 helpers. Attending a successful wrestler is not as bad as it may seem; pretty often the tsukebito get given 'tips' when the wrestler wins a heavily promoted bout.

Being a tsukebito is something every wrestler goes through. Ozeki and yokozuna alike have once acted as tsukebito for their high ranking heya comrades, and it is said that the best time in a sumo wrestlers career is when he is promoted to juryo, and thus entitled to his own tsukebito.

  1. The terms 'rikishi' and 'sumotori' can be used rather interchangeably.
  2. The divisions are, from the bottom up: maezumo (not included in the banzuke), jonokuchi, jonidan, sandanme, makushita, juryo, and makuuchi.
  3. The ranks in the top division, makuuchi, are, from the bottom up: maegashira, komusubi, sekiwake, ozeki and yokozuna.

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