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Basically, the banzuke is the ranking list in sumo. Released 13 days before first day of the tournament (basho) it discloses if the sumotori (sumo wrestlers) have been promoted or demoted and to what extent. By fans like myself the release of the Banzuke is always eagerly anticipated.

In itself the banzuke is quite a work of art. The list is printed in a beautiful, stylized calligraphy by the makuuchi kaku gyoji (sumo referee, officiating bouts in the makuuchi division1). Read from the right to the left and from top to bottom, it presents the wrestlers according to rank, highest first. The makuuchi division with the names of the yokozuna in bold kanji (japanese characters), the ozeki written somewhat smaller, then the sekiwake, the komusubi, and the maegashira. Next the lower divisions. The lesser the rank the smaller the writing. The lowest ranks in the jonokuchi2 is written with kanji so small as to be almost illegible.

The banzuke is divided into an east (higashi) and a west (nishi) section, east being slightly more prestigious. A wrestler may advance a half-step: from eg. "maegashira 8 west" to "maegashira 8 east", or from "maegashira 8 east" to "maegashira 9 west". Unlike tournaments in many other sports, a sumo tournament is not a question of a fixed schedule arranging winners to meet winners, going through stages with semifinals and finals. The question of who meets whom is determined from day to day by the shimpan (the judges). Based on the sumotori's performance, the starting list - the torikumi - will make sure that the wrestlers are evenly matched. (The better the performance one day, the stronger the opponent the next day).

To a western reader of the banzuke - when it is not written in Japanese kanji - it does not quite make sense that the "east" side is written to the left on the page, and the "west" is to the right. But this is actually done very much on purpose. As "east" is more prestigious, "east" is written first (in Japanese, "east" will be written on the right hand side of the banzuke, this being the natural way of reading Japanese).

The way the rikishi (sumo wrestler, lit. "strong man") moves up or down through the ranks of the banzuke is very simple: if he wins more than he loses he will move up; if not, he will move down. A wrestler will fight 15 bouts during hon-basho, so the pivot point is 83: 8 losses (or more), called makekoshi, means demotion, 8 wins (or more), called kachikoshi, means promotion. For the ozeki and yokozuna other rules apply: the ozeki will only be demoted after suffering makekoshi in two consecutive basho, and the yokozuna cannot be demoted (though he is expected to withdraw, should he begin to perform badly).

  1. The makuuchi division is the topmost division in sumo
  2. The divisions are, from the bottom up: maezumo (not included in the banzuke), jonokuchi, jonidan, sandanme, makushita, juryo, and makuuchi.
  3. Jungyo, held every two months between honbasho, are seven-day tournaments, and thus makekoshi or kachikoshi hangs on the number 4. Results in jungyo do not affect banzuke listings.

My sources are, besides being glued to the TV whenever sumo is on, www.scgroup.com/sumo and sumo.goo.ne.jp/eng

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