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Sumo referee.
Like a peacock amidst rhinos.

The gyoji is the referee of a sumo bout. He is the one who, dressed in a colourful kimono1, calls the sumotori's (wrestlers') names when they have entered the dohyo in a high pitched, specially trained voice. He gives them permission to begin, and he gives a running commentary throughout the bout to keep the sumo going. He will call: "nokotta, nokotta" ("not yet, not yet"), to let them know they should keep on wrestling (eg: it is fairly easy for a wrestler to accidently slip a toe over the edge of the fighting area (the shobudawara) without even noticing. So, to keep the wrestlers from worrying, the gyoji lets them know that the match is still on). If the sumotori come to a standstill, he will call "yoi, hakke yoi" (along the lines of "good, pick it up") to tell them to get going. "Hakkeyoi" also tells the wrestlers that their tachiai - start - was good (false starts are frequent).

At the end of the bout the gyoji declares the winner by pointing his gunbai - his war-fan - to the winner's side of the dohyo . When the winner's name and the kimarite (winning technique) has been called out, he presents the kenshokin (envelopes containing sponsored prize money), if any, to the winning sumotori.

This much you can tell from just watching sumo. But, as with most other aspects of sumo, there is much more to it than meets the eye.

The gyoji are arranged in a strict hierarchy. The top ranked gyoji will officiate matches of the top ranked rikishi (sumo wrestler, lit. "strong man"), and so on. The gyoji are dressed and equipped differently, depending on rank, and the colour of the gunbai tassel varies. The one item common to all ranks is the black court hat, made of gauze, resembling the hat of a Shinto priest.

  1. Tate Gyoji (Chief referee): officiates yokozuna2 bouts
    • Wears long silk kimono, tabi (split-toe stockings), and zori (straw sandals)
    • Tassel colour: purple
    • Equipped with a ceremonial short sword3

  2. Fukutate Gyoji (Deputy chief referee): officiates yokozuna and ozeki bouts
    • Wears long silk kimono, tabi, and zori
    • Tassel colour: purple and white
    • Equipped with a ceremonial short sword

  3. Sanyaku kaku Gyoji (Sanyaku referee): officiates sanyaku4 bouts
    • Wears long silk kimono, tabi, and zori
    • Tassel colour: red (orange)

  4. Makuuchi kaku Gyoji (Makuuchi referee): officiates makuuchi5 bouts
    • Wears long silk kimono, and tabi
    • Tassel colour: red and white (orange and white)

  5. Juryo kaku Gyoji (Juryo referee): officiates juryo6 bouts
    • Wears long silk kimono, and tabi
    • Tassel colour: blue and white (green and white)

  6. Makushita kaku Gyoji (makushita referee): officiates makushita7 bouts
    • Wears knee length white cotton kimono, barefoot
    • Tassel colour: Blue (green) or black

The gyoji are expected to take on one of two special surnames, connected to their status: Kimura or Shikimori. These are also the names of the two gyoji-schools. They are recognized by the way they hold the gunbai: Kimura hold it with the palm facing downwards, while Shikimori hold it, palm facing up. The Kimura school is considered the more prestigious, and there are more than three times as many gyoji by the name Kimura as there are Shikimori.8 This may not mean much, though, as the gyoji can change his name, eg. from Kimura to Shikimori, as long as he changes his style too.

But the gyoji are much more than referees. They, as the sumotori, belong to a heya (training school), and they work as secretaries and book-keepers. They also act as Shinto priests in sumo-ceremonies, they write the banzuke (official ranking list) and the Torikumi (the day-to-day starting list during a basho or tournament). They are calligraphers and they keep meeting-records. All in a day's work.

The gyoji's advancement through the ranks depend on how well they perform their tasks in the heya and in the dohyo. There is a maximum of 45 gyoji, and they retire at the age of 65.

  1. The kimono are of the style the samurai wore during the Kamakura Era, some 700 years ago.
  2. The yokozuna is the highest ranking sumotori.
  3. The sword symbolizes the gyoji's willingness to commit seppuku (ritual suicide) if his decision is overruled by the shimpan (the judges). In this day and age, he actually is expected to hand in his resignation when overruled. The resignation is never (or almost never...) accepted, though.
  4. Sanyaku is the upper part of the makuuchi5 division. Contains the ranks of yokozuna, ozeki, sekiwake, and komusubi.
  5. The Makuuchi is the top division. It contains the sanyaku and the maegashira.
  6. Juryo is the second highest division. Sumotori in juryo and above are known as sekitori, and they are paid a salary.
  7. Makushita is the rank below juryo. The wrestlers are not paid a salary - only an allowance - and they lack a number of perks and advantages that the sekitori have. There are ranks below makushita, but let's not go there...
  8. There are 43 active gyoji. 33 Kimura, 10 Shikimori (June 27, 2005)

My sources are www.sumo.or.jp/eng and sumoforum.net/glossary.html#tsunauchi-shiki

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