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"Five serious men"
The shimpan are the judges of sumo. They sit around the dohyo - the raised platform where the fighting area is - and watch the action intently. Dressed in a sombre black1 the shimpan do not draw attention to themselves, and if nothing untowards happen in the ring they just sit there, watching, taking notes.

If there is any doubt surrounding the outcome of a bout, one or more shimpan will raise a hand (mono-ii, lit. "objection") and call for kyougi - a meeting. The shimpan climb onto the dohyo and discuss the matter in hand while the sumotori (wrestlers) wait. The referee of the bout, the gyoji, will wait in silence while a decision is made, and he will accept the ruling, whether it goes with or against his own decision.

The shimpan has the advantage of using a slow motion replay of the bout. Two shimpan are sitting in a separate room along with the video equipment, conveying their verdict to the head shimpan's nifty ear-piece. (The shimpan on the north side - north being the side closest to the TV-cameras - is the head shimpan, or, in juryo,2 the deputy chief shimpan). He will then announce the decision on the speakers along with a short explanation. It will be either gunbaidori: the gyoji's ruling is upheld, sashi-chigae: the gyoji's ruling is reversed, or torinaoshi: rematch.

Shimpan have other duties as well as arbitrating the sumo bouts. They are the ones who decide on the torikumi (daily starting list) during a basho or tournament. They also judge the quality of the sumotori's pre-bout leg raising and stomping, and overall conduct. It is not always enough to be an accomplished fighter: it is also important to uphold tradition and honour.

There are always five shimpan sitting around the dohyo, no matter which rank the wrestling rikishi may hold. One shimpan on each side of the dohyo: Higashi-kata Shimpan (east side judge), Kita-kata Shimpan (north side judge), Nishi-kata Shimpan (west side judge), and Minami-kata Shimpan (south side judge) plus, sitting on the south side (from a TV-viewer's point of view: the other side of the dohyo), the Jikan gakari shimpan (the time keeping judge). The shimpan change four times every tournament day: once during the lower division's bouts, once before the juryo bouts, and once before and once during the makuuchi bouts.

The shimpan are toshiyori - retired rikishi (sumo wrestler, lit. "strong man") who decide to stay in sumo and work for the Nihon Sumo Kyokai (Japan Sumo Association). One of the more famous shimpan is former yokozuna Chiyonofuji, now known as Kokonoe oyakata3.

The Shimpan-bu (Judging Committee) is the board of 23 shimpan, who are in charge of the shimpan's actions. The shimpan bucho is the chairman of the board, and there are two fuku bucho or deputies. The shimpan bucho and fuku bucho are appointed for a period of time, after which they resume their former positions, and new bucho are appointed.

  1. The shimpan's attire is a formal black outfit: haori-hakama. Knee lenght coat and wide trousers.
  2. Juryo is the second highest division in sumo. Makuuchi is the highest.
  3. Oyakata is a honorific, along the lines of master.

My sources are www.scgroup.com/sumo and www.sumo.or.jp/eng. Not to mention sumoforum.net/glossary.html#H: a tremendous source of information

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