Daily Archives: 30 April 2010

Referee Ring Names: Only in Sumo?

From Grand Sumo: The Living Sport and Tradition, rev. ed., by Lora Sharnoff (Weatherhill, 1993), pp. 178-179:

As of May 1992, there were forty-one gyoji, all with the assumed professional name of either Kimura or Shikimori. The gyoji’s role is believed to date back to the late eighth century, but apparently did not take on its present form until the late sixteenth century when Oda Nobunaga reigned as the most powerful military lord in Japan. The houses of Kimura and Shikimori came into being in 1726 and 1768.

For nearly two centuries there were clear distinctions between the two lines of gyoji. Even now some fine differences exist in the way they hold the gunbai, or war paddles, when calling out the contestants’ names. A Kimura keeps his palm down; a Shikimori has it up. Yet nowadays a referee can start out as Kimura, switch over to Shikimori, and go back again to Kimura as he moves up the referee ranks.

Similar to the way several apprentice sumotori perform under their real names, some of the young referees also use their own given name as part of their professional name (such as Kimura Hideki) in the early part of their career. A more old-fashioned sounding name, like Zennosuke or Kandayu, will be assumed by the time they have climbed high enough to officiate matches at the juryo level.

The highest ranking referee is always named Kimura Shonosuke and the second highest is always known as Shikimori Inosuke. Given the moving between the gyoji families nowadays, this means that the man assuming the name of Kimura Shonosuke was previously known as Shikimori Inosuke, and that he undoubtedly performed under at least one or two different names before that. The referees must work their way up through the ranks just ike the sumotori. The youngest gyoji, like the youngest rikishi, is likely to be fresh out of junior high school. He must be affiliated with one of the sumo stables and, just like the sumotori, is likely to live there until he gets married.

A separate stable once existed for the referees but it was closed in 1973. (However, they still have their own large dressing room inside the Kokugikan.) Now almost all the sumo stables except for some of the newest or smallest, have one or more gyoji attached to them.

Again similar to the sumotori, the gyoji’s promotion through the ranks is based primarily on ability, though seniority can play a small part in the referee’s case. Nevertheless, just as an exceptional sumotori like Kitanoumi and Taiho can become yokozuna at age twenty-one, the previous Kimura Shonosuke XXVII—the “grand champion” among referees—was promoted to the position at the extraordinarily early age of fifty-two. For some years, Shonosuke XXVII had a second-hand man, Shikimori Inosuke XXIV, who was about six years his senior. Inosuke XXIV reached the mandatory retirement age of sixty-five at the end of 1983; Inosuke XXV was a bit younger and became Shonosuke XXVIII in 1991.

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Tokyo’s Kokugikan: Where East is West and West is East

From Grand Sumo: The Living Sport and Tradition, rev. ed., by Lora Sharnoff (Weatherhill, 1993), pp. 67, 69:

The present Kokugikan in Ryogoku, where three of the tournaments are held annually, serves as the headquarters of the Sumo Association. The stadium is a 35,342-square-meter building with a seating capacity of 11,908; it stands 39.6 meters at its highest point. It has three floors aboveground and two underground. The stadium was constructed to withstand earthquake tremors up to ten on the Richter scale and is equipped with computerized temperature control, fire prevention equipment, and sensors to detect gas leaks. It also has a 1,250-ton tank designed to store rainwater and divert it to the toilets and air-conditioning system inside….

On the second floor the seats are Western-style chairs. However, except for some tables with lounge chairs in the very back, the first floor is given over to traditional Japanese seating arrangements on tatami…. The first five rows around the ring are individual seats called tamari-seki or suna-kaburi. The latter, meaning “sand-covered,” comes from the fact that spectators sitting in this area occasionally take in some of the sand kicked up on the dohyo or flying off the body of a falling rikishi. Despite the unglamorous appellation, the suna-kaburi are the most sought-after seats….

The seats as well as the tickets are labeled shomen (main side), muko-jomen (opposite main side), higashi-gawa (east side), and nishi-gawa (west side). The present labeling in the Kokugikan is actually the opposite of the actual compass points and traces its origins to the tradition of the emperor always sitting facing south. The area in which he sat was designated the main or northern side, and everything to his left was deemed the “east side,” and to his right the “west side”—a pattern which can be seen in the old capital of Kyoto. Thus, what is supposed to be west from his perspective is actually east on the compass, and vice versa. In the Kokugikan the emperor’s box is actually located on the second floor in the middle of the building’s southern side, which in respect to tradition is called the main or northern side.

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