Framing Japan as a land of contrasts is undoubtedly a cliché, but it is undeniable that the daily juxtaposition of the old and the modern is one of the most striking aspects of this country, as well as a major driver of the inbound tourism.
While the old buildings dotted with glittering skyscrapers may not be a sight unique to Tokyo, the 17th century clothing still commonly worn on the streets of a 21st century metropolis certainly is.
The living history of Japan is always in the foreground, and can easily be found in one of the countless small workshops and studios that still produce clothing, food and crafts using unchanged methods. for centuries.
Sumo takes this notion to the nth degree – there is a staggering incongruity in modern professional sport relying almost entirely on training methods developed in the days when William Shakespeare wrote “Hamlet”.
As recent events have shown, some aspects of sumo are in desperate need of modernization, but the sport as a whole is attractive to many precisely because of its enduring nature.
Whether it is the elaborate costumes worn by the referees or the stoic samurai way in which wrestlers accept both victory and defeat, sumo’s pageantry and ceremony are essential to its continued popularity.
From the 24/7 nature of life in a stable to the mawashi with the belt being the only garment worn in combat, many aspects of sumo are also unparalleled in the world of sport at large.
One of the most visible and unique of these facets is the banzuke.
Of course, many types of sports have rankings. Games as diverse as tennis, rugby and chess list their participants in order. What sets the banzuke apart from sumo is not only the vague nature of its construction, but also the fact that at each tournament the new ranking is written with intricate stylized calligraphy, printed and distributed to the stables. Fans can also pre-order these leaderboard sheets online (for ¥ 55, or about $ 0.50 each) and have them delivered to any Japanese address on the morning of their release.
Banzukes have been in production since the mid-1700s. Owning one is like having an enduring and magnificent snapshot of a particular moment in sumo history. A single sheet of paper not only shows the relative positions of around 700 men, but also lets you know what kind of clothes and shoes each one is allowed to use, and how much they are making – or even if they are winning anything. With the origin of a rikishi written above its name, it is also possible to observe at a glance trends such as the foreign domination of sumo ten years ago.
Dynasties rise and fall, and a look at the recently released banzuke this week shows that there are about half as many rikishi of non-Japanese descent in the upper division than in 2011. Origin is of course the word. key, despite the fact that they acquired Japanese citizenship years ago, men like Hakuho and Kaisei are still written as being from Mongolia and Brazil, respectively.
Tochinoshin is a rare case where its origin has changed on the banzuke. As of May 2015, it is the Katakana spelling of Georgia – thanks to the change made by the Foreign Office to the way it refers to the Caucasian nation. Before that, the old ozeki, as well as Kokkai, Gagamaru and Tsukasaumi, have all been shown to originate from “Gurujia” – which is the Russian name for this country.
Even more striking than the place of origin is the fact that, for the first time since September 2012, the rank of yokozuna appears only once on the banzuke. Kakuryu’s retirement means Hakuho becomes the very first grand champion to find himself alone at the top of the sport for the second time in a career.
The highest row on the left (west) side of the banzuke leaf is that of ozeki. Takakeisho maintains that particular slit, but Terunofuji’s presence in equally bold letters right next to him is a visual reminder of the incredible return of the Isegahama man.
In increasingly smaller font sizes, the names of hundreds of wrestlers fall between the current elevated location of Terunofuji and the spot along the banzuke he occupied just over two years ago. In this modest division, 10 men are squashed in the same width as that used to write the name of sumo’s newest ozeki.
This May’s physical banzuke, or at least an aspect related to its sale, may also illustrate the financial blow that the Japanese Sumo Association has taken over the past year due to the impact of COVID- 19 on ticket sales.
Since the JSA first offered them for sale online, large quantities of banzuke have been delivered rolled and securely packaged in cardboard boxes. This time around, however, they were sent in much more fragile – and possibly cheaper – paper and bubble wrap. No explanation was given for the change, but it’s not hard to imagine the JSA starting to look for ways to save money given the situation so far and the uncertainty. imminent on the tournaments of May and July.
As with all major promotions, Terunofuji was pictured holding the banzuke and indicating his new rank. One thing that makes a banzuke particularly appealing as a keepsake is the fact that the leaf Terunofuji is holding is exactly the same one anyone can buy. The original hand-drawn page is four times the size, but there is only one copy. For everyone, whether a yokozuna or a regular fan, the banzuke is the same.
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