Sumo Gyoji work

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Is there a limit on the number of gyoji?

Yes. Only 45 men can be employed as gyoji at anyone time, and only 22 can be ranked juryo or above. Except for the top rank (tate-gyoji), there is no set number per rank. Gyoji belong to sumo stables, and because there are so many stables at present, there are many without gyoji. In 1993, five “temporary” gyoji were hired to help alleviate this situation, but they are not included in the official number. In the 1997 January tournament, the number of gyoji in each rank was as follows:

  1. tate-gyoji
    • Kimura Shonosuke (1)
    • Shikimori Inosuke (1)
  2. san ‘yaku (3)
  3. makuuchi (9)
  4. juryo (7)
  5. makushita (7)
  6. sandanme (7)
  7. jonidan (6)
  8. jonokuchi (4)

Gyoji ofjuryo rank and above are referred to as “licensed,” and receive special treatment. For example, they are assigned attendants and have private rooms when on tour .

Are there qualifications for becoming a gyoji?

Yes. They must have completed compulsory education, be no older than 19 when hired, and be approved by the JSA. Their first three years are considered an apprentice period even though they begin moving through the ranks. Gyoji promotions are based almost entirely on seniority.

Is a gyoji’s only job to referee sumo bouts?

No. Deciding bouts is only one of his surprisingly numerous duties.

1. Ring purification before tournaments

On the day before a tournament, three gyoji, usually tate-gyoji and san ‘yaku gyoji, preside over the ceremony to purify the ring. One acts as priest and two assist. Before official tournaments, Kimura Shonosuke and Shikimori Inosuke take turns presiding. Gyoji also purify new rings at stables.

2. Ring-entering ceremony leader

Gyoji lead the procession at juryo, makuuchi, and yokozuna ring-entering ceremonies.

3. Bout combination announcer

Before the bouts after the midday break, a gyoji stands in the ring and announces the bout combinations for the next day. For each bout he holds up a sign inscribed in distinctive “sumo script” with the names of the rikishi. He then hands it to the yobidashi who is crouched at his feet.

4. Ranking chart

Gyoji write out the ranking chart by hand in “sumo script” (negishi-ryu). The strokes are wide and the writing is dense, leaving very little white space. The script is used in the hope that the hall will be densely packed with spectators, leaving no empty seats. The honor of the job is given to a gyoji with excellent calligraphy skills. It takes him about ten days to complete.

5. Moderator for ranking and bout-combination conferences

The gyoji prepares materials used at these meetings. He then acts as the secretary, writing down the combinations and ranks as the committee decides them.

6. Announcement of winning moves

Gyoji take turns announcing the winning move for each bout over the hall PA system. They also read out the sponsors of the incentive prizes.

7. Record keepers of bout results

Gyoji keep records of the result of each bout and winning move on a scroll called a maki.

8. Scouting out tour stops

Gyoji accompany an elder (oyakata) to each stop on a planned tour. They arrange for train reservations and hotel rooms. They also write out room assignments in sumo script and keep the books.

9. Clerical work at stables

Gyoji handle clerical work for their stablemasters. They send out ranking charts and wedding invitations, contact support groups, and maintain records for each member of the stable. These records amount to the curriculum vitae for all personnel. Gyoji supply the records and other documents when a rikishi is promoted to ozeki or yokozuna.

Of the two tate-gyoji, who has the higher rank?

Even though the two have the same rank, Kimura Shonosuke is higher. If Kimura should retire, Shikimori Inosuke takes his place, exchanging one name for the other. Kimura referees the last bout of the day, while Shikimori handles the one before.

Do the Kimura and Shikimori families hold their gunbai differently?

As a rule, yes. The Kimuras hold their gunbai with their fingers facing down, while those of the Shikimoris face up. Not all gyoji follow this rule, but, by and large, it is still upheld in the ring.

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