Sumo Barbers (Tokoyama)

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What sort of work do barbers do?

Barbers are the men who tie up the hair of all rikishi into their trademark topknots (mage) keeping the styles in place with liberal applications of sweet-smelling hair oil. The word for a sumo barber (tokoyama) is different from that for a normal barber (riyoshi), and one must never confuse them.

How many types of topknots are there?

There are two: the chonmage (normal topknot) and oitcho (big ginkgo leaf). Only rikishi ofjuryo rank or above are allowed to wear the oitcho, but it is usually reserved for tournaments and other special events. For training and dayto-day activities, all rikishi wear a normal topknot. The big ginkgo leaf is named after the fanned out hair tips on the top of the head which resemble a ginkgo leaf. The simpler chonmage, on the other hand, originally meant “lightly tied and resting on top.” The durable strings the barbers use are made of washi paper dipped in wax.

Do topknots protect against injury?

Although basically a rikishi symbol, the topknot also prevents injury. When a strong face-off collision results in a fall, the topknot protects the rikishi’s head from the impact.

What qualifications must a barber have?

As with gyoji and yobidashi, a candidate must be a male who has completed compulsory education, be under the age of 19, and have JSA approval. The first three years on the job are spent as an apprentice.

How does a young man become a sumo barber?

A barber is a JSA employee, but attached to a stable. He must have the approval of his prospective stablemaster, who applies to the JSA for him. There is a limit of fifty barbers, but there are at present several additional men who are employed as “support staff.”

Is there a barber in every stable?

No. There is a limit of 50 barbers, and not every stable has one. Barber-less stables usually borrow one from a stable in the same clan. Some stables have as many as three barbers.

Do stables pay to borrow a barber?

There are no rules about paying, but it is the custom to give the barber a little extra something for his trouble.

Are there ranks for barbers?

Yes. The top is “special rank,” followed by first through fifth rank, in descending order.

Do barbers have trouble doing the hair of non-Japanese rikishi?

The only time a barber has to go to a little extra trouble is when a rikishi has curly or unruly hair. He gives the rikishi a permanent to straighten it before tying it up.

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