NOTE: I wrote this draft and meant to publish it at the beginning of July. When I went to check out the rankings I stumbled onto the news of the scandal (!) and got distracted and forgot to post this. It's still got some good information about the sumo lifestyle, even though it's a bit old. Apologies, sumo fans!
The July Basho in Nagoya begins this week. This is the schedule for all the basho (tournaments) of the whole year 2010. According to the Goo Sumo (Grand Sumo Kyokai) the first day of the July tournament is Sunday the 11th. The rankings were announced on Monday this week, the 5th. I think it must be nerve-wracking for the rikishi to wait between tournaments to see where they are ranked for the upcoming tournament. Even though the tournaments do happen every other month (the odd months) all year long, the rankings from the previous tournament don't get recalculated until just the week before the next tournament, so I'm sure sometimes the wrestlers don't even know which tier they will be competing in. I think that would drive me crazy.
I was reading about the rankings this week here. The tiers are divided like a pyramid, with the largest number of wrestlers in the lower ranks, and fewer and fewer as the skill level progresses. There is only one yokozuna, grand champion, but there are hundreds of jonokuchi, which are the bottom ranked amateurs.
The dividing line between the amateur level and the professional level comes between makushita and juryo tiers. I read about the lifestyle leap between these levels, that the change between being a grunt amateur and a lap of luxury professional is a huge chasm. In fact, some of the rikishi consider the transition between these two levels to be more important and almost a greater victory than the leap into the sekitori or championship contender levels.
From what I understand, the reason for this is the life of the amateur level sumo wrestler basically bites. He has to get up early, no breakfast (as mentioned in an earlier post) has to go to work in the kitchen or cleaning somewhere, slaves for his senpai, or senior ranked person, has to do demeaning tasks for him like wipe his sweat, etc. He gets the worst of everything, only gets a tiny stipend, doesn't get paid for his wrestling if he wins, and is basically lower than dirt.
However, if he can make that big jump into juryo, suddenly our guy is no longer the slave. In fact, he gets his own kohai, or junior level guy being his tsukebito, or servant-person. He gets paid for bout or tournament wins, gets out of kitchen duty, can sign those handprint autograph papers, and goes to practice first thing in the morning instead of good old KP. Sometimes a guy will even get his own sleeping quarters in the stable, and best of all, the hazing stops.
It sounds like what a lot of those lower level guys dream of. For sure. I myself would love to get out of kitchen duty every once in a while. I guess I'd better go put the pasta on to boil and stop thinking about sumo.
I'll check out the rankings later...