13
Feb
10

Yokozuna


Yokozuna  is the highest rank in sumo. The name literally means “horizontal rope” and comes from the most visible symbol of their rank, the rope (tsuna) worn around the waist. The rope is similar to the shimenawa used to mark off sacred areas in Shinto, and like shimenawa serves to purify and mark off its content. The rope, which may weigh up to 20 kilograms, is not used during the matches themselves, but is worn during the yokozuna’s dohyo-iri ring entrance ceremony.

In modern sumo, the qualifications that an ōzeki must satisfy to be promoted are that he has enough power, skill and dignity/grace to qualify. There are no absolute criteria, nor is there a set quota: there have been periods with no wrestlers at yokozuna rank, and there have been periods with up to four simultaneously.

The power and skill aspects are usually considered with reference to recent tournament performance. The de facto standard is to win two consecutive championships as ozeki or an equivalent performance. In the case where the “equivalent performance” criterion is used the wrestler’s record over the previous three tournaments is taken into account with an expectation at least one tournament victory and two runner up performances, with none of the three records falling below twelve wins. Thus a consistent high level of performance is required. Winning two tournaments with a poor performance between them is not usually sufficient. The rules are not set in stone and hence the Yokozuna Deliberation Council and Sumo Association can interpret the criteria more leniently or strictly and also take other factors, such as total number of tournament victories, and the quality of the wins and whether the losses show any bad vulnerabilities in reaching their conclusion.

The birth of the rank of yokozuna is unclear, and there are two competing legends. According to one, a 9th-century wrestler named Hajikami tied a shimenawa around his waist as a handicap and dared any to touch it, creating sumo as we know it in the process. According to the other, legendary wrestler Akashi Shiganosuke tied the shimenawa around his waist in 1630 as a sign of respect when visiting the Emperor, and was posthumously awarded the title for the first time. There is little supporting evidence for either theory — in fact, it is not even certain that Akashi was a historical figure — but it is known that by November 1789, yokozuna starting from the fourth yokozuna Tanikaze Kajinosuke and the fifth yokozuna Onogawa Kisaburō were depicted in ukiyo-e prints as wearing the shimenawa. These two wrestlers were both awarded yokozuna licences by the prominent Yoshida family.

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