Great Insight Into Tsukebito (assistant) System

One of the huge storylines coming out of Haru basho was that Terunofuji is back. We get a bit more of the back story from an article, written by Muto Hisashi and published in Mainichi a couple of days ago. It’s a much longer article than the usual one or two paragraphs, and it’s fascinating. The topic is the “tsukebito” system. Makushita and lower rikishi serve as assistants to those in Juryo and above (sekitori). You often see them carrying the cushions and accompanying top ranked wrestlers as their entourage.


This headline is a quick one: Gaining synergies, “Tsukebito” by Muto Hisashi. The important term here is (付け人). I’ve never had to use the word “synergy” in English but this is what it is in Japanese: (相乗効果).

In the business world, particularly the entertainment industry, the core talents have personal assistants. They’re called “tsukibito.” For some reason, the sumo world has adopted a more positive turn on it and they refer to it as “tsukebito.” They say that there are synergies gained as younger, lower ranked wrestlers gain experience by training with the higher ranked wrestlers.

In the article, Muto highlights the relationship between Terunofuji and one of his tsukebito, Shunba. Usually these assistants are indesputably junior to the sekitori. However, occasionally some wrestlers are so good and progress so swiftly through the ranks that they seek out veteran tsukebito who act more as advisors than as assistants. Shunba fills this role for Terunofuji.

In the interview, Shunba reveals that there were deeper matters troubling Terunofuji. The injuries were serious but he had much more on his mind…the specifics of which he would not reveal. Muto interviewed Shunba in the weeks after Terunofuji’s dismal 4-win Hatsubasho where he went kadoban again. Despite the poor performance, Shunba was very confident that Terunofuji would do well. Apparently, Terunofuji had been keeping things bottled up and he had deep conversations with his tsukebito that seemed to bring about a lot of relief.

So while still hampered a bit by injuries, notably after the Endo bout, he was dominant. Not only did Terunofuji almost win his second yusho…in an awesome, fearsome manner enjoyed by us and many of our readers…Shunba went 6-1 in makuushita, at his highest rank ever. I’m eager to see him climb up the banzuke. I will be following both wrestlers and hope to do a deeper profile of Shunba and these assistant wrestlers in the future.

10 thoughts on “Great Insight Into Tsukebito (assistant) System

    • Thank you, I’m hoping to find more articles like this. Muto-san seems to have several articles. I will start to follow him.

      • These articles rock, I get a chuckle over kanji some times. such as the glyphs used in the article

        付け人 (Tsukebito)

        Which if you take the ideograms means, “man attached to the household/family”. As in a retainer or supporter. It’s not tough to understand that this term (along with more than a few others) have deep context back to the feudal era (or earlier).

  1. What seems really incredible here is that this guy has been fighting at Sandanme level on an unbroken streak of NINE YEARS!

    That seems remarkable given how volatile the banzuke is at the lower levels, the constant influx of new rikishi, and how one’s performance can improve or degrade over that time. Also, that he’s reaching his highest rank ever at the age of 35 when most rikishi have retired or are past their best!

    As Tachiai has been following Wakaichiro it’s been interesting to see some of his opponents that have been down at Jonokuchi or Jonidan level for many years – but I wonder what the longest such unbroken streak at one of the junior ranks is?

    • He’s also 5’4″ and barely over 100kg. When my wife was helping me translate, she thought it was a misprint in the article until we looked it up. He seems to have been fairly healthy, too, only going kyujo a couple of times.

  2. I love this bit of inside knowledge on Terunofuji. This guy has so much potential, and I am really eager to see him progress still further. It was wonderful to see the old style Terunofuji back for Osaka, and I am very hopeful that if I can engineer tickets to Natsu, I can see that kind of fierce combat in person.

    Here’s to hoping that he can put aside his troubles and focus solely on his sumo.


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