Every time the new banzuke is published, we start seeing pictures of proud rikishi pointing out their position on what seems to be a big wall of Kanji.
That, of course, is the official “banzuke-hyo”, or “banzuke table”. Here in Tachiai we frequently use part of it to head banzuke-related posts. So, let’s break down that wall:
Traditionally, Japanese is written top to bottom and right-to-left. This means that the Makuuchi entries – which are at the top of the banzuke – are written with the Yokozuna on the right and Maegashira 16-17 on the left.
[West is on the left of the Banzuke-hyo and the more prestigious East is on the right, as you’d expect from looking at a compass. When you see a banzuke written out in English, they’ll normally be swapped, with East on the left. –PinkMawashi]
At the top is the rank, followed by place of origin, and then full shikona (including first name). Here are the entries for Hakuho and Kisenosato, zoomed:
Yokozuna entries have a width of about 2.8cm. Ozeki entries – 2.5 cm. Sekiwake and Komusubi – 2.1 cm. The remaining width of the frame is divided evenly into the number of maegashira on that side.
The names are always written justified top and bottom. The calligrapher tries to leave a slightly larger space between the “surname” and the “given name”. In the image above, you can see Kagayaki’s entry, fifth from the left. He has only one kanji in his surname (輝), and two kanji in his given name (大士), so it stands out, having more white space than the ones around it.
Curiously, everybody below san-yaku on the banzuke is Maegashira! In particular, you can see “Maegashira” as the rank for each Juryo member. For Makushita and below, there is the character “同” (“do” = “ditto”) written in the rank position. And that character itself is shortened for sandanme and below. In this context, the “maegashira” means “ahead of the mae-zumo and off-banzuke guys” [Maegashira (前頭) literally translates as “those ahead” –PinkMawashi].
The bottom frame, excluding Jonokuchi, consists of members of the NSK. The big boxes on the East and West are for toshiyori of various ranks. The smaller boxes are for other members, such as sewanin, coaches, yobidashi and tokoyama.
The leftmost two boxes on the bottom left contain formulae in old Japanese. The second from the left says “In addition to the rikishi in this banzuke there are ones who do maezumo”. The leftmost evokes a thousand years of blessing.
So what about the middle column? The biggest, most impressive characters on the print – 蒙御免 – merely mean “Approved”. This is a vestige from the Edo period, when every sumo performance had to get approval from the shogunate.
This is followed by the date, length and place of the basho. Below them, the list of gyoji. The title of that is “行司” (“gyoji”), but if you take a look closely, you’ll see that the word is written right-to-left – the same way sekitori names are written on their akeni (the traditional luggage box every sekitori gets).
This holds true for every title in the banzuke-hyo – shimpan, riji, shunin. Anything that’s written in a single row is written right-to-left.
After the gyoji come the shimpan. Finally, “Nihon sumo kyokai” with details about the NSK.
Outside the frame, on the bottom left, there’s the date of publication and “all rights reserved”. And this is actually what gets written first! After drawing the frames, the calligrapher – a gyoji – writes the whole thing generally in reverse order – from left to right, from bottom to top, starting with that humble copyright notice, and ending with the East Yokozuna 1.