Many of the readers may already be experiencing the basho withdrawal jitters. Why is there nothing happening in the sumo world in June? Where is my sumo fix?
In order to help you prepare yourself in advance and ask your favorite shrink for the appropriate medications, I hereby introduce you to the Grand Sumo Calendar.
The first month of the year is a busy month.
Between the 6th and the 8th of the month, “Hōnō-dohyō-iri” takes place. All active Yokozuna perform dohyo-iri at the Meiji jingu shrine as a dedication ensuring safety and peace for the oncoming basho and in this case, for the entire year.
This event is followed by the hanazumō event called “The all-japan rikishi-senshiken competition” which takes place at the Ryogoku kokugikan.
A YDC keiko-sōken also takes place at the kokugikan a few days before the basho. This is for the benefit of the YDC and NSK only, and is not open to the public.
January is, of course, a honbasho month. The basho takes place at the Ryogoku Kokugikan in Tokyo. All honbasho are preceded by several events. The most notable is the banzuke announcement. Although the banzuke is decided shortly after the previous basho ends, other than important promotions (Juryo promotions, new Ozeki and Yokozuna) which require preparation on the part of the promotee and his heya, the contents of the banzuke are kept secret until the gyoji write the complete thing and its facsimile is prepared for printing.
- The banzuke announcement for Hatsu Basho usually takes place at the end of December.
- Rikishi-kai. It’s a gathering of the sekitori. Nowadays it hardly has any practical importance and it usually just serves as a photo-op for fans.
- New recruit checkup takes place a few days before each basho. In January, there are usually relatively few new recruits.
- Dohyo-tsuki – the preparation of the dohyo
- Torikumi announcement for the first two days of the basho
- Dohyo-matsuri – dedication of the dohyo – one day before the basho
After the basho ends, there are additional events that take place:
- Regular meeting of the YDC to discuss the performance of existing Yokozuna and deliberate new promotions to Yokozuna if any
- Banzuke meeting. This is when the banzuke is decided for the Osaka basho.
Short, cold month. Although it includes no basho and no jungyo, it includes several sumo-related events.
The Japanese festival of setsubun, in which the Japanese chase away demons and invite good luck in, features many high-profile rikishi throwing legumes (“mame-maki”) in various shrines around the country.
Two main exhibition events take place in the beginning of February:
- The NHK charity event. This features the usual hana-zumo schedule (sumo jinku, kiddie sumo, and of course, bouts), as well as popular rikishi singing along with professional singers. There are also fun interviews.
- The Fuji TV sponsored “Japan Grand Sumo Tournament” which is a hana-zumo format event with an elimination-type set of bouts. Its special feature is usually famous retired rikishi doing “old boy” sumo.
The Hakuho Cup
This is a kiddie sumo event, organized by the Dai-Yokozuna since 2011. It features children from first grade up, coming from several different countries, competing in their respective age brackets at the Kokugikan.
Because there is no Jungyo, many sekitori choose to have their wedding receptions in February and June, when it’s easier for their peers to attend events.
Twice a year, rikishi as well as Yobidashi, Gyoji and Tokoyama, go through a set of health checks. Weight and height are checked, blood and urine sample are collected, and rikishi take turns at making miserable faces at media cameras when their blood is drawn.
There are also Tokoyama and Yobidashi practices, skip to June for more details.
March is when the Osaka basho takes place. In this case, at the EDION Arena in Osaka.
Away from Tokyo, there is no YDC soken in March. But a dedication dohyo-iri is preformed – this time, at the Sumiyoshi Taisha shrine in Osaka.
The new recruit checkups in March draw a lot of press and fan attention. In Japan, the school year starts in April, so March is when Middle and High School graduations occur, releasing many youngsters to follow their dreams in the world of professional sumo. This also means that there are many maezumo matches during the basho, and more than one presentation of shin-deshi wearing borrowed kesho-mawashi take place during the basho.
At this point in the calendar, the sekitori, together with their head tsukebito and a host of gyoji, yobidashi and shimpan, start doing the jungyo rounds. It’s the Haru Jungyo.
The rest of the rikishi – Makushita and below who are not tsukebito – stay a while longer at Osaka to wrap up, clean up and pack up, and then return to Tokyo (or wherever their heya is) to practice quietly.
Haru jungyo includes visits to Ise Jingu as well as Yosukuni shrine. This involves not only Yokozuna dohyo-iri, but a full day of hōnō-zumō (dedication sumo) performed on fixed dohyo in the precincts of the shrines.
This visit to Yasukuni Shrine is usually an opportunity for the Jungyo participants to see a bit of home after having been almost two months away.
At the end of April (or the beginning of May), there is a festival called “Nigiwai Matsuri”, which takes place at Ryogoku, the neighborhood where the Kokugikan is located. Some of the activities take place inside the Kokugikan, and some street stalls feature rikishi and their heya’s chanko.
We’re back at the Kokugikan for the Natsu basho! Since we are back in Tokyo, the month begins with YDC Keiko-soken. But this time, the event is open to the public for free, and draws a lot of fans.
Cheering is not encouraged, but as you can hear for yourselves in this video, it’s really hard to control the crowd.
The soken is followed by the usual set of activities – new deshi checkups, dohyo dedication and everything leading up to honbasho.
June is a quiet month, with no Jungyo, and rainy weather. Unlike February, there are few activities. This is when you’ll see rikishi unwind a bit.
But rikishi don’t all rest, and those who do, don’t do so for any length of time. Many heya go on training camps outside of Tokyo. And somebody has to prepare dohyos and dorms:
Tokoyama, Gyoji and Yobidashi practices
During the quiet months, Tokoyama practice their art – mainly creating oicho-mage. Yobidashi practice their calls and their drums, and Gyoji their calligraphy.
The Tokoyama practice on rikishi ranked Makushita and below – provided, of course, that they have enough hair for oicho-mage. The rikishi have to suffer quite a bit as apprentices pull at their hair again and again.
In addition, weddings take place in June as they do in February.
What do you know, it’s the Nagoya basho month! This basho takes place in Nagoya, at the Dolphins Arena (Also known as the Aichi Prefectural Gymnasium).
Again, outside of Tokyo there is no keiko-soken. The usual events take place – recruit checkups, torikumi, dohyo dedication. All in all, the Nagoya basho is mostly known for being hot, humid, and prone to slippiotoshi. But hey, we get our sumo fix!
August is the time for the summer (Natsu) Jungyo. Again, straight out of Nagoya, usually with no stop in Tokyo, the sekitori and their tsukebito and other participants start traveling around the country, while the lower ranked rikishi pack up and go back to Tokyo.
The summer Jungyo ends with an event at a mall in Tokyo called KITTE. This event includes open interviews with leading rikishi, and fans gather on the various levels of the mall to enjoy sumo.
August is also when the second medical check-up takes place. Once again, rikishi blood is drawn, faces are made, and hopefully everybody is found healthy.
It’s honbasho time again! This time it’s the Aki basho. We’re back in Tokyo, back at the Kokugikan, and back to the normal schedule. There is a YDC keiko-soken, but it’s not open to the public. There are shin-deshi, dohyo matsuri and all the rest of it – and of course, there is sumo.
Aki Jungyo, mostly touring parts of Kansai and Chugoku. Some of us would really like to forget Aki Jungyo 2017. I’m sure Takanoiwa would agree.
It’s Kyushu basho. Shinkansen full of rikishi leave for Kyushu and various heya settle around Fukuoka for the last honbasho of the year.
The basho takes place at the International Center at Fukuoka. This basho has a little bit of a different flavor than other basho, with the local version of geisha – called geigi – making an appearance in the basho and serving drinks.
Straight out of Fukuoka, the sekitori go on the winter (Fuyu) Jungyo. December is a cold month indeed, and therefore this Jungyo is usually not very long, and takes place in the southern regions – Kyushu and Okinawa.
At the end of December, you’ll see heya after heya making large piles of mochi – the sticky stuff that Japanese love to chew on or grill or put in various dishes.
The traditional way to prepare mochi – if you don’t have a mochi machine, that is – is just like that, with big hammers and a wooden mortar. And what’s better than rikishi power to operate the thing?