I have been covering the Jungyo for several seasons now, so I think it’s about time to explain what a Jungyo actually is.
The word “Jungyo” (巡業) means “regional tour”. The purpose of the Jungyo is to give people who lives in places far away from the four honbasho cities an opportunity to watch sumo and interact with famous rikishi, thus earning their continued support and maintaining the love for sumo all around Japan. Without sumo fans and their children being excited about sumo, there will be no future generations of rikishi, so the tour is important both for short-term sponsorship, and for the long term survival of Grand Sumo.
Four Jungyo tours take place every year, and their locations match the season in which they take place:
- Haru Jungyo – takes place in April, in the Kinki (Kansai), Tokai and Kanto regions of japan.
- Natsu Jungyo – takes place in August, in the Tohoku and Hokkaido regions.
- Aki Jungyo – takes place in October, starts from the Tokai region moving to Kinki and Chugoku.
- Fuyu Jungyo – takes place in December, in the Kyushu and Okinawa regions.
This year apparently the Natsu jungyo starts from Tokai and Kanto and only then moves to Tohoku and Hokkaido.
Who takes part in the Jungyo?
The sumo association includes over 600 active rikishi at the moment, in addition to dozens of gyoji, yobidashi, tokoyama, oyakata, coaches and whatnot. It’s not logistically feasible to have all of them on the road – and it’s not actually necessary. Most people in the small towns where the Jungyo takes place are really interested in the stars, or in rikishi (and sometimes gyoji or yobidashi) from their own home town. So who does participate?
- Sekitori – all of them, Makuuchi and Juryo, except ones on medical leave. This is determined by the banzuke of the preceding basho, thus you’ll see sekitori participating who are expected to be demoted to Makushita for next basho, and won’t see wrestlers who have been announced as promotees and who would normally start practicing in a white mawashi between the basho. At least, they will not be participating as sekitori.
- Sekitori’s tsukebito. That is, the lower-ranked rikishi who are the sekitori’s manservants. In general, each sekitori brings one tsukebito with him, while Ozeki and Yokozuna have more than one – seven or even more for Yokozuna. The tsukebito coming on the tour is not necessarily the usual one we see with that sekitori during honbasho.
- Performers of the shokkiri, yumi-tori, jinku. In general, these are actually selected from among the tsukebito who come on the tour. That is, if a sekitori is sick and his tsukebito did the shokkiri in the previous tour, that tsukebito is not going to be personally called to the tour just because he knows how to do shokkiri or Jinku. A new Shokkiri team will be set up, and the size of the Jinku team is flexible.
It’s a bit more tricky in the case of yumi-tori. There are usually only two people who know how to perform the act – the main performer and his backup. Currently that means Kasugaryu and Satonofuji respectively. The head performer is usually a Yokozuna’s tsukebito (Kasugaryu is Hakuho’s tsukebito, Satonofuji used to be Harumafuji’s) and thus he attends the Jungyo anyway. An effort is made to set up the backup man as a tsukebito as well – during this year’s Haru Jungyo, Satonofuji attended the Jungyo as Takarafuji’s tsukebito.
- Local boys. The sponsors may sometimes request the participation of certain low-ranked rikishi who hail from the region where the Jungyo is to take place, especially when there are no sekitori from that region. Again, if possible, that person is set up as somebody’s tsukebito, presumably to keep the numbers of participants down. For example, during 2017 Aki basho, Hakuho came back from kyujo and joined the Jungyo when it toured Kanazawa. He brought Enho with him. Enho, hailing from Kanazawa, must have been requested by the local sponsor. He served as one of Hakuho’s tsukebito in that jungyo.
- Oyakata (from the Jungyo and Shimpan department), Gyoji, Tokoyama and Yobidashi as necessary for conducting the sumo business. Note that oyakata also have tsukebito, as do Tate-gyoji (which there are currently none), whose tsukebito is usually a young gyoji from the same heya, but may be a rikishi instead.
In total, around 270 people participate in the Jungyo.
Oyakata and support staff (gyoji serving as secretaries, yobidashi to build the dohyo) start visiting the jungyo locations around 10 days in advance, to set things up, meet the sponsors and prepare.
Who is not participating in the Jungyo?
One result of the Shikimori Inosuke sexual assault case is a new regulation announced a few days ago, barring minors from participating in the Jungyo. This is not just to prevent sexual abuse, but to avoid other forms of scandal from occurring – such as minor rikishi being peer-pressured into drinking or smoking, which are legally prohibited to anybody under 20 in Japan.
During the Jungyo, most stablemasters (who are not in the Jungyo department) remain in their heyas in Tokyo and work as usual with the rikishi from their heya who are not sekitori or tsukebito. The NSK prefers that minors will remain under the watchful eye of their stablemasters and okami-sans, rather than spend time on the road where there are fewer oyakata and more mischievous rikishi per square meter.
- Sekitori will participate in the Jungyo even if they are minors (like Hakuho, who was sekitori at 19).
- If sponsors request a non-sekitori local boy who happens to be a minor, and his stablemaster gives him permission, then he may join the Jungyo.
- All other participants (rikishi, gyoji, tokoyama, yobidashi) will be 20 years old or above.
There have been some people questioning what of heyas where there are not enough adult rikishi in the lower ranks to serve as tsukebito for their sekitori. But loans of rikishi from one heya to another to serve as tsukebito are not a new thing.
So we won’t see youngsters like Kokonoe’s gyoji apprentice, Kimura Ryunosuke, in the coming jungyo:
— 九重 龍二 ・千代大海 (@KOKONOE_RYUJI) July 6, 2018
Or popular low-ranked rikishi like Asashoryu’s nephew, Hoshoryu, who is ranked Sandanme at the moment, and is only 19 years old:
The Jungyo’s Daily Program
The program for each day of the jungyo is set up according to the local sponsor’s wishes. The sponsors may want to ask local boys to do special things like “Police Chief For A Day”, they may wish to conduct the bouts in elimination format rather than the usual bout-by-level, and so on. There is, however, a set format, which the sponsors generally do not disrupt.
8 AM – Opening
The venue is opened, an a yobidashi performs the “yosedaiko” – drum roll to draw the crowds in. In Jungyo, there is usually no drum tower, and the Yobidashi simply sits in front of the entrance
The low-ranked wrestlers have their morning keiko (practice), while popular sekitori align at the entrance in their practice mawashi to the venue to shake hands with the fans (akushu-kai).
One dohyo and half an hour is not enough to accomodate the 80-odd low-ranked wrestlers, and usually one sees about 30 of them around the dohyo. Those of them who are serious about practicing may find themselves a corner in the venue to do shiko, suri-ashi etc.
8:30AM – 10:30AM – Sekitori keiko
While some sekitori are still busy shaking hands in the hall, the rest are starting to gather around the dohyo for their practice.
Practice starts with Juryo and progresses towards the high-ranking wrestlers as time passes.
10:30 – 10:45 – Kiddie Sumo
Wrestlers engage with kids who attend local sumo clubs. These may range from toddlers to high-schoolers. The small ones get to push rikishi in groups, or find themselves in painful-looking wedgies in the air. The older kids usually get something more akin to actual sumo:
10:45-11:00 – Sumo Academy
The spectators get demonstrations and explanations of certain elements of sumo, such as the sonkyo (the formal crouch performed when the rikishi mount the dohyo for a bout)
11:00 – Torikumi and Okonomi
The low-ranked wrestlers – Jonidan, Sandanme and Makushita – have their bouts. In between the bouts, and between them and the Juryo dohyo-iri, the “okonomi” take place. These are popular performances, which may include:
- Oicho-mage demonstration. This is usually done when a local sekitori is present. A tokoyama demonstrates how he arranges that sekitori’s hair in the “oicho-mage” do.
- Sumo Jinku. That’s a medley of sumo songs in a traditional style and meter, performed by low-ranking wrestlers who wear borrowed kesho-mawashi for the occasion. On special occasions, they call Ikioi in to perform. In such cases, he wears his own kesho-mawashi, of course.
- Yokozuna rope tying demonstration. The Yokozuna’s tsukebito, wearing white gloves, demonstrate how the rope is tied and tightened around him, accompanied by the announcer explaining the two rope styles (Shiranui and Unryu), and such details as the weight of the rope etc.
- Shokkiri! Two low-ranked rikishi wear their hair in oicho-mage and perform a funny demonstration of the “kinjite” – the moves forbidden in sumo. The performance includes a lot of other stuff – spitting water at each other, tossing salt around, borrowing moves from other wrestling styles or martial arts, and sometimes harassing the poor gyoji.
- Drum demonstration (taiko uchi-wake). A yobidashi demonstrates the various drum rolls used in sumo:
12:30 – Juryo dohyo iri and bouts
The Juryo men wear their kesho-mawashi, perform their dohyo-iri, followed by their bouts. Following that, Makuuchi also perform their dohyo-iri. Unlike honbasho, the wrestlers often perform their dohyo-iri in the Jungyo with a baby in their arms. This is believed to help the baby grow healthy and strong.
13:30 – Yokozuna dohyo-iri
Participating Yokozuna perform their dance to the sound of the crowd shouting “yoisho” as they stomp. Sometimes the Yokozuna also has a baby in his arms – whom he hands over to his tsuyuharai once he gets up the dohyo and needs his arms to perform his dance.
13:50 – Makuuchi bouts
Usually, these are held in the same format as senshuraku of a honbasho. This means that the musubi-no-ichiban features two yokozuna (if available), and that a sanyaku-soroi-bumi (synchronized shiko by the participants in the last three bouts) takes place.
However, sponsors are free to change the format, and often ask that bouts take place in elimination format, and give prizes to the winners. This usually only applies to the top 32 or top 16, but sometimes the tournament format may extend to Juryo and even Makushita. The sponsors’ wish is the rikishi’s command.
15:00 – Bow twirling and final drum roll
As in honbasho, after the musubi-no-ichiban (last bout of the day), the yumi-tori performer goes on-dohyo, and twirls his bow to conclude the day. A yobidashi then performs the farewell (“uchidashi”) drum roll.
The Jungyo Dohyo
Honbasho dohyo takes several days to make, by dozens of yobidashi. At least in the Ryogoku Kokugikan it is installed on a rising platform underneath floor level, which means it is there all the time, and the old dohyo is used as the foundation for the new dohyo each honbasho.
But in the Jungyo, a doyho is needed only for one or maybe two days, and the small towns that host it do not usually have budget for rising platforms, especially not for an event they get to host once every 18 years or so.
Some Jungyo events take place in temples or other places that have a fixed dohyo. That usually means that it’s outdoors and the event takes place in a big tent. Most jungyo destinations host the event in some local sports gymnasium. So how do they get a dohyo set up quickly and removed as quickly?
Up until 2013-2014, the answer to that was “beer crates”. They used to set up beer crates as the foundation of the dohyo, then cover in a layer of clay.
In addition to the unlovely shape, the crates used to buckle under the pressure, causing distortions in the clay, and there were also complaints about damage to gymnasium floors.
Since then, prefabricated dohyos have been put into use. It appears there is an actual company that makes them – not just for the use of the NSK, but also for high school competitions and such.
Now, that looks more like a real dohyo.
Despite the fact that the prefabricated dohyo is relatively easy to set up and dismantle, the Yobidashi participating in the Jungyo are simply not able to do this alone every day of the long Jungyo schedules. For this purpose, they get local help – city workers, local volunteers, members of high-school or university sumo clubs or departments, and even local fishermen have been lending a hand in building the local dohyo for the Jungyo.
The Jungyo’s roots lie in the Edo period. At that time, each heya, or perhaps ichimon, had its own jungyo. There could be as many as four jungyo groups doing the rounds in parallel. Sometimes they would meet at some point of their tour, like in Osaka, making for a major joint event, then go their separate ways again.
Nowadays, the jungyo tours mostly by bus. In the past, the Jungyo organizers used to prepare a “Jungyo Train” and use the railway system in between regularly scheduled trains.
In the past, most of the events were outdoors, and sometimes the weather disrupted the Jungyo schedule. The rikishi were lodged in private homes, and feeding and hosting them used to cost the sponsors a hefty sum. Nowadays, weather is usually not an issue. The rikishi travel by bus, sleep at hotels, and have their own supply of food.
Then as well as now, the logistics of the tour are handled by gyoji. The efficiency of the Jungyo depends on the competence of the gyoji in that respect.