What’s all the commotion? Part 1: Name calling

Unlike most western spectator sports, the voices of the yobidashi and the gyoji are part of the sumo experience. But what exactly are they saying?

There are two main types of vocals during a day of grand sumo. One is the yobiage, calling of the participants’ names. This starts with the yobidashi calling out the names in sing-song fashion, and continues with the gyoji, who announces the names, and in certain matches, also adds an additional sentence about the nature of the match.

The other type is the vocals during a match. These are the exclusive domain of the gyoji. We will explain those in part 2. In part 1, we’ll concentrate on the match announcements.

The match announcements

So let’s start with the match announcements. Almost all matches follow the same simple pattern. First the yobidashi calls the names, then he moves aside and tends the dohyo, while the gyoji announces the match.

Yobidashi Kunio, angel voice

On odd-numbered days, the yobidashi mounts the dohyo from the white tassel side, points to the east and calls the east first, then turns around and calls the west.

On even-numbered days, the yobidashi mounts the dohyo from the red tassel side, points to the west, and calls the west first, then turns around, and calls the east.

The gyoji, too, announces the west first on even-numbered days, and the east first on odd-numbered-days.

Suppose we have wrestlers “Giga” and “Tera” competing. The yobidashi will go “hi-ga-i-shi, Gi-ga, ni-i-shi, Te-ra“. Although the word “east” is “higashi”, the yobidashi always call “higa-i-shi”.

The gyoji then points his gunbai to the east corner, and call “Giga ni“, turns to the west, call “Tera“, center, bow, and retreat.

The following video is from Aki 2019, day 10. Note the tassel above where the yobidashi mounts the dohyo, and which side he calls first:

This video is from the first bout of the day. On the first bout of the day, the gyoji starts with “Tozai“, which literally means “East and West”, but serves the same purpose as “Your attention please”, or “Ladies and Gentlemen”.

If the day starts with maezumo, the “tozai” comes on the first match of maezumo. If there is no maezumo, then it comes on the first match of Jonokuchi.

Maezumo

One difference between maezumo and the regular matches is that only the first match is called “properly”, with yobidashi on the dohyo. From the second match on, the yobidashi do not mount the dohyo. Instead, two yobidashi stand below the dohyo, and sing out the participants’ names quickly, east to west or west to east depending on odd/even days. This video is from day 4 of Hatsu 2019.

The pre-bout procedure is also minimized to just bows, in the second to last bouts of maezumo.

Special matches

Thereafter, almost all matches follow the same pattern. Yobidashi: “Higa-i-shi Giga, Ni-i-shi Tera”. Gyoji: “Giga ni Tera”. But some bouts are different.

The first of these is the last match before naka-iri. Naka-iri is the intermission before the Makuuchi matches. It includes the announcement of the next day matches in Makuuchi, the dohyo-iri for Makuuchi and the Yokozuna, and then the Makuuchi matches themselves follow. So the last Juryo match is called chubane, and before it, the yobidashi calls: “Higa-i-shi Gi-ga, Gi-ga; ni-i-shi Te-ra, Te-ra“.

A yobidashi then steps and calls “Tozai, tozai”, and the gyoji has a whole speech to give. Pointing to the east, he says “Kataya, Giga, Giga”. Turns to the west, and says “Konata, Tera, Tera“. And then facing front and center, he announces “kono sumo ichiban ni te, naka iri“, and bows. This means “This sumo match will be followed by naka-iri”. “Kataya” and “konata” are archaic forms of “on one side”, and “on the other side”.

This double call of the wrestler names is called futagoe. And the next time we see it will be in the san-yaku matches. Any match, in which a san-yaku rikishi participates, is preceded by the yobidashi doing the double call (even if one side is rank-and-file), and the gyoji doing “Kataya, Giga, Giga; Konata, Tera, Tera”. However, for these bouts, there is no speech, nor “tozai tozai”.

Musubi-no-ichiban

The last match of the day is also a special match. The yobidashi comes up and does his futagoe (call each name twice) but this would happen in any san-yaku match. The gyoji, however, has a speech, which is preceded with a yobidashi who claps the clappers and calls “tozai tozai”.

  • In days 1-14, usually the speech is “Bansu mo tori susumimashitaru tokoro, kataya, Giga, Giga, konata, Tera, Tera. Kono sumo ichiban ni te, honjitsu no uchidome” (bow). This translates to “Having proceeded through the matches of the day, on this side, Giga, Giga. On the other side, Tera, Tera. After this match is complete, this day is ended.”
  • If, however, the Emperor or the Crown Prince are present, the speech changes slightly. Instead of “honjitsu no uchidome”, they say “honjitsu no musubi“. This is to signify that while this is the last match of the day, the day ends only when the Emperor or Crown Prince leave.
  • On senshuraku, the “honjitsu no uchidome” is replaced with “senshuraku ni gozarimasu“, or, some gyoji prefer, just “senshuraku“.

Kore-yori san-yaku

On senshuraku, just before the last three matches, a synchronized shiko takes place. The participants are the wrestlers who participate in those three matches. This proceeds as follows:

  • The yobidashi calls the names of the participants in the first of these three matches, using futagoe.
  • The three rikishi of each side perform the synchronized shiko, preceded by clappers for each trio. The next bout’s participants – the ones who were called – stay on the dohyo.
  • A yobidashi moves forward, claps the clappers, and calls “tozai tozai”.
  • The gyoji presents the wrestlers with: “Kataya, Giga, Giga, konata, Tera, Tera. Kore yori san yaku ni gozarimasu“. This latter part simply means “from here on it’s san-yaku”. This despite the fact that usually there are many more san-yaku bouts than just the last three. Some say that it’s not the same meaning of “san-yaku”.

This video is from Aki 2019 senshuraku.

Playoffs

Playoffs for the yusho may involve any number of wrestlers. So let’s first understand how it works.

  • Two wrestlers – one bout takes place, winner gets the yusho.
  • Three wrestlers: randomly assign the wrestlers as “east”, “west”, and “maru”. East wrestles with west, and maru waits. Suppose east won. He then faces maru. If east wins again, it’s his yusho. If not, maru remains on the dohyo and wrestles with west. If maru wins again, it’s his yusho, and so on – the first to win two in a row gets the yusho. This is called tomoesen.
  • Four wrestlers – draw two east and two west by lots, and do an elimination tournament.
  • Five wrestlers – draw two east, two west, and one maru. Do one round of bouts between the two easts and two wests. The two winners and the maru get into a tomoesen.
  • Six wrestlers – one round of east-west bouts, then a tomoesen.

The same logic can be carried to any number of wrestlers. So what are the yobidashi and gyoji calls for playoffs?

  • If the playoffs are between 4 wrestlers and above, the bouts are preceded by the standard yobidashi’s “higa-i-shi, Giga, ni-i-shi, Tera”, and gyoji’s “Giga ni Tera” calls, for all but the decider level (tomoesen or final).
  • In case of a tomoe-sen, assume our wrestlers are Giga, Tera and Peta. Then we start with a standard “higa-i-shi, Giga, ni-i-shi, Tera”, but the gyoji will say “Giga ni Tera. Yusho kettei tomoesen ni gozarimasu” and bow. This means “Giga vs. Tera, it’s a yusho three-way decider”. From the second bout and onwards, the yobidashi will just call “Peta“, and the gyoji will announce “Irikaemashite, Peta“, that is “Switching in, Peta”.
  • In case we have a final between two, the yobidashi, again, does the standard call. The gyoji announces “Giga ni Tera. Yusho ketteisen ni gozarimasu“. That is “Giga vs. Tera. It’s a yusho decider.”

The following is the tomoesen decider of the Jonokuchi yusho from Nagoya 2019, featuring Sakurai, Marusho and Motobayashi from Naruto beya. Since playoffs are done in prime time, it’s a bit hard to hear the young gyoji, but try to follow anyway:

Torinaoshi

There are two types of torinaoshi. Most of you will be familiar with the type that comes after a monoii, when the shimpan decide it was too close to call. When this type of torinaoshi happens, the yobidashi is not involved. The gyoji announces “tadaima no shobu, torinaoshi ni gozarimasu“. That is “This is a redo of the match we had just now”.

The other type of torinaoshi is called nibango torinaoshi. “A redo after two matches”. This happens only in Makushita and below. When a bout goes into stalemate and lasts four minutes, it is stopped. In the sekitori level, the gyoji memorizes the exact position of the wrestlers’ arms and feet, and the wrestlers take a short break. They then come back and renew the same bout from the point it was stopped. This procedure is called mizuiri. However, in the lower divisions, the bout is stopped completely. Instead of mizuiri, the wrestlers are allowed to rest during the next two bouts, and then redo the bout. When this happens, the gyoji extends his arms in both directions and announces “soho tomo, toritsukaremashita yue, nibango, torinaoshi ni gozarimasu“. That is, “As both sides have fought to exhaustion, we shall have a redo after two matches”.

This video shows a bout that ended in a nibango torinaoshi. Note the procedure: the time shimpan (under the red tassle) signals to the head shimpan, who signals to the gyoji. Despite what the cameraman says, this is not a mizuiri.

On rare occasions, a mizuiri or a nibango torinaoshi repeat themselves when the wrestlers resume the bout. That is, the wrestlers enter a stalemate again. The shimpan may eventually resort to hikiwake, a draw. If this happens, the gyoji will extend his arms and announce it thus: “soho tomo, toritsukaremashita yue, hikiwake, azukari okimasu” and bow. “As both sides have fought to exhaustion, we shall pull them apart and put off the decision”. Of course, the decision is put off indefinitely.

15 thoughts on “What’s all the commotion? Part 1: Name calling

  1. This is absolutely brilliant. Can’t wait for part two. I’m fascinated by the draws. I’ve only seen the mizuiri once and I’ve not seen…or at least noticed…a lower division torinaoshi. I have to pay attention to these things next basho.

    • I’ll have to dig some more into the subject of hikiwake. I still haven’t figured out how they affect stuff like kachi-koshi or mochi-kyukin. The 45th Yokozuna Wakanohana had a number of them – the little triangles – and it seems they made for a very odd Ozeki run in his case.

        • Consider how many sumo bouts extend beyond 30 seconds, let alone 4 minutes. Now for those where the stakes are low, already make-koshi, already kachi-koshi, they may just mentally give up in the second bout. Also, the decision whether to call a second torinaoshi lies with the shimpan. If there is enough time, they may do so, making the hikiwake rarer and the rikishi even less happy about gambarizing through the torinaoshi..

  2. Really interesting! Why the sing-song style of announcing? Is it the formality of the occasion? It reminds me of kabuki actors …

    • Sing-song vocalization carries sound farther than normal yelling. This is also why the Gyoji announce things the way they do. Sumo started before electronic announce systems existed and sumo originally was done outdoors.

        • I think there is some sort of a knack to it. I recall yobidashi Rikinojo challenging one of the Arashi guys to do a yobidashi call. He did fairly well as far as it sounded, but Rikinojo told him if he kept doing it like that he’s going to lose his voice within a day (or something like that).

  3. In the kore-yori san-yaku the two sides set up slightly differently: east has the apex of the triangle at the rear, west at the front. I believe that these arrangements represent the dragon and the tiger (from the Chinese zodiac) respectively. Can anyone confirm this?

  4. Outstanding job, Herouth! Some stuff I knew, from years of watching sumo…but the way you filled in the parts that I didn’t know is just SUPER! Your research, explanation & presentation is first-rate. Can I asked Andy & Bruce to give you a proverbial raise? Ha ha ha ha! Well done, indeed. I eagerly antipicate part 2.

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