The NHK has a great video (#43) about shikona in its “Sumopedia” but I thought I’d dive a bit into the statistics on the usage of various characters. Why? Because I’m always trying to improve my Japanese and the kanji is the most impenetrable part for me.
The Japanese Language is one of the biggest hurdles facing any sumo fan. If you’re just trying to catch up on news, few media outlets outside of Japan cover the sport on a regular basis and the Japanese Sumo Association often offers its press releases only in Japanese. There’s a whole other world to sumo fandom if you can learn the language. However, we don’t need to learn THE WHOLE LANGUAGE. We need to learn SUMO Japanese. It’s still a difficult prospect but it seems the best place to begin is with the shikona and just a handful of shikona can take us a long way.
First of all, a brief detour. The word Shikona is 四股名. Shiko, the “sumo stomp” excercise is the first two characters, with the character for name at the end. Memorize that last character if you hope to learn Japanese. You’ll see 名前 (na-mae) everywhere for “name.”
Back to the topic of characters used in shikona. This is a list of the Ten most frequently used characters, counting by the number of rikishi. Koto, for example, is used by Kotoshogiku (aka Kotokikutsuki) twice but I only count him as 1 distinct rikishi. One little side note is that characters used in Shikona include a few hiragana and katakana, not just kanji. Hiragana and Katakana are kind of inescapable and are crucial to anyone learning Japanese.
|Character||# of Uses||# of Rikishi|
The good news is, there’s only 223 or so kanji that are used in 25 or more shikona since the 1950s. The bad news is, there are 1028 characters used 24 times or fewer. This includes the 隠 (O) from 隠岐の海 (Okinoumi).
Yama, the character for “mountain,” is a wildly popular character not just because of all of the Asanoyama’s and Tochiozan’s, but also many Japanese surnames like Yamaguchi and Yamada — the latter which combines our Top 2. Yamadayama goes even further by surrounding the rice field with two mountains. Yamamotoyama, who even made an appearance in John Wick 2, bookends a book with two mountains.
But mountain it’s not the most popular for rikishi from all prefectures. It’s in 3rd place after 土 and 佐 for rikishi from Kochi and fifth place after 安, 芸, and two versions of the possessive “no” (ノ and 乃) while the hiragana “no” is just after yama. This is because of the historical domain of Tosa (土佐) in Kochi and many location names within Hiroshima, including Aki (安芸). If you click on Shizuoka prefecture, the characters for Fuji (富士) bubble up to the top.
There’s another interesting, but predictable, aspect to kanji pairs like Tosa, Aki, Fuji, and Chiyo (千代). Shikona which use those characters are longer, on average, so the bars are orange to red while greener colored characters are used in shorter shikona (on average).
It’s also just interesting to see where wrestlers are coming from. Along with Tokyo, Osaka, Aichi, and Fukuoka (sites of the big tournaments) many wrestlers come from Hokkaido, including several yokozuna like Taiho, Chiyonofuji, Hokutoumi, Kitanoumi. Neighboring Aomori, home of Wakanohana I & II is also up there, along with Hyogo (next to Osaka and Kyoto), and Kagoshima have been hotbeds of sumo talent and the geography offers clues to the origins of many of their shikona.
In the past, I’ve had articles which tried to help decipher Japanese headlines, short articles, and tweets to try to help readers (and me) gather just a bit more information about sumo. Let’s face it, Shikona and sumo jargon (and medical/injury terms) are where Google Translate breaks down into word salad. If you can pick out the shikona and place names from headlines and articles, we can start diving deeper into the articles and tweets. This visualization and some of the others I’m working on will try to break down the hard part and help sumo fans focus on Sumo Japanese.