A Look at the January Banzuke

Sumo fans got an early Christmas present—the January banzuke just dropped. Let’s take a quick look at where everyone ended up, and how the official rankings compare to my prediction from a week ago.

As expected, there were no surprises in the top two ranks, with the only difference from November being Shodai and Asanoyama exchanging spots. My prediction was also right on the money when it came to the less predictable than usual junior san’yaku ranks. Terunofuji’s 13-2 performance was indeed good enough to vault him into the East Sekiwake slot over the incumbent West Sekiwake Takanosho. And, at the rank we were all waiting for with baited breath, there are only two Komusubi—Takayasu, moving over from West to East, and Mitakeumi, dropping from Sekiwake but remaining in san’yaku after a 7-8 performance.

The decision not to create extra slots means that Hokutofuji and Daieisho had to settle for the top maegashira rank, as predicted, though I had them on the wrong sides. There were also no big surprises elsewhere in the rank-and-file. Of the 33 rikishi ranked at maegashira, my forecast had 13 in the exact spot, 8 at the right rank but on the wrong side, 9 off by half a rank (as in exchanging M11w and M12e), and only 3 off by a full rank.

What were these 3 misses? I did not expect Takarafuji to be ranked all the way up at M2e, ahead of Onosho and Wakatakakage. Onosho has a claim for the GSB snub-of-the-banzuke award, being over-demoted from M2e to M3w after a 7-8 record. Kagayaki (M6e) yet again seems to have benefited from very good banzuke luck, dropping only 3.5 ranks after a 5-10 performance, especially since ranking him that high meant splitting Ryuden and Meisei, who posted identical records at the same rank in November (for good measure, the banzuke committee also split Yutakayama and Kaisei, who were in the same situation).

As expected, Enho (J3e) and Kotoyuki (J9w) dropped out of the top division, and were replaced by Midorifuji and Akiseyama, whose placements at M14w and M16w, respectively, I correctly predicted. So, although its overall precision was hurt by the 17 half-rank misses, the crystal ball fared well in getting the big picture right.

What do you think of the banzuke? Let me know in the comments. And you can look forward to lots of coverage from Tachiai in the run-up to the Hatsu basho, which will be chock-full of exciting, high-stakes storylines.

11 thoughts on “A Look at the January Banzuke

  1. I wonder if the fusen was a factor in Onosho’s drop being slightly more than expected. Interesting to see Hokutofuji and Daieisho inherit their sides, despite Hokutofuji only winning 1 more bout from 2 ranks (or 1.5) down. My hopes of extra Komusubi slots…quashed. I swear, regular calculus is easier than banzuke calculus.

    • I think it’s the 1.5 rank difference that got Hokutofuji ahead of Daieisho; I’d considered that but went the other way 🤷🏼‍♂️

  2. How can the lack of 2 extra komusubi be justified? Genuine question, I’d be interested on your input as to how they’ve rationalised the decision.
    10-5 at M2 has always resulted in sanyaku promotion post WW2 apart from once in 2006, when there were 5 ozeki and 4 komusubi the basho before, I’m sure you already know the details.
    What is it about the November basho that stopped Daieisho (and Hokutofuji, since the banzuke committee placed him above Daieisho so therefore he deserves it too) from being promoted to komusubi? Is it just the lack of the yokozuna taking part? Or some other thing?
    Would be really interested to hear your (and other people’s) thoughts. Is this a break with precedence or is there more at play?

    • So it seems like creating extra komusubi slots was quite common until about 15 years ago. The only instance we’ve had since then was September 2019, when Hokutofuji forced the issue by going 9-6 at M1e, with nowhere else to promote him to. They also had to make a 4th slot for Asanoyama since he had a better rank-record combination than Hokutofuji. This time, they could simply put Hokutofuji and Daieisho at M1, so extra slots were not forced.

      You have to be careful with sumodb searches for past precedents. While it is indeed very rare for 10-5 at M2 not to lead to san’yaku promotion (and it’s never happened for 11-4 at M4, although it did happen once before to none other than Hokutofuji with 11-4 at M3), in the vast majority of those instances a slot was open, so they’re not informative as to what it takes to force an extra one to be created. We know 9-6 at M1e is enough, and now we know 10-5 at M2 isn’t, but beyond that we’ll have to await future decisions.

      • I see, so it seems a more recent thing (relatively speaking) to avoid creating extra komusubi slots, if it can be avoided. As a pretty new sumo fan (started watching seriously in 2018) I guess i was spoiled by September 2019, although at the time people were saying it was really rare to add komusubi slots, I just assumed that if 9-6 at M1 was enough in this day and age, 10-5 at M2 would be too since it’s an”equivalent” score. But it’s obvious now if there’s somewhere else to put them (M1), they will, unless it’s a higher score than 10-5. Do you think 11-4 would be enough? 12-3 feels like it’d be impossible to deny since you’d be in yusho contention at some point presumably.
        It’s only in the last year I really started to appreciate the banzuke and play GTB. I definitely rely too much on maths and precedent right now, so I always get the basic outline right, but lose points on the finer details. This finer detail just so happens to have near-invalidated the rest of my guess!

        Thanks again for your insights, I genuinely look forward to the banzuke crystal ball posts! I know if my guess ends up looking something like yours I’m at least on the right track!

        • Thanks for the kind words. The banzuke making is definitely an art of trying to think like the shimpan department, along with the math and past history. My guess is that 11-4 at M2 would be hard to deny, but I’m not absolutely sure. I agree it would be shocking to see 12-3 denied. And it is good to remember that the banzuke committee patterns change over time (at least in part because its membership changes). The decision-making has actually felt quite different (and a little more random) since the COVID restrictions kicked in this year.

  3. I was a bit nervous about the banzuke, but I did get K and M1 right. I also had Takarafuji and Wakatakakage in the right slots, so I got something right. Just waiting for the GTB site to come up so I can be mad at myself for all the things I got wrong.

    • Congrats on hitting the top of the rankings. Given how bad this one could have been, I’ll settle for hanging on to 2nd.

  4. The biggest surprise for me, was the absence of Hattorizakura. Is there any commentary on his shikona change? What does his Shonan character(s) mean?

    • I dusted off my copy of a Nelson’s character dictionary. I can’t believe my eyes, but the Shonan looks something like “victory department” or “victory bureau”.

      Can that be possible?

    • The Sho means win but the “Nan” means “South” and may be a reference to the Shonan region of Kanagawa prefecture. He’s from Chigasaki which is there. The region uses a different character for “Sho” but he may have replaced it with “win” as an encouragement to win.

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