Two Ozeki. What of it?

Terunofuji and Takakeisho are both coming off injury but expected to compete. Takakeisho’s kadoban status, though, means that his rank is officially on the line. Recent news of the slow progress of his recovery is starting to trickle out. This is making people nervous because if Takakeisho cannot win eight bouts, he will be demoted. We’re a little more than a week out and he’s doing sumo stomps and contact-free shuffling.

As for the Yokozuna, the hardware that’s usually adorning Terunofuji’s knees means that his status at the top of the banzuke is always a precarious one. As Yokozuna, he won’t need to have a kabu upon retirement, like Kakuryu. He has had more promising news as he participated in the massive sekitori cluster keiko at Tokitsukaze. But, a 15-day honbasho after a six month break? There will be no let up. The guys on his fight card want kinboshi and/or advancement. If Terunofuji is unable to compete at this level, talk of retirement might turn into reality of retirement. But, we really need two Ozeki!

From the kitchen, Nick Stellino pipes in: “Why?”

Great question, Nick, I’m glad you asked. Custom says we do, and that if we’re short, we use a reigning Yokozuna to fill in. Let’s take a look at this thing called the banzuke. The banzuke is the ranking sheet which lists wrestlers competing in a honbasho. Gyoji hand-write the characters on versions, like this wooden one that Josh saw in Osaka. They do so in a stylized calligraphy with larger sized text for those wrestlers of higher ranks, like Yokozuna and Ozeki, getting smaller and smaller as you go down the list.

Terunofuji has been listed in this curious Yokozuna-Ozeki category for several tournaments now. Before that, Kakuryu was Yokozuna-Ozeki back in March 2020. Again, Takakeisho was the lone Ozeki at the time, just before Asanoyama was promoted. Since then we have lost a number of Ozeki due to demotion, including Asanoyama, Shodai, and Mitakeumi.

But does this “Yokozuna-Ozeki” ranking somehow demote Kakuryu or Terunofuji on any of these banzuke or diminish their standing? No. Other Yokozuna have held this quirky little rank at times of Ozeki-scarcity: Chiyonofuji, Kitanoumi, etc. The issue here is that if Takakeisho loses his rank or if Terunofuji retires, there’s no Yokozuna to fill-in. If both happens, there’s no one. We had a “No-zeki” situation before, with Chiyonofuji’s promotion. But with three yokozuna, we had two Yokozuna-Ozeki. So, if this eventuality does come to pass where we don’t have enough coverage in the top ranks, what will happen?

Do not fret. There will not be a sumo-apocalypse, though I am rather curious about what would happen. The Kyokai has options available. Let’s see what they are.

Option 1: Business as usual

They can buck tradition and go with Sekiwake at the top of one side of the banzuke (or both, for that matter). All of that written about the custom and tradition would need a bit of an update, or an asterisk, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. This sport has necessarily evolved over time, and will continue to do so. Tassels instead of posts at the corners of the dohyo, VAR booth and quality better than any football association, and “get your damn hands down!”…just to name a few of the more prominent changes. “Ozeki? Ozeki? We don’t need no stinking Ozeki.”

But then, I have questions. If the two Ozeki thing really is no big deal, (NBD as the kids say), what was the whole point of the Yokozuna-Ozeki? More than banzuke aesthetics, there was a reason for it, no? I had presumed the origins were to in the yin-yang style balance, or to formalize an ideal senshuraku match-up between the Champion on the East vs the Champion on the West. But that’s presumption. We know reality often doesn’t work out like that but from a PR and marketing perspective, it’s a great highlight.

I’m also a bit curious about the practicality, starting with the dohyo matsuri. Sanyaku wrestlers traditionally take part in this ceremony before honbasho but obviously aren’t in attendance at the ceremony when held at heya without sanyaku wrestlers. Does the presence/absence of fewer than two Ozeki matter in this ceremony, or others? It wouldn’t necessarily change anything about the makuuchi dohyo-iri, or sanyaku-soroibumi but there are other obligations of Yokozuna and Ozeki. On the banzuke, would Sekiwake be written at the usual size for Sekiwake, or will they write it in a large, Ozeki-sized font? There might be some deeper implications but these are admittedly minor quibbles and questions. If the Kyokai goes this way, they go this way.

Option 2: Early Promotion

Presumably, the Kyokai can summarily promote anyone they want to the rank of Ozeki. Hell, why not just keep Takakeisho at Ozeki until another earns the rank? I mean why demote someone under the old rules while promoting someone else according to new (emergency) rules. Here, my sense of fair play just gets all in a twist. Yes, Mitakeumi and Shodai rather under-performed once they got there — but they earned their promotions. (Curiously, Mitakeumi is not on the Kyokai’s list of Ozeki.)

If the next Ozeki is promoted to anything less than the previous standard, that’s a crying shame. It would also contravene the criteria stated on the Kyokai website, and likely stick in the craw of many a wrestler and fan. Past wrestlers whose Ozeki runs came up just shy would have right to be bitter…as would their supporters.


Oh, Nick, you startled me. You’re still here?

Where was I? Yes, Getting back to the Ozeki promotion…it’s is more than just ephemeral status, it has financial implications and real benefits and obligations — not just the weight of the office. This path of early promotion, though, comes along with the increased likelihood of yet another poor Ozeki reign and rapid demotion. Kotokaze was the solution to the Chiyonofuji/Hokutoumi situation above. He won that tournament at Sekiwake, with a 12-win yusho, and was promoted after 31 wins. He did go on to have a decent stretch at Ozeki. His reign was 5.5 Mitakeumis long. With the current crop of Sekiwake, this might be a very tempting option.

We apologize for the lame gag but Nick Stellino is living, rent-free, in the author’s head. Whenever he thinks, “why?” it’s somehow in Nick Stellino’s voice. We think the author needs therapy, or at least a weekend away from cooking shows.

Option 3: A Rose by Another Name

The Kyokai could also use competition to find the next Ozeki, which could take many forms but I will suggest the most legitimate form here. In May 2011, the Kyokai held a full, 15-day tournament but didn’t call it a hon-basho. As Asashosakari correctly pointed out in the comments of my previous post, that tournament was the first tournament of Kotoshogiku’s Ozeki run (although he did have 11 wins in Jan 2011). The results counted. Kotoshogiku secured his 33-win tournament.

So, Nagoya would go on as planned, everything counts, it’s just not a hon-basho. There’s no law requiring six hon-basho each year, as we learned during COVID. Before 1958, there wasn’t a Nagoya honbasho on the calendar. The issue with this is clear, though. It doesn’t necessarily result in a successful Ozeki promotion, bringing us back to where we started. Although, they could just hold another…and another…and another…until someone is Ozeki. Nothing changes, except the name. However, Asashosakari is right, it could lose its luster and be more sparsely attended if it’s not a “hon-basho” but I discount this since the results will still count. There is no scandal here, just a name change due to a technicality. But yes, it would be, “different.” I just think that difference will be more palatable than a “lesser” Ozeki.

Option 4: Go Completely Off Script

The Kyokai does hold other tournaments, not just honbasho. Often these are one- or two-day affairs during Jungyo. In February, though, there is the FujiTV Tournament. It’s an elimination-style tournament with a decent purse for the winner. The Kyokai could hold a similar competition, possibly just among the sanyaku, with Ozeki rank at the end. Since the result would be an out-of-the-ordinary run, there would understandably be a mental asterisk for whoever earned their promotion through such unconventional means but it would be more legitimate than Option 2. So long as the competition is more rigorous than rock-paper-scissors, there would certainly be some legitimacy on the outcome.

Wrapping Things Up

For those who fret about tradition and the future of sumo — well, there is not really a lot to fret about. Sumo will continue if we have fewer than two Ozeki; the situation is more of a curiosity than anything else. It’s not an existential issue, as in the Kyokai’s mandate as Guardian of Grand Sumo will not end. If it’s even a problem at all, there are workable solutions, no matter how rigid the “two Ozeki rule” actually is. I favor whatever method instills the most legitimacy on those wrestlers who hold the rank of Ozeki. Hopefully, it will be a moot point as this tournament ends in a blockbuster title race between Terunofuji and Takakeisho, and at least one solid Ozeki promotion.

Oh, and Ichinojo will retire. Sorry, that one snuck up on me, too. Apparently his back isn’t up to the competition, despite his recent treatment. We’ll have more on that as news is available. Quite the shock.

44 thoughts on “Two Ozeki. What of it?

  1. I’ll kick off the comment section by reiterating what I said previously—the Ozeki promotion criteria are fluid and flexible enough that option 2 under most scenarios would give perfectly reasonable Ozeki with no need for an asterisk. There are precedents in the 6-basho era of promotion with as few as 28 wins, so they’d only need to do something unprecedented if Takakeisho fails to get 8 and none of the four sekiwake get 10. There would be nothing unworthy with (say) Hoshoryu getting promoted after 8-10-10, the way future Yokozuna Kitanofuji was. There are also already cases where runs with 33 or even 34 wins over 3 basho while meeting all conventional criteria didn’t lead to promotion (Wakanohana, Kotomitsuki, Miyabiyama, Baruto, Takakeisho), so the notion that someone who came up “just short”, whatever that means, would have reason to complain doesn’t hold water.

    • As I also previously mentioned, nobody got worked up about Okinoumi getting promoted to Sekiwake after a 9-6 record at M6. He’ll always be known as an ex-Sekiwake despite spending only two basho at the rank after “lucky” promotions and with disastrous results. A “lucky” promotion to Ozeki isn’t that big a deal. Ozeki can be demoted. A by-the-numbers, no-doubt promotion doesn’t guarantee success, as we just saw with Mitakeumi, and a “soft” promotion can lead to a 10-win Yokozuna (Kitanofuji). It’ll all work itself out without extraordinary measures.

      • This is where I differ. I think the rank of Ozeki is very different from Sekiwake. I think Mitakeumi is injured but he still did what was required to earn the rank of Ozeki.

        • I don‘t think Iksumo doubted Mitakeumi‘s promotion. On the contrary, he took it to prove that a flawless ozeki run can still produce a weak Ozeki.
          That said I totally agree with U. Sekiwake is „just“ the true Maegashira 1, while the ozeki rank is an outstanding achievement.
          I think that shouldn’t be changed and therefore I‘m strongly favouring option 1.

            • Oh absolutely, Mitakeumi 100% deserved his promotion: long-serving Sekiwake, multiple yusho, came close on several occasions, got 33 wins over 3 basho, all at Sekiwake, with increasing win totals and punctuated with a yusho. As clear-cut a promotion as you could have, leading to the shortest stint at Ozeki ever, even with the one-basho COVID reprieve. On the other hand, Kitanofuji was promoted as somewhat of an emergency measure after 8-8-10 and went on to become a great Yokozuna. My point is that you can’t predict these things, given injuries, illness, loss of form, etc. If someone is a san’yaku regular with a string of positive performances, elevating them to Ozeki is both reasonable and rolling the dice, whether they got there with 28 wins or 37 (see Tochinoshin).

        • It is for sure a bigger gap than between Komusubi and Sekiwake, but I see it as one of degree rather than kind (unlike Yokozuna, which is a lifetime rank). Per sumo Wikipedia: “Above the maegashira are the three champion or titleholder ranks, called the san’yaku, which are not numbered. These are, in ascending order, komusubi (小結), sekiwake (関脇), and ōzeki (大関).”

          • Ozeki, though, clearly have significant advantages, not least of which being the kadoban privilege. By diminishing the criteria to achieve the rank, it diminishes the rank — or is at least extremely unfair to those who had met the new criteria before.

    • I’ll also reiterate my comments from the previous post:

      This is not the way I think about it. I think Yokozuna is just a special form of Ozeki. Remember, Yokozuna is a “relatively” new rank in sumo. And, just like there have to be 2 M1, etc, etc, there have to be two Ozeki, but nowadays these Ozeki can be ones promoted to the special rank of Yokozuna via performance criteria. However, fundamentally Yokozuna are still Ozeki.

      So, the top two in the banzuke, by definition, have to be Ozeki (although one or both of them can hold the “special” name of Yokozuna). Thus, Terunofuji is not “having” to be considered an Ozeki, he just occupies the top position with the only other Ozeki.

      The confusion comes because we are so used to having Yokozuna and Ozeki. However, this is simply wrestlers putting in strong enough performances to demand extra Ozeki positions being opened (plus promotion to Yokozuna). You can have as many Yokozuna and Ozeki as performances demand, but (and this is the key) you must have a minimum of two Ozeki.

      So, if there is one Yokozuna you need another Ozeki – just the next highest-ranked guy. If there is no Yokozuna, you need two Ozeki – just the two highest-ranked guys. There is no performance criteria for this – it is simply a ranking. Performance criteria are only to force extra spots above the two Ozeki (and for promotion to Yokozuna, but remember this is still an Ozeki at heart), in a similar way to performance being able to force extra komusubi/sekiwake spots.

      As far as I know this is how the banzuke works, and it makes things very simple to understand.

      • I think this is correct; the reason we’re arguing about it is that it’s never been directly tested, with the number of Y/O set to drop below 2 if someone not meeting the usual criteria isn’t promoted. But part of the reason it hasn’t been tested is promotions like Kitanofuji’s with 28 wis, anticipating the weakness/age of the Y/O at the time. I am guessing we wouldn’t have seen promotions like Asanoyama’s and Shodai’s with 32 if we had a deeper Y/O group at the time; it’s just bad luck that those two and Mitakeumi didn’t work out for various reasons and we find ourselves in the current situation.

        • “the reason we’re arguing”

          Spirited discussion. :)

          And I think your point is key. It hasn’t been tested. Even things that get written down seem to be flexible. But other things are famously inflexible. I think you and I had spoken before about just wanting to see some of these rules written down, or at least see where some of the things we hold as custom, are really just custom and much more flexible than we appreciate. I kind of discount Ozeki decisions made 20-30+ years ago. There’s a new regime in town and some of the rules/criteria are quite different than they were back then. The sport continues to evolve, but knowing which rules do, and which don’t, is really what I’m after.

          I do worry about Mitakeumi. I wonder if he’s injured or if Covid hit him harder than we appreciate. But he just seems much less formidable than in the past. But as far as Shodai’s promotion, it’s much easier to say, “oh, you’re so close to 33 wins so we’ll give you an extra point for winning a yusho, or for beating Ozeki or Yokozuna, or playoff wins, etc.” But, promoting someone because there’s no one else around is…sad. And it seems demonstrably unfair to those who met those criteria.

  2. Okay then, one more comment.

    Next to the words used for sumo’s major ranks, the notion that the main tournaments are important enough to be called honbasho and not just basho might well be the second-oldest continuously enduring aspect of professional sumo, going back centuries. It’s a point of pride for the Kyokai. The fact that the May 2011 tournament ended up being officially run without that appellation due to the match-fixing scandal was the absolute nadir of its ~100-year modern history, not some kind of fun diversion from the usual proceedings that you seemingly thought it was.

    Nothing else before or since has come anywhere close to making them consider this an option – not other widespread scandals, not specific misbehaviour by high-profile rikishi, not the worldwide effects of Covid-19. Daily practice and regular honbasho, that’s what the sumo world runs on at the most fundamental level. Cancelling ranking tournaments altogether? Yes, grudgingly. Running ranking tournaments as something other than honbasho? No, that’s just not done.

    I hope you understand now why your “so if we don’t have two properly qualified ozeki after May, they should just not call them honbasho then for a while” thrust comes across as the exact opposite of the tradition-minded idea you believe it to be.

    • Although I might as well add some topical notes concerning that May 2011 tournament, I suppose. Here are the reasons that it was staged but not treated as a honbasho, in roughly decreasing order of importance:

      1) The investigation into the match-fixing scandal was not yet complete in April, when the Association had to decide what to do with the May tournament, and chairman Hanaregoma had publicly declared earlier that this would have to be achieved before normal business could resume.

      2) The organization’s reputation was in the toilet and some measure of public contrition was expected.

      2a) The cumulative effects of earlier scandals, such as the baseball gambling incident less than a year before (which had already resulted in NHK refusing to broadcast a honbasho, Nagoya 2010), meant that the Kyokai had much less room to maneuver than it otherwise would have had.

      3) The March tournament had already been cancelled in the wake of the scandal. One of the tenets of professional sumo – in fact, part of the Association’s constitution – is that rikishi should have their skills tested in competition regularly, so some quarters were pushing to avoid a second full cancellation, which would have meant no competitive sumo for half a year.

      4) It would have been awfully hard to sell the tournament to the public as a standard offering with 25% of the sekitori missing.

      5) Japan wasn’t in the mood for celebratory sports events while the country was still suffering in the aftermath of the Tohoku Earthquake, including the spectre of periodic rolling blackouts.

      It took the confluence of all of these things to result in the decision to run the May 2011 tournament as an event not only downscaled in its implementation, but also with a reduced official status.

      The scenario that some rikishi “needs” to be prevented from getting to the ozeki rank in slightly lucky circumstances absolutely pales in comparison.

      • You are literally the only one making this argument, that somehow you can’t use the same solution to two different problems. Yes, the match-fixing scandal was bad. You can make that argument all day but it doesn’t detract from the fact that its results counted. Cancelling the Natsu basho during COVID didn’t mean the Kyokai “did a bad” and had to go apologize for COVID. They took the SAME ACTION to handle two different situations! It didn’t turn the new situation into the other situation. Logic doesn’t work that way… for a reason. And as for the Earthquake, that’s an odd tanget. Sometimes sport helps pull people out of the doldrums and you see the work Hakuho and the Kyokai have done specifically for Tohoku.

        • I think what you two disagree about is weather or not the lack of Ozeki is a valid reason to downgrade a Honbasho. Apparently for you it’s just a different technical label to the same thing, but Asashosakari believes, that there is a lot more weight behind it.
          I seriously doubt that this is considered an option. As Iksumo pointed out, there are no fixed rules for Ozeki promotion and also the special Kadoban status hasn’t been there forever, so I rather expect an angle here.

          • I think my distinction is that I don’t see it as “downgrading” the basho at all, precisely because it still counts and carries the weight of a hon-basho, as we have seen.

            I do see the alternative as downgrading the rank of Ozeki… unless there’s no need for them at all, in which case I am confused by the need for Yokozuna-Ozeki. But the 33-wins over 3 tournaments is a standard which is even cited by the Sumo Association itself. Sure, allowances are given. If a waiver is granted for not meeting the standard, there can be all sorts of extenuating factors…like yusho or playoff victories which would not count to a record, or victories over Yokozuna, etc. But to weaken the standard because “we need an Ozeki”…that stinks. I mean if someone gets it with 29 wins now, I feel bad for Wakatakakage who met that standard with a playoff victory yusho last year!

        • “this argument, that somehow you can’t use the same solution to two different problems.”

          I’m not saying you can’t, I’m saying it would be looked at as manifestly stupid by the Kyokai to do it in this case. But apparently the possibility that you just might have got stuck arguing for doing something manifestly stupid here seems inconceivable to you. Keep digging, if that’s what makes you happy.

          • LOL. And you call my response “borderline insulting.”

            Look. I know you are a rational person and can tell the difference between a scandal and the response. If someone gets in a tiff with their significant other, for example, they might buy flowers. That doesn’t mean buying flowers is a scandal or a sign of scandal. Maybe it’s because of my project management background but I try to find solutions to meet requirements. In this case, the scenario I presented provides a path to an Ozeki. It is irrelevant that it was once used as a response to yaocho. Cancelling tournaments outright have clearly been used as a response to yaocho AND a national health emergency. (Heaven forbid!)

            Look, whatever I am “digging” is a practical solution for the situation. The way to disprove it would be to demonstrate how it doesn’t meet the requirements but every time you argue against it, you prove how it did exactly what they need! Now, if you will forgive me, I need to go find my Michael Jackson eating popcorn gif.

            • “I try to find solutions to meet requirements.”

              The point you appear incapable of understanding is that your idea isn’t a solution, it’s a pointless overcomplication. If Takakeisho falls and there are no truly convincing candidates to take his place, there are two actual solutions that have been staring you in the face since the previous thread:

              1) Promote “best available” anyway and be done. Say “番付は生き物” as usual if anybody asks.

              2) Don’t promote anybody, say “two ozeki has never been a rule”, run the July honbasho as usual.

              You’re strangely hung up on the notion that “honbasho” and “fewer than two ozeki” can’t possibly go together, while “honbasho” and “all ozeki must have ‘properly’ earned their rank” is somehow vital, but you’ve made exactly zero arguments in defense of either of those premises. All you’ve done is assume them as true and then presented your “solution” to a non-existent problem.

              Anyway, I guess I’ll post yet another overly verbose historical overview at the bottom of this thread.

              • I discussed both of those in the post, see Options 1 & 2, but you have not addressed the direct implication of those two scenarios, which I raised in the post.

                Regarding “Promote Best Available,” which was option 2 in the post, that seems patently unfair to those who were denied in the past and would diminish the rank of Ozeki. There are concrete, significant benefits received by Ozeki, not least of which is the kadoban privilege. The standard is clearly 33 wins over 3 basho, explicitly stated by the Kyokai. If the standard were relaxed now, that would seem very unfair to guys like Tochiozan or Wakatakakage and other guys who would have met the new criteria. Do you not acknowledge these facts? Is this just a, “仕方がない,” situation to you? If so, then that’s where our differences lie.

                Regarding “Don’t Promote Anybody,” I just want to hear an explanation about what is the point of a “Yokozuna-Ozeki?” Can you answer that?

                “all ozeki must have ‘properly’ earned their rank”

                To be honest, I just take that as a matter of course. As I have said above, Ozeki is more than just “the next rank above Sekiwake.” Beyond the pomp and circumstance of promotion ceremonies and status, there are financial benefits and the significant privilege of kadoban. It’s also the doorway that all future Yokozuna must pass. If you win a tournament as an Ozeki, you’re immediately on a rope run. The implication of your position is that the jump from Sekiwake to Ozeki is similar to that from Komusubi to Sekiwake or even M1 to Komusubi, and that’s just inaccurate.

                “honbasho and fewer than two ozeki can’t possibly go together”

                Yeah. Hasn’t happened for “a while,” and there’s that little detail of the Yokozuna-Ozeki that you’ve never bothered to address.

              • “The standard is clearly 33 wins over 3 basho, explicitly stated by the Kyokai. If the standard were relaxed now, that would seem very unfair to guys like Tochiozan or Wakatakakage and other guys who would have met the new criteria.”

                Andy, this just isn’t the case. There are guys who hit the 33 over 3 “standard” and weren’t promoted, and guys who were promoted with <33 wins. The promotion environment got tighter in the mid-1980s, but even since then, we’ve had 5 promotions with 32, including such greats as Chiyotaikai and Kisenosato. Before that, but still in the post-1958 six-basho era, there were quite a few promotions with 28-31 wins. So yes, I’d consider them saying that in the current environment 31 or 30 or even 28 is enough is very much 仕方がない,

              • 32 is very different than 28-29. We’ve seen where there’s wiggle room and doubt. Are all of the wins at the rank of Sekiwake, or is Komusubi/M4 adequate? Were playoff wins involved, but not a part of the official tally? Was there a yusho? Yes, I know the criteria is stated but are flexible. But just recently we were discussing whether 10 wins in the final basho of the run was “a line in the sand” or not.

              • Based on what we haven’t seen in the modern era, the two lines seem to be “you have to be Sekiwake” and “you have to get 10 wins in the final basho.” Which is why in my opinion they wouldn’t balk at promoting any of the 4 Sekiwake if they got to 10 wins. If none do, and Takakeisho fails to get 8, we are in uncharted waters, and some precedent will have to break.

              • This is the killer, though. What happens if Hoshoryu gets 10 while Kiribayama squeaks by with 8 or 9? It will be interesting to see. I think the Kyokai will want something that is fair but it shouldn’t just be fair for this crop of Sekiwake.

              • I would have no trouble accepting promotion with 28 wins, if that needs to be done under the circumstances, and it is the best result at the time. The person getting the promotion would still have to show everybody that he really deserves to have the rank in the future with his results.

                What I do not want to see is someone promoted with 28 wins, while at the same time there is someone else with 30+ wins, who is not promoted. Both Kiribayama and Daieisho will have 30+ wins after May with just 8 wins.

              • Yeah, that would be a tricky scenario. Just for the sake of argument, let’s say only Daieisho and Hoshoryu are kachi-koshi, Daieisho is 8-7, and Hoshoryu is 10-5. So you have M1 10-5 K 12-3 S 8-7 (30) vs. S 8-7 S 10-5 S 10-5 (28). On the one hand, Daieisho has more wins over 3 basho. On the other hand, 10 wins in the pre-promotion basho has been an absolute requirement, and it would be awkward to promote S2e with 8 wins over S1w with 10.

              • Yeah, the possibilities are there for new Ozeki, and this is probably the highest likelihood for someone to get a promotion in a while. I’ve got my hunches but I don’t want to jinx anything.

              • In normal circumstances I can understand why the 10 wins in the pre-promotion tournament is a requirement. It is essentially the same requirement rikishi has to fulfill in the first tournament after demotion from Ozeki, if he wants to return to Ozeki immediately after that tournament. So Sekiwake has to show that he is capable of passing that same one tournament requirement even before promotion to Ozeki. But before that the Sekiwake has to have enough wins from the previous two tournaments to be able to try passing that 10 win requirement in the third. The 10 win requirement does not exist without first completing 2/3 of the three tournament requirement.

                What we are now talking about is promoting someone to Ozeki out of necessity, because there are not enough Ozeki. So the possibility of not fulfilling the usual promotion criteria are not required. So the question is which criterion should be more important: the total number of wins in the last three tournaments or having 10+ wins in the pre-promotion tournament. My opinion is that the total number of wins in the three tournaments should come first.

                Let us come back to the example of Daieisho and Hoshoryu, if that were to materialize. Currently Daieisho has been better than Hoshoryu in the past two tournaments and if the results of May were as Iksumo had in his example, Daiesho would have been better than Hoshoryu in 2 out 3 tournaments. Anyone can have a bad tournament, but as a higher ranked rikishi Hoshoryu should have been better in at least 2 out of 3 tournaments, but he was not. If Hoshoryu gets the 10 wins and is at 28 wins, and Daieisho gets 8 wins and is at 30 wins, and Hoshoryu is now promoted to Ozeki instead of Daieisho, it would mean that Ozeki was chosen based on one tournament result instead of the last three tournament results. If this really happened, then why not just have a tournament to decide who is the next Ozeki. If the three tournament requirement means something, Daieisho should get the promotion in this situation and not Hoshoryu.

              • That’s excellent reasoning. I am just of the camp (likely on my own) that they shouldn’t “promote out of necessity.” That said, the odds are someone will have a strong case for promotion after this tournament. I am eager to see how it goes.

              • At every rank below Y/O, promotions out of necessity are completely normal and expected. I think that they should never promote to Y out of necessity, which is why I wasn’t buying Bruce’s argument for Takakeisho in January. I think O occupies something of a middle ground. Much as I want to see the Ozeki candidates do well, I am now almost wishing for chaos just to see what the NSK thinks :)

              • Complete chaos would definitely be interesting to see. Suppose Terunofuji retires and/or Takakeisho does not get at least 8 wins, and furthermore suppose that all the Sekiwake get losing records, so that none of the can be promoted. Promoting Komusubi to Ozeki would be forced and it might be Shodai that returns to Ozeki. I do not think that all the Sekiwake will get losing records, but it would certainly be interesting to see what happens in this case.

                As for out of necessity promotions Makuuchi division has a fixed size and the positions have to be filled. If it is deemed that there has to be at least 2O, 2S and 2K, then they have to be filled somehow. I would personally be for scrapping that 2O rule, but I have no idea how this would go over with Japanese audience. So if it is better to keep the 2O rule, then my opinion is that the Ozeki rank should go to the Sekiwake, who has the best last three tournament record as long as that Sekiwake has a winning record in May. Get as close to 33 wins as possible and if 28 wins is closest to it then go with it. The 10 win rule in the pre-promotion tournament should be the first to be relaxed, because as I explained in the earlier comment, this would essentially result into determining Ozeki promotion with one tournament result only.

    • You forget, they cancelled the March tournament in 2011 because of the match fixing. They did the same thing and cancelled a tournament because of COVID. The same thing can be done for different purposes. I don’t understand why that fact doesn’t get through.

      **I read and responded to the first comment before seeing that you did mention the cancelled tournament in the second comment.***

  3. I think they’ll just keep winging it as long as they can and just “hope it works out”. Kind of like we’re doing with the environment, but i digress. In this case it might be a good strategy to just stay calm, as there are some fresh beastly men coming up to take the Ozeki rank if nobody else can. If that doesn’t pan out, the least injured and mangled men will rise to the top. Even if it’s Tobizaru.

  4. I called the idea of honbasho possibly the second-oldest concept in professional sumo earlier. Of course, the banzuke as a thing that exists has been in place for a long time, too. But it has undergone a fairly severe shift in purpose compared to ~200 years ago, from lineup card / advertising tool to meritocratic ranking / membership roster. Professional sumo as a perpetually going concern with distinct “home bases” has only been a thing since the 1840s or so, prior to that it was more of a loose affiliation of people who would come together for tournaments and then go their separate ways again. Wrestlers being comprehensively ordered based on performance only became fully accepted in the 1880s.

    This is why arguments based on some sort of centuries-old “it’s not a real banzuke / real honbasho without 2 O / 2 S / 2 K” sanctity are overstating the case. It’s not that they actively aimed to establish this as a tradition – rather, back when the banzuke mainly served as a “folks, this is who you’re going to see” vehicle, it would have been just pointless to leave spots empty. The whole notion that ranks are earned based on relatively objective criteria didn’t apply in those days. The six most important guys available were put at the top of the “ranking”, that’s all there was to it. (Where “importance” = a nebulous mixture of popularity, skill, seniority and patronage.)

    And then the shift to professional sumo as a competitive meritocracy happened, followed shortly after (if somewhat accidentally) by “yokozuna” morphing from title of honour to distinct rank. Within just a couple of decades, they went from having exactly two ozeki on nearly every banzuke to having as many as 4 ozeki and 8 Y/O combined. Yet somehow people today think that the guys in charge back then around the start of the 20th century were some sort of hardline traditionalists with a “yes, but, we’ve still got to have at least two or it’s not a real banzuke anymore” stance?

    IMHO, it’s a lot more likely that nobody actively tried to maintain that minimum then, either; it simply didn’t get in the way of how the modernized Ozumo worked. No grand plan, it just kept going like that because it was practical enough. Unlike, say, demanding “one on each side” for the yokozuna rank as well, the non-establishment of which people curiously never question even though they believe it’s somehow vitally important for ozeki, sekiwake and komusubi.

    Of course it’s fully possible that, a hundred years on from all that, today’s leadership does consider it an unbreakable tradition that there must be two ozeki on the banzuke, and so they’ll promote “best available” in case Takakeisho falls, even if the best is not particularly good. However, I remain unconvinced that this is as locked in as many people assume. I’m not aware of any actual regulations that would force the Kyokai to do it, and so they could easily come to the conclusion that “we have special considerations for how ozeki are created, and since nobody has fulfilled them at this point, we’ll go without until they do.” It works just fine for yokozuna, and in consideration of the aforementioned history it’s not the big leap to apply the same thinking to ozeki that people make it out to be.

    • “Anyway, I guess I’ll post yet another overly verbose historical overview at the bottom of this thread.”

      Calling a spade, a spade. I’m not talking about centuries of practice here. I mean, resurrect the corner posts, get rid of VAR, and who needs to touch their hands to the ground…but those born with ovaries still can’t stand on the sacred mound at the center of the stadium, which has been blessed with squid and sake interred. There are clearly some practices which are more rigid than others. Talking about stuff from before the various sumo organizations merged into the current Nihon Sumo Kyokai, is probably not that relevant. I mean, 6 tournaments only existed since the 50s, and as we saw in Covid, there’s no need to go to Nagoya at all. But all of this history is a distraction from the central question. My debate here is simply wanting to know this:

      “it’s not a real banzuke / real honbasho without 2 O / 2 S / 2 K” sanctity are overstating the case.”

      I just want to see evidence that this statement is true because historical promotion/demotion practices and the existence of the Yokozuna-Ozeki point to a distinct importance of this balance, even if not quite “sanctity.” If Ozeki explicitly becomes a “best available” rank, that’s a real shame for guys who were really, really good and actually performed better than the “New Ozeki.”

      • Which historical promotion/demotion practices, exactly? I’ve already given my arguments for why I believe that people are erroneously reading active agency into things that largely came about without direction. You’re free to disagree, but then it’s up to you to point out situations where you believe they actually did something. Who was promoted to (or not demoted from) ozeki solely or at least primarily to make up the numbers in modern times?

        They’re clearly not concerned at all with retaining any rank presence minimums for the actual tournament action, otherwise they wouldn’t have let the last couple of honbasho proceed with just Takakeisho available. In fact, this alone throws severe doubt on your position that if they don’t promote anybody to replace a demoted Takakeisho, they would need to peel the honbasho label off the next tournament in consequence. If “2 on the banzuke, 1 in the tournament” is acceptable, why would “1 on the banzuke, 1 in the tournament” not be? This entire “dare we call it a honbasho?” question has absolutely nothing to do with what seems to be your actual concern, promoting a guy with less than the usually required performances. As I’ve repeatedly pointed out, they can address that issue on its own merits just fine. (Maybe they should designate the highest ranked sekiwake as sekiwake-ozeki…)

        BTW, they didn’t bother with the yokozuna-ozeki designation when they had only one ozeki for three tournaments back in 1955. Apparently having two explicit ozeki wasn’t all that important at least to the decision-makers of that era. Your insistence further above notwithstanding, Y-O isn’t particularly germane to this topic anyway since it’s nothing more than a stylistic choice with no tangible impact on anything.

        • “Which historical promotion/demotion practices, exactly? I’ve already given my arguments for why I believe that people are erroneously reading active agency into things that largely came about without direction. You’re free to disagree, but then it’s up to you to point out situations where you believe they actually did something. Who was promoted to (or not demoted from) ozeki solely or at least primarily to make up the numbers in modern times?”

          Why don’t we see 1 Sekiwake or 1 Komusubi on occasion? And why do we see a Yokozuna-Ozeki in those rare instances that there’s 1 Ozeki? Balance is the practice. Rather than promoting anyone to Ozeki to “make up numbers”, they have these Yokozuna-Ozeki specifically to make up numbers. I have made that point in the original post and in these comments, *but I still don’t have an answer for why that exists, if not to preserve the balance*. And they don’t promote haphazardly to Ozeki because that promotion is has much more significance than going from K to S or M1 to K.

          “They’re clearly not concerned at all with retaining any rank presence minimums for the actual tournament action, otherwise they wouldn’t have let the last couple of honbasho proceed with just Takakeisho available. In fact, this alone throws severe doubt on your position that if they don’t promote anybody to replace a demoted Takakeisho, they would need to peel the honbasho label off the next tournament in consequence. If “2 on the banzuke, 1 in the tournament” is acceptable, why would “1 on the banzuke, 1 in the tournament” not be? This entire “dare we call it a honbasho?” question has absolutely nothing to do with what seems to be your actual concern, promoting a guy with less than the usually required performances. As I’ve repeatedly pointed out, they can address that issue on its own merits just fine. (Maybe they should designate the highest ranked sekiwake as sekiwake-ozeki…)”

          Again you ignore Terunofuji at Yokozuna-Ozeki for several tournaments in a row now. Takakeisho is not alone and you know this. Just as they did with Chiyonofuji and Hokutoumi, and Kakuryu (briefly), Terunofuji fills in for the balance. *This is important to address.

          “BTW, they didn’t bother with the yokozuna-ozeki designation when they had only one ozeki for three tournaments back in 1955.”

          That doesn’t explain the current use of the designation which goes back to the 80s, and even before 1955. They used haridashi that year, according to the SumoDB, and Wikipedia. Perhaps it was an alternative that was quickly scrapped. They did use the yokozuna/ozeki rank in the 80s, and they’re doing it now. Funny that. Wikipedia mentions 1955 as an exception while the SumoDB rankings do curiously balance those out with some Yokozuna listed as H and others shifted over to the West. I seriously wonder, “Why?” And that answer would be key in all of this. Balance mentioned here seems to be key. They may not have bothered with it for one year but they have decided to bother with it recently.

          *Made two edits to rephrase, indicated by the asterisks.

  5. I wonder if one or more of the Sekiwake could “stand in” for an Ozeki, like a Yokozuna-Ozeki does. They wouldn’t be officially promoted without meeting the normal criteria, they’d just fill the ceremonial parts of the Ozeki role as needed while retaining their Sekiwake rank for all other purposes.

  6. Hokutoumi was never a Yokozuna-Ozeki. Here are all of the Yokozuna that have been Yokozuna-Ozeki since 1959…

    Wakanohana I (Nagoya–Aki 1959)
    Kashiwado (Nagoya 1966)
    Wajima (Hatsu 1975)
    Mienoumi (Kyushu 1979)
    Wakanohana II (Hatsu 1980, Natsu–Nagoya 1981)
    Kitanoumi (Aki 1981–Hatsu 1982)
    Chiyonofuji (Aki 1981)
    Kakuryu (Haru 2020)
    Terunofuji (Hatsu 2022–present)

    • You are absolutely right. I was thinking of Kitanoumi, specifically because he held the rank with Chiyonofuji because there were zero Ozeki. I will correct the post.


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