Everything you ever wanted to know about mawashi

And some things you wish you didn’t.

Mawashi hanging out to dry outside Hakkaku beya

The inspiration to writing this post came from a story which appeared on the Takasago beya web site, and made its way to the sports press. It’s a story about a stolen mawashi. But to appreciate the story in full, you need to know a few things about mawashi.

Mawashi is the one thing that’s absolutely necessary to do sumo. Yes, a dohyo is a good idea, but I’ve seen rikishi practice in public parks, where they merely marked a circle or agreed between themselves where the “dohyo” edges are. But although I’ve seen people trying to demonstrate sumo moves on people wearing jeans and a T-shirt, it’s not really sumo without a mawashi.

Mawashi originate in fundoshi, but has evolved into something that holds one’s belly in and allows solid handholds over time. What is a fundoshi, you ask? It’s a Japanese-style loincloth, like Hakuho is wearing in this video:

Father’s day 2018

Rikishi have two styles of mawashi – for practice and for competition. In Makushita and below, as well as amateur sumo, they use the same mawashi for both. Let’s take a look at practice style.

From the left, we have female amateur wrestler, male amateur wrestler, a rikishi in the lower divisions (Makushita or below), and a sekitori. What are the differences?

In amateur sumo it’s generally allowed to wear something below the mawashi. Women wear a leotard or something similar. Men may wear shorts. The color of the mawashi is generally white, but there are amateur or school wrestlers who wear black, and sometimes school colors, like this guy from Saitama Sakae High:

(Yes, that’s actually Midorifuji vs. Takakeisho)

Whatever the color, those are cotton drill or canvas mawashi.

The lower division rikishi wear black cotton mawashi. Sekitori wear white for practice. So how do you tell a sekitori from an amateur? One thing is the hairdo, of course, but the main status symbol of a sekitori’s practice mawashi is the way the front end is folded. Amateurs and lower division rikishi fold the front end of their mawashi and tuck it into the belt from below, so it creates a kind of triangle. A sekitori, however, rolls the front of the mawashi and tucks it into the top of his belt, creating what I like to call “toilet-paper roll style”.

The only ones who are supposed to wear it like that are sekitori and former sekitori, including oyakata. So if you see somebody wearing a short hairdo and a TP-style white mawashi, he is likely an oyakata.

Grand sumo rikishi, in all divisions, wear nothing under the mawashi. Not shorts, not a G-string, not anything. The only exception is bandaging and taping for injuries.

The white mawashi sekitori wear usually have their shikona written on them in large, clear kanji, courtesy of the heya’s gyoji, if there is one. You can see that on Hoktofuji’s mawashi in this video. I’ve seen Hakuho at times put his tegata (hand mark) on the front of the mawashi instead. Lower ranking rikishi can generally recognize their own mawashi on sight, as no two mawashi wear down quite the same way.

Let’s move on to competition style.

As you can see, the main difference between practice style and competition style for amateurs is that they have tags attached to the front, identifying their team or school etc.

Lower division rikishi wear their practice mawashi, but they also insert a sagari. Sagari is a stiff strip of fabric into which an uneven number of colorful strings are sewn, evenly spaced, such that the strip is tucked into the folds of the mawashi, and only the strings hang down.

In fact, the folds of the mawashi may contain other things than the front tip and the sagari’s top. Many rikishi tuck lucky charms into their competition mawashi to protect against injury or defeat.

Shimekomi

Sekitori, on the other hand, wear a whole different mawashi. Here is another status symbol. The competition mawashi, known as “shimekomi”, is made out of satin silk. There is also matching sagari, which is made from the same silk material, where the weaver leaves long loose strands. The strands are braided into thick tufts, and stiffened with glue. That’s why you see them sticking like a bunch of skewers when the sekitori crouches down for the tachiai. To see how this is done, I refer you to an older post of mine: How are sagari stiffened?

The official rules allow shimekomi to be purple or dark blue. But rikishi have been defying this rule ever since color TV has been introduced. The NSK is looking the other way. One color, though, is taboo – white.

A shimekomi is 80cm wide, and weighs about 4.5kg. Women are not allowed to touch a shimekomi or a kesho-mawashi (though unlike mounting dohyo, you can find violations of this rule here and there).

On occasion, you may see a sekitori wearing his shimekomi for practice. This is generally done to “break it in” – to let the body adjust to it and let its creases adjust to the body. On those occasions, it’s tied TP-roll style.

As a matter of fact, a sekitori has a third type of mawashi – the kesho-mawashi. That’s the one with the heavy decorated apron, which he wears during dohyo-iri. And that’s the only type of mawashi which is not worn directly on the body. Rikishi are allowed to wear a fundoshi (see above) under the kesho-mawashi. This is especially important for the two rikishi who accompany a Yokozuna during his dohyo-iri. The Yokozuna kesho-mawashi come in sets of three, and as the attendants may vary, the same mawashi may be worn by different rikishi over time.

So what? You may be saying. It’s not as if they don’t wash the kesho-mawashi between uses…

Ah, no, they don’t.

Mawashi are never washed.

None of the mawashi I mentioned so far is ever washed. That’s a long standing tradition. Not washed. Not rinsed. Not dry-cleaned.

Those of you who watched the movie “A Normal Life” may raise their hands in objection. “But I saw Kyokutaisei in that movie washing mawashi”. No, as a matter of fact you haven’t. Go watch it again. He is only using the dryers, never the washers. Now let’s give a thought to the anonymous person who had to put his freshly washed laundry into that dryer after him. You’re welcome.

As a matter of fact, there are two occasions on which a mawashi may be washed. One is prior to the first use. The other is when the shisho – the stablemaster – dies.

So how are they cleaned? If a kesho-mawashi or a shimekomi is stained, stain-removers and/or damp cloth are used to remove the stains. Practice mawashi, which are made of coarse material, may gather a lot of mud. In that case, the rikishi may lay them flat and apply a deck brush to remove the caked mud. But that’s about it. If the stench becomes unbearable, since a mawashi is not very expensive, they may dispose of it and get a new one. You see sekitori do that more often than low-division rikishi.

Where do mawashi come from?

Rikishi can buy mawashi from the NSK. Yes, you read right. They buy them from their employer. The NSK keeps 100m rolls of mawashi cloth, which is 46cm wide, ready to dispense. A black low-division mawashi costs ¥800, and a white sekitori mawashi costs ¥950.

A shimekomi is a different story. Its price is in the range of ¥1,000,000. The money usually comes from supporters, same as kesho-mawashi. Most shimekomi are made by the same artisan, Mr. Nakagawa from Nagahama city, Shiga prefecture.

Yes, it’s a manual loom. Two men take turns at the loom in order to complete it in about 10 days. The busiest time is when new Juryo promotees are announced. They have to have the shimekomi ready in about a month, so basically his shop can’t handle more than three new promotees on the same banzuke.

If you ever wondered about the gold stripes that show up on some shimekomi, it’s his artisan’s mark. It’s not always visible.

How does one wear a mawashi?

Before you can wear it, it has to be properly folded. While a shimekomi is relatively soft silk, a practice mawashi is very similar to the fabric fire hoses are made of. First, you fold it in half, leaving 1cm at one edge, to allow for the width of the next fold. Then you create the crease, using the Sumo world’s equivalent of the Swiss Army knife – beer bottles.

It is then folded once more, creating 4 layers. Most of the length of the mawashi will remain 4-layered. However, the part that covers the family jewels is opened up, so it’s only two layers, and the part that goes between the buttocks is folded again into 8 layers. The 4-layered mawashi is rolled like a hose, flattened, and bound tightly with strings. Then a heavy item is placed on top, and you wait a night. You then need to crease the nether part and the part used for the tie on the back, and you are good to go.

So how do you wear it? You need assistance. And assistance with muscles, at that. Here is a beginner who found assistance in the form of Shikihide oyakata.

The difference between that and the sekitori way is that sekitori leave a longer part at the front, and where Shikihide tucked it sideways under the final layer, they leave it dangling, roll it up and tuck it in. This part is not in any danger of coming loose, being threaded through the layers like that, but the back side is entirely dependent on the strength of the tie. If it comes loose in mid-bout, you better hope your gyoji has the strength to fix it properly.

As a rule, professional rikishi take care to do their number 2 and wash the corresponding output port before they wear their mawashi. Then it’s time for practice. And then they take a bath and hang their mawashi out to dry, as you can see in the photo at the top of this article.

So what’s the story of the stolen mawashi?

So now that you know more or less all I know about mawashi, perhaps you’ll be as amazed as I was when I read this story.

A few weeks ago a worried passer-by knocked on the door at Takasago beya. He has witnessed a theft. Somebody has stolen one of the mawashi hanging out to dry on the heya’s outer fence.

The rikishi went out to investigate, and indeed, one mawashi was missing – Terasawa’s. Terasawa is one of Asanoyama’s tsukebito.

As it turns out, Takasago beya has surveillance cameras. The okamisan allowed the rikishi to check the footage, and indeed, the heist was recorded. A few minutes before 2PM, someone came in in a minivan, popped out, grabbed the mawashi, popped back into his minivan and disappeared.

The police was informed, but they could not find the lost mawashi. This was in the middle of honbasho, and Terasawa had to go and buy a new mawashi. The okamisan was generous enough to cover the expense.

Terasawa said he’ll miss the mawashi, which he has used ever since he joined the heya in 2018. But as it turns out, the mawashi itself was not the greatest loss. This being in the middle of honbasho, he had a lucky charm tucked into it. That lucky charm contained the cremated remains of a pet rabbit named Raruki, which he had when he was a kid. He used to have Raruki with him in his competitions since middle school.

Why would anyone stage a heist to steal a used mawashi? Not one belonging to anybody famous. Not an expensive shimekomi. Not a passer-by playing a prank to relieve boredom. Someone coming in a minivan to grab a piece of dirty, smelly, two-years-in-use coarse cotton which costs ¥800 new. That’s $7.50. Why?

Bouts From the Lower Divisions – Senshuraku

Do not irritate the kaiju

Here we are, at the end of what turned out to be a very interesting basho – and not just in the top division. Princes were dethroned (Hoshoryu and Naya make-koshi), new ones are in the making (one fresh nephew, and one Hakuho replica in maezumo). Let’s see what the last day brought us.

Jonokuchi

The big story in Jonokuchi was, of course, the three-way playoff between members of the same heya, Naruto beya. Marusho, Sakurai and Motobayashi did not allow themselves to be eliminated till the very end.

A three-way playoff (“tomoe ketteisen”) works like this – no matter at what division: two rikishi mount the dohyo, say A and B, and the third, rikishi C, awaits. Suppose A wins. B then descends the dohyo and waits, and C mounts it and takes on A. Should A win again, they yusho is his. if not, C stays on the dohyo, B joins him, and this continues until one of them wins two in a row.

So theoretically, this can go on until the cows come home. In practice, there is seldom symmetry of power, and the strongest one emerges pretty quickly.

Here is today’s three-way playoff. The yobidashi here also happens to be from Naruto beya – yobidashi kenta, who is nicknamed “Maeken” by his heya-mates. We start with Marusho on the right, Sakurai on the left, and Motobayashi waiting.

Well, Sakurai’s and Motobayashi’s university sumo experience tells. Marusho is merely a graduate of a good high-school sumo program. Sakurai wins the first bout, Motobayashi replaces Marusho and beats Sakurai, and then beats Marusho for the yusho. Motobayashi is a graduate of Kinki University, which produced many top-division wrestlers. In his school days he was considered Takakeisho’s rival, but he opted to continue his education when the future Ozeki left school for Takanohana beya.

Jonidan

Though the yusho has already been decided in Jonidan (Tokisakae), there were still rikishi who did not complete the seven matches. First, let’s take a look at long-legged Kitanowaka, the Hakkaku beya charmer, facing Tenei from Takadagawa beya. Both are 4-2, Kitanowaka is on the left.

Ah, we have ourselves a crane operator here. Kitanowaka finishes 5-2, and will get a decent bump up the ranks come Aki.

Next, we keep our watch out for Roman, the crew-cut man from Tatsunami beya. He is coming up against Isamufuji from Isegahama beya, and they are both 5-1. Roman is on the right:

This develops into a kind of dance in which both wrestlers try to keep their opponents from reaching the mawashi or any other hand hold. Eventually Roman catches an arm and pulls. He is now 6-1, and will get an even nicer bump up the ranks.

Finally, one we haven’t covered in these posts, but we all know and love. Well, at least, those of us who have been around before Isegahama beya lost its Yokozuna, and with him, its hold on the yumitori position.

I’m speaking of Satonofuji, of course. He is deeply make-koshi as he comes into this day, with 1-5, facing Shiraseyama from Kise beya with the same miserable result. One wonders why the 42 years old doesn’t call it quits yet. I’m guessing he has a couple of goals, yet. One is probably doing the yumi-tori shiki in Aminishiki’s retirement ceremony. The other may be that he is waiting to braid the last rope for his oyakata – the red one for his 60th birthday, to be used in the “kanreki dohyo-iri” performed by former yokozuna on that occasion.

Be that as it may, he has to go up the dohyo until then and do sumo, and here he is, facing us, while Shiraseyama is with his back to us.

It’s a bit of a slippiotoshi, one has to admit, but at least Satonofuji finishes senshuraku with a sweet taste.

Sandanme

In Sandanme we have yet another playoff, and it, too, is a playoff within the same heya – Asatenmai, the 38 years old from Takasago beya, faces Terasawa, the 24 years old who is just making his first steps in the sumo world. This is just a plain, single-bout playoff. Asatenmai on the right.

Hmm. I get a different atmosphere here than the amicable competition that ruled the Naruto three-way-playoff. Terasawa sends his ani-deshi (big-brother-heya-mate, similar to a sempai) off the dohyo and doesn’t even look back as he makes his way to his own starting point. Bad blood? Low-ranked rikishi operate in a seniority system, where the older ani-deshi boss them around.

In any case, Terasawa wins the Sandanme yusho.

Makushita

We start Makushita with the former Ozeki, Terunofuji, having his last bout. His opponent is one we have also been following – Natsu basho’s Sandanme yusho winner, Shiraishi. I have not been happy about Shiraishi’s bouts, mostly because of his henka or half-henka in the first ones. And I’m even less happy about this one, although he makes it pretty clear he is not going for a henka today.

Seriously, what is this? I get that he has some injury in the shoulder and the arm. But what is this? He starts the bout two thirds of the way from the shikiri-sen to the tawara. He tries to keep himself so far away from Terunofuji that his own tsuppari almost doesn’t hit him. This looks more like that Laurel and Hardy Battle of the Century. Shiraishi should be thankful he belongs to Tamanoi beya rather than Futagoyama, or he would have his ass kicked all over Twitter.

Next we have ourselves an Onami – the eldest one, in fact, Wakatakamoto. He faces Tochimaru from Kasugano beya, and they are both comfortably kachi-koshi, 4-2, hoping to increase their fortunes and banzuke chances. Wakatakamoto is on the left:

Alas, the eldest Onami drops this one, and once again fails to catch up with his little brothers.

Going up the Makushita banzuke, we have Seiro facing Kototebakari. Both are kachi-koshi, 4-2, and Seiro get a salary next basho. Kototebakari, again, is trying to win an extra match to improve his own position next basho. Seiro is on the left, Kototebakari on the right.

Seiro makes short work of the Sadogatake man, who usually shows a bit more fighting spirit than that. I guess kachi-koshi will do that to you. Seiro is 5-2, Kototebakari 4-3.

Juryo

At the very bottom of Juryo, we have another Onami brother, Wakamotoharu, making a visit that may open the door for him to return to the salaried ranks. He is 5-1, and at Ms5w, 6-1 can certainly propel him into Juryo. However, he is facing Kotonowaka, who is 7-7, and needs this win to avoid dropping back into Makushita, disappointing his father, and bringing shame to the shikona he inherited from him.

Wakamotoharu on the right, Kotonowaka on the left:

We see glimpses here of the old Kotokamatani, in what looks like a typical top-Makushita brawl more than a Juryo match. Kotonowaka saves himself from demotion. He may not advance much, but he stays in the silk zone, and gets to keep his huuuuge oicho.

I shall finish this report, showing you that Ishiura can still do sumo that’s more easy on the eyes than his frequent henka. The foe is Mitoryu from Nishikido beya, and I think I don’t need to tell you which is which.

Round and round and round you go, Mitoryu. Ishiura will probably get back into Makuuchi, qualifying for Hakuho’s dohyo-iri again. The big question, of course, is whethe Hakuho himself will qualify for it come Aki.

Bouts From the Lower Divisions – Day 13

Naruto oyakata, on duty today, with his 7-0 deshi Sakurai

We’re back on track! Today, although there were few “big names” on the torikumi list, there were many important matches. All the yusho deciders in Makushita or below were played today, resulting either in yusho winners, or in playoffs to take place on Senshuraku. We’ll go through these bouts, as well as some of our usual ones of interest.

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Lower divisions – Days 13 and 14

Hey, Hoshoryu, Asashoryu called and asked for his game face to be returned

Hey, I owe you readers two days of randomly picked lower division bouts!

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