Pearl Of The Day: Chikara-mizu in the Musubi-no-ichiban

Before every bout, the wrestlers about to engage need to purify themselves. For this purpose, there is a bucket of water on either side of the dohyo. Below the dohyo, a rikishi awaits. The yobidashi hands him a ladle and a piece of paper, and he hands first the ladle, then the paper to the rikishi on the dohyo. The receiver rinses his mouth with the water, and spits it under the cover of that piece of paper into a spittoon built into the corner of the dohyo.

Ryuden hands chikara-mizu to Kagayaki

This water is called chikara-mizu, “power water”. The rikishi that hands it is supposed to be untainted by loss that day. The rule is usually very simple. On the side where the previous rikishi won, that winner presents the ladle. On the side that lost, the rikishi who is scheduled to play in the next bout on that side, and has neither won nor lost as yet, delivers the water.

Consider a part of today’s (Haru day 4) schedule:

East West
Abi Daieisho
Kagayaki Yoshikaze
Chiyomaru Hokutofuji

So, in the bout between Kagayaki and Yoshikaze, Abi, who won his bout, hands water to Kagayaki, while Yoshikaze gets the water from Hokutofuji.

This is how things go until the last match, the musubi-no-ichiban. But that’s where it gets complicated. There is no “next player” who can offer the ladle. What happens then?

For this purpose, the last winner on both sides is supposed to stick around. But of course, you can’t just keep someone around forever, denying him his bath and relaxation, just because five people after him on the same side were rude enough to lose their bout. It’s usually just the second-to-last who stays around.

We had exactly that situation today. Chiyotairyu, achieving his first win today, was the last wrestler on the west to win. Ichinojo, Tochinoshin, Tamawashi, Goeido – all of them on the west, all of them lost. So who was to hand the water to Arawashi?

So here is the pearl of the day:


This is something we rarely get to see. First, because us foreigners mostly watch highlights and digest reels, which omit the chikara-mizu ceremony altogether. But also because the standard procedure for the TV broadcast is to only show the losing rikishi briefly as he bows and leaves, and then concentrate on the winner of the last bout as he waits with the ladle in his hands. So we rarely see what’s going on at the losing side at all.

What you see here is Arawashi’s tsukebito, Hikarugenji, handing him the chikara-mizu. That’s not an improvisation – it’s standard procedure. And as the ceremony is supposed to be performed wearing a mawashi, and there is no time for the aforesaid tsukebito to change back into his mawashi, he symbolically adjusts his kimono to expose one shoulder – and apparently, one leg – so he can be considered “naked”.

(Much obliged to the originator of that tweet, Nii-san, for taking the time to look up the reason for the change in the kimono for me).

Great Insight Into Tsukebito (assistant) System

One of the huge storylines coming out of Haru basho was that Terunofuji is back. We get a bit more of the back story from an article, written by Muto Hisashi and published in Mainichi a couple of days ago. It’s a much longer article than the usual one or two paragraphs, and it’s fascinating. The topic is the “tsukebito” system. Makushita and lower rikishi serve as assistants to those in Juryo and above (sekitori). You often see them carrying the cushions and accompanying top ranked wrestlers as their entourage.


This headline is a quick one: Gaining synergies, “Tsukebito” by Muto Hisashi. The important term here is (付け人). I’ve never had to use the word “synergy” in English but this is what it is in Japanese: (相乗効果).

In the business world, particularly the entertainment industry, the core talents have personal assistants. They’re called “tsukibito.” For some reason, the sumo world has adopted a more positive turn on it and they refer to it as “tsukebito.” They say that there are synergies gained as younger, lower ranked wrestlers gain experience by training with the higher ranked wrestlers.

In the article, Muto highlights the relationship between Terunofuji and one of his tsukebito, Shunba. Usually these assistants are indesputably junior to the sekitori. However, occasionally some wrestlers are so good and progress so swiftly through the ranks that they seek out veteran tsukebito who act more as advisors than as assistants. Shunba fills this role for Terunofuji.

In the interview, Shunba reveals that there were deeper matters troubling Terunofuji. The injuries were serious but he had much more on his mind…the specifics of which he would not reveal. Muto interviewed Shunba in the weeks after Terunofuji’s dismal 4-win Hatsubasho where he went kadoban again. Despite the poor performance, Shunba was very confident that Terunofuji would do well. Apparently, Terunofuji had been keeping things bottled up and he had deep conversations with his tsukebito that seemed to bring about a lot of relief.

So while still hampered a bit by injuries, notably after the Endo bout, he was dominant. Not only did Terunofuji almost win his second yusho…in an awesome, fearsome manner enjoyed by us and many of our readers…Shunba went 6-1 in makuushita, at his highest rank ever. I’m eager to see him climb up the banzuke. I will be following both wrestlers and hope to do a deeper profile of Shunba and these assistant wrestlers in the future.