Amateur Angles #4
Amateur yokozuna and
The winner of each competition is crowned respectively as the Corporate yokozuna, the Kokutai yokozuna, the Gakusei yokozuna and the Amateur yokozuna for the year. The last is the most prestigious of all, as it pits adults, university students and somehigh school students against one another for the supreme title in Japanese amateur sumo circles.
If an amateur athlete wins any of the above tournaments, they are eligible (if young enough) to enter Ōzumō at makushita-tsukedashi within one year of their tournament victory. This is currently the banzuke equivalent of makushita 15, although they are not listed on the banzuke until the next basho. If an athlete wins one of the first three tournaments AND the All Japan Sumo Championships then they are placed at makushita 10 for their debut basho.
This qualification can obviously give a new rikishi a good chance at getting into juryo and thus earn a living from sumo. However, the potential for an amateur athlete to achieve one of these four positions is relatively small, given that each only competes in three of the tournaments each year at best (corporate athletes cannot compete in student competitions and vice versa). Added to this, corporate athletes are often too old to be accepted into Ōzumō, and so the opportunities in each year are often open to only one or two select athletes. This has not always been the case, as prior to September 2001 the qualifications for receiving makushita-tsukedashi status were
In my previous Amateur Angles columns I’ve focused on amateur sumo in
an international setting. For this edition I have decided to shift my
focus to what has been happening in Japan with amateur sumo. There are
a couple of reasons for this: most notably the international ‘season’
is over with the recent Sumo World Championships; and November and
December see the two most important amateur sumo competitions on the
Japanese calendar, both of which have a potential tie in with Ōzumō.
I often find myself trying to inform people that amateur sumo is quite different from professional sumo. Spreading such a message is partly the aim of my PhD thesis, but I also field a number of questions about sumo from laypeople and have to explain that I investigate a quite different sport with different aims and goals, some different rules, and that the actual form of amateur sumo challenges the male corporeality that is associated with Ōzumō. Nevertheless, amateur sumo and its professional counterpart obviously have connections, particularly when we consider both sports within the sporting landscape of Japan.
Amateur sumo, of course, can provide a setting and training ground for athletes who wish to become rikishi. While the numbers of those who cross into the professional sumo world are
when compared to the numbers of competitors in the amateur ranks,
obviously the more able athletes are tempted personally, or persuaded
by others, to try their hand at Ōzumō.
These recruits usually enter in three broad categories: those who have finished compulsory schooling at the completion of junior high school (15 years old); high school leavers (around 18 years old); and, perhaps the most technically and physically able of all, those who have competed in amateur sumo at university (around 22 years old). Almost all of these shin-deshi, start in maezumō before joining the banzuke at jonokuchi level; however, a privileged few are vaulted straight into makushita at the start of their careers. I will concentrate on this small group in this column, showing how amateur sumo can contribute to a successful career in Ōzumō.
Amateur athletes who are able to start their professional careers in makushita are those who have performed outstandingly in the amateur ranks. This is judged by winning any of the following four designated competitions: the All Japan Corporate Sumo Championships, held in September; the Adult ‘A’ grade sumo competition at the National Athletic Meet in October; the National Student Sumo Championships in November; and, the All Japan Sumo