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Sumo 101:
The Gyoji

Barbara Ann Klein

gyoji shouts “shobu ari” (there is a victory) and raises his gunbai in the direction of the winner’s side, east or west. Of course, if the shinpan or even other sekitori waiting to fight perceive that the gyoji may have made an incorrect or questionable call, that call can be confirmed (gunbai-dori) or overturned (sashi-chigae), or, if too close to call, a rematch (tori-naoshi) ordered, after a conference (mono-ii) involving those officials.

Refereeing, however, is not the only duty of the gyoji. They “write” the banzuke and the daily torikumi in the distinctive sumo-style writing.

Next Home

This month, we are focusing on those (mostly) little men on the dohyo, who, in stark contrast to the near-naked men about to fight, are dressed in ornate cottons and silks, sporting a peculiar black hat, and carrying a brightly tasseled wooden paddle (gunbai).

These are the gyoji – the referees who officiate each bout of each day of the tournament. In fact every sumo bout is called by a gyoji – whether in the grand tournaments, the local tours, the overseas exhibitions, or, even comedy sumo!

Let’s examine this unique position and its traditions. 

The gyoji's main and most visible duty is to adjudicate the bouts between the rikishi. After the yobidashi, or caller, announces the names and sides, i.e., east or west, of the two men facing each other in the next bout, the gyoji repeats the names, effectively calling the rikishi onto the dohyo. He begins his responsibility by taking a traditional stance facing east, with his gunbai also held to the east, while watching over the rikishi as they go through their respective pre-tachiai rituals. When he is given the signal by the shinpan designated as the time keeper, the gyoji faces shomen (front), standing between the two rikishi, and raises his gunbai flat-side forward. This is to let the rikishi, as well as the spectators, know that it is time to start the bout. He will

announce “jikan desu”, “katta nashi”, “matta nashi” or other phrases (it’s time, time is up, no false starts) which signal the official start of the bout. He must assure that the initial contact between the rikishi is strictly coordinated. However, if the gyoji feels that the charge has not been appropriately synchronized, or if there has been a false start, he will say “matta” (wait), and require the rikishi to begin again.

Once contact has been made, and the rikishi are engaged in the struggle, the gyoji encourages the rikishi with a series of shouts – “hakkeyoi” at the initial engagement, and repeated if they come to a halt, or “nokotta, nokotta”, still in, when both rikishi are in motion. When one of the combatants is determined as the winner, the

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