Sumo basho (tournaments) are held six times a year during odd-numbered months. The three proper tournaments are held at Kokugikan stadium (the headquarters of the Japan Sumo Association) in Tokyo (January, May and September).  The three regional tournaments are held at Osaka prefectural gymnasium in March, Aichi prefectural gymnasium in July, and the Fukuoka International Center in November.  Each 15-day tournament usually begins on the second Sunday (Monday in California) of the month and closes on the fourth Sunday.

Sumo match highlights of the Makuuchi Division are broadcast by NHK in Los Angeles as "Sumo Digest" on KSCI, channel 18.  The Japanese broadcast with English subtitles begins at 11:30 (11:00 on Sundays) and lasts for half an hour.

Rikishi (sumo wrestlers) wear mawashi (colored silk belts) with strings stiffened by glue hanging in front.  Their hair is worn in a chonmage (a topknot resembling a ginkgo leaf).  The referees wear hats, silk robes and sandals.  They also carry war fans that they use to point to the winning side and present prizes to the winner.

Matches are held on the dohyo (a 4.55 meter ring on top of a raised dirt platform). A small ridge made up of rice-straw bales forms a raised circle around the ring.  The rikishi enter the dohyo from the East and West sides as they are called in by the match announcer.  After a brief (sometimes as long as five minutes) ritual that includes power water, body purification, salt throwing for ring purification, hand clapping, foot stomping and glaring, each rikishi squats down and places both fists on the ground at the same time the opponent does to start the match.

Except for false starts and breaks during a rare long match, from this point on the rikishi who is first to touch outside of the ring or have any part of his body except his feet touch the ground inside the ring is declared the loser.  Matches usually last less than a minute.  Defaults can also be declared because of an opponent's absence, inability to continue, or a rule violation (An opponent is not allowed to touch an opponent's hair or eyes, grab the throat, close the hands while striking, or kick). Videotape is used to review the referee's decision in close outcomes.

Common techniques used to win are: hugging the opponent with both arms and walking him outside of the ring to put him down, push outs, thrust outs, stepping to either side and pushing the opponent down as he jumps forward, throws, trips, sweeps, and thrusting to the throat to force the opponent into a poor position.  

After the match, the rikishi bow to one another and the losing rikishi leaves the dohyo.  The winning rikishi crouches down and expresses thanks to the three gods of creation by swinging his hand to the north, south, west and east and receives an envelope containing prize money from the referee. Other honors for rikishi ranked below Ozeki (with winningrecords in the tournament) include: awards for Ginosho (Technique), Kantosho (Fighting Spirit), and Shukunsho (Outstanding Performance). Available to everyone, the highest honor is Zensho yusho (best record and perfect—no losses) or Yusho (best record).  The rikishi with the best record receives the Emperor's Cup.

Ranking in Sumo is broken down into six divisions.  Each rikishi below Komusubi is further ranked within division by number, with #1 being the best.  From highest to lowest as of the November, 1993 basho:


Yokozuna (Grand Champion)

             Akebono (6' 8", 494 lbs., Hawaiian - the first American Yokozuna)

Ozeki (Champion)

             Konishiki (6', 582, Hawaiian)

             Wakanohana (5' 10", 260, Takanohana's brother)

             Takanohana (6', 315, Wakanohana's brother)

Sekiwake (Sub-Champion)

    Musashimaru (6' 3", 412, Hawaiian)

    Kotonishiki (5' 9", 300)

   Takanonami (6' 4", 351)

Komusubi (Junior Sub-Champion)

    Kotonowaka (6' 3", 368)

    Akinoshima (5' 8", 313)


Kushimaumi (#1, 6' 1", 423) Takatoriki (#1, 5' 11", 318)
Tomonohana (#2, 5' 8", 249) Misugisato (#2, 6', 346)
Daishohou (#3, 6' 1", 318) Takamisugi (#3, 5' 10", 324)
Kirishima (#4, 6' 1", 278) Kenko (#5, 6' 2", 295)
Wakashoyo (#5, 5' 11", 364) Terao (#6, 6' 1", 251)
Tochinowaka (#6, 6' 3", 346) Higonoumi (#7, 6', 302)
Kyokudozan (#7, 6', 236) Kotobeppu (#8, 5' 10", 386)
Mainoumi (#8, 5' 7", 216) Kasugafuji (#9, 5' 9", 318)
Kotoinazuma (#9, 5' 11", 291) Tokitsunada (#10, 6' 2", 406)
Daishoyama (#10, 5' 11", 397) Musoyama (#11, 6', 353)
Daizen (#12, 6' 2", 340) Oginohana (#12, 6' 2", 304)
Kiraiho (#13, 6' 2", 340) Tamakairiki (#13, 6', 318)
Toyonoumi (#14, 6' 2", 483) Kitakachidoki (#14, 6', 329)
Minatofuji (#15, 6' 1", 346) Kaio (#15, 6', 340)
Oginishiki (#16, 6' 1", 298)






Rikishi are generally ranked according to their last basho performance.  Kachikoshi (8 wins—7 losses, or better) means a rikishi receives a slight promotion.  A makekoshi (7 wins—8 losses, or worse) leads to a slight demotion.  The exceptions to this are Yokuzuna (who can never be demoted), Ozeki (who must have losing records in two consecutive tournaments and cannot be demoted lower than Sekiwake) and the lowest four divisions (who contest for 7 days of the tournament; 4—3 or 3—4 being their magic numbers).

Promotions to Ozeki and Yokozuna are based on the three most recent basho of the candidate.  A record of 32 13 (ideally with three consecutive winning records) is about the minimum standard for a successful attempt at Ozeki. Yokozuna promotion requires two consecutive basho championships (or runner-up status) and a record of about 36 9.  The Yokozuna Deliberation Council (composed of prominent people from outside sumo) meets to deliberate on the candidate's ability and character.  The Council then recommends the candidate for Yokozuna promotion to the Sumo Association, who invariably accept the recommendation.

Banzuke (57 cm x 44 cm ranking sheets written in calligraphy issued thirteen days prior to each tournament) list the rikishi in rank order, coaches, officials and referees in rank order.  While the rikishi have a general idea from the poster who they will meet during the tournament, they do not know their exact schedule.  Rikishi contest once per day and they know today's and tomorrow's opponent only.