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SUMO ABC (45) / While there need not be any yokozuna, 2 ozeki must always exist — in theory

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Newly promoted yokozuna Kisenosato performs his ring-entering ritual at Meiji Jingu shrine in Tokyo on Jan. 27.

By Shuji Miki / Yomiuri Shimbun Senior Writer When the Spring Grand Sumo Tournament opens on March 12 in Osaka, it is expected there will be four yokozuna in the banzuke rankings: Hakuho, Kakuryu, Harumafuji and newly promoted Kisenosato.

Such an impressive banzuke has not been seen since the 2000 Spring tournament, when Takanohana, Akebono, Musashimaru and Wakanohana III held sumo’s top rank.

However, maintaining four wrestlers atop sumo’s highest summit is in fact difficult. Takanohana and the other three rikishi simultaneously served as yokozuna in only five tournaments.

Going further back in history, the quartet of Hokutoumi, Onokuni, Asahifuji and Chiyonofuji ruled the sumo world together for a time. Their joint reign also lasted only five tournaments, from the Autumn tournament in September 1990 to the Summer tournament in May the following year. During this period Takahanada — who later changed his ring name to Takanohana — rapidly climbed the rankings, handing a loss to Chiyonofuji in the summer basho that was the impetus for the yokozuna to retire.

The incident had a big impact on sumo fans, who came to realize that a new generation was taking over. This year might also spell similar upheaval in the sumo landscape.

Meanwhile, there was a time when the yokozuna throne sat vacant. After Hokutoumi retired, no yokozuna participated in the four tournaments from the Nagoya tournament in July 1992 to the New Year tournament the following year. The ozeki trio of Akebono, Konishiki and Kirishima were the highest-ranked wrestlers during this period.

The vacancy ended when Akebono rose to the top rank starting in the 1993 Spring tournament. He served as the lone yokozuna for 11 tournaments through the 1994 Kyushu basho.

Interestingly, the sumo rules do not allow for the absence of ozeki, but do sanction the absence of yokozuna. Yokozuna was first stipulated as an official rank in February 1909. Before then, ozeki was the sport’s highest rank, and yokozuna was an honorary status, not a rank. Under the Japan Sumo Association’s regulations, there must be at least one ozeki in both the east and west sides of the rankings.

Interestingly enough, no or only one ozeki competed from the 1981 Summer tournament to the New Year tournament the following year. During those five basho, the position of yokozuna-ozeki appeared on the banzuke, meaning a wrestler served in both ranks. Three yokozuna — Wakanohana II, Chiyonofuji and Kitanoumi — fulfilled this dual role.

— Miki is a sumo expert.

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