Rankings remain closely guarded secret prior to official announcement

Courtesy of Japan Sumo Association
Mitakeumi holds the new rankings on Feb. 28.

It appears that ozeki Mitakeumi will be keeping his rank for the next tournament after all. He was forced to withdraw from the recently completed Nagoya Grand Sumo Tournament on the sixth day after testing positive for the coronavirus. Ordinarily, a losing record in two consecutive tournaments would mean an automatic demotion to sekiwake, but it looks like he will be given special dispensation.

Japan Sumo Association official Isegahama (former yokozuna Asahifuji) laid out the association’s stance after the rankings deliberation council meeting held July 26, three days after the end of the Nagoya tournament. “A withdrawal from the tournament due to coronavirus will not be reflected in promotion or demotion in the rankings,” he said.

The rankings for the upcoming Autumn Grand Sumo Tournament were compiled that day. The association officially announced promotions to the juryo division for the first time for Kinpozan and Kanno, who has changed his ring name to Tochimusashi, as well as for another wrestler who will be returning to the second-highest tier.

But that was it. At this point, all that newspapers and other media can report is that it “seems Mitakeumi will be remaining at ozeki.”

What’s going on?

The truth is that the JSA is limited by its own “Tenets for Ranking Compilation.” Article 2 states: “The rankings deliberation council meeting shall be held within three days of the end of a tournament,” while Article 11 pronounces: “The new rankings shall remain strictly confidential until the official announcement for the next tournament, and cannot be revealed to anyone.” The latter article further adds the provision: “Promotion to yokozuna, ozeki or juryo will be announced on the day it is decided by the rankings deliberation council.”

The new rankings are officially announced 13 days before the opening day of a tournament. In the case of the upcoming Autumn tourney, counting back 13 days from the first day on Sept. 11 puts the rankings announcement on Aug. 29.

Until then, the rankings will remain a closely guarded secret, with only the prior announcement of the three promotions to juryo in accordance with the provision. The new juryo are informed because of the dramatic change that comes with their new status.

The rise from the unsalaried makushita division to one in which they now earn a monthly salary and bonuses means the new sekitori — a wrestler in the top two divisions — also needs to have many new items prepared such as a silk belt for competition, the decorative “keshomawashi” apron worn for the ring-entering ceremony and the formal men’s kimono and skirt with family crest. The list is long, and it all takes time to get ready.

This month of preparation also becomes a time when one’s mind races with nervousness and excitement.

— Miki is a sumo expert.