Yokozuna (横綱) is the highest rank in sumo wrestling. The name comes from the most visible symbol of their rank, the wide (yoko) rope (tsuna) worn around the waist. The rope bears a marked similarity to the Shinto shimekazari rope often attached to torii temple gates and sacred trees, and like them serves to purify and mark off its content. The rope, which may weigh up to 20 kilograms, is not used during the matches themselves, but is worn during the yokozuna's dohyoiri ring entrance ceremony.

Becoming a Yokozuna

Elevation to yokozuna rank is decided by the Japan Sumo Association, who decide that a ozeki-rank wrestler has enough power, skill and dignity/grace (品格 hinkaku) to qualify. Two consecutive grand tournament victories are considered to be sufficient proof, but there are no set criteria for qualification, and neither is there a set quota: there have been periods with no wrestlers at yokozuna rank, and there have been periods with up to four simultaneously. The rank, once awarded, is permanent, although yokozuna are expected to retire once no longer at the top of their form.

The flexible qualification criteria, especially the requirement of hinkaku, has been the source of much controversy over the years, especially with the recent entry of very successful Hawaiian wrestlers into the ring. Ozeki Konishiki (小錦), in particular, was felt by many to be unfairly kept from yokozuna status due to his foreignness, and many Sumo Association members even openly said that gaijin can never achieve the hinkaku needed to be a yokozuna. However, this debate was finally laid to rest on January 27, 1993, when ozeki Akebono (曙) was formally promoted to yokozuna after only 8 months at ozeki rank.

Yokuzuna Through Time and Space

To date, there have been a grand total of 68 yokozuna, although formal recordkeeping only started in 1800 or so. A select list of more famous fellows:

  • Tachiyama (立山), superstar of the Meiji era
  • Taiho (大鵬), reckoned by many to be the greatest of all time, with a record 32 tournament victories and over 1000 match victories
  • Chiyonofuji (千代の富士), the dominant wrestler until his retirement in 1991, with one tournament victory less than Taiho
  • Kitanoumi (北の湖), not far behind either
  • Akebono (曙), first non-Japanese yokozuna
There are currently two active yokozuna: References

Constant sumo exposure in Japan, esp. when sick, stuck in front of TV and unable to move from couch

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