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Level dohyo revisited

About forty group members have commented, in one way or another, 
on the essay "A Level Dohyo" which I put out to the group on 17 
October.  This level of response is most satisfactory and permits 
some generalizations; I want to thank all those who took the 
trouble to respond to a long and complicated proposal.

Most commentators went out of their way to say that the essay was 
well thought out and lucidly presented, which pleased me greatly. 
At the same time they were also most forthcoming with their 
criticisms.  This pleased me also; it was the point of the whole 

A relatively small number of respondents were in favor of the 
'level dohyo' rule as set forth, and expressed the hope that it 
might be instituted at once.  Some others heartily supported the 
idea, actually not advocated in my essay, that the 'same heya' 
rule be done away with altogether, or at least for contests 
between rikishi in the higher (sanyaku and yokozuna) ranks.  

But the most frequent assessment was that however good the idea of 
the level dohyo was in theory, it would never be realized for a 
number of reasons, all to some extent interwoven.  These reasons 
were, first, that it was too radical a change for a sport, almost 
a rite, so conservative throughout its history.  Second, many 
thought that the proposal went counter to the "spirit" of sumo.  
The third reason was that the resulting reduction in the number of 
contests within the yokozuna and sanyaku ranks would be most 
undesirable.  In addition, some pointed out that the problem posed 
by the large number of members of a single heya within the 
yokozuna and sanyaku ranks at the present time is most unusual, if 
not unique, and the inevitable changes in the banzuke over time 
will remove this unusual tilt in the dohyo before very long.

It is quite likely that the desirability of having a level dohyo 
is not felt equally.  Is there any evidence that the idea has any 
relevance within the spirit of sumo?  Perhaps the idea of the 
level dohyo is one which appeals more to those in European and 
American sports than it does to Japanese.  An early respondent 
predicated that all the respondents to the essay would be gaijin. 
He wasn't far wrong; only two of the forty or so were identifiably 
nihonjin.  But what, actually, is "the spirit of sumo"?  
Interestingly, it was one of the Japanese respondents who posed 
this question and expressed regret that we don't seem to have many 
opinions of actual rikishi on this question.  It is clear that a 
rikishi must not only try to win as many bouts as he can, but also 
win them with style, and somehow show "class" in his behavior both 
on and off the dohyo.  It remains unclear to me just how adoption 
of the 'level dohyo' rule violates this spirit.  Clearly there 
must be more to it.

The reduction in the number of matches among sanyaku and yokozuna 
rikishi which would result from adoption of the 'level dohyo' rule 
concerned very many respondents.  It must be admitted that, 
ideally, any basho should have all the sanyaku and yokozuna 
competing against each other.  It would seem that the reduction in 
the number of such matches resulting from the 'same heya' rule are 
viewed as somehow natural and hence tolerable, but any addition to 
the number of matches would be viewed as unnatural and highly 

I must apologize for an error made in the first essay.  In the 
essay, I stated that the merger of the Futagoyama and Fujishima 
heyas into a super Futagoyama-beya was responsible for the large 
number of rikishi from that beya in sanyaku and yokozuna ranks.  
Actually, as pointed out by a respondent, Takanohana, Wakanohana, 
Takanonami, and Takatoriki were all members of Fujishima-beya 
before the merger, and as far as can be known, would still have 
made it to the top, but as Fujishima rikishi.  So the merger was 
irrelevant, as was, likely, the view that the merger was inspired, 
at least in part, by some anti-Hawaiian animus.

In conclusion let me say that I enjoyed this essentially fruitless 
endeavor, especially the communication with other group members.  
I feel I profited from the comments they made and the insights 
they presented.  I would like to think that the main reason why 
the level dohyo idea will not fly lies in the reduction of matches 
between sanyaku and yokozuna rikishi which would result by its 

George Piternick, aka Ahonoumi