“To the victor go the spoils” is a phrase that could have been coined for sumo.
In a sport already top heavy in terms of privilege and salary, the outright winner of each tournament gets virtually all of the prizes on offer.
While (usually) a couple of wrestlers are presented with one or more of the three “special prizes,” the wrestler who finishes each 15-day meet with the best record gets so much plunder he has to stay in the ring for 20 minutes or more receiving a succession of trophies, cups and prizes from various organizations, regions and countries.
First and foremost among them is the Emperor’s Cup. The suitably massive sterling silver trophy stands 108 cm high and weighs almost 30 kg.
Emperor Hirohito, who is posthumously called Emperor Showa — a keen fan of the sport — gave it to the Japan Sumo Association in 1926 before he ascended to the throne; it was originally known as the Prince Regent Cup.
After posing for the requisite photos in the dressing room immediately following a tournament win, the victorious rikishi returns the cup to the Japan Sumo Association and is given a much smaller replica. Hakuho has won 40 tournaments but owns only 39 replicas, as the Emperor’s Cup was not presented after the May 2011 “Technical Examination Tournament.” This upset the yokozuna so much he shed tears on the ring when being presented with the championship flag.
Two rows of engraved plates ring the base of the cup with the names of the most recent champions. When filled, the plates are removed and mounted on a board with new ones being added to the trophy.
Fans lucky enough to attend a sumo tournament can see the Emperor’s Cup displayed in the foyer with the other prizes. It is always in the most central and prominent position.