The first day of a sumo tournament is a special one.

While senshuraku (the final day) has more ceremonies and events, the zero-sum nature of the sport means that a large percentage of its participants finish each tournament with losing records and therefore will be demoted. That can put a dampener on the general mood.

By contrast shonichi (as the first day is known) is a time when optimism reigns.

With wrestlers in the top two divisions having 15 bouts over the course of the two weeks, and those in the lower divisions four fighting seven times, a loss on the first day is far from disastrous. For rikishi that do start off with one or two losses, it’s common to hear fans and supporters encourage them by saying “Ashita wa shonichi” (“tomorrow is day one”).

As with senshuraku the word shonichi is not exclusive to sumo, but is also used in the theatre to describe the first day of a play’s run.

On shonichi in sumo, the winner of the previous tournament officially returns the Emperor’s Cup to the Japan Sumo Association in the ring.

Following that, if the tournament is in Tokyo, both men turn and look up to the rafters where a giant portrait commemorating the victory is unveiled to a soundtrack that only be described as a heavenly chorus.

If the winner of the tournament before last was a different wrestler, the unveiling of his portrait follows the same pattern.

Also on day one, all of the top ranked wrestlers join the JSA Chairman in the ring for his greeting then bow deeply to each side of the arena in turn.

Shonichi tends to be when members of the Imperial family pay one of their occasional visits to a tournament. For security reasons that’s never announced in advance, but if you show up early in the day and see metal detectors at the gate, it is a sure giveaway that the Emperor or Crown Prince will be in attendance.

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