Sumo

Sumo 101: Tokoyama (Hairdressers)

by John Gunning

Contributing Writer

Outside of wrestlers and stablemasters, there are three main jobs in the Japan Sumo Association: gyoji (referee), yobidashi (ring announcer) and tokoyama (hairdresser).

While the first two appear on and around the ring during tournaments, the tokoyama do their work behind the scenes.

As with gyoji and yobidashi, hairdressers normally join the JSA around the age of 15 and gradually progress up the ranks as they get older.

Unlike the other two, however, tokoyama don’t have the same divisional system as the wrestlers. Whereas referees and ring announcers are classified as makuuchi or juryo, hairdressers start at fifth class and are promoted to fourth class, third class and upward.

There are, normally, two “special rank” tokoyama at the very top. Only these men are allowed to style a yokozuna’s hair.

It takes about 10 years before a hairdresser reaches the level where he can sculpt the oicho mage (ginkgo leaf-style topknot) worn by wrestlers in the top two divisions when competing in tournaments or attending formal events.

Tokoyama — like wrestlers, stablemasters, referees and ring announcers — have special names. Generally it is 床 (toko) followed by one other character. “Tokoya,” which uses the same character, is a traditional name for a barber in Japan.

The toolkit of a tokoyama is extremely specialized and features an array of combs, each of which does a specific task. They are made of a particular wood and only crafted by one Nagoya-based company.

These special combs are necessary because rikishi hair is generally very thick and filled with sand after training. The tokoyama also comb, wax and style the hair every day in a rough and intense manner. Regular combs would break constantly, but combs used by tokoyama can last up to a decade.

The Sumo Association buys the combs and distributes them to the tokoyama. The only part of his kit that a hairdresser chooses himself is the traditional styling scissors.

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