Sanyaku is the collective noun for the three ranks below yokozuna.
In reality though, ozeki is rarely included when the term is used, with the vast majority of incidences referring only to komusubi and sekiwake.
Unlike sumo’s top two ranks, there is no special criteria for promotion to sanyaku. A simple winning record as the No. 1 or 2 maegashira is often all that is required.
While komusubi and sekiwake in effect function just like the top maegashira ranks, there are extra benefits associated with achieving the grade. First and foremost is financial compensation.
Following a recent pay raise (the first in 18 years), sanyaku-level wrestlers get a monthly salary of ¥1.8 million (about $16,650) compared to the maegashira rank’s ¥1.4 million (nearly $13,000).
Being a sekiwake or komusubi also sets you up for a run at ozeki promotion, as the generally accepted standard for the latter is a total of 33 wins over three consecutive tournaments while in sanyaku.
There are downsides, too.
A sanyaku-level rikishi doesn’t earn a kinboshi (gold star) for defeating a yokozuna. Each kinboshi adds extra money to the regular bonus payments wrestlers receive.
First-timers in sanyaku — especially if they have been promoted from below about maegashira No. 5 or 6 — are in what is colloquially referred to as the “meat grinder.”
That name comes from the fact that they have to face all the top rankers early in a tournament. It’s not uncommon for komusubi debutants to start a basho 0-8.
There is no requirement, by the way, for a wrestler to first attain sumo’s fourth highest rank (komusubi) before promotion to its third highest (sekiwake).
While being in sanyaku carries extra prestige, it’s not a particularly exclusive club. There are currently 25 men on the banzuke who have reached at least komusubi and there have been tournaments where fully 40 percent of the top division has been in sanyaku at some point or other.