The lion’s share of media attention in sumo goes to the top (makuuchi) division.
Its bouts are shown live on domestic television, its wrestlers are discussed endlessly online and in print and its winner is given a parade, ¥10 million and a giant silver trophy called the Emperor’s Cup.
By contrast, those in the second-tier (jūryō) division are rarely mentioned, its champions get neither a trophy nor a parade and receive only ¥2 million and despite also being salaried wrestlers, are lumped in for the commemorative photo with the winners of the four unpaid lower divisions.
While the jūryō division is essentially the “waiting room” of the sumo world, it provides some of the sport’s most interesting action.
That’s partly because at the lower end, rikishi are fighting for their livelihoods. A losing record there can get you demoted to makushita and stripped of salary and privileges.
There is a kind of desperation to those battles that you don’t see elsewhere, especially if the men involved are married veterans with children and mortgages for whom demotion can often mean retirement.
That mix of former stars on the wane with up-and-comers whose sumo hasn’t fully matured also creates a greater level of parity in jūryō than what can be seen in the top division.
Since the advent of the 15-day system in the 1930s, only five men have gone undefeated in jūryō. Four later became ozeki and one a yokozuna. Baruto and Tochinoshin are the only wrestlers to manage the feat in the last 55 years.
A perfect 15-0 record in the top division, by the way, has been achieved 75 times since 1939.
In fact, 11 or even 10 wins is often enough to take the championship in sumo’s second tier, with the latter happening four times since Tochinoshin’s 15-0 in 2014.
All of which means than the title race almost always goes down to a tense final day. While it may lack the glamour of the top division, jūryō is well worth sumo fans’ attention.