Sumo

Sumo 101: Kaobure

by John Gunning

Contributing Writer

Every day of a sumo tournament contains hundreds of bouts.

From early in the morning until late in the evening, a virtually non-stop parade of wrestlers arrives at the arena. They change, warm up, stand in line in the hanamichi (aisle leading to the ring), fight, get changed again and return to their stable.

There are also various ceremonies depending on the day, as well as shifts of judges and referees.

Despite all that, everything proceeds with remarkable precision.

The Japan Sumo Association has some flexibility built in that allows it to ensure things keep running like clockwork.

If things are ahead (or behind) schedule, the kaobure ceremony allows them to speed up or slow down the pace.

Kaobure is essentially a reading out of the following day’s slate right before the top division bouts get underway.

A top-ranked referee holds up 48 cm by 33 cm sheets of paper, and reads out the names written on them in traditional sumo calligraphy.

He then hands the sheet to a yobidashi (ring announcer) crouching down on his left and that man also displays it to all sides of the arena.

If time is tight, the entire practice can be cut completely, and if they need to slow things down, it will take place at a leisurely pace.

The latter can be hard on the yobidashi, who must remain in the crouching position holding up an increasing number of sheets.

The referee spreads out a folding fan underneath the sheets to make them easier to hold.

The ceremony is, of course, anachronistic in an era when fans in the stadium can access the next day’s pairings on their phones a couple of hours before the referee steps up on the ring, but as with many things in sumo it is precisely that continuation of tradition that makes the sport so attractive to many.

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