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|Formation||December 28, 1925|
|Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology|
The Japan Sumo Association (日本相撲協会 Nihon Sumō Kyōkai) is the body that operates and controls professional sumo wrestling in Japan under the jurisdiction of the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT). Rikishi (active wrestlers), gyōji (referees), tokoyama (hairdressers), and yobidashi (ushers/handymen), are all on the Association's payroll, but the organisation is run entirely by toshiyori (elders). The organization has its headquarters in Yokoami, Sumida, Tokyo.
The precursor to a full-fledged organization began in the Edo period with sumo bouts that were often held to raise funds for new construction or repair of bridges, temples, shrines and other public buildings. Tokugawa Ieyasu specifically, wanted "street" sumo prohibited and determined sumo should only be held for charitable purposes, and it was known as kanjin sumo. The wrestlers were also paid with extra revenue from these events. This is when the first organized competitions with paid wrestlers began. Written rankings, known as banzuke were introduced from 1761 and this is where the committee that organized these rankings began to emerge as an organization. In this time, sumo came to be called "Ōzumō", "the big sumo" or professional sumo.
In the 19th century, the Meiji Restoration leaders abolished the shogunate and the feudal system that supported it. In this restructuring, local rulers, or daimyō lost the control they had over sumo and financing that had previously come from it. To adapt and survive, the association introduced the change to the system of salaries and directors that is known today. In 1884, the Meiji emperor went to see a sumo tournament which helped to give sumo wrestling a reputation as a national event.
In the early 20th Century the sport had two competing associations, which had their seats in the two historic centers of sumo wrestling, Tokyo and Osaka. In the 1920s, the Tokyo Association made the offer of merging with the Osaka Association, and in 1927 the 88 "elders" of the Tokyo contingent and the 17 "elders" from the Osaka contingent merged to form the "Dai-Nihon Sumō Kyokai." In the run-up to the merger during 1925 and 1926, a series of three joint tournaments was held to assess the relative strength of the rikishi in both organizations. Confirming the prevailing opinion that Osaka sumo was inferior, the Tokyo camp largely won out and wrestlers as high as ōzeki in Osaka sumo were relegated to the third makushita division in the new merged rankings. However, the yokozuna from both sides were maintained, as there was no precedent for demoting them, allowing Osaka sumo to save face.
The first chairman of the directors was Lieutenant General Masanori Hirose, from 1928 until his death in 1938. His successor was Isamu Takeshita, an admiral in the Imperial Navy and a patron of the martial arts. In 1944, the first successor from the sumo world was chosen, the former Tsunenohana. After the war, the association was further modernized. Today, the association is ancillary to the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology.
Membership is obtained by purchasing, or inheriting a share (toshiyori kabu) in the Association, of which there are 105. The value of these shares is extremely high and rules only permit them to be purchased by former sumo wrestlers who either reached at least a san'yaku rank (komusubi or higher) or been ranked for a significant number of tournaments as a sekitori. Japanese citizenship is also required. Each share is associated with a particular name, and in the sumo world the former wrestler will be known by that name, usually with the suffix oyakata. The members are also often called elders in English.
An exception to the purchase requirement is made for the most successful former yokozuna who may be offered a one-time membership (ichidai toshiyori) by the Association. Three former wrestlers, Taihō, Kitanoumi and Takanohana obtained this status. A fourth, Chiyonofuji, was offered this status but preferred a normal share. These four all achieved more than twenty tournament championships in their active careers.
The members of the Association receive a salary and are expected to assist in the running of the Association, from selling tickets at the most junior level, to taking charge of one of the Association Departments as a director.
The members are also the only persons able to train new sumo wrestlers. They do this by opening or taking over a training stable, or heya (changed to beya as a suffix) which will in most cases take the same name as former wrestler's elder name. Thus Dewanoumi-oyakata will be the owner of Dewanoumi-beya. Typically about 50% of the Association members have their own stable, while the rest are affiliated to one and assist the principal owner. It is common for the most senior members of the Association to concentrate on their Association responsibilities and pass the day-to-day management of a stable to another. If a senior oyakata wishes to do this, the two may elect to swap names so that the stable can keep the more prestigious name. A recent example was in 1996, when the Association's chairman Dewanoumi-oyakata (former yokozuna Sadanoyama), swapped names with Sakaigawa-oyakata (former sekiwake Washuyama) who took over the running of Dewanoumi stable.
The Association Members are also split into various ranks. A new retiree will have oyakata rank, except for former ōzeki and yokozuna who are automatically granted Committee Member rank. The most experienced Association members are Committee Members. At the top are a group of elected riji or directors, who form the Association Board. The public face of sumo is presented by the chairman of the directors, called the rijichō. He is effectively President of the Association.
All members are required to retire when they reach the age of sixty five, after which they can sell or pass their stock to another, provided that person meets the Association's eligibility requirements. In the case of a one-time membership the name merely lapses.
In September 2008, at the Ministry of Education's insistence after a series of scandals hit sumo, three external Directors were appointed. One of the three, Hiroyoshi Murayama, served as acting Chairman for the July 2010 tournament while the then head, Musashigawa, was suspended.
As of 2015: