Known as Japan’s national sport, Sumo wrestling is much more than a professional contest – it’s a Gendai budō or a modern Japanese martial art that dates back centuries. As a result, sumo is deeply rooted in the country’s traditions, history, and culture spanning centuries. But are the wrestlers adequately compensated? How much do sumo wrestlers get paid?
Sumo wrestlers get paid anywhere between ¥1.1 to ¥3 million ($9,500 to $24,500) a month if they are ranked. However, top Sumo wrestlers can win as much as ¥10 million ($88,613.50) in a Grand Tournament, on top of the thousand-dollar bonuses they might earn based on their performance in a match.
Take note that the process of climbing the ranks also goes hand-in-hand with a wrestler’s ability to secure better paydays. That’s why we must also delve into the different Sumo rankings to better answer how much sumo wrestlers get paid. So, be sure to keep reading!
What Contributes to a Sumo Wrestler’s Pay?
Monthly salary/stipend, performance bonuses, and prize money from tournaments all contribute to a sumo wrestler’s pay. However, it’s worth noting that their money is directly tied to their rank.
There is a definitive hierarchy of salaries in sumo wrestling, with the lowest on the list earning almost a tenth of the top-tier athletes’ pay.
How Does the Sumo Ranking System Work?
The Sumo ranking system works by dividing Sumo wrestlers into six different divisions – Makuuchi, Jūryō, Makushita, Sandanme, Jonidan, and Jonukuchi. According to the Japan Sumo Foundation, the wrestlers’ status, privileges, and income depend primarily on their division.
Presented in the table below are the different divisions in Sumo.
However, as NHK announcer Morita Hiroshi points out, these divisions are unlike other combat sports because they don’t function as weight classes. In addition, note that the divisions are presented by level of prestige, with the Makuuchi being the most revered.
|Division||Number of Wrestlers|
|Makuuchi or makunouchi||42|
It’s also worth noting that a general distinction is made between the top two and lower four wrestlers. Specifically, wrestlers competing in the Makuuchi and Jūryō divisions are called sekitori, while those in the four lower divisions are referred to as rikishi.
The rikishi in the lower divisions are allowed seven bouts a year while the sekitori are afforded 14 bouts – thus allowing them more opportunities to earn cash prizes and other bonuses.
That said, rikishi entering the world of sumo start in the lowest jonokuchi division and will strive to reach the status of sekitori. They can do so through their performance in tournaments. If they do well enough, then they can start climbing the ranks.
Conversely, wrestlers who perform poorly can also be demoted into lower divisions.
Aside from poor performance, factors such as injuries, illnesses, and inability to compete can play a role in sekitori sliding back into the lower divisions. Again, this is extremely important as their level of income depends on their ranking.
The Makushita division serves as the final bottleneck separating trainees from professionals. To move into the Jūryō division, a makushita wrestler must win all 7 of their fights.
Only once a wrestler reaches the Jūryō division can they become a salaried sekitori.
Opportunities to earn more money become more accessible the higher a wrestler is in the rankings.
Wrestlers in the Makuuchi division are at the top of the sport. However, the Makuuchi division is further subdivided into the subcategories of Yokozuna, Ozeki, Sekiwake, and Maegashira. The title of Yokozuna is the most prestigious of all and serves as the pinnacle of the sumo world.
Now, let’s take a closer look at the various aspects of sumo wrestlers’ salaries to see where things change depending on their rank.
Sumo Wrestling Hierarchical Salary System
Below is the average salary of sumo wrestlers according to rank:
|Yokozuna||¥3 million ($26,500)|
|Ozeki||¥2.5 million ($22,000)|
|San’yaku||¥1.8 million ($16,000)|
|Maegashira||¥1.4 million ($12,500)|
|Jūryō||¥1.1 million ($9,500)|
As the table above shows, all Sumo wrestlers receive a steady livable income. However, the difference between the sekitori in the top two divisions and the rikishi in the four lower divisions is massive.
The rikishi in the lower divisions, considered trainees and apprentices, are given a monthly allowance of roughly ¥220,000 ($2000) instead of a salary. On the other hand, sumo wrestlers in the Jūryō and Makuuchi divisions have wages between ¥1.1 million to ¥3 million ($9,500 to 24,500).
The wrestlers in the lower divisions don’t receive salaries from the Japan Sumo Association like their counterparts in the Jūryō and Makuuchi divisions. Instead, their allowances come directly from the stable masters.
Because of this, lower-level sumo wrestlers are also expected to perform chores like cooking, cleaning, and other menial tasks for their stable masters to help keep costs down and cover the expenses of training.
Bonuses in Sumo Wrestling
Aside from their salaries, sekitori wrestlers can enjoy other streams of income.
One of them comes in the form of bonuses, known as Mochikyūkin, which is released six times a year. The amount a wrestler receives is reflective of their cumulative performance throughout his career.
There’s a minimum value set for mochikyūkin depending on the sekitori’s rank. Specifically, jūryō are given 40 yen while wrestlers in the San’yaku and Maegashira divisions are given 60.
Meanwhile, sekitori classified as Ozeki and Yokozuna are given 100 and 150 yen, respectively. This minimum value for each wrestler is then multiplied by 4000 to determine the total bonus amount in yens.
Of course, each wrestler’s actual value can vary as their performance heavily influences how much they get. If they perform well enough, they can secure significant boosts to their mochikyūkin.
They’re as follows:
- Winning the championship – Winning a tournament leads to a 30 yen increase in the wrestler’s mochikyūkin. However, it can also go up by 50 yen if the sekitori could do it without any losses.
- Kinoboshi – This refers to a 10-yen increase in the wrestler’s mochikyūkin. This happens when a Maegashira is able to defeat a Yokozuna in a tournament.
- Kachikoshi – Kachikoshi is when a wrestler records more wins than losses in a tournament.
Prize Money in Sumo Wrestling
Another way for sumo wrestlers to get paid is through cash prizes in their respective divisional championships. Like the wrestlers’ salaries and bonuses, the prize money for these tournaments also increases as the stage becomes bigger and more prestigious.
For instance, a rikishi in the Jonokuchi division can win ¥100,000 ($876) in the tournament, while those in the Makuuchi division can win as much as ¥10 million ($87,000).
In addition to the prize money from winning tournaments, there are also sponsored prizes called kenshōkin.
The minimum amount for a kenshōkin is set at ¥70,000 ($613). The match winner gets ¥60,000 ($525) – half he gets to take home while the other half is deposited into his retirement fund. The remaining ¥10,000 is given to the Japanese Sumo Association.
Companies give special cash prizes to winners of specific high-profile bouts – usually reserved for the wrestlers classified as Yokozuna and Ozeki.
That said, while it’s unusual for companies to sponsor matches in the lower ranks, it’s not unheard of. Of course, matches between two famous wrestlers attract several sponsors, effectively increasing the value of the kenshōkin.
Sumo Wrestling Retirement Payout
Finally, there’s the retirement payout given to a Yokozuna. This is left to the discretion of the Japan Sumo Association. The actual amount is determined not only by the wrestler’s career achievements but also by his prestige and the impact he has had on the sport.
For instance, the Yokozuna Takanohana, who ranked sixth in history for the greatest number of tournaments won, was given a payout of ¥130 million ($1.3 million) when he retired in 2003.
That’s the largest payout in the history of the sport, followed by that of Yokozuna Asashoryu, which amounted to $1.2 million. However, the latter was met with controversy and pushback from the public following disputes and questions regarding whether or not he meets the standards expected from a Yokozuna.
How Much Does a Yokozuna Get Paid in a Year?
Now that we have covered all the different ways a Sumo wrestler gets paid, it is time that we take a closer look at how much a Yokozuna earns. This will give you a better idea of how it is like to be at the summit of the sport.
Below is the regular income for a Yokozuna:
|Monthly Salary||¥3 million ($26,500)|
|Minimum Mochikyūkin||¥600,000 ($5,000)|
|Tournament Grand Prize||¥10 million ($87,000)|
A Yokozuna gets paid approximately ¥36 million in base salary, plus a potential ¥3.6 million Mochikyūkin and ¥10 million ($87,000) if they win a grand prize at the tournament.
As explained in the previous sections, there are multiple potential sources of income. Aside from their monthly base salary of ¥3 million, there are Tournament Grand Prizes and other bonuses that directly contribute to their income stream.
In addition, special prizes and sponsored matches also factor in.
The question of how much wrestlers get paid is tied closely to the individual wrestler’s ranking and the division they belong to.
Wrestlers belonging to the Makushita, Sandanme, Jonidan, and Jonokuchi receive relatively small allowances because they are considered apprentices and trainees. This is why every one of these wrestlers strives to reach the Jūryō and Makuuchi divisions.
As they climb up the rankings, more lucrative bonuses and bigger prizes await.