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A tokoyama (床山) is a hairdresser employed by the Japan Sumo Association to cut and prepare sumo wrestlers' hair, which is done in a chonmage style. The Sumo Association ranks them according to experience and ability and only the most senior tokoyama are entitled to prepare the more ornate ōichō, or ginkgo leaf form of topknot, which sekitori ranked wrestlers wear in their bouts and on other formal occasions. It may not seem to the casual observer that such a position is necessary, but the elaborate hairstyle of sumo wrestlers, especially sekitori, combined with the combative nature of sumo bouts and sumo practice make it necessary for these professionals to be on hand to maintain the topknots as they are expected to look.
There are a total of about fifty tokoyama, and as in sumo and most other Japanese disciplines, they are divided into ranks. Just as with gyōji, yobidashi and most any other sumo related job, each tokoyama is attached to a sumo stable and has his own shikona. All of the shikona start with the kanji 床, pronounced toko. This kanji is also used for tokoya, a more traditional word for hairdresser in Japan.
The training for a tokoyama is lengthy, taking about 10 years. Beginners are in godō (五等 level 5) and are promoted along with their years of experience until they reach ittō (一等, level 1). When they have reached level 1 and have demonstrated exceptional skill, they can ascend to tokutō (特等), a tokoyama special class. There are normally only two tokoyama at this rank at any given time, and they are the only ones allowed to style the top knot of a yokozuna, the top rank in sumo.
Tokoyama's tools include a special kind of wooden comb, binzuke (special pomade), and waxed strips of paper for tying the knot. The wooden combs have been handmade for centuries by the Shingō Mori family. Each comb can take up to eight years to create. The size (length) of the comb is determined by the age of the bush the wood is taken from. A short comb is from a 50-year-old bush and the long comb can be from a 150-year-old bush.
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