Yokozuna Kisenosato Kyujo from Kyushu

Generic Kyushu Banner

NHK news just announced that Yokozuna Kisenosato will be absent from the basho as of day 5 of the basho. The official reason was not given, but it’s clear this is the result of losing four bouts in a row, which has not happened since 1931.

The Kyushu basho will now continue without a single Yokozuna, following the Nagoya basho, which fared the same.

Source: NHK

An Eventful 24 Hours in Fukuoka

Fukuoka - Naka River
Fukuoka’s Naka River: a lovely place to stroll

Hello sumo fans! I’m here on the ground in Fukuoka, where I will be providing some coverage from Days 6 and 7 of the Fukuoka basho. I landed about 24 hours ago, and have been spending some time enjoying the city as I get fired up for a couple days at the Fukuoka Kokusai Center.

Auspicious Beginnings

I did manage to catch the final bouts of Day 4 live, and the withdrawal of Kisenosato wasn’t half as shocking in the manner of his defeat to Tochiozan. The Yokozuna’s total capitulation has been the only thing I’ve seen this trip more stunning and surprising than what awaited me as I entered Fukuoka Airport’s arrivals hall: the camera and interview crew of TV Tokyo’s Why Did You Come To Japan?, which chased me down for an impromptu interview. We spoke for about 10 minutes about why I love Ikioi and how I was looking forward to Tonkatsu ramen and hanging out with my friends, but apparently that wasn’t interesting enough for them to follow me around for the rest of the week. Given that I spent 3 days flying to Fukuoka, I acquitted myself very poorly, but it was still fun to get what felt like the paparazzi treatment upon my arrival.

Chashu, Coffee & Conveyors

Chashu Ramen at Hakata Issou
Chashu Ramen at Hakata Issou

After this, it was time to check out some ramen at Hakata Issou. I chose this location first based on its proximity to Hakata Station, as I had to kill some time before checking into my nearby Airbnb – and what better way to kill time than crushing a bowl of tonkatsu ramen for the first time in Hakata? I discovered this spot through Ramen connoisseur Ramen Beast‘s mobile app. If you don’t follow Ramen Beast on Instagram or have the app, you are missing out on a good way to upgrade your Japanese culinary experience, as he’s done a lot of the hard work for you. According to Ramen Beast, Issou’s master is a former Ikkousha trainee whose “pork bone based soup is constantly mixed as it simmers, which mixes the animal fat and water and creates bubbles, almost frothing like a cappuccino.” Afforded a seat at the bar, I got a live chashu slicing show, which I’d have paid to watch all day, frankly. It was a worthy bowl.

Rec Coffee Fukuoka
An award-winning brew at Fukuoka’s REC Coffee

The next morning, I ventured out early in search of coffee and ended up at REC Coffee‘s tastefully appointed Kencho Higashi shop. According to HereNow, the shop is home to the two time back-to-back Japan barista champion. One of the many things I love about Japanese food culture that sometimes misses headlines in other countries is the extreme love and attention to detail from the coffee shokunin. Make no mistake, this is a country with an incredible coffee heritage, and I enjoyed their brown sugar latte with a thick slab of buttered toast.

Hyotanzushi Fukuoka
Hyotan-zushi in Fukuoka: a bustling, packed restaurant where you will stack your plates high.

Finally, today I took in lunch at an incredibly popular sushi spot with the locals, Hyotan-zushi near Tenjin station. Hyotan has two locations, and I opted for the earlier-opening conveyor belt-powered spot at Solaria Stage. Despite rocking up not long after the 11am opening time, it was already completely full and a line soon formed out the door. It was however worth waiting for: despite the conveyor belt containing a large variety of excellent catches, it was an old-school style venue with the chefs in close enough proximity to call out quick custom orders. The shop served up possibly two of the best pieces of anago I’ve ever had and it was a nice treat to enjoy a buttery, luxurious otoro at a much more affordable price point than I’m accustomed.

Shopping & Shrines

It’s clear to me already that Fukuoka is a city that over-indexes on shopping options, given its population relative to other places in Japan (certainly Nagoya, for example). I’ve had enough time to visit a few of its mega-malls, and the shopping around the main Hakata and Tenjin stations, both in the large depato as well as the underground walkways, is fairly remarkable. I also managed to check in at the city’s impressive Canal City shopping district, home to numerous shops, arcades, a Bellagio-esque choreographed water fountain display, and the ominously titled Ramen Stadium – a venue which promises to showcase several different varieties of ramen, and one I may yet take in later in the trip.

Hakata Gion Yamakasa float
One of the Hakata Gion Yamakasa festival’s famous floats

Even more remarkable than the capital excesses of the city are its shrines, and I’ve visited two already: the Kushida Shrine and the Sumiyoshi-jinja Shrine. The Kushida Shrine, located near the famous Kawabata Shotengai, contained a float over 10 meters tall from the Hakata Gion Yamakasa festival, which started 900 years ago in “an attempt to secure protection from a plague.” Every year these famous massive floats are carried down a 5km course through Fukuoka. I always love walking around the grounds of a shinto temple and while I do not know much about the religion, there is a very overwhelming, difficult to describe feeling one gets while walking under a row of red torii, which can be experienced at the Kushida Shrine. The Shrine additionally features an omikuji stall, where fortunes can be purchased in many languages. I did this, and disappointingly retrieved a somewhat grim fortune!

Sumiyoshi-jinja Shrine Fukuoka
The tree-lined entrance of the Sumiyoshi-jinja Shrine

Finally, the Sumiyoshi-jinja Shrine is located about a ten minute walk from Hakata Station. The lovely tree-lined entryway called to mind the Shrine at Tokyo’s Yoyogi Park, where I welcomed the new year a couple years back. I arrived in time to see a Shinto priest conducting a number of rituals, many of which will be familiar to the casual sumo observer given the sport’s origin story, even if you do not know much about the religion itself. This shrine also featured an omikuji stall, where all of the fortunes were tucked into lovely wooden sea bream. It’s a lovely souvenir, however the fortunes here are only available in Japanese.

After all of this, I’m looking forward to tracking down a great yatai, even more tonkatsu ramen… and, oh yeah, experiencing some great sumo!

Kyushu Day 5 Commentary

Kisenosato-down

This post supersedes our normal preview, as lksumo has already knocked the upper matches out of the park. Instead, a few words on the state of sumo at the end of Kyushu’s first act. Act 1 is all about scrubbing the ring-rust from the contestants, and finding out who is hot, and who is not.

First and foremost the cloud hanging over Kyushu now is the depth of trouble that perpetually injured Yokozuna Kisenosato has placed himself. He lost his first 4 matches, all of which were supposed to be more or less warm ups for the main action in week 2. Instead Kisenosato found himself unable to maintain balance, or generate forward offensive pressure. Frankly he was embarrassing himself, and the same foolish pride that kept him from seeking surgery on his pectoral muscle may have drove him to mount the dohyo each day believing “this time it will be different”.

Kisenosato has devoted his entire life to sumo, it’s his entire world. The shame of 8 straight kyujo’s must have hardened his resolve to “gamberize” and tough it out. But now he has had to with draw in 9 of the past 10 tournaments.

For the NSK, they have a large and unfortunate problem, as Kisenosato had been given firm guidance not to enter a basho just to withdraw before the end. In doing so again he has to some extent embarrassed the sumo association leadership. What do they do with the only Japanese Yokozuna? His retirement would diminish the stature of the sport for a short time in the eyes of the Japanese public, some of whom bristle at the dominance of foreign athletes at what they see as Japanese cultural property.

Tachiai has been covering the Kisenosato problem for the last two years, and there is a good chance the entire situation is now drawing towards its inevitable conclusion. Which is a dignified transition for Kisenosato into life as a member in good standing of the sumo association, and his withdrawal from any further competition.

Matches Worth A Look on Day 5

Meisei vs Endo – Meisei is hell on wheels right now, and he seems to be fighting above his banzuke rank. Endo on the other hand continues to be day by day, though his day 4 match was solid sumo. They split their 2 prior matches, so I think it comes down to who gets inside at the tachiai, and today I think that’s going to be Meisei.

Onosho vs Okinoumi – Both come in with a 3-1 record, both seem to be dialed into their sumo early. If the match lasts longer than 12 seconds, it favors Okinoumi, who seems to take a more strategic approach to his matches. Onosho tends to open strong and try to blaze his opponents into defeat. Plus, I think Onosho is still only 80%.

Ikioi vs Sadanoumi – Ikioi has been fighting hurt since Osaka, and going against a rikishi who is on a hot streak, as Sadanoumi is, can only spell an uphill fight. Ikioi does not give up, and I know he will give battle with everything he can muster.

Abi vs Kotoshogiku – Great contrast of styles in this match. Abi will want to keep distance and attack with his superior reach, and Kotoshogiku will do anything he can to close the gap and go chest to chest. Double amazing points if Abi decides to unleash some mawashi techniques and beats the Kyushu Bulldozer at his own sumo.

Chiyotairyu vs Kagayaki – If Chiyotairyu can dictate the match mechanics straight from the tachiai, he has more than enough sumo to dispatch Kagayaki, mastery of fundamentals or not. Kagayaki will need to stay mobile, keep his balance under control, and wait for the burly Chiyotairyu to expend his initial burst of energy.

Takanoiwa vs Yoshikaze – Takanoiwa is still injured, and won’t be doing his normal offense heavy sumo. Yoshikaze will try to get inside and apply maximum pressure up and forward within the first step. Both men can fight with frantic energy, so this may devolve into a slapping battle like two tabbies jacked up on weapons grade catnip.

Shodai vs Asanoyama – This could be a great great match, as both are fairly evenly matched in size, speed and technique. In addition this is their first ever match, so each may surprise the other.

Bouts from the lower divisions – Day 3 and 4

Sokokurai ready for sumo. Tomisakae ready for gymnastics.

I have an eclectic collection for you today, picked up from both days 3 and 4. We start with Day 3 maezumo, where there are some interesting faces.

As you watch, note the differences between maezumo and banzuke sumo. Only the first pair gets the full announcement and shikiri. The next one get short yobidashi calls with the yobidashi off the dohyo, and they are only supposed to bow and start the bout (but you will see a pair making a mistake there and the gyoji trying to correct them).

Maezumo is also not just for newcomers. Some are veterans who dropped off the banzuke following a full kyujo in Jonokuchi. If you fall off the banzuke (“banzuke-gai”), you have to go through mae-zumo again.

I’m skipping the veterans and introducing some of the newcomers to you. In the second battle, the guy on the left is Roga. His real name is Amarsanaa, and he is Futagoyama’s new Mongolian recruit. He certainly has the size for sumo, and his rival is certainly not in the same league.

The next bout is between Denpoya (18) on the left and Daitenma (18) on the right. Denpoya is a new recruit for Isegahama, from – where else – Aomori. Many of Isegahama’s recruits in recent times have been pixies. Midorifuji and Nishikifuji, who are considered the heya’s best new talents, are small sized rikishi. Denpoya, on the other hand, has the right size. It’s hard to judge his talent here, though, because unfortunately, he is paired with Daitenma, who is Azumazeki’s new Mongolian recruit. His real name is Chinzorig, and something about his stance tells me he didn’t come from Mongolia just to enjoy the warm weather and serve as a tsukebito for his entire career (I’m looking at you, Kyokusoten).

Bout number four features Watai, 16 years old belonging to Chiganoura beya, vs. Shimomura, 18, of Sakaigawa beya, who is the son of former Makuuchi wrestler Tsunenoyama. He seems to have no problem with the youngster. He (and Hamasu, from the next bout) graduated from the Saitamasakae high school, which won the team inter-high yusho recently.

So the next bout is between Hamasu and the hapless Daigonishiki from the first bout (there is an odd number of maezumo rikishi). Hamasu, 17, belongs to Onoe beya, and is the son of former Komusubi Hamanoshima.

Day 3 – Sandanme

Moving on-banzuke, we have Torakio vs. Tagonofuji:

Torakio gets his second win, and shows some promising techniques, but he really has a long, long way to go.

Next up is prince Naya (grandchild of the legendary Taiho), whom Hoshoryu lovingly calls “debu” (“fatso”) when they talk. I’ve seen worse “debu” in Grand Sumo (Hi, Gagamaru). Here he is matched with Kototebakari, who is also a very promising rikishi who suffered a similar fate as Naya when he advanced as far as Makushita, and got demoted back to Sandanme.

Kototebakari is not impressed by princes or dukes, and gets Naya in an uncomfortable morozashi. Naya tries this and that, but a morozashi is not something easily overcome (unless you’re Kagayaki, apparently). Naya faces his first loss – so no prospect of Yusho (in theory, yes, in practice, no). Naya, if you want to catch up to Hoshoryu and show him some “debu”, you better hurry up!

Day 3 – Makushita

What I have for you is the very entertaining, though short, bout between Tomisakae and Sokokurai. As it turned out, they each came with the intention of doing a different sport:

Sokokurai watches bemused as Tomisakae converts his hatakikomi into a somersault, and lands feet first below the dohyo. Tomisakae is the sumo world’s acrobat, known for his backflips. I hope he bounces back (see what I did there?)

Day 4 – Sandanme

I wouldn’t dare to skip an Ura bout. In fact, I wouldn’t dare to blink once the gyoji turns his gunbai.

Ura vs. Yutakasho

And the reason I wouldn’t dare to blink is that Ura is really not letting those bouts last very long. As Bruce said, his rivals are left wondering what just happened.

Day 4 – Makushita

And while prince Naya has let one slip, what has his name-calling friend been doing? Hoshoryu was paired with Irie today. Irie is a Makushita fixture. Hoshoryu is anything but.

Today Hoshoryu opted for oshi-zumo – not usually his style. He has been critical of this bout, though, when interviewed by the press post-bout. “I would have liked to push him all the way” he said. He ended up winning – but only on his second hatakikomi, when he would have preferred to win by going forward. The interesting thing, though, is that he is diversifying at a very early stage of his career. Just keep from getting injured, future Yokozuna!

Day 4 – Juryo

So here is the Juryo digest du jour:

  • Mitoryu finally manages to scrape a win off from Tomokaze with a nice shitatenage, though he started the bout by pulling.
  • Gokushindo, the too-cute-for-his-own-good new sekitori, seems to have bounced back from a harsh start. He manages to keep his balance throughout this match, and eventually Jokoryu basically beats himself.
  • It saddens me to see Chiyonoumi struggle this basho. Maybe it’s a case of single-dimensionality, but it looks more like luck of power. Shimanoumi just sweeps him like some dohyo dust. I suspect Kokonoe’s solution to this would be more chanko.
  • Toyonoshima suffers his first loss at the hands of Tobizaru. It’s not really a henka – the sidestep is after they meet – but he is certainly making the best of Toyonoshima’s own forward motion.
  • It’s not often that Takekaze gets to wrestle with an opponent who is smaller than him. I think he is not quite used to that. Enho said he was aiming for the Juryo yusho. At the time I dismissed it in the same way that I dismissed Nishikigi’s “I want to be a Yokozuna”. But Enho seems to be dead serious. He gets Takekaze in a quick morozashi, and although he loses half of it, he has his main target: that deadly inside arm hold on the veteran’s mawashi – right next to the knot. It’s not one of his most spectacular shitatenage, but it works.
  • The Kyokushuho – Azumaryu bout is your typical Mongolian sumo match. Ending with a classical shitatenage – Azumaryu’s win.
  • Chiyonoo finally manages to buy a win in this basho – and buys it with a henka. Or maybe a half henka, as he isn’t just letting Tsurugisho drop. Tsurugisho tries to struggle, but drops to 1-3 as well.
  • I’m not sure if it’s just me, but it looks like Akiseyama’s agility is getting more and more limited. Perhaps he is hiding an injury, or perhaps it’s all those kilos he has regained. Hakuyozan wins by yorikiri.
  • Terutsuyoshi, alas, failed to deliver today. Koyokutaisei manages to get him turned around, and at that point it’s over.
  • Ishiura only half-henkas today, but I’m going to forgive him, because his rival is Takagenji. Besides, he follows that with some exciting sumo his rival finds hard to find a solution to. Takagenji drops to 1-3, and Ishiura is even.
  • Wakatakakage starts his bout with what looks like Enho sumo – with that inside grip slowly advancing towards the mawashi knot. Unlike the pixie, though, he doesn’t seem to have that much of a throwing power. He then surprisingly releases that grip, and instead opts to push forward and force Hidenoumi out. Hidenoumi has yet to win a bout this basho. Wakatakakage is even.
  • Tokushoryu started the basho strong, and seemed to continue his form from the previous basho despite the kyujo in the middle. But Daishoho here wraps him up and sends him away in short order.
  • Kotoyuki’s bout with Yago is a show of hearty tsuppary – especially on the part of Kotoyuki. He has Yago against the bales, and Yago’s foot goes out. The nearby shimpan immediately raises his hand, but the gyoji sees neither the errant foot nor the shimpan’s signal. It’s the sort of thing I see more often in Jonokuchi bouts. In any case, the gyoji’s gunbai points to the correct direction, so no big fuss is made.
  • Aminishiki was trying for another tokkurinage. Well, he denies having aimed for that, but his hands seemed placed in the correct position. However, this is marked down as a boring hatakikomi. Too bad.