In our third installment of the Japanese idioms series, we hit upon an extremely well known, well used phrase. This was the phrase cited by Kakuryu, Asashoryu, and Chiyonofuji. It is so well used, most people may not even realize that it is one of these four-character idioms. Basically, it means to work hard, so hard one’s life depends upon it. Practically synonymous with “gambarimasu,” or as we say in English, to gamberize, the two are often used together. My wife said it to the kids tonight.
The first two kanji are very common, meaning “one” and “to live.” The third character, “ken” is very rare and not used much on its own. It is, however, important for fans of sumo as the “ken” in “kensho” and “kenshokin” the sponsorship banners and winners bounties awarded to victors, respectively. Lastly, “mei” is the character for life, “inochi”. I’m not going to hazard a guess at a literal translation and I think we can see why Google has such trouble and often ends up with word salad.
You’re likely wondering why I’m skipping a few promotions, going from Kisenosato to Kakuryu. Terunofuji and Goeido decided not to cite an idiom, opting for simple ceremonies, not wanting to stumble over the phrases. For native Japanese speakers, it could also be a bit intimidating since there’s likely a desire to sound sophisticated and a bit of pressure to use a rare one, as we’ll see next time with Kotoshogiku. It’s a particular challenge for non-native Japanese speakers, as we saw with Tochinoshin opting to skip it as well.
Apparently former Ozeki Terunofuji is to undergo knee surgery? Or at least that’s what I think I gathered from Google’s attempt at translating the story below. Some of it seems rather alarming: “which knee to operate on the left or right is undecided” while other parts are downright poetic: “If it is all closed again, it will drop the ranking down to the bottom of the curtain at the autumn scene.” Perhaps someone with better (i.e. some) knowledge of Japanese can enlighten us further.
Mr. Tuno Fuji, knee surgery Nagoya place full leave master “tightly cure”
Ten two Teruno Fuji (26 = Isekehama room) will surgery his knees during this month, and it is expected that the Nagoya place (the first day of July 8, Dolphins Arena) will be completely closed. Master teacher Ise Kohama (former Yokozuna and Asahi Fuji) on Saturday, Osaka Prefecture Sakai City, Osaka Prefecture, “I will operate the knee (in Nagoya place) without thinking in common sense. I will not cure it firmly. ” It is undecided which knee to operate on the left or right is undecided, “I have been going to a hospital today, after listening to the results.”
Tuno Fuji is a left knee meniscus injury twice in the past. The right knee anterior cruciate that hurt in 15 years had been treated without surgery. In the summer of May, 9 nines and 6 holidays ended, and in Nagoya place it is definitely the first time ever to fall as a former Ozeki. If it is all closed again, it will drop the ranking down to the bottom of the curtain at the autumn scene.
Perpetually injured Yokozuna Kisenosato has now missed all or part of the last 7 tournaments, tying the record held by the mercurial Takanohano for the longest period of excused absence for a Yokozuna. Kisenosato suffers from a damaged left pectoral muscle, suffered during the final days of the 2017 Osaka basho, a tournament that saw him take his second consecutive Yusho, and his first as a Yokozuna.
Since that unfortunate day in Osaka, Kisenosato has been living on borrowed time. In the critical period immediately following his injury, he decided to try and “heal naturally” rather thank the the only proven cure – surgery to repair the torn muscle. As the weeks passed, the chances that surgery could actually correct the problem drifted towards zero, as the torn tissue scarred and was left useless. As he rested in hopes of recovery, his other muscles de-conditioned, and he lost the ability to execute sumo at the Yokozuna or perhaps even the San’yaku level.
Now left without his primary offensive weapon, his left hand, Kisenosato is nearly out of time. The YDC has declared both the the next basho he enters he must compete the full 15 days, and that they are willing to grant him an unprecedented 8th consecutive kyujo. Sadly for the only current Japanese born Yokozuna, a dozen kyujo cannot help him now, and the question is what form of exit will he take?
Continue To Play For Time – The YDC has signaled they are ready to grant Kisenosato more time. Not that it is likely that more time could have any meaningful outcome for his sumo or his body. The damage is done, and the tear is likely permanent. The only think that would happen would be to move the date that he declares he is done.
Go Out Guns Blazing – I consider this the most likely option. Kisenosato was renowned for never missing a day of practice or of competition. He would perform sumo no matter want, and nothing would stop him. The year+ hiatus probably bothers him terribly, and I suspect he and Takayasu are working out as best they can this June. Either at Nagoya or Aki, Kisenosato would enter and compete, knowing that his body is unlikely to be ready, but he would go out fighting.
Pray For a Miracle – Maybe there is some exotic sports medicine protocol I have not read of that can repair a torn pectoral muscle this long after the original injury, and Kisenosato will negotiate a year off with the YDC, head to some high end clinic and get repaired. But I think this his highly unlikely.
I personally feel deeply sorry for Kisenosato, but after over a year of kyujo, he is likely going to be asked to retire soon, unless he can produce a 10+ win basho either at Nagoya or Aki. I know that he takes sumo with the utmost seriousness, and an unprecedented 8th kyujo would be deeply embarrassing to him. But for those worried for his future, Kisenosato holds Elder stock in the sumo association, and will likely go on to run a stable in the coming years. His future in his post-rikishi life is secure. Whichever path he choses to close out his impressive career, we wish him well, and will be following with great interest.
Yes, it’s that time again, the time when we tabulate all the points and rank the top heya based on their respective sekitori rank and performance in the previous basho. Last time out, Izutsu-beya grabbed the top spot off the back of a long awaited yusho win for Yokozuna Kakuryu. How do the top stables fare this time compared to last time? Onward:
And now that we’ve added a couple more new (but non-sekitori-bearing) stables to the chart, let’s have a look at this in our Top 20 format:
(+-) Izutsu. 95 points (even)
(+4) Kasugano. 90 points (+40)
(-1) Tagonoura. 50 points (-40)
(+4) Miyagino. 50 points (+14)
(-2) Oitekaze. 48 points (-17)
(+1) Kokonoe. 47 points (-1)
(-3) Sakaigawa. 45 points (-15)
(-3) Tomozuna. 32 points (-23)
(+2) Tokitsukaze. 25 points (+5)
(+3) Minato. 25 points (+5)
(+8) Isenoumi. 25 points (+10)
(+8) Nishonoseki. 25 points (+10)
(**) Sadogatake. 25 points (+11)
(-5) Takadagawa. 22 points (+1)
(+2) Oguruma. 22 points (+6)
(**) Takanohana. 21 points (+8)
(-7) Dewanoumi. 20 points (even)
(**) Onomatsu. 20 points (+20)
(-5) Isegahama. 18 points (-1)
(-8) Kise. 15 points (-5)
(legend: ** = new entry, +- = no movement, higher position in the previous chart breaks the tie. Shikoroyama and Kataonami also scored 15 points but were lower placed than Kise on the previous chart)
Movers & Losers
We’ll group both sets of upward and downward bound heya together this time. It’s an interesting chart to put into context this month because the absence of so many rikishi at the top of the banzuke meant that several rikishi from heya usually found further down the listing put up better results, grabbed kachi-koshi they otherwise might not have (see: Kotoshogiku, Shohozan, etc), and added more points to their stable’s tally.
So, this creates a situation where a heya like Takadagawa can actually score one more point than last time (via addition of Hakuyozan to Juryo) but slide 5 places overall. Similarly, Dewanoumi put up an equivalent score to last time (our model gives Mitakeumi the same amount of points for a kachi-koshi at Komusubi as a make-koshi at Sekiwake), yet slid 7 places overall. The more cynical among us might say there were 16 more impressive storylines than Mitakeumi eking out his winning record from a position where he looked like he’d throw it away again.
Izutsu-beya holds the top spot with no change in the tally owing to Kakuryu’s repeat yusho, while Kasugano-beya reclaims the second spot after Tochinoshin’s sansho-laden jun-yusho. His promotion means he’ll add more points to the heya’s tally next time as an ozeki, but the overall points tally will be dependent on yusho challenges going forward as he’ll be unable to repeat his special prize wins.
Beyond those two stables there weren’t many remarkable performances among the groups: Kokonoe actually took a step backwards in terms of points in spite of Chiyonokuni’s remarkable sansho-winning exploits, as the four other sekitori in his heya all put up make-koshi en-route to a miserable 23-37 combined record.
In terms of what’s next, the stables to watch with potential to bound up the listings in Nagoya are going to be Tagonoura (who will be forced into action next time with the return of kadoban Takayasu and a potential last stand for Kisenosato) and Kise. Kise-beya receives two promotees from Makushita (Kizenryu and Churanoumi-née-Kizaki) and will have fully 1/4 of Juryo with no fewer than seven rikishi in the division next time out. And potentially making way on the chart could finally and sadly be Isegahama-beya which slips to the penultimate spot this time: perma-injured Aminishiki has been relegated to Juryo, and Homarefuji and Terutsuyoshi will be hovering ominously in danger zone to the Makushita demotion to which former Ozeki Terunofuji has now been condemned.
Don’t want to wait for the official banzuke announcement on June 25th? The Crystal Ball is here to give you a good idea of how it’s likely to play out.
Natsu saw Kakuryu take the yusho, Hakuho put up a creditable performance, and Kisenosato sit out. As a result, there is no change in the Yokozuna rankings. Goeido at least showed up, unlike Takayasu, and as a result, he takes over the O1e slot, with the shin-Ozeki Tochinoshin entering the upper ranks at O2e.
Ichinojo did just enough at 8-7 to stay at Sekiwake, and Tochinoshin’s promotion allows him to move over to the East side. Mitakeumi moves up to West Sekiwake. Both Komusubi slots are open, one by promotion and the other by demotion, and should go to M1e Tamawashi and M2e Shohozan, the two highest-ranked maegashira to earn winning records.
Due to the depletion of the San’yaku ranks by injury, everyone ranked in this part of the banzuke at Natsu took a turn in the meat grinder. Most actually held up pretty well, with Tamawashi and Shohozan earning San’yaku promotions, and 5 others (in bold) holding on to the upper maegashira ranks. M3e Daieisho and M4e Chiyotairyu only managed 5 and 6 wins, respectively, and will fall out of this group. Falling the hardest will be M3w Yutakayama, who could only eke out 2 wins in his first tournament in the joi.
The opposite outcome in this games of chutes and ladders belongs to Chiyonokuni, who earned 12 victories from M11w and whom I have moving all the way up to M1w. His career-high rank, M1e, was at Natsu 2017, and ended in a 2-13 beating, from which it took him a year to work his way back. Taking lesser jumps up the banzuke are those from the mid-maegashira ranks with positive records (in italic): Kagayaki, Takakeisho, Daishomaru, and Yoshikaze.
Being in this relatively safe part of the banzuke represents a promotion for Kyokutaisei, Myogiryu, Aoiyama, Nishikigi, and Sadanoumi and a demotion for Chiyotairyu, Daieisho, Endo, and Chiyomaru. Chiyoshoma and Takarafuji are treading water. Takarafuji, in particular, is forecast to benefit from good banzuke luck and hold on to his ranking at M6w despite a losing 7-8 record. He should be demoted, but the three guys I have ranked right below him all had worse make-koshi records and receive fairly lenient demotions as it is. Also making his Makuuchi return here is recent mainstay Onosho, who we hope continues his rapid re-ascent of the rankings.
Here we have the second-strongest promotion candidate from Juryo, Kotoeko, making his Makuuchi debut after narrowly missing out in the previous tournament. Kotoeko, 26, started in sumo in 2007, under a name which I kinda wish he’d kept just so we could listen to announcers trying to get it right—Kotokashiwadani. He’s been in Juryo for the past 12 tournaments.
The only Makuuchi holdover in this group with a kachi-koshi is Tochiozan, who moves up from M15e to M14e after going 8-7. Arawashi and Asanoyama each went 7-8 and get minimal demotions due to good banzuke luck, Yutakayama lands here after plummeting down the banzuke, while Okinoumi and, especially, the trio of Ryuden, Hokutofuji, and Ishiura are lucky to remain in the top division.
I have the last spot going to another rikishi making his Makuuchi debut—Meisei—who takes the place of Takekaze, the last man I have going down to Juryo. Meisei is only 22, having started in sumo in 2011. He’s had 7 fairly strong consecutive tournaments in Juryo, going 9-6, 9-6, 9-6, 7-8, 8-7, 7-8, and 10-5, so hopefully he’ll be ready for his first taste of the big leagues.
This is the first post in a series of posts about 四字熟語. These are the four character idioms which form an important part of Japanese language and culture. For those who seriously pursue Japanese language and try to get a job over there, there’s a good chance that one of the interview questions will be related; maybe something like, “What is your favorite 四字熟語?”
This phrase was Takayasu’s chosen phrase for his promotion to Ozeki. It translates roughly to, “fair and square,” but as with most sayings in other languages, there’s more meaning behind it. We can get a good sense of the meaning from the way Hakuho battled Tochinoshin on the belt in this latest tournament. Rather than resorting to dame-oshi, or avoiding Tochinoshin’s preferred method of attack, Hakuho went at him squarely in a great belt battle. This kind of sportsmanship is celebrated in many cultures, not including the New England Patriots.
There’s a fantastic manga called, “Chibi Maruko-chan no Yojijyukugo Kyoshitsu” (ちびまる子ちゃんの四字熟語教室) by Sakura Momoko. Chibi Maruko-chan is a popular manga character, like Doraemon, who has a whole host of books, available here. This one gives great explanations and examples for each of these four-character phrases. I’ve shared a picture of this particular page.
This book gives a similar example to our Hakuho example. It talks about a Judo final where one of the judoka has an injury and the opponent fights in a way to avoid the injury rather than to take advantage of it.
Have you ordered your gear from the Tachiai Shop yet? No? Well, that’s silly.
As some of our readers know, I spent quite a bit of time around the Natsu basho in Tokyo, and when I came home, I had my order from the shop waiting at my doorstep. Good thing no one took it, because it’s full of cool stuff!
If you’re like me, when you order something exciting, there’s always a sense of anticipation opening the box. And, if you’re curious what the products in the shop will look like when they are arrive, how they are packaged, etc – then join me as I discover the wonderful gift of sumo t-shirts in the (very DIY) below video that I slapped together:
Check it out! We’re excited that so many cool people are already wearing the gear around Tokyo…
With the Nagoya basho behind us, we welcome a new Ozeki into the top two ranks of sumo, and reinforcements could not come at a more important moment. In a continuation of a trend Tachiai has been following for some time, the continued weakness within the Yokozuna and Ozeki ranks is causing significant distortions in sumo. Thus it is time for another of our periodic genki reports, looking exclusively at the world of the top two ranks.
From the chart above, we can see that since this time in 2016, the participation rate of the total Yokozuna and Ozeki corps has been on a steady downward trend. This is computed as a percentage of the number Yokozuna & Ozeki that could participate compared to the number who did participate on day 15. Clearly the men in sumo’s top two ranks are finding it difficult to show up and participate in tournaments on a regular basis.
Sumo is a combat sport, and people who reach the top two ranks have had to battle for every promotion, and every kachi-kochi they have ever achieved. Along the way they have accumulated injuries that range from annoying to severe, but still attempt to find some way to show up and compete.
Let’s take a look at the rikishi:
Yokozuna Kakuryu Genki: ✭✭✭ Notes: After taking almost a year to recover from a suite of injuries, Kakuryu may in fact be the genkiest of the Yokozuna. He exited Natsu with the Emperor’s Cup, and his first back to back yusho in his career. The injuries sustained during Hatsu have either been mitigated, healed or he is just ignoring them. Clearly he is the man to beat for Nagoya, but odds of him taking 3 in a row are rather thin.
Yokozuna Hakuho Genki: ✭✭ Notes: There were a number of red flags for Hakuho going into Natsu. His father, who was a driving force in his life, had just recently died. He had sat out Osaka due to re-injured big toes. While it may seem a trivial complaint, the big toe of each foot is massively important to both offense and defense. Hakuho’s sumo depends greatly on his mobility and speed, and injured feet rob him of a significant advantage. I think that going to Nagoya we are going to see a greatly improved Hakuho, as long as he can keep those feet healthy.
Yokozuna Kisenosato Genki: ✭- Notes: Tachiai has written extensively about the nature and severity of Kisenosato’s injured left pectoral. While we were controversial in our early call that it was surgery or the scissors, the rest of the sumo world seems to have come around to our point of view. The guy’s Yokozuna career is a tragedy worthy of a new Kabuki story. Our opinion is that there is no road back for him, and the only question now is does he just admit defeat, or does he enter one more basho and go out guns blazing?
Ozeki Goeido Genki: ✭✭ Notes: Where to start with this guy. First off, we complain a lot about Goeido and his flaky sumo. We have likened him to a faulty consumer gadget in dire need of software fixes. In truth, he has been hurt quite a bit in the past two years. None of those injuries are necessarily healed properly, and each time he re-injures himself in a basho, his sumo goes into the toilet. It’s actually quite easy to detect. When his ankles are working and not hurting, he is a fast, aggressive Ozeki who will take you down or out before you can finish your tachiai. You never give him an opening or you are on your face in the clay, and the fat stack of kensho is headed towards his bank account. When he’s hurt he’s vague, he pulls, he moves backward, he loses a bit over half the time. Given that a proper repair job would require about a year of healing, it’s unlikely he will take that step while he is still active.
Ozeki Takayasu Genki: ✭✭ Notes: This guy is a favorite of mine. But once Kisenosato got hurt, and he earned Ozeki, his sumo took an unfortunate turn. He came to rely on an increasingly chaotic style that places a big bet up front on a massive, brutal forearm or shoulder hit at the tachiai. Now it comes as no surprises he is having upper body problems, especially with his leading shoulder. This man is a powerhouse of sumo, and an excellent rival for Tochinoshin if he is healthy. I wish he could take after his senpai a bit more now. Kisenosato’s Ozeki sumo was frequently low, powerful and relentless. I fear until he fixes his sumo, he will continue to suffer.
Ozeki Tochinoshin Genki: ✭✭✭✭✭ Notes: Though I have my concerns about this guy, thank the Great Sumo Cat of the Kokugikan that he has shown up. Though his injuries may come to ruin him at any time, he’s clearly strong, enthusiastic and competing flat out 15 matches each basho. I hope he throttles back on his “lift and shift” kimarite, as it’s rolling the dice on that bandaged knee each time. As mentioned above, a solid Tochinoshin / Takayasu Ozeki rivalry would electrify the sumo world, and might be a catalyst to drive either or both to higher rank. But it requires both of them to find a way to avoid further injuries. No easy task in the current sumo world.
This morning in Tokyo, officials from the Nihon Sumo Kyokai brought official word that Georgian sumotori Tochinoshin had been promoted to Ozeki. After an amazing 37 wins over the last three basho, the former Sekiwake had over-achieved almost every promotion criteria. As is customary for these announcements, the officials from the NSK take one side of the raised platform, with the promotee, his Oyakata and his wife take the other.
As far as I could tell, Tochinoshin did not utter a traditional 4 glyph motto, but did state “I will follow and revere my Oyakata’s instructions, and act as a role model for other rikishi. I will train hard.”.
With the official promotion, and acceptance, expected later today (Wednesday morning Japan), the press is starting to cover Tochinoshin’s imminent promotion. The Mainichi article includes some great background on his friendship with Hiromitsu Munakata, which is something new to me. Feel free to read up while we wait for the big ceremony to welcome the new Ozeki.
Tochinoshin has secured his promotion to Ozeki, sumo’s second highest rank. He did this through hard work, grim determination, and focusing with overwhelming intensity to training his body, his mind and his reflexes. As a result he has an astounding 37 wins over the past 3 tournaments, with double digits in each of the last 3. He greatly exceeds the 33 wins / 3 basho guideline, and is one of the strongest men in sumo for 2018. Much has been said, and still more will be said about his work ethic, his rise from ruin following knee surgery, and his drive to win.
But looking at Tochinoshin, I worry there is a chance for heartbreak in the near future. While I think he has potential to be a great Ozeki, I also see the seeds of misfortune on the path ahead.
Please keep in mind, I am one lone armchair sumo fan in the wilds of Texas. I have as much influence on the world of sumo as any of the readers of this site – almost none. So this represents one fan’s opinion only.
1. Age – Tochinoshin has been a part of professional sumo since 2006. He is currently 30 years old. His physical condition exceeds most 30 year old men (or 20 year old men for that matter) that you could ever meet. But sumo is a physical sport, and the damage can be cumulative. While his Ozeki career may be outstanding, it may also be short. He is the 4th oldest promotee in the modern era.
2. Injury – Tochinoshin has already sustained, and boldly battled back from a significant mechanical injury. The massive bandage he wears on his knee is testament to that battle, which he has won for now. We dearly hope he stays free from further injury, but fans should note we are in a transitional period in sumo. Many of our old favorites are reaching the end of their workable careers in the top division, and will soon be demoted down the banzuke, and retire. As a result we will see young men soon pressing harder for top rank. These youngsters will be fast, strong, aggressive and possibly less injured that our favorites. This includes Tochinoshin. Sumo is a pure zero-sum sport. If the rikishi of the future overwhelm stalwarts like Tochinoshin, so be it. But someone like Onosho or Takakeisho, or perhaps a stronger version of Abi could, through no malice, re-injure him. But this is sumo, and it’s a chance everyone takes.
3. Consistency – My biggest concern about Tochinoshin is consistency. Looking at his last 3 basho he’s been an overwhelming powerhouse of sumo. But if we take a longer look, the view is a bit cloudy. Let’s look at the past 2 years.
The chart below to compares his ranking in the past 2 years to a set of san’yaku mainstays including Tamawashi, Mitakeumi and Takayasu
It’s a see-saw trip up and down the banzuke. He has shown no ability to hit and hold San’yaku rank in the past. This is in contrast to Mitakeumi, Tamawashi and Takayasu.
The guy gets hurt, and he can’t fight for beans when he’s hurt. Sumo is a combat sport, people get hurt. But I worry that we will have another frequent kadoban Ozeki, who fights with gusto when his health is good, but spends about half of the tournaments trying to scrape by.
But only time will tell. I am eager to see what Ozeki Tochinoshin can do.