Aminishiki Branches Out to Launch Ajigawa Beya

One piece of long-anticipated news finally came to pass today, as former Sekiwake Aminishiki has officially branched out from Isegahama beya to launch Ajigawa beya.

It has been known for some time that Ajigawa was working on the construction of a new stable. In the meantime, the heya will take up temporary premises while the new build is completed. The oyakata himself started his career at Ajigawa beya before it was renamed to Isegahama in 2007, so the development will create a homecoming of sorts for ex-Aminishiki, whose near-career-long shikona’s first character is taken from the heya’s name.

With the launch of the new heya, Isegahama ichimon will see its members increase to six, with the heya joining the eponymous heya run by ex-Asahifuji, ex-Hakuho’s Miyagino beya, ex-Kaio’s Asakayama beya, ex-Kyokutenho’s recently redubbed Oshima beya, and ex-Kotonishiki’s Asahiyama beya in the group. With Isegahama himself due to retire in 2 1/2 years time, an interesting leadership group for the future is taking shape.

Sumo is a family business for the Suginomoris, and the new Ajigawa beya’s branch out from Isegahama will come with a curious wrinkle: Isegahama has long had a well developed scouting pipeline in Aomori (from where both ex-Aminishiki and ex-Asahifuji hail). Ajigawa is launching his stable with just one recruit – the shisho’s nephew Sakuraba who also hails from Aomori. It will be intriguing to see whether more Aomori based recruits filter into Ajigawa or Isegahama beya over the next couple of years, and also whether Ajigawa is able to cast a wider net in his search for promising new talent. With Sakuraba leaving along with “Uncle Sumo,” the Aomori contingent at Isegahama will consist of sekitori Takarafuji and Nishikifuji, along with Jonokuchi champion Takerufuji and the struggling youngster Yoshinofuji.

Also of note will be whether Ajigawa is able to put into practise any development characteristics gleaned from his time working – first as an active rikishi and then as a coach – under his second cousin Isegahama. Long respected as a master recruiter and developer of talent, the 63rd Yokozuna recently reached a milestone in being the first stablemaster in nearly 20 years to have six rikishi into the top division simultaneously.

Other hot topics to watch in the heya’s medium term future will be whether he inherits personnel (such as Tateyama-oyakata, ex-Homarefuji, or the presumably soon-to-retire Takarafuji) or rikishi upon Isegahama’s retirement, or even potentially the whole operation should a presumptive heir such as Yokozuna Terunofuji not be ready or able to inherit it in 2025. We may also be curious to learn whether he restores the A- naming convention notably bestowed on himself, his brother Asofuji, and of course Ama (later to become Yokozuna Harumafuji) among others, which was popular under the old version of the heya.

All of those issues are of course questions for the future. For the present, we will look forward to seeing Ajigawa’s first recruit make his first proper honbasho appearance in Jonokuchi in the upcoming tournament, and hope that the new shisho can bring in new recruits for him to train with as soon as possible.

Hat tip to our friend Kintamayama and Herouth for being among the first to report the news through various channels!

Takayasu & Wishing Upon a Star

Going into the historic three way playoff on senshuraku, I proudly told a friend I didn’t think I could feel disappointed, because I would be happy for any of the three contestants to win this yusho for different reasons.

In a period of massively disappointing Ozeki, a yusho for Takakeisho would have put him on a certain rope run in January. This will likely be the case anyway after an “equivalent” result in the latest tournament, though perhaps the challenge will be approached by onlookers with tempered expectations. It also would have been good to see the sport add another serial winner to its ranks, with the Tokiwayama-beya star looking to notch his third title in his prime at age 26.

A win for some-time bad-boy Abi would have been a championship for a personal favourite, a rikishi I’ve met and someone I’ve loved to watch for years now. It could be a real fillip for Shikoroyama beya, with news of the much loved stablemaster’s recent ill health, and Abi having since showed remorse for the off-dohyo troubles he caused.

But, I must confess, there was only one rikishi whose performances got me out of my seat during this basho, and only one guy I was actively cheering as a result of those efforts, and that was Takayasu.

After Hoshoryu’s second loss, I was sure this was Takayasu’s title. I’ll weigh in with analysis on Hoshoryu at a later date – but once Takayasu regained the lead, I didn’t think the trophy was going anywhere else. I was convinced it was Takayasu’s destiny to win this yusho. I punched the air after his wins against Ryuden, Oho, and Kagayaki.

What a story it could have been for the longtime bridesmaid to finally get his hands on the Emperor’s Cup! Sumo’s Susan Lucci seemed never before more likely than this tournament to make it happen, and yet here he was again on senshuraku, watching it slip away.

I tend to agree with the analysis from our friend lksumo that Takayasu could (or even should) be fast tracked to Sekiwake in order to set up a potential Ozeki run in January. It would be an uncommon scenario, but sumo could be without an Ozeki altogether should Shodai continue to falter and Takakeisho consolidate his recent fine form into a Hatsu basho title. However, I accept it may be more likely that the Banzuke committee places Takayasu at Komusubi and forces him to prove his fitness, consistency and excellence over an additional basho.

Beyond the emotional aspects, I simply felt Takayasu performed the best sumo during this tournament. Hoshoryu has his army of fans and he had a few absolutely outstanding victories (especially over the middle weekend), but in the end I think he can be happy with a special prize. While Takayasu waned slightly down the stretch, he largely brought a highly motivated, highly genki, high octane style of sumo to the tournament and his performances simply made the basho better.

With that in context, it was extremely disappointing to see the manner of his defeat to Abi in the playoff. Sumo fans will debate the approach that Abi took to the match, but the immediate question mark over Takayasu in the aftermath was not his shot at a championship but rather if he had been concussed or could stand up following the bout. This was a person who, hours before, had been the presumptive favourite to lift the silverware, and it wasn’t even clear in the moments following his playoff loss whether he could, on his own two feet, lift himself.

In some respects, it is merciful that Abi defeated Takakeisho to lift the Emperor’s Cup. Without being drawn into a debate over the content of the foregoing sumo, it did not feel that it could be right, had Takakeisho won, to see Takayasu face the indignity of having to mount the dohyo to contest another match when he was apparently barely in a condition to walk. Putting totally to one side the holder of the title, it would not have been the send off Takayasu deserved after a tournament of such poise and character, where he showed his ability to rebound from September’s yusho loss to Tamawashi.

Takayasu has been criticised and at times rightfully so for his mental approach to must-win matches. His fitness record has been picked over as one of the Ozeki to have had a mixed record of success (albeit much better than Shodai or Mitakeumi or Tochinoshin) at the rank in recent years. SumoForum stats heads have already noted that Takayasu is now one jun-yusho short of the all time record for those who never won a yusho. And that remarkable notation does not of course recognise additional tournaments like 2021 Haru, where he held a 2 win lead over the eventual champion going into the final stretch only to cough it up and finish third. It’s a double edged sword: he’s been consistently better than most when it comes to being in the title conversation, but never quite good enough to ever finish the job.

However, he has showed the spirit of a warrior and he has encapsulated, in the later years of his career, the example of how a rikishi should fight back to claim his place at the top table. He was gracious in defeat to Tamawashi in September. He may be less so after a yusho defeat that was likely even more devastating (at least on a level with this year’s earlier capitulation to Wakatakakage, if not more so because of the manner of the playoff defeat), but sumo will be better for his ability to pick himself up once again and have another go in January. 

How privileged we would be to witness that. After all, if your heart is in your dream, no request is too extreme. Takayasu Ganbare.

Juryo Promotions Announced

As expected, former Ozeki Asanoyama will return to the salaried ranks in January. He’ll be joined by Ms1w Shonannoumi (5-2), who will make his sekitori debut. Yutakayama’s sudden retirement opened up one more slot, and the lucky beneficiary is former Juryo regular Ms5w Hakuyozan (5-2), who was expected to miss out after losing his Day 15 exchange bout to Kaisho. No one else in the Makushita promotion zone managed a winning record. I expect only one demotion—Tokushoryu—with the other two spots vacated by Yutakayama and Chiyotairyu.

Yutakayama Retires from Sumo

In somewhat of a surprise announcement, the Sumo Association announced today that Juryo rikishi Yutakayama of Tokitsukaze beya has decided to retire.

A veteran of six and a half years in the sport at professional level, Yutakayama will be well known to readers of Tachiai for his significant presence in the top division over the past several years.

Yutakayama burst onto the scene as a college recruit in 2016, arriving as a Sandanme tsukedashi on account of his collegiate achievements alongside future Ozeki Asanoyama. Then named Oyanagi (his last name), it looked at the outset of his career that the powerful pusher-thruster could provide a foil to Asanoyama’s (also then fighting under his real name Ishibashi) yotsu-zumo techniques.

Indeed, Yutakayama made swift work of the lower divisions and arrived in Makuuchi in just his 8th tournament. Upon arrival, he took a very notable shikona, reflective of the hopes pinned on him with respect to the huge achievements of other Yutakayamas of Tokitsukaze beya of generations past. As a prospect, his abilities were easy to dream on: a slew of oshi-zumo enthusiasts including Onosho and Takakeisho also arrived in the top division in 2017, but Yutakayama’s greater physicality marked him out as a special talent and someone who may rise quickly to challenge those in the joi and san’yaku ranks.

After a stop-start beginning to his top division tenure in which he yo-yo’d between the divisions, Yutakayama gained his footing in the upper tier of sumo. At 2018’s Nagoya basho he achieved his finest performance, coming runner-up to yusho winner Mitakeumi by a single loss at 12-3, and also notching the only special prize of his career. A tour de force performance in total, the basho was punctuated by Yutakayama’s Day 14 win against Ozeki Takayasu in their first ever meeting, and bettered the following day on senshuraku by a stunning rally against the champion Mitakeumi. Yutakayama came back twice from the bales, defeating the star of the tournament with a hooking inner thigh throw which he deployed at the third attempt in a battle and manner of victory that was not typical of his sumo style.

However, injuries were to prove too much for Yutakayama to manage, and twice sapped his runs to the joi. He never made it to san’yaku, topping out at Maegashira 1, and suffering heavy losing records on his trips to the uppermost heights of the rank and file. While it seemed his infusion into the top division would provide a challenge to Shodai’s position as top dog at Tokitsukaze beya, we never got to see Yutakayama in a position to display his abilities consistently at the upper end of the division due to the undoubted toll that his injuries took on his ability to commit power to his oshi-zumo skill set. His intai at the age of 29 is perhaps a reflection of knowing that the game was up, as he looked overmatched even in the lower reaches of Makuuchi in recent years, and most recently suffered a heavy double digit makekoshi in Juryo in Fukuoka.

While his departure feels premature, for many sumo fans it will feel difficult to take simply because it felt like it wasn’t that long ago that he could have been projected as a force in the sport. I remember tracking him as a prospect and while it’s one feeling to see a long-time top division star or personal favourite leave the sport for blue-jacketed security detail, it’s another thing to see a top talent who we can remember in a chon-mage – or even zanbara – departing before his time might otherwise have come. Indeed, the Sumo Association normally will reference as part of the intai announcement whether a retiring sekitori has taken up an elder name, and while Yutakayama qualified for a kabu on account of the duration of his service, we can infer that he will not be staying in the organisation and will be leaving sumo entirely.

In the immediate future, with interest to banzuke prognosticators, Yutakayama’s intai and the swift announcement following the basho and ahead of the banzuke meeting will open an additional place in Juryo for the 2023 Hatsu basho. My prediction is that Ms5 Hakuyozan will take his place, although I will defer to our own lksumo for how this impacts his already comprehensive analysis of the January banzuke.

An announcement as to Yutakayama’s future was not immediately given but we can expect more details in the coming days. Whatever it may entail, we wish the Tokyo University of Agriculture and Tokitsukaze-beya alum the best of luck in his “second life!”