Yes, in between the major honbasho, there are other sumo tournaments. In the 39th “大相撲トーナメント” Harumafuji defeated Ozeki Kisenosato in the finals with a strong, aggressive nodowa and oshidashi force out technique. In his post-tournament interview, Harumafuji was pleased to win but also noted the good turnout. He said that it’s great to win with a lot of fans at Ryogoku Kokugikan stadium.
Former Ozeki Kotomitsuki (琴光喜) had his topknot cut yesterday after losing his lawsuit seeking reinstatement to the makuuchi. Kotomitsuki was banned in 2010 for illegal gambling on baseball. I believe these hair-cutting ceremonies are usually done in the dohyo but this just seems to be a hotel conference room. Former yokozuna and sumo legend, Takanohana (貴乃花), is the one cutting his top-knot.
All three current yokozuna were present at the ceremony, as was Kotoshogiku. He’s still well-loved and well-respected by many sumo fans, so maybe he could be seen as the Pete Rose of sumo.
He also got into a spot of legal trouble last year related to his restaurant for hiring foreigners without the proper visas. Again, that’s another sensitive issue here in the US, as well. When I was in Japan, one of my roommates was kicked out of the country for working illegally as a manager of some British pubs. I had other roommates who were working “under-the-table” at hostess clubs. Anyway, it’s hard to keep one’s nose clean if you’re constantly pushed to the margins of society. I’m certainly in favor of immigration reform, particularly legalizing people who want to work.
Several top sumo wrestlers, led by Hakuho, took part in a bean-throwing ceremony at Naritasan Shinshou-ji in Chiba prefecture (real close to Narita airport). Mamemaki is a part of the Setsubun celebration welcoming spring where one throws dried beans at a demon (oni) to cast out the evil spirits. While throwing the beans, participants yell “Oni wa soto, Fuku wa uchi”, telling the demons to get out and inviting luck to come in. You’re also supposed to eat some of the dried beans – one for each year of your age.
Hakuho is featured in the video above taking part in the event and getting beyond last week’s controversy. We shall oblige and move on from this non-controversy. Sports events all over the world have their officiating controversies and this one is probably the smallest controversy in that history. “The Tuck Rule” utterly ruined American football for me and this one is such small potatoes in comparison. The video below is a good history of that rule.
We did mamemaki for the first time since we moved into our new house and it was a lot of fun. We took turns being the demon and running around the house getting pelted with beans. It was less fun to pick up the beans afterward. We thought about doing it outside but it’s been real cold. For context here north of DC, we’re on the same parallel as Iwate prefecture, well north of Sendai. We’ve had a string of misfortune lately, from illness to home appliances blowing up and flooding so anything helps.
Last Monday, one day after winning his historic 33rd Emperor’s Cup, Hakuho was asked about the judges’ decision to have a rematch against Kisenosato a few days before. In the unguarded moment, and probably when still feeling the effects of celebrating the night before, he replied, “regarding the video, even a child could see that I won.”
Stepping back, it was the critical moment of a critical match. Hakuho drove both wrestlers out of the ring and at full speed it was too close for a definitive victor. After a conference, the judges decided on torinaoshi – a rematch – despite video evidence that Kisenosato touched the ground first.
Hakuho is a wee bit sensitive about the fact that he is not Japanese. And among Japanese fans there is a lot of anticipation for there to be a Japanese yokozuna and also quite a bit of cheering for a Japanese man to win an Emperor’s cup. The last active Japanese yokozuna was Takanohana, who retired in 2003. There has not been a Japanese cup winner since Tochiazuma won 9 years ago.
This seems to imbue Hakuho with a bit of resentment towards some of his competitors. You can see the extra intensity, determination, and aggression in Hakuho’s bouts against crowd favorites like Endo or if Kisenosato is still in the running when they meet. Dude, Hakuho, just because they’re rooting for Endo…it doesn’t mean they’re rooting against you.
I love Hakuho. He is the best sumo wrestler I’ve had the fortune to see. Sumo benefits, and the fans benefit, from the added intensity and emotion in the sport. In the case of this particular controversy, it’s a bit of a tempest in a teapot. Then again, I’m an American and our Superbowl Champion New England Patriots won their title while a former star is on trial for capital murder. So maybe my bar for sensationalism in sports is a bit too high?
Anyway, I’m not going to think any less of Hakuho for these comments. He was very close to the late Taiho and he always seems to carry himself with dignity and he does take sumo very seriously. I just think he’s got a bit of a chip on his shoulder since he will not be fully embraced by Japanese as much as he feels he deserves. And he’s probably right. But, at the same time, I know there was blowback and resentment when Tiger Woods dominated golf…but that game was never more popular.
Bottom line, I wouldn’t a expect Japanese or Kenyan or American wrestler to be embraced by Mongolians if a star suddenly came over and started dominating Mongolian wrestling or archery or horseback riding…and even less so if there seemed to be a wave of them utterly dominating every tournament for a decade. Face it, we love COMPETITION. When someone (or a group of people) dominate a supposedly competitive sport, it takes the fun out of it. We cheer the underdogs, the upstarts, the Jeremy Lins. We get pleasure out of seeing trouble brewing at McDonald’s, Starbucks, WalMart, or even with Kim Kardashian. We often want to see our leaders knocked down a peg.
In the case of Hakuho, though, it’s weird. I would like to see him challenged a bit more and I would like to see more wrestlers winning but I’m happy he’s doing so well. Also, I’d never want to see him stop performing at this peak level. I know that if he were to become injured or to start to lose, I’d feel I’d lost something — like I do when watching Tiger miss another cut. That man lost his family, a billion dollars, the player life, lost his game, and now he lost a tooth. Yes, I enjoyed seeing him lose a tournament or two when he was dominating…but I want to see him win again. I would never hope anyone would go through what he’s gone through. I give him props that in spite of all that he’s gone through, he hasn’t spiraled out of control like John Daly or Johnny Manziel.
Hakuho is utterly dominant and we are witnessing true greatness and I hope he performs at this level for another 10 years. But he needs a worthy rival. Beyond the skill and power, I think it’s that intensity that I really enjoy…even as I root for Harumafuji.