Hatsu Recap 3 – Endo vs. Shodai 2

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The Battle Of The Next Generation

Even before the start of the Hatsu basho, it was clear that we were starting to witness a changing tide in sumo. Prior to the basho, Tachiai mused on these two popular, next generation greats.

Both of them had a fairly decent tournament, both rikishi ended Hatsu with a slight losing record of 7-8. Shodai was “enjoying” his first trip to the meat grinder of sanyaku, and lost to the Yokozuna and the lone healthy Ozeki (Kisenosato). Still his 7-8 record means he may just be punted down to Komusubi for Osaka, or lower because of the crowd shoving their way towards sanyaku..

Endo had a slightly easier schedule, but managed to win over Goeido. The Endo vs Goeido bout is the one that sent Goeido to surgery to repair his broken ankle. In general Endo did not really shine this time out, and will probably drop a couple of spots to Maegashira 6 or so for Osaka.

Of course the stand out next-generation rikishi for Hatsu is without a doubt Mitakeumi, who finished 11-4, with kinboshi and special prizes. He faced the sanyaku and took home a pile of kensho that he liberated from Ozeki and Yokozuna opponents. A stalwart in collegiate sumo, he had primarily been a pusher/thruster. But like all pusher, he discovered it could only take him so far. In the past two tournaments he has increasingly shown skill with fighting via the mawashi, and this adaptation has been the key to his success.

Although Takayasu is striving hard to qualify for Ozeki, we will keep an eye on Mitakeumi, who may begin the process this year as well.

7th Annual Hakuho Cup

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Weekend Youth Sumo Tournament.

Over the past weekend, the 7th annual youth sumo tournament known as the “Hakuho Cup” took place at the Kokugikan in Tokyo. The tournament brought together young sumo enthusiasts from around the world to compete in individual and team competition. This included teams from Japan, China, Korea, Mongolia and the United States.

As can be expected when the leading man of Sumo holds an event, many well known sumotori showed up to work with the young wrestlers, help out running the event, or simply encourage participants and families. This includes one of my favorites, Yoshikaze, who not only worked the event, but also hosted a group of youngsters from Japan at the Oguruma beya. A group of children from Hawaii competed as well, hosted by the Musashigawa beya, keeping the spirit of Hawaiian sumo alive.

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In team competition, the Mongolian team took first prize. as well as a strong showing throughout the various classes.

Yokozuna Kakuryu – Still Hurt

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Makes Appearance At Kokugikan For Hakuho Cup.

During Sunday’s youth sumo tournament – the “Hakuho Cup” held at Tokyo’s Ryōgoku Kokugikan, fans were delighted to see Yokozuna Kakuryu make a personal appearance in support of event. Kakuryu had a disappointing tournament in January, where he withdrew after day 10 with a recurrence of lower back pain. This is the same problem that has plagued Kakuryu in the past, and the reason why he was missing for the Nagoya basho in 2016.

When asked about his injuries, he remarked that he was going to tough it out, and continue to train, and expects to appear in the Osaka tournament, in spite of his chronic back problems. Readers skilled in reading Kanji can take a stab at the source material here.

It’s fantastic to see Kakuryu mobile and apparently in good spirits, but Tachiai fears that without some kind of medical intervention, Kakuryu is going to continue to deliver disappointing performance. Sumo fans everywhere wish him good fortune and a strong recovery.

Hatsu Recap 2 – A Japanese Yokozuna

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Giving The People What They Want

Prior to the beginning of the January tournament, sumo fans were wondering if this could be the tournament that we finally see the 19 year drought broken, and a Japanese Ozeki elevated to Yokozuna.

A year ago, Kotoshogiku won the Hatsu basho, and broke a multi-year streak of Mongolians winning sumo tournaments. For a long time, both sumo fans and the Japanese public, believed that the Mongolian rikishi were too strong, to fierce to be defeated. Many had believed that Japan could no longer compete effectively in sumo. Kotoshogiku’s win in January 2016 appears in hind sight to have been the start of a change. Since then we have seen each of the Mongolian Yokozuna injured, at times requiring hospitalization, and all of them struggling to recover and maintain performance. As 2016 drove on, the Japanese public and the Yokozuna Deliberation Council increasingly voiced a desire for a Japanese grand champion.

At Hatsu Basho 2017 that wish was granted.

Through a combination of good fortune and skill, Kisenosato finally won a tournament. Good fortune via the continuing injuries and performance problems of the Ozeki and Yokozuna corps. There are times in life where you can win just be showing up, and for Kisenosato, this was his basho. Kisenosato also showed some remarkably solid sumo. He has always been a massive force on the dohyo, and at times displays text book, ukiyo-e worthy mastery of yotsu-zumō.

With Kisenosato supplying a yusho, the Yokozuna Deliberation Council had enough of a fig-leaf to act, and just a few hours after the close of the Hatsu basho, they unanimously recommended Kisenosato for promotion to Yokozuna, which the Japan Sumo association accepted.

How Kisenosato will perform as Yokozuna remains an open question. Many of his biggest fans, and some of the sumo press have noted that Kisenosato is not speaking and acting differently. As if some great worry has been lifted from his heart. There has been speculation that Kisenosato over thinks matters, and his achievement of both the Yusho and elevation to Yokozuna may have freed him from his doubts and his demons, and we may see a new vigor to his sumo.

The other hopeful, Goeido, withdrew due to what could be a serious injury. Prior to that, Goeido struggled to deliver the same kind of “bulldozer sumo” that swept him to an undefeated victory at Aki. Readers may have noticed that Andy and I refer to the Aki performance as “Goeido 2.0” and the normal mode of muddling through a basho as “Goeido 1.0“. We have seen in Goeido the seeds of greatness, but something within him holds him back.

Now, if reports in the sumo press are accurate, Goeido may face a career ending injury to his right ankle. But to be clear, there is likely to be at least one or two more Yokozuna slots available within 12 months, as both Harumafuji and Kakuryu seem to be having persistent medical problems. There may still be a chance that Goeido can make his 2.0 upgrade permanent, and become a truly excellent offense driven Yokozuna.

Hatsu Recap 1 – The Return of Osunaarashi (大砂嵐)

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A Fighting Spirit In A Damaged Body.

Story line 1 for Hatsu was the celebration of Egyptian sumotori Osunaarashi’s return to the top division. Osunaarashi had a sponsor arrangement that only really paid out when he was competing in top division matches, so he had a substantial financial incentive to return to Makuuchi. During the Kyushu basho, Osunaarashi drove himself relentlessly to compete in spite of obvious personal injuries and great physical pain. No one could question his devotion to sumo or his fighting spirt. But his injuries overcame him, and on day 13 of Kyushu, he withdrew from the tournament.

In spite of this withdrawal, the Japan Sumo Association gave him a chance for Hatsu basho. It was with great joy that his followers and fans noted that he had made the very last spot: Maegashira 16 East, on the Makuuchi banzuke. Everyone hoped that Osunaarashi would arrive day 1 in good physical condition and ready to compete and hopefully secure a winning record.

Sadly, after a fairly strong start where he defeated a trio of Kokonoe rikishi (M15e Chiyoo, M14e Chiyootori and M14w Chiyotairyu), he proceeded to grow progressively weaker, and more injured day after day. His finishing record was 4 wins, 11 losses: an ugly make-koshi.

This means that Osunaarashi will be deep in the Juryo pack for Osaka, and once again out of the top division. Osunaarashi needs time to heal and recover, or he is likely never to be a serious competitor again. Each basho he seems a bit more damaged, and his performance is declining.

Tachiai hopes that Osunaarashi will find the time to have his injuries addressed, and can return to fighting form.

Goeido (豪栄道) Cancels Personal Appearance In Nara

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Possible Major Right Ankle Injury.

News and details of injuries to sumotori are always hard to come by. For a variety of reasons the actual physical condition of sumo’s top stars are a closely guarded secret. But now word comes that Ozeki mainstay, and Aki Zensho champion Goeido may be facing a significant injury, suffered on Hatsu day 12 in his bout against Endo.

In the web article published here (in Kanji), it would seem to indicate that Goeido will miss a scheduled public appearance February 3rd at the Kasuga Shrine in the city of Nara. As Goeido is a “hometown boy” from that region, his appearance is a significant event, and his withdrawal is noteworthy.

The article also states he is continuing treatment to his right ankle, including screws to keep things in place. If true (and translated correctly by myself), this could indicate a significant injury that may limit his participation in the upcoming Osaka tournament, or worse yet end his career.

Tachiai wishes Goeido good fortune in recovery, and we dearly hope to see his Aki fighting form back again soon.

Kisenosato’s Meiji Shrine Dohyo-iri

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Massive Crowd Welcomes New Yokozuna

Tokyo – In the overnight hours US / EU time, Kisenosato performed his first public dohyo-iri on the grounds of the Meiji shrine, in front of sumo officials and a crowd estimated to be over 20,000. It is customary for a new Yokozuna to perform this ceremony two days after his elevation to sumo’s highest rank. His attendants were (as expected), Takayasu as sword bearer and Shohozan as dew sweeper.

As there has only been two days to prepare, Kisenosato’s dohyo-iri was a bit rough, and lacked many of the polished, fluid qualities seen in, for example, Hakuho’s dohyo-iri. For this debut dohyo-iri, Kisenosato and his retainers do not yet have their own sword, or their matching Keshō-mawashi (long aprons), so the shin-yokozuna customarily borrows them from a predecessor. In this case it was the great Wakanohana I.

Kisenosato Prepares For Meiji

Rikishi From Oguruma, Sadogatake and Nishonoseki Help Weave The Rope

A pair of great videos showing the team work between multiple sumo stables to craft and fit the ceremonial rope or tsuna for new-Yokozuna, a day prior to his debut at the Meiji Jingu Shrine.

There are several notable rikishi present assisting with the weaving of the tsuna, of course we knew that Yoshikaze was present from his Instagram photos, but it seems almost all of Nishonoseki-Ichimon group of stables pitched in. Notables from Oguruma heya showed up, including Amakaze and Takekaze.  Shohozan is clearly designated as Kisenosato’s tsuyuharai (dew sweeper / herald) in their practice sessions for the dohyo-iri tomorrow.  It’s also notable that long time Kisenosato competitor and recently demoted Ozeki Kotoshogiku is there as well.

Somewhat longer video below with more details, and plenty of footage of retired Yokozuna Ōnokuni instructing Kisenosato on the mechanics of the Unryu style ritual.

 

The Meiji Shrine ceremony will take place at 15:00 Japan Standard Time on Friday, January 27th.  As always, Tachiai will work to bring you video of this historic event.

Video – Kisenosato’s Yokozuna Promotion

For sumo fans who may not have seen it yet, this was the ceremony held in Tokyo on Wednesday, where press and sumo dignitaries packed a small ballroom at the Imperial Hotel. With NSK officials Kasugano and Takadagawa given the honor of sharing the announcement of promotion with Kisenosato.

Note that stable master Tagonoura struggles during this ceremony, due to painful injuries that prevented him from perform his shimpan duties at the recently concluded Hatsu basho.

Kisenosato Debut Dohyo-iri Friday

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Meiji Jingu Shrine Expected To See Overflow Crowd

Now that Kisenosato has been officially promoted to Yokozuna, and his tsuna is being prepared, the next major event in the elevation of Japan’s first native Yokzonua in nearly 20 years is the highly anticipated ceremony at the Meiji Jingu Shrine. There will be a number of activities that will take place in the late morning, culminating with Kisenosato and his retainers performing their first public dohyo-iri, or ring entering ceremony.

Reports in the Japanese sumo press say that Kisenosato has been taking instruction in the distinctive Unryu style from retired Yokozuna Ōnokuni. While it is expected that Takayasu will serve as Kisenosato’s tachimochi (sword bearer), his tsuyuharai (dew sweeper) is rumored to be Shohozan.

With a good portion of Japan going Kisenosato crazy in celebration, the crowd at Meiji Jingu is likely to be massive, and any readers in Japan wishing to attend are advised to go hours ahead of time.

Tachiai will bring you full coverage of this historic event.

Preparing The Rope

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Tagonoura Beya Building Kisenosato’s Tsuna (綱)

Even before the official ceremony to elevate Kisenosato to sumo’s highest rank, the rikishi at Tagonoura beya have been working to prepare Kisenosato’s rope. The heavy rope belt, or “tuna”, is the mark of a Yokozuna, which literally translates to “Horizontal Rope”

Part of adorning a Yokozuna requires building a tsuna from hemp fibers, and each tsuna is built by hand, from scratch, by the stable. In the photo above (and video below), we can see Kisenosato’s stable mates preparing the hemp that will be woven into the tsuna he uses for his ceremonial first dohyo-iri.

The rope itself will weigh between 25-40 pounds, and will be tied with a distinctive knot, that is symbolic of the Unryu style (photo of the style here). The belt will then be adorned with 5 “lightning bolts” known as shide, which are similar to the symbols used in Shinto to mark sacred areas. In Shinto spirituality, it is believed that divine spirits are drawn to the tsuna, and empower the wearer.

We will first see Kisenosato and his Unryu style tsuna Friday as he preforms his dohyo-iri at the Meiji shrine in Shibuya, Tokyo.

72nd Yokozuna, Kisenosato

It’s official! Kisenosato is our 72nd Yokozuna. Congratulations to the Champion, and we are eager to see him compete in Osaka in March. Hopefully he will be accompanied by the full contingent of Hakuho, Harumafuji, and Kakuryu. We hope they will all be healthy and ready to go! We already anticipate great things at the end of this upcoming tournament.

Kisenosato Recommended For Promotion To Yokozuna

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Yokozuna Deliberation Council Approves Unanimously

In a move that has been expected since the end of the Hatsu basho, the Yokozuna Deliberation Council has met on Monday January 23rd at the Kokugikan, and after only 10 minutes of discussion, unanimously approved Kisenosato as the 72nd Yokozuna. He will be the first Japanese man to take the rope since 1998 when it was given to the 66th Yokozuna Wakanohana.

The meeting on the 23rd was held as an “extraordinary session” at request of the Shimpan of the Japan Sumo Association, and was conducted by its chairman Nobuyoshi Hakkaku. Based on that decision, the Sumo Association will decide Kisenosato’s promotion during a meeting of the directors on the 25th.

Official notification is expected to be delivered to the stable later on Wednesday, with all of the pomp and ceremony associated with elevation to Grand Champion. Word in the press is that retired Yokozuna Ōnokuni has offered to teach Kisenosato the ritual of Yokozuna dohyo-iri. It is expected that Yokozuna Kisenosato will adopt the Unryu style, which focuses on defense, and is practiced by Yokozuna Kakuryu, and legendary Yokozuna Takanohana.

Tachiai congratulates Kisenosato in achieving this mighty goal, to which he has dedicated his entire life.

More details from the Asahi Shimbun here

Kisenosato’s Thanks For Takayasu

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Faithful Lieutenant Was Key To Training

Kisenosato has perpetually been second best, always just behind tournament winners. But in his stoic and stubborn nature, he continued to train, working to improve with the mindless drive to one day succeed. All valid concerns aside, this past Sunday he finally reached that goal that he has devoted his entire life to achieving.

But it would likely never have been possible without the dedicated, relentless devotion of Takayasu, Kisenosato’s right hand man and boon companion.

Some rikishi are naturally gifted athletes. This includes people like Hakuho and Harumafuji. Anyone can learn the basics of sumo, the rules are quite simple. And like any physical sport, a handful seem to have natural talent and skill. Others are driven to train themselves to the point where they can compete with these natural talents. This is where I believe Kisenosato falls. He has an overflowing love of sumo, but he is not the gifted natural that some others are.

So he trains. But that training is really only effective if Kisenosato has a sparring partner who drives him to excel, who is good enough and tough enough to make him better. Reports are that Takayasu and Kisenosato have been training endlessly, dozens of bouts per day. This allowed the Hatsu champion to hone his skills, and arrive at the first day of the tournament ready to win.

I find it touching that in one of his victory speeches, Kisenosato thanked Takayasu directly.

Should the YDC promote Kisenosato to Yokozuna this week, I will be looking for Takayasu to carry his katana.