Japan’s New Grand Champion
It has been the biggest story since Hatsu, and will continue to lead all other stories into Haru. Japan has gone stark raving bonkers for their first natively born Yokozuna in two decades. He is all over television, print, he is on instant noodle packages, he is what the bulk of what the Japanese sumo press discusses.
But Kisenosato has, in the past, not operated well under hype, scrutiny and pressure. Fans will recall that the Yokozuna Deliberation Council put Kisenosato on notice that a yusho in September would result in his promotion. The result was an abysmal 10-5 record with Goeido surprising everyone and making a clean sweep of a fairly completive field.
To his credit, Kisenosato headed for the practice room, where he drilled, practiced and worked himself to exhaustion. He battled back to a somewhat questionable 12-3 Jun-Yusho in November. With all pressure seemingly off, Kisenosato fought well in January, and was handed a very lucky and fortunate series of situations that all broke his way. His 14-1 yusho was the crowning achievement of a long career of intense dedication to sumo, and he seemed almost dazed that it had finally happened.
What followed was an endless celebration where Kisenosato was the center of almost unbelievable attention, adoration and media coverage. Everyone wanted to know what he thought about everything, and everyone wanted his involvement. It’s easy to get distracted when you find yourself thrust into the limelight, and suddenly a national hero.
But in just days, the shin Yokozuna will step on the clay once more, and this time he faces a complex and uncertain torikumi. In all likelihood, the Ozeki will be damaged and only partially functional if they can even show up at all. Harumafuji is likely still wounded, and lord knows if Kakuryu has his back and knees in working order this time.
The first week of any basho features the Yokozuna and Ozeki “warming up” against the upper Maegashira and the San’yaku. This time it is somewhat possible that it’s the San’yaku who may be hunting scalps in week one.
In reports from the press, Kisenosato has perhaps let all of the fame and celebration get in the way of his sumo for the past couple of weeks. In a training session with Takayasu, Kisenosato could only manage 6 wins an 11 losses. While this is great news for Takayasu backers like myself, it does indicate that Kisenosato needs to focus on his sumo and prepare.
The Tachiai team is genuinely looking forward to watching Kisenosato’s first tournament dohyo-iri, hopefully with his team wearing their (non borrowed) kesho-mawashi, and with Kisenosato’s personal sword. Word is it’s being made by the 25th Fujiwara Kanefusa – master sword smith.