Japanese Sumo Headlines

The inescapable, critical skill we sumo fans need to enhance our appreciation and enjoyment of the sport is the ability to read Japanese. Even if your language skills are basic, it will open the world to you so that you can read about your favorite wrestlers, go to tournaments, and further appreciate the sumo “community,” perhaps even joining some of the official fan clubs. You can also get a lot more out of the Japanese Sumo Association’s website. While it is a great English language resource in its own right, many of the news releases are only available in Japanese and Google Translate is CRAP at translating Japanese, especially when it comes to sumo terms and shikona of lower-ranked wrestlers.

Springtime in DC

I’ve had it a bit lucky. I studied Japanese in college, lived and worked in Japan for a year, married a Japanese wife who speaks Japanese at home with the kids (who love to wrestle in the living room). It’s still very difficult for me to read an entire article quickly, and accurately, so it may be a surprise that the aim of this series of articles is not to teach you Japanese. It’s to teach it to myself. If you all learn some along the way, awesome.
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Natsu Banzuke Prediction

I am honored to be invited by Andy and Bruce to contribute this guest post. I’ve been following sumo for less than a year, and have learned so much from reading Tachiai. Judging by past basho, I believe that the banzuke for the next basho is mostly predictable based on the rikishi’s ranks and performances in the previous basho. Basically, for each rikishi, I assign a score that’s a combination of their previous rank and their win-loss record. The rikishi can then be sorted by this score and assigned to (any available) sanyaku and maegashira slots in order. The tiebreaker for rikishi with the same score is win-loss record. The main deviation from the straight score order is that rikishi with make-koshi must move down in rank, even if the formula would place them at (or above) their previous rank (indicated with *).

With these preliminaries out of the way, here are my predictions for Natsu:

Upper Sanyaku

Y1E  Kisenosato               Y1W Kakaryu

Y2E Harumafuji               Y2W Hakuho

O1E Terunofuji                 O1W Goeido

These are pretty self-explanatory. Kakaryu and Harumafuji stay in the same positions given their identical records and a head-to-head win by Kakaryu.

Lower Sanyaku

S1E Takayasu                    S1W Kotoshogiku (unless he retires)

S2E Tamawashi

KE Mitakeumi                  KW Okinoumi

The only “open” slot is the one at Komusubi vacated by Shodai. Mitakeumi doesn’t get to move up this time, as it usually takes 11 wins to “force” an extra slot, as Takayasu did for Haru. Given the terrible performance by the lower ranks, there were no good contenders for the Komusubi slot (really, by past standards, nobody deserves to be ranked above maegashira 3 at Natsu). The 3 contenders with equal scores are Okinoumi, Chiyonokuni, and Yoshikaze, and Okinoumi gets the nod by virtue of his double-digit wins. I wish Yoshikaze had picked up another win; he’s definitely the sentimental candidate for this slot.

Upper Maegashira

Given the devastation in the upper maegashira ranks at Haru, there will be a lot of turnover here; all of the predicted M1-M3 rikishi were ranked lower at Haru. There are some big jumps, with Daieisho and his 11 wins coming all the way up to M2 from M11.

M1    Chiyonokuni          Yoshikaze

M2    Daieisho                 Chiyoshoma

M3    Endo                        Tochiozan

Mid-Maegashira

A mix of guys moving up or dropping down (in some cases, waaay up—Takakeisho—or waaay down—Shodai, Takekaze, Ikioi, Sokokurai, Shohozan, Arawashi).

M4    Takarafuji*            Aoiyama

M5    Takanoiwa             Takakeisho

M6    Hokutofuji            Takekaze

M7    Ikioi                        Shodai

M8    Shohozan             Sokokurai

M9    Ichinojo                Ura

M10  Kayagiki*             Arawashi

Lower Maegashira

A mix of Juryo escapees and guys hanging on to Makuuchi.

M11  Tochinoshin*      Toyohibiki

M12  Ishiura*                Tokushoryu

M13  Kotoyuki               Onosho

M14  Daishomaru*      Chiyotairyu

M15  Oyanagi                Osunarashi

M16  Kyokutaisei

The promotions of Osunarashi and Kyokutaisei are perhaps the most speculative bits of the whole predicted banzuke, but I think they get the nod over Miogiryu and Kaisei, the last two contenders to hang on to Makuuchi but whose performances didn’t really warrant it.

Demoted to Juryo, from least to most likely:

Miogiryu, Kaisei, Kyokushuho, Sadanoumi, Nishigiki, Chiyoo.

Promoted to Makuuchi, from most to least likely:

Toyohibiki, Onosho, Chiyotairyu, Oyanagi, Osunarashi, Kyokutaisei.

Chiyomaru would be the next in line for promotion if someone retires or withdraws before Natsu. The other interesting candidate is Asanoyama, Juryo Yusho-doten along with Osunarashi, but it’s probably too big a jump all the way from J12 to Makuuchi. If he keeps performing like he has been, this young rikishi will get there soon enough.

 

 

Kisenosato Wins Osaka

It’s tough to fathom, and a bit tougher to believe. On day 15, Kisenosato won his scheduled match against Ozeki Terunofuji. The match was precluded by yet another matta when Terunofuji false-started. After day 14, I am sure Kisenosato was buying none of it. At the tachiai, he employed Harumafuji’s mini-henka to deflect a portion of Terunofuji’s charge, which took him immediately off balance. Terunofuji recovered and locked up chest to chest with the shin-Yokozuna, but Kisenosato was able to maneuver him out for the win.

As the two leaders were now tied, there was a playoff once Harumafuji and Kakuryu fought to end regular matches. Once again Terunofuji jumped in early, resulting in yet another matta. Almost immediately, Kisenosato had Terunofuji pinned by the arm using his right arm (the one that is not injured) and was able to throw Terunofuji using kotenage. The fact that Kisenosato won using his non-favored side was a complete surprise, as Kisenosato is left side dominant.

Needless to say, the fans in the stadium, and indeed across Japan erupted in celebration that the Shin-Yokozuna was able to pull out a come from behind victory in spite of some significant performance limiting injuries. In regards to Terunofuji, he has a great future ahead of him, and his time (probably several) to hoist the emperor’s cup will come again.

I had quite a laugh at the end of the video, as they delayed the 6:00 PM news to cover the end of the basho.  This almost never happens, as there seems to be some kind of code that the 6:00 PM news must not be delayed.

A great write up on the tournament and the changing times in sumo can be found here. It’s a great time to be a fan.

Haru 2017: Wrap-up

Osaka treated us to a fantastic show. The build-up and thrilling denouement, capped off by the storybook ending makes this one to remember.

Senshuraku does not often live up to its billing as the climax of a sumo tournament. Often, the yusho race is clear heading into the final weekend and the winner is crowned a day or two early.

Let’s take another look at our storylines leading into the tournament.

#1: Kisenosato Yusho. Clearly, this is the story of the tournament. With Hakuho out of the picture and contenders dropping like flies in Week Two, it looked like a sure bet. Then, Darth Vader defeated him in battle and worse, took his fighting hand. With defeat the next day to an apologetic Kakuryu, the Emperor’s Cup was Terunofuji’s.

Terunofuji was even ready for the henka but Kise was still able to shift the young Ozeki off-balance, forcing a play-off. In the play-off, Kisenosato locked Terunofuji’s arm with his right and brought both wrestlers down (Teru first) to pick up his second straight tournament victory.

#2: Takayasu’s Ozeki run. So many wrestlers came into this tournament with Ozeki hopes. The path was easiest for Kotoshogiku but with his hopes dashed, Takayasu is now poised to be the next rikishi promoted to Ozeki. He finished on 12 wins with his only losses going to two yokozuna and Yoshikaze. He’s been in sanyaku for the past five tournaments, a strong run as not many have stayed in the lower sanyaku ranks for more than two. With 10 wins next tournament, he’ll be promoted. The question for next tournament, though, is will there be four Sekiwake? The three current sekiwake all secured winning records and Mitakeumi deserves a promotion after his strong 9-6 finish. Maybe Celina’s bracket will come true, after all?

#3: Hokutofuji makekoshi. Hokutofuji’s run of kachi-koshi tournaments has come to an end. He finished with a very respectable 7-8 record so while he will slide a bit, it won’t be far.

#4: Kotoshogiku demoted. The henka on Day 14 which sealed his fate will always be controversial. However, the fact is, Kotoshogiku was fighting on one healthy knee. His on-again, off-again relationship with kadoban status was untenable in the long term.

Well, at least he was able to get a winning record this time but he will need to start from scratch and get 33 wins in three tournaments to get back to Ozeki. The question now is, does he have it in him to continue to compete or will he retire, like Kotooshu? I’ve got nothing but admiration for guys like Aminishiki who carry on as long as they can. BTW, Aminishiki finished with a 9-6 record in Juryo.

#5: Goeido kyujo, kadoban. I know I continually harp on injured wrestlers battling and risking further injury. If they listened to me, we clearly wouldn’t have had this epic finish today because Kisenosato would be at home on his couch watching Terunofuji hoist the Emperor’s Cup. But for every spectacular finish, there are several guys who make my knees hurt to watch them get up there: Kaisei, Tochinoshin, Osunaarashi, Myogiryu. In Goeido’s case, as an Ozeki he could have used the luxury of not starting this tournament to try to fully recover but his competitive spirit (like Terunofuji for the past year) draws him to the dohyo. I hope he has a full, speedy recovery.

#6: Ura kachi-koshi. Ura debuted fairly high on the banzuke at Maegashira 12 but was still able to achieve a winning record (though barely). He only lost once to hatakikomi but a few times his unorthodox style clearly gets him into trouble at times. He will climb the banzuke in May and I’m eager to see how he fares. Will he and Ishiura take their approach to the next level? Or will their gimmicks serve to confuse and confound those at the bottom of the table?

#7: Wakaichiro kachi-koshi. We at Tachiai are excited to see Wakaichiro pick up his first winning record and look forward to seeing him promoted into Jonidan.