The Kisenosato Effect

It’s been a few days since our last scan of Japanese sumo articles. Today, we turn again to Mainichi since the Nikkei seems quite satisfied to take a break in coverage during the interbasho timeframe. I’m hesitant to use Yahoo! and other aggregators but will expand my crawl in the coming days. I bring this up because today’s headline is a bit…premature, so I think they’re kind of reaching for content. It would be nice if they covered the Jungyo.

稀勢の里効果に期待も…増えない高校生力士

Today’s headline is about the “Kisenosato effect,” an expectation for an increase in high schoolers turning toward sumo, which has apparently not materialized. Come on, Chris. It’s been two basho. There are a lot of trend driven Japanese but no one in their right mind would drop out of cram school, scrap plans for university and quash their dreams of becoming salarymen by suddenly devouring chanko and choosing the grueling life of a rikishi based purely on Kisenosato’s win, no matter how many times articles refer to his gekiteki (“dramatic” via lesson 1) championship.
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Natsu Basho Sold Out in 90 Minutes

Today’s headline comes again from Mainichi:

前売り券、1時間半で完売
“Pre sale tickets have sold out (for the May tournament) in an hour and a half.”

We’ve got a very short headline today that will introduce several important kanji. Again, I’ll break things but you will need to know ALL of this kanji. The whole thing is beginner level.
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Kotoshogiku Welcomes 1st Baby Boy

Tachiai would like to congratulate Kotoshogiku on the birth of his first baby, a boy. Today’s news comes from Mainichi, again. Apparently Nikkei doesn’t want to cover sumo during Jungyo. Well, even during a tournament it falls under “Sports\Other,” so maybe my expectations are too high. Glad to see that Mainichi is covering it. Three articles from them today. This one is a great, easy headline. Now that I’ve spoiled the surprise of the headline, we may as well take a look at it:

琴奨菊に第1子の長男誕生「親孝行だ」

First thing’s first, Kotoshogiku’s shikona followed by hiragana “ni” because the baby was born to Kotoshogiku. When counting ordinal numbers (i.e. sequentially) Japanese often uses the character “DAI” (第) and follows up with the appropriate kanji for what you’re counting. Here we’re counting kids (子). “CHONAN” is the word for first son (長男). If you replace the second character (which means male) with the character for female (女), you get first daughter. The first character is usually translated as “long” but it also gets used as leader or “head” as in the head of an organization. The head of a company is the ShaCho, using that character.

Then Tanjo (誕生) is birth. If you study Japanese you learn the word Tanjobi (誕生日) which is birthday. This is an important word to know for anyone studying Japanese. Not just so you can celebrate your birthday, you can fill out immigration forms and other paperwork! If you know your bloodtype, you can even set up a social media profile or blog. If you think I’m joking, I’m laughing but I’m not joking.

「親孝行だ」

Lastly, remember yesterday’s “synergy”? How the sumo assistants, tsukebito, get a benefit from assisting sekitori by being able to train with them? Well, kids provide for their parents by respecting them and being dutiful…doing things, like not dying before their parents. His son decided to be born after the tournament, so Kotoshogiku said, “Oyakoko da.” If he’d been born during the tournament, 困ったね。

Great Insight Into Tsukebito (assistant) System

One of the huge storylines coming out of Haru basho was that Terunofuji is back. We get a bit more of the back story from an article, written by Muto Hisashi and published in Mainichi a couple of days ago. It’s a much longer article than the usual one or two paragraphs, and it’s fascinating. The topic is the “tsukebito” system. Makushita and lower rikishi serve as assistants to those in Juryo and above (sekitori). You often see them carrying the cushions and accompanying top ranked wrestlers as their entourage.

相乗効果もたらす「付け人」=武藤久

This headline is a quick one: Gaining synergies, “Tsukebito” by Muto Hisashi. The important term here is (付け人). I’ve never had to use the word “synergy” in English but this is what it is in Japanese: (相乗効果).

In the business world, particularly the entertainment industry, the core talents have personal assistants. They’re called “tsukibito.” For some reason, the sumo world has adopted a more positive turn on it and they refer to it as “tsukebito.” They say that there are synergies gained as younger, lower ranked wrestlers gain experience by training with the higher ranked wrestlers.

In the article, Muto highlights the relationship between Terunofuji and one of his tsukebito, Shunba. Usually these assistants are indesputably junior to the sekitori. However, occasionally some wrestlers are so good and progress so swiftly through the ranks that they seek out veteran tsukebito who act more as advisors than as assistants. Shunba fills this role for Terunofuji.

In the interview, Shunba reveals that there were deeper matters troubling Terunofuji. The injuries were serious but he had much more on his mind…the specifics of which he would not reveal. Muto interviewed Shunba in the weeks after Terunofuji’s dismal 4-win Hatsubasho where he went kadoban again. Despite the poor performance, Shunba was very confident that Terunofuji would do well. Apparently, Terunofuji had been keeping things bottled up and he had deep conversations with his tsukebito that seemed to bring about a lot of relief.

So while still hampered a bit by injuries, notably after the Endo bout, he was dominant. Not only did Terunofuji almost win his second yusho…in an awesome, fearsome manner enjoyed by us and many of our readers…Shunba went 6-1 in makuushita, at his highest rank ever. I’m eager to see him climb up the banzuke. I will be following both wrestlers and hope to do a deeper profile of Shunba and these assistant wrestlers in the future.

Foreign Led Stables of ex-Kotoshu & ex-Kyokutenho (corrected)

Today’s article comes from the Mainichi newspaper:

外国出身親方の船出 元琴欧洲「新しいものを」/元旭天鵬「愛される力士に」

It is an article about two new foreign born elders starting their own heyas, former Ozeki Kotooshu and former Sekiwake Kyokutenho. Just to note, both are have won yusho and I’m sure that’s significant in the decision to let them run stables. **Updated to reflect the point made by Asashosakari: Kotooshu is starting his own stable while Kyokutenho is inheriting the Tomozuna stable.** In this headline there are two shikona so we’ll start there, Kotooshu (琴欧洲) and Kyokutenho (旭天鵬). Immediately preceding both shikona is the kanji for “former,” 元 .

外国出身親方

To knock out a few more of the easy terms and sumo-specific terms we will go back to the beginning, “Foreign born sumo elders.” The first two kanji, GaiKoku is the Japanese word for foreign. Shusshin is place where you’re from. You hear this word every time the announcer at sumo tournaments introduces the wrestlers. If they’re Japanese he says what prefecture they’re from and if they’re foreign he says what country they’re from. You hear a lot of “Mongolia shusshin.” Lastly we get to the term for “elders.” Kotooshu and Kyokutenho are running their own stables and thus “oyakata.” The first kanji is parent and the second is the honorific, formal word, for person.

の船出

These new heya are setting sail, being launched. It’s actually pretty exciting. I’m happy for both new oyakata. Please visit Mainichi’s site. They have a nice picture of Naruto-oyakata in front of his stable with three of his wrestlers. The base seems to be in Tokyo so it could be interesting to check out. We’ll see about the other heya, as well. We’ll be tracking their performance and hope that they register on our new power rankings in the coming years.

「新しいものを」

That character for new should be old hat by now. A new thing (mono) is being done here. We’re starting to get foreign elders. Recently Musashimaru started his stable and we’re eagerly following the exploits of our Young Texan, pun intended, Wakaichiro. Now it’s Kotooshu and Kyokutenho. Others will follow. This is certainly a welcome development if sumo is ever to become an Olympic sport. Maybe foreign expansion? Asashoryu heads up wrestling in Mongolia. What if there was an officially santioned sumo offshoot? Think American O-sumo in the vein of NFL Europe. Okay, maybe that’s not a good example. Maybe like how the NBA is quickly taking over? Spain, Italy, China…Professional King of the Hill goes global?

「愛される力士に」

Who doesn’t love Hakuho, Osunaarashi, Gagamaru? These rikishi (力士) are loved (愛される). Clearly, rikishi is a sumo word you’ll want to know. Some of you may be familiar with the Nakashima Mika song, “Aishiteru,” or “I love you.” Well, if you use this “saseru” form of the word, it becomes the passive. The wrestlers are loved. So there we have it, “Foreign Born Elders Set Off, ex-Kotooshu ‘A New Thing is Being Done’ / Kyokutenho ‘These Wrestlers are Loved’.” Clunky, but the best I could do after a couple glasses of an amazing Reisling.

When we turn to the translation engines, this one is a doozie. First let’s look at Google: “Foreign born master’s ship Origen Kinpuzuzu “New things” / former Asahi Tenpen “To be loved wrestlers”.” Wow. I am officially changing my name to Origen Kinpuzuzu. This is my new shikona. You all can just call me King Puzuzu. This Google brand word sausage is the greatest tripe available. I swear, I can’t read this without laughing because there’s no discernable reason for this translation. It is now, utterly unrecognizable pork “product.” Maybe there’s some horse in there?

Yahoo! seems to actually know some shikona. It didn’t pick up Kotooshu but it got Kyokutenho. “The sailing former koto Europe ‘new thing’ of the boss from foreign country to / former Kyokutenho ‘loved sumo wrestler’”

Excite also did a terrible job. “Sail of a chief from the foreign country For the sumo wrestler by whom motokonousu “of something new”/a former Asahi heaven legendary gigantic bird “is loved.”

It should be clear now that the translation engines are good to take words you don’t recognize but for whole sentences in Japanese, especially in a sumo context, they’re pretty poor. But “Origen Kinpuzuzu” takes the cake. I’m still smiling because it’s just that…WTF.

Yours truly,
Origen Kinpuzuzu,
King Puzuzu of Tachiai-quetzel-kukamunga

Kisenosato Restarts Training with Pectoral Injury

There’s more bad news on Kisenosato. His stable revealed new details of the extent of his injuries which include a previously undisclosed injury to his left major pectoral muscle. He also restarted training on April 3. We can only wonder why he’s begun training again but I hope his injury is allowed to heal completely. Maybe he’s being allowed to throw a ball against the wall to stave off boredom?

This news comes via Nikkei. The headline we’ll discuss today is below:

稀勢の里、新たに左大胸筋損傷が判明 非公開で稽古再開

By now, we know the kanji for Kisenosato’s shikona, so we all know who we’re talking about. So let’s move on and parse the six kanji characters in the middle, right before the hiragana “GA.” This is usually the subject. These six go together as, “left (左) major (大) pectoral (胸) muscle (筋) injury (損傷).”

Going back to the kanji and two hiragana characters after the comma, we’ve also previously seen the kanji for “new”. With the hiragana -tani, we get the adverbial form, so this yields, “newly.” Japanese usually puts the verb at the end of the phrase. In this case we get, hanmei, or reveal (判明) right before the break in the headline. So, we basically have “a newly revealed left pectoral muscle injury.”

非公開で稽古再開

It’s this last bit which is the startling revelation, in my book. Let’s start at the end. The last two characters (再開) mean restart. Immediately before that, we see what he restarted. Keiko (稽古) means “training.” Hikōkai (非公開) means “private,” and with the hiragana -de, we can take that as “privately.” So, all together, Kisenosato has privately restarted training with a previously undisclosed left pectoral injury. Surely the big guy was not going to sit on the couch watching Cowboy Bebop all day. And he has pulled out of the Spring Jungyo exhibition tour. They are taking his injury seriously and I hope he will be healed and ready in May.

Lastly, I thought I’d show the translations we get from our three translation engines. Google didn’t do too poorly but the use of the word “unpublished” rather than “private” does change the meaning of the headline pretty significantly. Rather than saying he has already restarted, that would seem to imply it may start again at a future date. Excite takes the other tack of making it explicit that “practice resumes.” Yahoo’s regurgitated brekkie sausage (wonderful term, Dana!) brings to mind those fancy restaurants that smear sugar, cocoa and honey on a plate, calling it a “deconstructed S’more.” Completely unintelligible.

According to Google Translate: “Rare village, newly revealed left major pectoral muscle damage Unpublished training restart”
According to Yahoo! Japan: “Revelation is closed and takes a lesson, and, Kisenosato, the left pectoralis major muscle damage reopens newly”
According to Excite: “The left greater pectoral muscle damage is revealing closure again, and a practice resumes Sato of rare momentum.”

Introducing the Heya Power Rankings

takayasu-training
Where winning is born

Now that Haru is in the books, I thought it might be fun to dig back into the maths and introduce an equation to work out which of the Heya, or sumo stables, are the real power players at the top end of the game. If it looks like we’re on to something, then perhaps it’s something we can revisit after future tournaments as well. As this is our first post on the subject, let’s tackle the methodology and then we can get into the rankings for Haru and analysis. So, whose chanko nabe tastes the best?

Methodology

In order to work this out, I built a points system which can be loosely based around these Three R’s: Ranking, Results, Rewards. Very simply put, a heya should get points for the level at which their rikishi perform, the results they achieve, and the rewards which bring them glory. All good positive stuff.

Ranking

Points are awarded for fighting at the following ranks:

  • Yokozuna: 40
  • Ozeki: 30
  • Sekiwake: 20
  • Komusubi: 15
  • Maegashira 1-5: 10
  • Maegashira 6-10: 8
  • Maegashira 11+: 5
  • Juryo 1-7: 2
  • Juryo 8+: 1

I separated Maegashira and Juryo into separate points categories as rikishi at the various ends of these ranks tend to have vastly different schedules. Fighting at a Maegashira 2 rank and having to face the likes of Hakuho is a bigger accomplishment than fighting at Maegashira 14. And being Hakuho is an even bigger accomplishment. So the points should be awarded accordingly. This obviously could be scaled up to accommodate even lower ranks, but it makes sense to start awarding points based on the world of professional sumo.

Results

I added 5 points for scoring a kachi-koshi in makuuchi, and 3 points for achieving a kachi-koshi in Juryo. I did not subtract points for scoring a make-koshi. Again, the rationale here is that fighting at a particular rank is the achievement. Achieving success at that rank should be recognised. Achieving failure at that rank will be reflected by the lower rank the rikishi will receive in the next banzuke, and therefore the lower score that the heya will receive in these next rankings. So, theoretically, it takes care of itself.

Additionally, if you follow the above logic, it stands to reason that a rikishi competing at the top end of Juryo and achieving kachi-koshi and on the cusp of promotion (2+3 points) is fighting at a similar level to a rikishi at the bottom end of Maegashira rank who gets a make-koshi and is in danger of demotion (5+0).

Rewards

Here’s where we will create variance from month to month, with points being awarded for the following achievements:

  • Yusho (Makuuchi): 50
  • Jun-Yusho (Makuuchi): 25
  • Makuuchi Special Prizes: 10
  • Yusho (Juryo): 15

At the end of the day it’s really all about winning the big prizes, and these represent prestige. These are the people who have been the focal point of the two weeks that have passed, either because they have outperformed their level, they have challenged for the yusho, actually won it, won a big promotion up to the next level, or all of the above.

Haru-basho Power Rankings & Analysis

PowerRankings

What we’ve got above is a bar chart of January’s ranks vs. March, so that we can see for this first edition which stable is at the summit of the sport, who’s improved their standing, and also how the Haru basho might have negatively impacted stables. Here’s our inaugural top 20 chart, with their score in brackets:

  1. Tagonoura (130)
  2. Isegahama (125)
  3. Sakaigawa (60)
  4. Miyagino (50)
  5. Izutsu (45)
  6. Kokonoe (43)
  7. Oitekaze (38)
  8. Sadogatake (35)
  9. Kasugano (34)
  10. Takanohana (30)
  11. Oguruma (27)
  12. Kataonami (25)
  13. Kise (24)
  14. Hakkaku (23)
  15. Dewanoumi (20)
  16. Tokitsukaze (20)
  17. Tomozuna (19)
  18. Isenoumi (15)
  19. Arashio/Minezaki/Nishonoseki (10)

The headliner for the second consecutive basho is the Tagonoura-beya, headlined by Shin-Yokozuna Kisenosato‘s heroic yusho, and another prize-winning outing by san’yaku fixture Takayasu. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the dominant Isegahama is not far behind, off the back of several prominent rikishi towards the top end of the banzuke and a just-nearly performance by Terunofuji. We can probably expect to see these two stables in or near the top two for some time to come, especially if Takayasu is successful in his Ozeki run.

Taking the bronze medal this time, it’s Sakaigawa: a stable with a number of makuuchi wrestlers and featuring the Juryo yusho winner Toyohibiki, who we’ll see back in the top flight for Natsu. While it’s not impossible, Sakaigawa will have a challenge to hold onto a position in the top 3 in May. Goeido will need to chase a kachi-koshi to retain his Ozeki status, but they may lose 2 rikishi from makuuchi to Juryo with demotions, and the next best heya Miyagino will hope for a healthier outing from Hakuho and better returns from Ishiura as he tries to cement his place in makuuchi.

Looking at whose stock plummeted the most this month, you can’t look further than the first name on the list. With only one rikishi in the top 2 divisions, Arashio‘s prestige is wholly dependent at the moment on the performances of Sokokurai, whose gino-sho winning Hatsu was followed up with an 11 loss outing this time around. Solid but unspectacularly performing heya with a diversity of competitors (e.g. Kokonoe) are better able to insulate themselves from this kind of performance, and Arashio doesn’t have anyone else near the top divisions at the moment.

On the whole, this exercise has shown that out of all of the places that rikishi live and train, about a dozen are real players at the top end of the game, and another dozen are developing middling talent trying to gain a foothold in the professional ranks. The rest are in limbo, either unable to produce top level talent at the moment or simply in a transitional period where their top level participants have recently retired or been demoted while they try and bring through a new generation of rikishi with the ability to compete at the highest level.

Looking ahead to Natsu, I don’t think we should expect much change in the top 5. A few stables under the radar who might make moves one way or the other in the near future:

  • OitekazeEndo will move up, and may face a tougher schedule given that many of the rikishi in front of him this time out are staring at demotion. Meanwhile, Daieisho‘s due a promotion and Oitekaze’s quintet could be joined soon in the professional ranks by Iwasaki, who picked up a kachi-koshi at Makushita 3, and Daishoho, who made his brief Juryo debut in November and just put up 5 wins at Makushita 7.
  • Takanohana: As Andy noted earlier in the week, Takagenji is set for his Juryo debut at Natsu, and while Takanohana isn’t teeming with the sheer volume of rikishi that you might see at other stables, there are actually a couple more young wrestlers not far behind. Star man Takanoiwa‘s results have been volatile, but he has made a step forward in the past year which is that he’s now more able to cope with what the schedule throws at him at the lower end of makuuchi. Likewise, Takakeisho seems to be settling in well as a rank-and-filer and will move up the banzuke next time out.
  • Sadogatake: It’s tough to call a heya with such a rich history at the top level “under the radar,” but they’ll take a hit if Kotoshogiku does retire or show diminished performance following a soul-crushing nearly-basho in March, and it would be charitable to say that Kotoyuki hasn’t been at his best recently. He looked overpowered and out of sorts more often than not at Haru. Realistically the next wave of talent here is at least a couple of years away – there are a handful of journeyman rikishi at Makushita level already, but the next youngster showing serious promise looks to be 19 year old Kotokamatani who just finished up a 5 win basho at Sandanme 3 and is primed for already his second spell at Makushita having only made his tournament debut last January.