Kyushu Banzuke Crystal Ball

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Like every tournament, Wacky Aki will have reshuffled the wrestlers’ ranks. The new banzuke for Kyushu won’t be announced until October 30, two weeks before the start of the basho on November 12. But if you want to get a good idea of where your favorite rikishi will end up being ranked, without having to wait a month, you’ve come to the right place. The banzuke forecast below should be accurate to within one or at most two ranks. There’s one real wildcard this time around, where the forecast might miss wildly, but we’ll get to that later in the post.

Upper San’yaku

Y1 Harumafuji Hakuho
Y2 Kisenosato Kakuryu
O1 Goeido Takayasu

As the only Yokozuna to start, finish, and win the tournament, Harumafuji takes over the top spot, switching places with Hakuho. The other three Yokozuna retain their rank order relative to each other. As the only Ozeki to finish Aki, as runner-up no less, Goeido takes over the O1e rank, switching places with Takayasu, who will be kadoban at Kyushu. And of course, we are down to two Ozeki: Terunofuji will drop to Sekiwake for Kyushu, with one chance to reclaim Ozeki status with double-digit wins. Whether or not he’ll be healthy enough to participate, much less get double-digit wins, is an open question; the same goes for Takayasu, who will need 8 wins to retain his rank.

Lower San’yaku

S1 Mitakeumi Yoshikaze
S2 Terunofuji
K Kotoshogiku Onosho

Mitakeumi and Yoshikaze both did just enough at Aki to retain their rank, each going 8-7. They will return as Sekiwake 1e and Sekiwake 1w, respectively. Terunofuji appears at the slightly unusual rank of S2e. Both Tamawashi (7-8) and Tochiozan (6-9) will vacate their Komusubi slots after failing to get their kachi-koshi. Among the higher-placed rank-and-filers, only Kotoshogiku and Onosho earned double-digit wins, and will take over the Komusubi slots.

Upper Maegashira

M1 Tamawashi Chiyotairyu
M2 Takakeisho Tochiozan
M3 Hokutofuji Shohozan
M4 Chiyonokuni Ichinojo
M5 Takarafuji Arawashi

This group is a mix of upper-ranked rikishi who are dropping in rank, but not very far (Tamawashi, Tochiozan, and Hokutofuji) and those in the upper half of the maegashira ranks with the strongest performances at Aki. Depending on the health and participation of the San’yaku ranks in Kyushu, some or all of this group will make up the joi. A case can easily be made for switching the positions of Hokutofuji and Shohozan.

Mid-Maegashira

M6 Chiyoshoma Daishomaru
M7 Tochinoshin Shodai
M8 Takanoiwa Chiyomaru
M9 Endo Ikioi
M10 Daieisho Kaisei
M11 Aoiyama Asanoyama

Twice as many kachi-koshi as make-koshi records in this group. Daishomaru, Endo, and Asanoyama make big jumps up the banzuke after earning double-digit wins at Aki. Conversely, the injured Tochinoshin and Aoiyama take big tumbles. This group also contains the underperforming Shodai and Ikioi. A case can be made for dropping Shodai (and, less likely, Tochinoshin) below Takanoiwa and Chiyomaru, and for dropping Ikioi below Daieisho and Kaisei.

Lower Maegashira

M12 Kagayaki Takekaze
M13 Okinoumi Aminishiki
M14 Kotoyuki Ura
M15 Nishikigi Myogiryu
M16 Daiamami

This group contains one of the worst performers at Aki, Kagayaki, as well as two rikishi who narrowly held on to their places in Makuuchi: Okinoumi and Nishikigi. It also contains the four rikishi who should be promoted from Juryo: top-division returnees Aminishiki, Kotoyuki and Myogiryu, as well as the amusingly named newcomer Daiamami Genki—may he live up to his family given name in his Makuuchi debut. These four take the places of rikishi demoted to Juryo: Ishiura, Tokushoryu, Yutakayama, and Sadanoumi.

Now, the wildcard: our favorite pink-sporting rikishi, Ura, who badly aggravated his already injured knee and had to drop out after two days and only one win. Based on a very limited history of similar cases, I placed him at M14w. I’d be surprised to see him ranked much higher, and he could be ranked as low as M16e, or even demoted from Makuuchi altogether, in favor of marginal promotion candidate Homarefuji. Of course, Ura’s participation in Kyushu is a huge question mark at best, but being ranked in the top division would limit the rate at which he drops down the banzuke if he sits out one or more tournaments.

For a Juryo forecast, I don’t think I can do any better than point you to predictions made on SumoForum by frequent Tachiai commenter Asashosakari and others.

十両の妙義龍が結婚発表 6月に第1子誕生

Alright people, I’m resurrecting the Japanese sumo headlines with a twist: no translation in the title. Basically, I want to challenge you all to try to find the meaning from the headline alone. Occasionally I retweet stuff from Japanese press and am curious how many of the English language followers can pick up the meaning. Today’s article came from the Mainichi Newspaper.

This one is easy. There are only a couple of sumo terms but the rest of the headline is fairly basic. First thing’s first, let’s decode sumo vocabulary. In this case, there’s only two sumo terms,
1) 十両 is Juryo division.
2) 妙義龍 is Myogiryu’s shikona.

Next, let’s go for level 1 terms.
6月 = June
第1子 = First child
誕生 = Birth

Then, the only thing left are a couple of level two terms.
結婚 = marriage
発表 = announcement

Grammar points:
誕生日: (Tanjyobi) is a beginner word meaning “birthday”. Before you even start seriously learning kanji, you often get taught to recognize this.
結婚式: (Kekkonshiki) is another term, meaning wedding, you also learn to recognize before you really learn the meaning of the individual kanji. The key here is that without “shiki”, “kekkon” means marriage. So in this headline he announced his marriage.
の is often a sign of the possessive. In this case, “Juryo’s Myogiryu” or “Myogiryu of Juryo”.
武士道: (Bushido) is the way of the warrior. And the “Bu” looks a lot like the “shiki” from the above kekkonshiki. This is why learning Japanese throws me for a loop. So many characters look similar.

“Juryo’s Myogiryu announces his marriage; [their] first child was born in June.”

So, Congratulations to Myogiryu. He married his high school sweetheart. They weren’t permitted to date in high school because he was committed to sumo. But they started dating about six years ago and she helped him recover from his injuries. (I wonder if this is the injury when he got KTFO by Hakuho). They will have the ceremony next June.

Well, that was unexpected

A little introduction…

Hello! You might have seen me posting on here as “Fluffiest” or on reddit as “acheiropoieton”, but I’ll stick to “pinkmawashi” for the sumo commentary (yes, I am an Ura fan, but mostly I’m just very fond of the colour pink).

As a relative newcomer to sumo, I’m thrilled to be able to contribute to the Tachiai blog. I don’t intend to post a great deal – I’m mostly here to proof-read and to chip in when another perspective is wanted. Now, on to what this post is about:

A retrospective on the Wacky Aki

From a certain perspective, there was nothing wacky about it. We started out with “anyone can win this basho” and ended up with the yusho going to the one Yokozuna and the jun-yusho to the one Ozeki. But the road we took to get there was a rollercoaster.

There were worries from the very start. It transpired early on that Kakuryu would not be competing, and shortly afterwards that first Kisenosato and then Hakuho were out as well; and everybody knew that Harumafuji would be struggling with persistent injuries. Further down the banzuke, Aoiyama – the previous year’s jun-yusho winner – dropped out, as did Sadanoumi. With crowd favourites Endo and Ura also both recovering slowly from past damage but competing anyway, injuries were on everyone’s mind.

Day five

A third of the way in, and the injuries had become a plague, the win-loss pattern appeared totally unpredictable, and the “wacky Aki” nickname seemed very apt. Two of the Ozeki corps who were expected to do the heavy lifting in the absence of three Yokozuna – Takayasu and Terunofuji – had dropped out due to injury, as had Ura who should really not have been competing in the first place. Ozeki Goeido lost his first bout to a henka, then won two more matches with henkas of his own, earning the disapproval of the crowd. Harumafuji seemed to be in a bit of a poor state, looking dreadfully nervous before his match with Tochiozan, only 2-3 at this early stage and looking more tired by the day (at around this point, talk of intai bubbled up from the internet like gas from a swamp). The lower San’yaku were doing no better, with Yoshikaze and Tochiozan only able to pick up their first wins on day five, and Mitakeumi suffering lightning-fast slap-downs on the first two days and struggling to reach 2-3 by way of an injured Tochinoshin. Tamawashi was also on 2-3 but at least looking like he was putting in the effort (having suffered one loss due to a slip, one to his nemesis Shohozan aganst whom he has a dismal 1-12 record, and another due largely to a nagging twisted ankle after the previous day’s victory over Takayasu). Meanwhile, the unlikeliest of candidates were doing splendidly: Onosho, ranked high enough to face San’yaku competition for the first time, was undefeated (something of a rarity – a new rikishi’s first encounter with the San’yaku is usually a series of demoralizing defeats and a trip back down the banzuke to regroup). Chiyotairyu found his relatively simple and direct style served him nicely, delivering four quick, decisive wins. Kotoshogiku had apparently decided to prove he’s not ready to retire yet and also picked up four wins (admittedly, one from a henka and one from Harumafuji thinking the bout was a matta). Will we see a yusho from an unexpected quarter? Will the San’yaku ranks be thrown into complete disarray? Will Harumafuji even make it to the end of the tournament? Perhaps more to the point, will the field thin even further from injuries?

Day ten

Fast-forward another five days, and the picture is quite different. Goeido leads in the yusho race (with only him and Chiyotairyu having managed their kachi-koshi!), and despite employing very reactive, backward-moving sumo in the tournament’s first half – to much disapproval – he seems to have gotten into the swing of things and become the unstoppable force who we love to watch. And yet, the spectre of those two henkas hangs in the air, and a yusho victory would feel tainted by a performance that many say is unbecoming of an Ozeki. And what about the triumphant young ‘tadpoles’? Well, Chiyotairyu looks dominant at this point. That simple and direct style has won bouts against rikishi with far more apparent versatility, just because Chiyotairyu executes it with such speed, power, and instinct. It even flattened Onosho in a very one-sided bout, the first of a series of three losses that would see the enthusiastic red-mawashi-clad youngster drop from contention in the yusho race. Aside from these two, the rest of the Yusho chase group consists of M8 and lower wrestlers (who, while well on the way to a satisfying and rewarding kachi-koshi, seem unlikely to claim the Emperor’s Cup as they are sure to be matched up against tougher and tougher opposition if they keep winning). The yusho is Goeido’s to lose – although everyone knows he’ll face Harumafuji on the last day, and Onosho and Chiyotairyu continue to look like convincing competition. Harumafuji has picked up a little after a rocky start, Mitakeumi is in peril since he needs three more wins and hasn’t faced anyone above Komusubi yet, and Yoshikaze has had a startling return to form and not dropped a single bout since his initial run of four losses. But for now, the spotlight is on Goeido.

On a more subdued note, Aoiyama and Sadanoumi have returned to the competition, although by this stage both are make-koshi, with Aoiyama managing a single win and Sadanoumi none. Aoiyama might have done better if he hadn’t been fed to Harumafuji and Goeido straight off the bat, but he is in the Joi according to his ranking and would be expected to face them both at some point.

The conclusion

By day twelve, the banzuke looks… well, rather odd. In the lead: Goeido. In pursuit: Ten other rikishi. Three days to go, and either you do not have your kachi-koshi yet, or you are in contention for the yusho. Amongst that hallowed chase group: Kotoshogiku, who many people said should retire last basho. Harumafuji, who some people said should retire last week. Endo, proud owner of one working ankle. Onosho, newcomer to the Joi. Asanoyama, newcomer to Maegashira 16. I start to wonder what kind of parallel sumo world I’m looking at. It’s a far cry from Nagoya, that’s for sure.

Something astonishing happens on day thirteen. Every single person in the chase group, except Harumafuji and Asanoyama, loses their bout. And since their opponents (Yoshikaze and Daiesho respectively) were also in the chase group, there could be no worse outcome. Luckily for keeping things interesting, Goeido blew it too. This match is one to remember – for a while, it seemed Goeido had left the early basho’s reactive, retreating sumo behind, but here he seems unwilling to charge into Takakeisho, preferring to circle around with deft sidesteps. And then he slips on the clay. It’s not an unforced error, and Takakeisho absolutely deserves credit for pushing the Ozeki onto the defensive (he got that credit in the form of the shukun-sho), but that slip changed the course of the basho. And after that rocky start, the lone Yokozuna is suddenly back in the spotlight.

On day fourteen, there are – technically – sixteen rikishi with a chance of winning the Yusho in a kind of absurd thirteen-way playoff, although that would require Goeido to lose to Takanoiwa and Harumafuji to lose to Mitakeumi. Lovers of chaos cross their fingers.

You know how this ends (and if you don’t, go and watch the matches rather than reading about them). On day 14, Asanoyama finds that he simply can’t deal with Onosho’s onslaught. Goeido stays cool and collected through two mattas, goes on the attack for the whole bout against a Takanoiwa who seems determined to play the dodging, retreating, pull-down defensive role that Goeido himself took earlier in the tournament, and scores a win despite teetering on the edge of a fall several times. Mitakeumi and Harumafuji meet in a cracking tachi-ai, Mitakeumi gets both his hands to a powerful inside grip and converts it into a perfect moro-zashi. The crowd’s intake of breath is audible to the cameras. They lock up for a while, Mitakeumi seemingly wondering just what to do now that he has such a commanding grip… and then Harumafuji somehow borrows the strength of the three absent Yokozuna and carries him out of the ring.

On the final day, it comes down to those two. I, personally, would not begrudge Goeido the yusho, despite those henkas on days three and four. He has exhibited excellent sumo and been a joy to watch at other times. His losses came from one henka, one slip, and Shohozan (who is a force of nature at times). But Harumafuji has without question been the more aggressive rikishi, and between that and little moments of grace – like catching Tochiozan’s head for safety at the conclusion of their first bout, or ensuring Shohozan didn’t fall from the edge of the dohyo – have me (and probably everyone else) cheering for the Yokozuna. He’s clearly not at 100% – there was a very real chance he’d skip the basho entirely, were it not for the absence of the other three Yokozuna – and he’s already shown he can make mistakes. He needs to win twice, while Goeido only needs to win once. And he only goes and does it.

So, yes, in the end, the only Yokozuna in the competition took the yusho, and the only Ozeki took the jun-yusho. But what a road we took to get there!

Time To Bring Back Kōshō Seido?

Ura-Injured

Please note, the post below is opinion and commentary, rather than factual. I am an American living in America, and a sumo fan. I have no means to change or influence the sumo association in any way.

It was clear before the start of Aki that professional sumo had arrived at a difficult point in its long and glorious history. Many of its brand-name / kanban rikishi in various stages of injury and recovery, and many headliners were not going to appear. Then as if to punctuate the predicament, several other rikishi with strong public followings dropped out of the tournament before the first weekend. At least one of them may not recover enough from his injuries to return.

With our coverage of the Aki basho complete, the time has come to discuss, as a group of outsiders, if it’s time for sumo to bring back Kōshō Seido.

Kōshō Seido was a system that allowed rikishi to be declared injured, and gain a level of demotion protection for a single basho cycle. This granted a rikishi injured during a basho a larger period of time for medical treatment and rehabilitation, it was worried that the system was open for abuse. In the case of someone like Ura or Kisenosato, it is clear they have suffered a significant injury. The diagnosis and recommended treatment describe a multi-month cycle of surgery, physical therapy and gradual re-introduction of athletic competition. In the current sumo world, there is no time in the schedule to allow for such a process to reach its natural conclusion.

A poster boy for the utility of Kōshō would likely be Egyptian sumotori Osunaarashi. Once a fierce competitor of the Makuuchi ranks, a series of injuries that were never allowed to completely heal have rendered him unable to compete effectively as a sekitori. It is undoubtable that a recovery period would have helped him, and prevented his injuries from compounding. It raises the core question – is it in the best interest of the sport of Sumo to maintain the health and viability of its top athletes, or supplant them as they degrade with a crop of fresh faces?

Given the glaring reality of star sumotori in disrepair, Is it time for the the Sumo Association consider a return of Kōshō Seido?

Please chime in with your thoughts in the comment section.

Road Trip! Sumo Wrestlers Face Full Jungyo Schedule

Barely a week after getting off the roller coaster that was Wacky Aki, our favorite sumo wrestlers will begin their Fall (巡業 – Jungyo) promotional tour. Bruce has mentioned the grueling schedule but Tachiai’s analysis provides more context to how challenging that schedule will be.

Fall Jungyo Tour

We mapped the Fall tour which consists of 22 different event sites that the crew will visit over the month of October, tracing a winding, 2500 kilometer journey across the breadth of southern Honshu, from Chiba to Hiroshima. No venue is visited more than once. Although there are three days in Osaka and two in Hiroshima, each site is in a new city within them. Add in stops in Yokohama, Fuji, Nagano, Kyoto, Nara…Holy crap, this is my next vacation itinerary!

This schedule does allow many of the Japanese rikishi to pay visits close to their hometown (shusshin 出身. The tour will pass through Ibaraki, home of Kisenosato and Takayasu. Ishikawa is home to the resurgent Endo and a leg in Shimane prefecture may help recharge struggling Okinoumi. Additionally, Goeido and Ikioi lead the Osaka contingent and Mitakeumi is from Nagano.

To give it some context, Josh, helped me liken these tours to breaking bands who sometimes play more than 120 gigs a year. But Hakuho has done this for more than a decade. It’s a hard life. There’s little “off-season” time to be with family. And for the foreign wrestlers, Jungyo brings you no closer to home. However, bands do have the extra hurdle of international tours; traveling extensively in the US and Europe with the occasional jaunt to Japan and other Asian countries with Western music scenes (I’m not talking Justin Beaver tours where he can take 20 months off and play a few gigs at big cities).

Since these wrestlers put in such rigorous work, I hope to bring more coverage of these tour dates in the intervening month between hon-basho (本場所).

Aki: Sekitori Rememberance

wakanoshima_rikishin

With the Aki 2017 basho now in the rearview mirror, let’s pay tribute to two rikishi and former sekitori who announced their retirement during the tournament.

Wakanoshima (former Juryo 7)

Wakanoshima (latterly of Shibatayama-beya) finished his career with a kachi-koshi in Makushita. The 32 year old took the long and winding path to achieve sekitori status, entering the banzuke as a 15 year old in 2000. He managed 7 basho at Juryo level over his career, across four separate trips to the professional ranks.

While Wakanoshima never scored a yusho at any level, he did manage to put dirt on familiar recent makuuchi names like Chiyonokuni, Chiyomaru, Ichinojo, Kagayaki, Shohozan… and he loved to face Ishiura, beating the latter five times out of six career matchups. The rikishi his career tracked most closely with was another Juryo yo-yo man in Kizenryu, and the pair split their 18 career match-ups evenly. He might be one of few men who can look back on their career and brag that the great Ozeki Takayasu never got the better of him, having bested one of sumo’s popular men in both bouts, in Takayasu’s younger days.

Wakanoshima, real name Fumiya Saita, finishes his career with 398 victories in the dohyo, and let’s remember him appropriately, with a sukuinage win over his longtime foe Kizenryu:

 

Rikishin (former Juryo 10)

We have often covered the battle that rikishi must endure to remain healthy, and so it is very sad to wave goodbye to the promising 21 year old and appropriately named Rikishin, who reached Juryo this year. He retires due to injury.

Another rikishi who started as a 15 year old, Rikishin’s achievement where so many others have failed in reaching the professional ranks should be commended. While his career was short, he still managed do to battle with several names with which Tachiai readers will be familiar. His greatest foe might have been Nagoya Juryo winner Daiamami, whom he bested on 3 of their 5 meetings.

Rikishin, real name Tatsuki Kubota and of Tatsunami-beya, finished his career with 158 victories. He also managed one division championship in his career, scoring a zensho yusho in the Makushita division in Nagoya three years ago. Here he is, dominating a Tachiai-favorite in Osunaarashi, marching him along the straw bales before finishing him off:

 

We wish both men the very best!

The Day After Aki

While Harumafuji was holding a post-yusho news conference, the Yokozuna Deliberation Committee was convening for its regular post-basho meeting.

harumafuji-fish-ouch
“Ouch, my elbow!” – his joke, not mine

The meeting is held to assess the situation of existing Yokozuna, and also discuss future prospective Yokozuna. And the hero of Aki 2017 was complimented all around, and seems to have passed his assessment with flying colors.

“While we can’t compliment him for his early losses and negative record of the first week, we can only consider his tenacity and resolve following that with the utmost respect” said Masato Kitamura, the chairman of the YDC. Other members expressed similar opinions.

Compared to the other Yokozuna, Harumafuji was in the least advantageous position, with his previous yusho having been won more than a year ago. But after his performance in Aki, despite his recent kyujo and less-than-brilliant star balance, there will be no pressure on him for any make-or-break decisions.

And indeed, he is not considering intai at the moment. In that press conference, he said that his goal now is to win his 10th yusho and achieve double-figures, and that he will practice and prepare with that goal in mind. Attaboy!

Regarding the other three Yokozuna, the YDC issued its standard message that “it hopes to see them return to active duty in perfect condition”. The jun-yusho winner, Goeido, was not brought up in the deliberations. Goeido and his stablemaster both admitted that there is no chance of this jun-yusho to be considered part of a rope-run. “Not with 11-4, especially not in a basho where three Yokozuna and two Ozeki were absent” said Sakaigawa oyakata.

goeido-after-loss
Goeido as captured by Futagoyama oyakata

Goeido himself had a casual meal with Futagoyama oyakata earlier today. He still seems shell-shocked.

Main source: Tokyo Sports

Tachiai Community Challenge

I’ve been very excited to watch the Tachiai blog and the sumo community grow. The knowledge base and passion that you all have for sumo has been awesome. I’m always glued to my WordPress app to see what new posts and comments are out and I frequently watch the map fill in, showing all the countries people come from.

It’s exciting to meet you all here in cyberspace but I’d also be interested to see if you all could meet in the real world, too. It seems like there are a lot of sumo fans around LA, London, Sydney, as well as Tokyo. Visits to the site from DC falls after NYC and San Francisco…but before Chicago, surprisingly. Anyway, I just thought I’d put this post out there to hopefully prompt some of you all into engaging each other IRL. If interested, feel free to put out a feeler in the comments below, and hopefully some in the community can organize a happy hour to get to meet some of your fellow sumo fans.

Live viewing parties like we do at bars for NFL games is hard given the time zone differences…but I could imagine a resourceful individual bringing in a tablet to stream Jason’s videos or Kintamayama…or hopefully someone out there owns a bar and wouldn’t mind putting sumo up on the big screen on occasion? If one happens, I’d love to hear about it – here, or on Twitter.

Yokozuna Recovery News

Yokozuna-Corps

Kisenosato and Hakuho Progressing Towards Full Health

In an article from Japanese web site hochi.co.jp, some news of the recovery of two marquee rikishi who sat out the Aki basho, and their chances at returning to public matches.

Hakuho was interviewed at the Miyagino party after the last day of the Aki tournament, he stated “My rehabilitation is going very well, I feel confident about Kyushu”. He also state that he would like to join the fall jungyo PR tour from October 5th, provided his recovery continues as planned.

Kisenosato was more upbeat, and stated that he intends to be with the fall jungyo from the start. He stated “My body feels good, and I am moving well. I think I should be able to be part of the tour from the beginning”.

Last but certainly not least, the article also mentions that Yokozuna Kakuryu will participate in the jungyo tour, starting with day 1.

After the lack of top end rikishi at Aki and over the summer tour, fans will cheer the return of the Yokozuna during the November tournament.

Imperial Attendance At Aki Basho?

akihito-kokugikan

One thing that stood out to me was the lack of attendance of a representative of the Imperial household at day 1 (or any day) of the Aki basho. Typically the Emperor or the Crown Prince will attend a portion of day 1 of any basho held in the Kokugikan. To my knowledge, this was not the case for Aki. During May’s Natsu Basho, the duty went to Crown Prince Naruhito, who was warmly received by the crowd. Emperor Hirohito (Showa) was a massive sumo fan, and would regularly attend.

Much of this is likely due to the declining health of the current monarch, Emperor Akihito, who will likely abdicate the throne in favor of the Crown Prince, quite possibly at the end of 2018. While purely ceremonial, the presence of the Imperial Household at sumo and other public events is a foundation element of Japanese cultural and civic life.

Senshuraku – It Ain’t Over Till The Fat Man Sings

The song in question being, of course, Kimi-ga-yo (the Japanese National Anthem), which is sung right after the yusho is won.

haruma-goeido-playoff
Nice try, old foe.

In 1993, after about six months without a single Yokozuna, Akebono, the American Ozeki, managed to string together two yusho, and the YDC finally gave in and admitted that foreign-born rikishi can, in fact, have the “hinkaku” – the “spirit” – worthy of a Yokozuna. Akebono was the first foreign-born Yokozuna.

Like many Japanese concepts, that “hinkaku” doesn’t have a clear definition. It’s clear you can’t have a losing record. It’s clear that you can’t have drunken brawls or anything that hints at them (right, Asashoryu?). But what is it that you are supposed to have?

Well, if you want a practical lesson in the art of the hinkaku, just re-watch foreign-born Yokozuna Harumafuji in the Aki basho. He would have put the YDC members of the 1990s to shame. Read or listen to his interviews, where he spices that hinkaku with jokes (“I think I’ll go kyujo!”). Make sure any young and aspiring athlete around also watches, reads and internalizes. Tachiai was not the only source speculating about his retirement, and questioning his abilities. He was under huge pressure. “Class act” doesn’t even begin to cover it. Fighting his own demons, as well as his old friend, Pain, he still made sure each of his rivals leaves the dohyo with all his limbs – and his dignity – intact.

harumameter-day-15The Japanese media has a habit of not interviewing the losers. But if Goeido was interviewed after the playoff, I can only hope that his response would be “benkyo ni narimashita”. Which roughly translates to “This was educational”. I hope he is not too old to learn. For one, managing your crises is a good thing to learn. Harumafuji had his crisis and near-breakdown in the first week, but came to the finishing line as sharp as a razor. Goeido fell apart in money-time. Never a good thing for an athlete.

There is an old Israeli song that ends in “Moral of the story: once you get yourself f—ed, it’s hard to kick the habit”. This is another thing Goeido needs to learn. Once you start thinking backwards, defensively, henka-oriented, it’s hard to kick the habit. You’re an Ozeki. Think Ozeki. If you’re healthy, the Terunofuji attitude is much better than yours. Come to every bout believing you’re going to swallow your rival whole and spit the bones, and only stop and scratch your head in amazement when it doesn’t work. Because with your size and abilities, and possibly some intelligence and tactics, it’s supposed to work 14 times out of 15.

Harumafuji himself also has to learn something: he needs to adjust his style to his abilities and the increasing age difference between him and his rivals. Like Hakuho, who started to give every rival a hearty slap just to add a couple of years to their age for the critical minute, Harumafuji should put more effort into studying his rivals and coming ready rather than trusting in his intuition and his speed. His preparations for the playoff today were exactly what he needs to do even when he is going to fight a maegashira #5, because chances are that the maegashira #5 is 20 years old and genki, and can move faster than lightning.

Now on to some actual sumo. The regulation bout started with the Yokozuna on the west and the Ozeki on the east. Tachiai. The Ozeki begins to push forward, dragging the Yokozuna backwards. But the Yokozuna already has a maemitsu grip, and half way to the tawara, gets his second hand in for a mae-morozashi. Unlike Mitakeumi, Harumafuji knows how to utilize a morozashi. One ozeki, out. Yori-kiri. There’s a playoff.

Both sides get some time to prepare and regroup. And the Yokozuna works on his tachiai. He asks Terutsuyoshi to play the rival. Not something you normally ask of a sekitori. When asked about that he joked that they wanted to give Terutsuyashi some air time…

Also, Terutsuyoshi is much smaller than Goeido. Doesn’t matter. What the Yokozuna wants is to sharpen his tachiai, knowing he is facing a slippery eel. Then, when the bout actually starts, the Yokozuna on the east, the Ozeki on the west – and the yokozuna perform what is later referred to as his best tachiai of the year. The bout was all tachiai, and all Harumafuji. And it’s just amazing to be able to see a move practiced and then executed exactly according to plan like that. Game over before it even started, and we get to enjoy Harumafuji’s heavy Mongolian-accented Japanese in his yusho interview. I think I’ll install his “zen-shin zen-rei” as my phone’s message alert just for laughs. Or even better, his “arrrrrgh! igato”

Here’s the NHK special summary of the regulation and playoff bouts, for those of you who understand Japanese. Long interview with the Yokozuna there at the end. Interesting to note that when asked about the new generation of young talents, his first reaction is “Mmmm… I feel relieved”.

Now on to some other points in this senshuraku.

Asanoyama was paired with Chiyotairyu today, and I wasn’t expecting him to pull his 10th win against somebody ranked so much higher. But he did. And with it, he landed the Fighting Spirit award.

Onosho is a man on a mission. And he, too, secured his double-figure today for a Fighting Spirit award. But while I predict Asanoyama will stick to the lower ranks for the time being, Onosho, even if he has a few setbacks here and there, is not going to stop at komusubi, which is where he is heading right now. In his post-bout interview he said that he discovered several weak points he has, and that he will work on improving them. Good boy. Exactly the correct attitude. When he dropped back to Makushita in the middle of his Juryo stint, he was bold enough to ask Kisenosato for help when the then-Ozeki visited his stable. I would advise him to do the same again. Kisenosato is a master of keeping his center of gravity always between his feet and low, which makes him a human roly-poly toy. Very hard to sidestep. If Onosho learns that, he’ll be half way to invincibility.

Kokonoe oyakata was very proud today. Of his 16 participating rikishi, 9, including all 4 Makuuchi, are kachi-koshi. This includes, of course, the rubber band, Chiyonokuni, who won today in wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am style. Chiyoshoma, who keeps inventing new ways to throw people around, likewise finished his business quickly and got his kachi-koshi. The one who took his time was Chiyomaru, who once again employed yotsu-zumo, and employed it well. If the Ever-Round is going to add skills to his sumo like that, he’ll find himself bouncing up the banzuke in short order. It was a pleasure to watch him this basho, and I hope the problem in his upper chest there at the end is only a minor cramp.

Takarafuji worked really hard against Kotoshogiku, preventing him from hugging and bonking him in his favorite style. But Kotoshogiku is showing his mettle, and twisted the solid Isegahama man first one way and then the other for a nice Wazaari. Oops, wrong sport. Kotenage.

Nishikigi bids his farewell to Makuuchi, but not before a very impressive win against Tochinoshin on the mawashi, of all things. Nishikigi, where were you this whole basho?

If any of you still have sake left from yesterday, Yoshikaze came through with the promised bleeding. Mitakeumi was somehow sure he lost. But neither his foot went out nor his hand in Yoshikaze’s hair considered intentional. So he was surprised into accepting the kenshokin and keeping his sekiwake rank. And he needs to work hard in the coming 45 days, as he was less than brilliant this basho, and that without any of the frightening top rankers to show him the door.

Tamawashi keeps diving. Takakeisho picked an Outstanding Performance prize for beating both the Yokozuna and the Ozeki. Onosho could have been awarded that, but I guess they thought that winning against the Kyujo Kaiju was not that great an achievement and in any case he already had a sansho.

One last honorable mention: Ichinojo, despite being thrown into the joi, secures his kachi-koshi. This time he didn’t give up when Daieisho started pushing him, and pushed right back and out. Ichinojo, be a good boy and lose 20kg. I don’t want you to be sad all the time, and I’m sure getting more respect from the other rikishi will improve your mood.

And from the largest man in Makuuchi, to the smallest man in Sandanme, who has adopted one of Hakuho’s habits: he just wins and wins and wins. I wonder how far he can get with that stature, though. Here is his playoff bout from today, in front of a rather larger audience than he is used to:

And his interview (english translation, yay!)

And that’s the end to this late (and lengthy) summary. Can’t wait until Kyushu!

Aki Winners and Losers

Winner: Harumafuji. Obviously. What a comeback!

Winner: Goeido. Cleared his kadoban status and ended up in the yusho playoff.

Winner: Kotoshogiku. Dipped into the maegashira ranks for one basho, picked up a kinboshi on his way back up to San’yaku.

Winner: Mitakeumi. Sure, hopes were much higher, but I consider staying at sekiwake a win.

Winner: Yoshikaze. Much blood and no Ozeki run after another late fade, but the berserker also stays at sekiwake and picks up his 4th Gino-sho to boot. He had a pretty unusual basho: LLLLWWWWWWWWLLL.

Winner: Onosho. Third straight basho with double-digit wins, another Kanto-sho, and an express trip to San’yaku.

Winner: Chiyotairyu. He faded badly with 5 straight losses after a red-hot 8-2 start, but a kachi-koshi at M3 and a stay in the joi is a win.

Winner: Takakeisho. Shukun-sho, kinboshi, and a strong bounce-back after his 5-10 performance in Nagoya.

Winner: Shohozan. Kachi-koshi against a tough slate.

Winner: Chiyonokuni. He continues to work his way back up the banzuke after his disastrous Natsu basho, was responsible for many of the best matches at Aki, and should be in or near the joi in Kyushu.

Winner: Ichinojo. 8-7 despite being pulled up from M6 to fight the “big boys.” Hope to see more from him in Kyushu, as he is a force to be reckoned with when he is focused on his sumo.

Winner: Takarafuji. 9-6 and a nice jump up the banzuke.

Winner: Arawashi. 9-6, right in the thick of things, lots of exciting sumo.

Winner: Daishomaru. Double-digit wins.

Winner: Endo. Looks like the ankle is healing well. Double-digit wins even after being pulled up to fight opponents way up the banzuke. Should be solidly in the mid-maegashira ranks in Kyushu, without taking too big a jump too soon.

Winner: Kaisei. Looks like he’s back for real after his Juryo sojourn in Nagoya.

Winner: Asanoyama. One of the biggest winners, actually. Improbably in the yusho race until day 14, double-digit wins in his Makuuchi debut, Kanto-sho, 1-1 against the M3 bruiser boys. Hopefully a sign of things to come; would be great to see him work his way up the banzuke and join the likes of relative newcomers Mitakeumi, Onosho, and Takakeisho in the upper ranks.


Loser: Goeido. Losing the yusho after leading by 2 wins with 3 days to go has to hurt, not to mention letting a golden chance to start a Yokozuna promotion run amid depleted Yokozuna and Ozeki ranks slip through his fingers.

Loser: Takayasu. An injury and kadoban status in only his second basho as Ozeki. Wishing him speedy healing and a strong bounce-back in Kyushu.

Loser: Terunofuji. Injured again, loses Ozeki rank, needs 10 wins in Kyushu to earn it back. Hopefully he’s either healthy enough to do it or wise enough to sit it out and let his knees heal properly.

Loser: Tamawashi. It looked like he may have to pull out after injuring his ankle in the same day 2 bout that claimed Takayasu. He stayed in, and fought his way to a 7-8 record against tough opposition. Kudos. Still, he drops out of San’yaku for the first time in a year.

Loser: Tochiozan. Unable to follow up his strong Nagoya basho, and drops out of San’yaku after one tournament at komusubi.

Loser: Tochinoshin. Obviously injured again after a strong Nagoya basho, and will take a big tumble down the banzuke.

Loser: Shodai. Another disappointing performance. He needs to fix his technique, his focus, or both. We were hoping for him to become a mainstay in the upper ranks with the other rising young guns; instead he tumbles into the mid-maegashira territory.

Loser: Ikioi. What’s up with Ikioi? How does someone with his size and talent go 6-9 at M7?

Loser: Aoiyama. The talk of Nagoya was injured between tournaments, came back mid-basho to successfully defend a place in Makuuchi, but will take a huge drop in rank.

Loser: Kagayaki. He seems spirited enough, but his sumo has been…not good. At this rate, he may find himself in Juryo in a basho or two.

Loser: Ura. Came in injured, aggravated it, on the verge of dropping out of Makuuchi but that may be the least of his problems. Given how unique his style is, and what a joy he is to watch, may the sumo gods save his career.

Loser: Ishiura. He did not look like he belonged in Makuuchi in most of his bouts, and will have a chance to work out the kinks in Juryo.

Loser: Tokushoryu. Should have been in Juryo for Aki; will be in Juryo for Kyushu.

Loser: Yutakayama. Matches his 4-11 record from his first trip to Makuuchi at Natsu and goes back to Juryo to figure things out.

Loser: Sadanoumi. Came back from injury to try to stay in Makuuchi, but unable to do much on the dohyo.

Goeido Pulls Again…

As reported, Yokozuna Harumafuji was ready for Goeido’s sidestep and ushered the Ozeki over the tawara, FTW. In this case, though, maybe I should say FTY (For The Yusho)? Or FTM (For The Macaron)? In their first bout, Goeido tried to bring it to the Yokozuna. He tried the bulldozer, but the horse brushed him aside. This loss then set up a great battle for the yusho.

With any great work of literature, any great drama, there is a protagonist and an antagonist. Today was no different as Goeido’s early victories clearly left a bitter taste for many sumo fans. It also left an open question: would he dare henka in the final? The Juryo playoff heightened the possibility as we saw a few of them there. He did not henka but he did backpedal, an attempt to absorb and sidestep Harumafuji’s powerful charge. Let’s face it, if Hakuho didn’t have the political capital to avoid the jeers and boos of a senshuraku henka, Goeido wouldn’t dare. In the end, our champion used his best tackling technique, wrapping the Ozeki up with the right arm as the crowd erupted in cheers.

Despite the injuries, this was one heck of a tournament and an enjoyable drama but clearly a sign of things to come. Borrowing from Herouth’s Western showdown analogy, one must wonder when this crop of heroes will ride off into the sunset. If we compare the Aki banzuke to that of Aki 2010, we see the end is nigh. Kotooshu, Baruto, Aran and Kaio have long since retired. Hakuho, Kisenosato, Kakuryu were kyujo and Tochiozan and Harumafuji shadows of their former selves. This group will not see 2020. But who will still be on the banzuke in 2019? Even 2018? Takekaze, Yoshikaze, Kotoshogiku, Aminishiki, Sokokurai…all of these names were on that 2010 banzuke. Solid rikishi with solid careers.

Meanwhile, today’s tadpoles sit in wait. Some will live up to the hype and be our champions in five years time. Others will be fail to reach that champion status but will have solid, exciting careers – if their health prevails. I fear Terunofuji, the promising ozeki, falling like Baruto. I really hope he sits out long enough to heal. In that same camp, I’m glad to see Osunaarashi’s positive, if cryptic tweet from today. I am eager to see where his career goes. Will we see him with a Sandanme yusho, like Jokoryu? Mopping up as he hopefully begins a steady progression back (like Tochinoshin…another name on that 2010 banzuke).

Demotion is a difficult status change, a hard prospect. But for guys with the passion, like Aminishiki & Kotoshogiku, it’s far preferable to intai. I will increase my effort to highlight these guys in the future, though footage becomes increasingly difficult to find. Satoyama’s kachi-koshi is a great sign but I doubt he will be back in Juryo. Another 2010 name, Toyonoshima continues to put together good bouts in Makushita, as well. It may even be a sign of improving situation in stables. Hopefully if wrestlers are not hazing their younger kohai, those who drift back down due to injury will not be hazed, but respected. Hopefully there will be more guys like Shunba, Terunofuji’s steady guide.

The Aftermath of Aki

After all the twists and turns of Wacky Aki, form held, and the lone participating Yokozuna took the yusho. Harumafuji looked positively rejuvenated in the last few days of the basho. This yusho was hard-won and must taste sweet. The Horse is a warrior and a total class act. Omedetōgozaimasu.

We did see only the third 11-4 yusho in history, and the first in 21 years. In addition to settling the yusho race, senshuraku answered a number of other open questions, though some uncertainty remains at the bottom of the banzuke.

The muddled San’yaku situation resolved cleanly. Mitakeumi narrowly defeated Yoshikaze to earn his kachi-koshi. These two will keep their sekiwake rank, and will be joined by “ozekiwake” Terunofuji.

Tamawashi lost to Takakeisho, thereby going make-koshi and dropping out of San’yaku. With Mitakeumi staying at sekiwake, both komusubi slots are open, and there are two obvious promotion candidates who separated themselves from the rest by earning double-digit wins in the joi-jin: the old veteran ex-Ozeki Kotoshogiku, and the youngest man in Makuuchi, rising star Onosho.

It’s hard to know how far down the banzuke the joi ranks will extend in Kyushu, depending on who in the San’yaku ranks is healthy enough to participate. At Aki, the rank-and-filers all the way down to M5 faced a full (well, depleted) San’yaku slate, with M6e Ichinojo making 3 appearances. In Kyushu, the top maegashira ranks should look something like this:

M1 Tamawashi Chiyotairyu
M2 Takakeisho Tochiozan
M3 Hokutofuji Shohozan
M4 Chiyonokuni Ichinojo
M5 Takarafuji Arawashi

At the other end of the banzuke, Nishikigi’s win should cement his place in the top division for Kyushu, while Ishiura’s loss drops him down to Juryo. He seemed to offer no resistance today, and could use some easier competition to regroup. Ishiura joins Sadanoumi, Yutakayama, and Tokushoryu in earning a trip to Juryo. At least Yutakayama doubled his win total from his last visit to Makuuchi. (Edit: my memory was faulty. He also went 4-11 at Natsu). Their slots in Makuuchi will be occupied by Aminishiki, Kotoyuki, Myogiryu, and Daiamami. Aminishiki takes over from Takekaze as the oldest man in Makuuchi. But unlike Takekaze, he looks every bit his age, and then some. He reminds me of that old guy in a pickup basketball game, every joint taped, dressed in ratty old gym clothes and reeking of Bengay, who keeps nailing funky shots from odd angles.

The Makuuchi-Juryo bubble consists of injured Ura and Juryo runner-up Homarefuji. Had Homarefuji won the Juryo yusho, I would have been really concerned for Ura, but I’m hoping that Homarefuji’s playoff loss will keep Ura in the top division. Whether or not he’s able to participate is a different matter.