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.

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!

15 thoughts on “Senshuraku – It Ain’t Over Till The Fat Man Sings

  1. Great analysis and thank you for the great find on the Enho interview with English!

    I am glad you caught that Onosho snippet from his interview. Also notable I felt was Yoshikaze saying it’s time to start his Ozeki run in Kyushu!

  2. I actually think Nishikigi likely saved himself with that win today. A trip to Juryo is not completely out of the question, but I would bet against it.

    • I think Nishikigi only has a negligible chance of demotion. He should stay by the numbers, Ura could be dropped instead, and Homarefuji doesn’t have a normally promotable record. Outside of the mentioned rikishi, there are 4 up and 4 down.

      Now, if you look at the Juryo promotion race, well, Yago is likely to be overdemoted (or as Asashosakari put it, *should* be demoted, but what do we know?) and even then Kitataiki is probably left out despite a 4-3 Ms1w.

      • I think the four to be relegated will be Yutakayama, Tokushoryu, Sadanoumi and Ishura. Nishikgi is the next name on my list, so he is probably safe but not entirely secure.

  3. Is there an English version of Haruma’s post yusho interview out there somewhere? Wanted something to post up to my friends that won’t watch Japanese only vids.

    Also a fan of the Ichinojo Kaiju muscle boot camp before Kyushu.

  4. For the record, Takakeisho is 21, not 20 ;-).

    Strictly by the numbers, Takakeisho’s 9-6 is slightly worse than Mitakeumi’s 2016 Aki record of 10-5 — and Takakeisho won’t get a sanyaku slot for Kyushu the way Mitakeumi did in 2016 — but Takakeisho’s wins over the yokozuna yusho winner and ozeki runner-up and consequent sansho even the score in my book. I continue to look forward to Takakeisho blowing the doors off sometime and in the next two or three basho and to seeing him in sanyaku within the year.

    • I am of the opinion that Takakeisho really needs to work on his yotsu-zumō if he wants to do more than reach San’yaku. It’s really tough for the oshi guys to consistently win up there. So many of the young rikishi are primarily oshi guys now, and they run into the brutal wall of the Yokozuna and Ozeki corps that will lock you up and throw you around.

      • I agree with you, and I think Takakeisho’s short arms might limit his upside in yotsu-zumo. He’ll always be reliant on oshi-zumo, and it’s hard to consistently win with just that style.

  5. Best tachiai of haruma this basho. But what if Geoido did another henka, haruma will fly off the dohyo just like what hakuho did to him

    • I think it was planned with a henka in mind. The interviewer (Demon Kakka) mentions that in the long interview in the NHK Sunday Sports Special clip that I brought above. Of course, Harumafuji was gambling on a not too flagrant henka, because I think even Goeido knows that if he does that in playoff the yusho is not going to count as far as a Yokozuna run is considered. Never mind all the flying zabutons. But he did plan this in such a way that he’ll have a hand on the man’s body on each side that will allow him to grab the mawashi even if Goeido sidesteps.

      • The fact that he doesn’t smirk or even crack up laughing when interviewed by a guy in full cosplay makeup called “Demon Kakka” shows his true hinkaku.

        I <3 Japanese TV sometimes.

        • The Demon has been around for a long time in the sumo world. This is not cosplay. It’s his own unique character, and he is known for always being in character (there is perhaps only one or two images on the internet of the man without his makeup). I think no rikishi in Japan, hinkaku or no hinkaku, would crack a smile at Kakka at this point. He is just as much part of the sumo world as oicho-mage and baby-holding.


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