Hatsu Story 1 – Yokozuna Kakuryu


The 2018 Hastu basho is less than a week away, and there are a number of important stories that the team at Tachiai will be following throughout the 15 days. For many, the highlight story of this tournament is Yokozuna Kakuryu. After nearly a year of solid injury and kyujo, he faces a career-ending ultimatum: He completes the Hatsu basho, and does so with Yokozuna level performance, or he retires.

2017 was a disastrous year for Kakuryu. He completed only a single tournament: the March basho in Osaka, finishing 10-5, which is a weak performance for a Grand Champion. For September and November, he did not participate at all. During the entirety of 2017, he only managed 18 wins. In a recent meeting, the Yokozuna Deliberation Council declared that their patience had ended with this dismal performance, and that as a result, Kakuryu faced his make-or-break basho.

Kakuryu is suffering from a number of chronic injuries to his feet and his lower back, which have prevented him from executing his trademark reactive sumo. His approach on the dohyo requires flexibility, mobility, and fast reflexes. But since his elevation to Yokozuna, he has been plagued time and again with problems that either kept him from the dohyo or had him under-achieving.

Reports from pre-basho training are a mixed bag. Clearly, he has applied himself with vigor, striving to ensure that he survives this crucial tournament. But as with Kisenosato, it will all be determined by whatever injuries are troublesome on each day. The Tachiai crew will be watching “Big K” with rapt interest, as we love to see him confound and dismantle his opponents. But it seems that, sadly, his time to go may soon be at hand.

14 thoughts on “Hatsu Story 1 – Yokozuna Kakuryu

  1. I wonder how much leeway Kakuryu has even if he does well. What if he manages to pull of a Yusho here but goes kyujo in March? I feel like he’s on a permanent make-or-break basho until he can string together a few in a row.

    • There seems to have been a shift in mood with the YDC, and as predicted they are implying that it’s time to “clean house”. We have written quite a bit on the topic here at Tachiai. I am going to guess that Kakuryu, and to a lesser extent Kisenosato get almost no leeway any more. When the YDC is even admonishing and sanctioning Hakuho, you know they are in a mood to re-shuffle the deck.

      • There are two rikishi who, I suspect, have had a large impact on how the YDC is treating both Kakuryu and Kisenosato: Terunofuji and Aminishiki. Terunofuji is an example of an injured rikishi who was high on the banzuke and may now have to go intai because of injuries. The YDC is not harassing Terunofuji the way they are the Yokozuna because Terunofuji has a “punishment” by plunging down the banzuke. Aminishiki, on the other hand, the YDC can show as an example of older rikishi being successful when they’re healthy. So, if pressed, the YDC has existing examples that they can use for why they’re treating the Yokozuna the way they are. I suspect they’re also getting on Hakuho’s case because they’ve already realized that he’s going to be the only Yokozuna left within a year or less. So, the bickering between the Dai Yokozuna and the YDC will most likely be a continuing saga that we’ll hear about in the future.

        • The YDC has been getting on Hakuho’s case because he started following the footsteps of Asashoryu. If you think it’s just them, you should look at the videos from the Meiji-jingu a few days ago, where Kisenosato and Kakuryu got applause and cheers, and Hakuho barely got a “yoisho” when he stomped.

          It seems to me that western fans are only looking at the man’s statistics and forgetting that being a Yokozuna comes with other expectations. And those expectations are what the YDC represents.

          Taiho: When he was trying to break Futabayama’s record, there was a bout in which a mono-ii was called and they made the wrong call, which everybody could see the next day on the papers. It was one of the triggers that brought sumo to be the first sport with live reruns helping in decisions. Anyway, Taiho lost, and lost the chance to break the record, and at no fault of his own. His reaction: “A yokozuna shouldn’t get to a situation where his bout is decided by mono-ii”. This is given as an example of Yokozuna hinkaku to this very day. Compare that to Hakuho’s reaction in his bout with Yoshikaze.

          Anyway, the YDC doesn’t make any comments about rikishi who are not Yokozuna or candidates for Yokozuna except in extreme cases where they violate the “spirit of sumo”. So they are not harassing Terunofuji because he is not in their domain. And Aminishiki is not healthy. The man is doing sumo with a torn ligament. The fact that he is successful is a complete anomaly, and I would call him a really bad example. He may be the reason why Terunofuji thinks he can gambarize through his quashed knees. But anyway, Aminishiki is not in the YDC’s domain, either.

          Some papers think that Hakuho is rolling downhill and can’t change course anymore. Anyway, he started practicing without harite and with less dangerous kachiage, so I am hoping that he is still able to change course and align himself to what the Japanese fans are expecting of him. And since he has always minded the fans more than he did the NSK or the YDC, I hope that the cold shoulder he got at Meiji Jingu will help him recalculate his course.

  2. I saw Kakuryu in the headline a couple days before the basho and thought it was a Kyujo announcment

  3. At some point, you would think that the powers in charge are going to have to face the reality of bigger, stronger 21st century rikishi and revise the rules and procedures to help reduce injuries. It’s nearly impossible to reach Yokozuna level and maintain it and not good for fans and general interest if they get immediately hurt. For example, they can start with something really easy; put some cushioning and padding on the floor around the ring and perhaps eliminate a couple of spectator rows closest to the dohyo. That’s a no-brainer.

    • I also think they need to trim back Jungyo and dial the keiko back up. John Gunning posted a very insightful article in the Japan Times were he quotes a number of Makuuchi rikishi (whom he personally knows). They site their concerns about a lack of solid training days, and the time sink that is Jungyo.

      • The Jungyo makes money, Unfortunately, money will always win over giving people time to train.

  4. I think the first days of the basho will be crucial for Kakuryu.If he starts the kinboshi fair in the first 2-3 days ,he’s toast.

  5. He has such a neat, defensive style. I love watching him switch grips and counter moves. I think he does pretty well this basho and keeps the wolves at bay just a little longer.

    • I’m earnestly hoping for one more good basho from Kakuryu, but I’m not seriously expecting more than that. Still, I want him and Kisenosato to at least go out on a high note.

      • Do most Yokozunas go out on a high note? (This is a serious question, not rhetorical.)

        I ask because it would seem, being the nature of the beast, Yokazunas would continue fighting as long as they are winning. So my uneducated guess would be that most retire only because of injuries or losing more than expected of a Yokazuna.

        • The typical ending of a yokozuna career involves a string of injury withdrawals, occasionally interrupted but a semi-comeback or two. Apart from those forced to retire for behavioural issues, the last one I can find who retired healthy and at his peak would be Sadanoyama, almost 50 years ago.

          So yes, it does look as though most yokozuna keep driving the car till the wheels fall off.


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