Wakaichiro had a disastrous first attempt at holding a Sandanme rank in Kyushu, managing only a single win across 7 bouts. But like any good rikishi, there is no giving up just because your last tournament was a dud. Now back in Jonidan at JD23e, he will try again to refine his sumo and prove that he can hold his own in the next higher division.
A handful of folks on Twitter and Facebook have questioned why Tachiai puts effort into covering this guy. Many assume because he’s American, and many of us are American too, so we cling to the familiar. I will insist that I am the primary instigator of our coverage, and the reasons are perhaps a bit more detailed.
- Wakaichiro is in a unique situation: Due to his combined American and Japanese parentage, he was able to enter the sumo world without being classified as a foreigner.
- Wakaichiro joined Musashigawa Heya: Musashigawa is an interesting experiment on how to incorporate some more modern elements into the routines at sumo stables. Run by former Yokozuna Musashimaru, it is an interesting experiment to try and build better rikishi.
- Wakaichiro is a genuinely nice fellow: Every time I have had any communication with the guy, he’s down to earth, direct, funny and quite clever. If you were looking for someone to represent sumo to a potential US fan base, he has the potential to make it work.
- Wakaichiro represents a question I have often considered: This guy played some football in school, then he joined sumo. There are many talented, strong, fast athletes that never make it in the pros, which frankly could represent a great pool of talent for the sumo world. But the question I have, do the football skills translate in any way? Wakaichiro is uniquely qualified to shed light on that question, and he is working hard to live the answer.
Followers of Wakaichiro are well aware that there have been significant efforts to tame his naturally kinky and quite voluminous hair. Many of the prior efforts have produced less than awesome results. It seems that the plan for the last few months has been to let his hair grow out and then try to straighten it. Early today in Japan, they did just that. Photos were posted to Twitter, one of which we shamelessly stole for the header on this post.
As always, we are going to cover Wakaichiro during Hatsu. Why? We Americans love an underdog, and this guy is one of a kind.
17 thoughts on “Hatsu Story 5 – Wakaichiro”
Why bother with excuses trying to justify the guy for anyone? If readers have an issue, they can simply click the button and move to another article. Lighten up people. Jeez…
Well, not so much excuses as places to allow some sumo fans to think more about what is happening in the broader sumo context. I recognize that sometimes I think about things differently than others, and maybe sharing the why would be enjoyable for some.
I agree with you! Every interaction I have had with this young man has been positive! He is kind, funny and respectful.
Sharing it here as well, so that you can compare “the old days”: Konishiki having his hair straightened:
I still like your idea: let the kid get African braids, then form those into a chon-mage. :-)
Well, I’m interested for the reasons listed, but there’s another, very obvious one…he’s the first African-American (that I know of) to compete at this level. If he starts to do well, I’d expect his story to get picked up on more American news outlets for this reason alone…it’s unusual, interesting, and a great story. Lots of Americans have competed in Sumo, but he’s the first black one, and so I’d expect stories from the angle of…why would a young black American with a potential future in football decide to switch to sumo? That’s curious, awesome, and I’m happy to see it covered in detail here.
He’s actually not the first. He’s following in Sentoryu’s footsteps, who entered sumo back in 1988.
That Konishiki video gave me bad flashbacks to when my grandmother used to use a curling iron on my hair. I’d be making faces way worse that his at the end there.
Still learning Sumo here. (Y’all have been a great source of information so hopefully I won’t get laughed at for asking ignorant questions.)
Speaking of hair, why do I see some younger/lower ranked men not wearing the top knot? I got the impression that it was required of all rikishi. Is it something that is only required after a certain rank?
They haven’t had time to grow their hair out enough to form a top knot. And I guess young men aren’t down with getting hair extensions put in in the mean time. :)
Ichinojo for example got all the way up to defeating a yokozuna in 2014 without having a topknot. He looks like he just stepped out of a swimming pool in those bouts.
In his makuuchi debut, Ichinojo appeared to be sporting a kind late 1950s style “greaser” look. All he was missing was a leather jacket and Olivia Newton-John.
Not sure if you’re talking about the ordinary topknot (“chonmage”) or the more elaborate gingko leaf topknot (“ocho-mage”) reserved for sekitori (rikishi in juryo and makuuchi), but the answer in both cases is probably that their hair isn’t long enough. Some rikishi (e.g., Endo, Ichinojo) qualify for entry into makushita due to their amateur performance (“makushita tsukedashi”) and then get to makuuchi so fast enough that they can’t do the hairstyle.
Simple: the top knot requires the hair to reach a certain length. So the ones who just enter the sport – usually coming from schools in Japan where long hair is not permitted for boys – need to grow it first. The hairstyle before getting one’s first chon-mage is called “zanbara”.
Now, the oicho-mage (the flared top knot worn by sekitori – Juryo and Makuuchi wrestlers – during bouts and ceremonies) requires the hair to be even longer. Wrestlers who start right at the bottom usually have it long enough by the time they reach that level, but wrestlers who are dropped in the middle of Makushita or Sandanme because of achievements in amateur sumo sometimes get to be sekitori with zanbara (Yago, for example), and sometimes wear chon-mage rather than oicho-mage during their bouts in the top divisions (like Asanoyama and Yutakayama).
When a wrestler achieves his first chon-mage he usually makes the rounds among the upper ranks in his heya, and they congratulate him and usually give him a “dekopin” – hitting his forehead with their middle finger, which is rather painful, especially if there are lots of higher ranking rikishi in your heya doing that to you…
It took Endo a while before his hair grew long enough. I think Ichinojo, too, spent his first few tournaments with zanbara.
Thank you, all. This has been most informative.
I know that whenever I’m talking about sumo to people who don’t follow it they’ll ask if there are any Americans and are always really excited when I tell them about Wakaichiro. I really hope he continues to improve and we get to see him in makuuchi in a couple years!
I am an American and a new fan, and I would very much enjoy seeing this young man. We watch NHK World’s coverage which doesn’t show the Juryo matches, If anyone knows a way to access these I would be most appreciative. I too am hoping the day comes when the sport is more appreciated in America.
So! When we can, we post videos of all his matches here. Wakaichiro is still working to climb the ranks, and is a few divisions below Juryo.
Thank you very much, I am looking forward to it!