The Haru basho starts in 21 days. The tournament’s banzuke will be released a week from today.
Over the previous week, all rikishi have attended mandatory training classes conducted by the NSK. The goal has been to teach sumo’s athletes how to conduct themselves, in hopes of avoiding repeats of recent scandals involving bad conduct in public.
Yokozuna Kakuryu is struggling to recover from a pair of injuries suffered during January’s hats basho. He underwent surgery to repair torn cartilage in his left ankle earlier but is hampered by a dislocated right ring finger injury suffered in a match against Goeido.
Kokonoe heya mainstay Chiyonokuni celebrated his recent marriage with a grand and broadly attended reception in Tokyo this past week.
Yokozuna Hakuho continues to face difficulties in training related to re-injury of his big toe. Last year, he underwent surgery to remove a bone chip from that toe, but injury during the January basho forced him to withdraw from the competition.
The story broke out a few days after the beginning of the Hatsu basho. NHK found out that Osunaarashi has rear-ended a car while visiting the Nagano prefecture with his wife, on January 3rd. There were no bodily injuries, and Osunaarashi apparently compensated the other car’s owner.
However, the Egyptian wrestler failed to inform either the NSK or his stablemaster of this incident. Admitting to this failure to report, he was put on punitive kyujo for the rest of the basho.
The problems were only beginning for the young former Maegashira. The first problem was that driving is strictly forbidden to all active rikishi. This is not an obscure sub-item in some rule book nobody pays attention to. All rikishi know this and this is the reason why you see many rikishi in public transport or riding bicycles (motor bikes are also forbidden).
There are precedents for rikishi breaking this regulation. Famously, Kyokutenho (currently Tomozuna oyakata) has rear-ended a car waiting at a traffic light back in 2007 and caused its driver a minor injury. Besides his legal proceedings, he was punished by the NSK with a suspension for one basho and 30% were docked from his salary for three months.
If Osunaarashi had reported the incident and admitted to driving that car, he would have probably fared no worse, especially given that there were no injuries. However, he made a serious error of judgement, and gave various conflicting statements to both the police and the NSK. He claimed that he had an international driving license. It was found that the license was not valid. An International driving license is valid in Japan for only one year from entering the country. After that, you have to acquire a Japanese driving license. So he was driving without a license.
The exact order of the statements is not entirely clear, but apparently at this point his wife claimed that she was driving the car. However, evidence including footage from a surveillance camera showed Osunaarashi in the driver’s seat. he then admitted to the police that he was driving the car.
It was at this point that the story was revealed to the NSK. However, in his hearing by the NSK crisis committee, though he admitted to not reporting the incident, he and his lawyer continued to claim that his wife was the one driving the car. His explanation was that his wife was pregnant, and that because she only had an Egyptian license, not an International one, he had switched seats with her to protect her, because he believed his International license was good.
This put him in a position in which he was lying either to the police or to the NSK. The NSK called him in for questioning several times more, and the details of the story kept changing, according to Kagamiyama oyakata.
Since then, the Nagano police found out that he has been driving not just on the occasion that ended in the accident, but also twice before. Once in Nakano city on January 1st, and then twice in the town of Yamanouchi. Of course, they were only investigating within their own jurisdiction. The police then filed charges with the Nagano prosecution.
Today, the Nagano prosecutor decided on a summary indictment for three counts of driving without a valid license. Within the same day, he was fined ¥500,000. (It is perhaps noteworthy that this is the same sum Harumafuji was fined for injuring Takanoiwa. This suggests that cooperation with police makes a world of difference). He also paid the fine within the day.
However, this still leaves him to face the NSK, and this is where it is probably going to get a lot more serious for the popular Egyptian. The NSK board is going to hold a regular meeting on March 9th, and the subject of Osunaarashi’s punishment is on the agenda. They intend to listen to him and his lawyer again before making their judgement. However, the prospects do not look good. In addition to breaking the NSK regulation, he broke the law, and he was dishonest. The press expects a severe punishment, not ruling out a dismissal.
Dismissal is the heaviest weapon the NSK has. Below it there is a “recommendation to retire”. The recommendation becomes mandatory if the rikishi doesn’t hand in his resignation. There is a subtle difference between the two punishments, but both of them mean that Osunaarashi will not be mounting the dohyo again. Of course, there is still a possibility that they will decide on a long suspension and additional fine. Osunaarashi is already heading for Makushita following his forced kyujo, so there is no possibility to dock his salary, as he won’t have one.
Also expect his stablemaster to be punished. In the case of Kyokutenho, his stablemaster’s salary was also docked. Otake oyakata has already apologized several times for this unfortunate incident. Although Osunaarashi did not report to him, the NSK usually takes stablemasters to task for the scandals caused by their deshi, viewing it as lack of proper guidance.
Tachiai will keep you updated on the final decision.
Birth Name: Tetsuya Kumagai
Home Town: Morioka, Japan
Highest Rank: Maegashira 6
Tetsuya Kumagai was born in 1990 in the idyllic town of Morioka, Iwata Prefecture. Inspired by fellow Iwata born rikishi Yotsuguruma, Tetsuya joined Isenoumi Beya after graduating from high school. In 2006 he made his maezumo professional debut at the Haru Basho alongside fellow future Makuuchi stars Tochinoshin and Shohozan. Progress was slow but steady for Tetsuya, who reached the third highest division of Makushita at the 2010 Hatsu Basho. However, he was unable to handle the increase in competition and found himself back in Sandanme one tournament later. His second attempt at holding onto a Makushita went much better, but it marked something of a plateau for the young Tetsuya, who spent the next five years in Makushita, unable to put together a good enough run to get him to Juryo. It was during this time that he adopted the shikona of Nishikigi, becoming the first rikishi in one hundred and forty-four years to fight under this name.
While Nishikigi’s time in Makushita may have been arduous, it was not fruitless. At the 2010 November tournament, he nearly won his first championship in a multi-man playoff and took home the Makushita Yusho two years later at the 2012 Kyushu Basho. Nishikigi failed to carry the momentum of winning a championship forward and recorded only three wins at the following Basho, curtailing his chances of promotion to Juryo. After another two years of mediocre performances, he finally earned a spot in the Juryo Division for May 2015 after going 5-2 in four consecutive Basho. Nishikigi’s time in Juryo was drastically shorter than his Makushita stint, and one year later he made his top division debut. While his first showing in Makuuchi wasn’t stellar, he quickly got his sumo in gear, and by the 2016 Kyushu Basho, he reached a career-high rank of Maegashira 6. His new rank proved too much for the Iwata born rikishi to handle, and he recorded a terrible 4-11 record at Kyushu. This poor performance marked the beginning of a major nosedive down the banzuke, and by May Nishikigi was once more in Juryo.
Determined to get back into Makuuchi, Nishikigi recorded ten wins and clinched the 2017 Natsu Juryo Yusho in a senshuraku match against Aminishiki to punch his ticket back to the top division. Since returning to Makuuchi in July, Nishikigi has managed to stay in the top division despite being at risk of demotion several times in 2017-18. Nishikigi is well known for his severely limited sight, which requires him to wear glasses whenever he isn’t competing or practicing. His eyesight is so poor that he can’t even see the first row of fans while on the dohyo, a limitation Nishikigi has turned into an advantage, as he never feels nervous about competing in front of soldout crowds. A competent oshi-sumo fighter, Nishikigi employs strong yori-kiri and oshi dashi techniques to win his bouts.
Kyokutaisei (left) vs. Nishikigi (right), Hatsu Basho, 2018.
Following the two hana-zumo events, the dohyo in the Ryogoku Kokugikan was not left unattended. On Monday, February 12, the 8th Hakuho Cup took place.
The Hakuho Cup is a children’s sumo event, second only to the annual Wanpaku National Championship. Its origins are actually in the Asashoryu Cup. The Wanpaku National Championship is an all-Japanese event, and Asashoryu wished to put some Mongolian kids on the dohyo in the Kokugikan. This dream has finally come to fruition in August 2009, in an event for boys age 8-12, won by the Mongolian delegation winning all of its bouts. Asashoryu wanted to make this an annual event, but unfortunately he was forced to retire a few months later, and the event was never repeated.
With Asashoryu gone, Hakuho took his place as the leading (and only) Yokozuna, and starting in 2011, established his own event. And as usual with Hakuho, anything Asashoryu did, he improved upon. The Hakuho cup in its current form is an event for boys from first to ninth grade. No less than 1300 boys attended this year’s event, hailing not only from Mongolia and Japan, but also from the USA, Taiwan, Hong-Kong, Mainland China, Thailand and South Korea.
The Mongolian delegation practiced at Tomozuna beya:
While the “Aloha State” team practiced at Musashigawa:
Other heya have also opened their dohyo to the various sumo school clubs and delegations.
On the day itself, many bouts took place on temporary dohyos spread around the kokugikan. At lunch break, Hakuho and Yoshikaze – always involved in children sumo – sat down for a public chat on the dohyo. They were joined by a surprise guest:
This was none other than the 66th Yokozuna, the former Wakanohana, Mr. Masaru Hanada. Yes, Takanohana’s older and estranged brother.
This was the first time for the 66th and the 69th Yokozuna to meet face to face, and also the first time for the former Wakanohana to step up the dohyo in the Kokugikan since his retirement in 2000. Hakuho told Hanada that he has been watching his videos since he entered into the sumo world, and always thought he would be a tough one to engage with. Hanada said “You’re huge!”, and then addressed the child wrestlers: “Don’t worry. Even small ones can become Yokozuna, like I did. Just be diligent with your keiko!” (Wakanohana was merely 181cm tall).
Among the participants in the event was Hakuho’s own eldest son, Mahato. That’s the same kid who participated in the 2017 summer Jungyo and asked to engage Mitakeumi, to take revenge (Mitakeumi has beaten Hakuho in the Nagoya basho).
Hakuho Jr. is 9 years old, in the third grade, and therefore this has been his third appearance in his father’s tournament. And for the first time, he actually won a bout – he was winless in the previous two occasions. He overcame a henka, got a brief migi-yotsu and finished with an uwate-nage. The proud father said “Keiko doesn’t lie. He does 200 shiko stomps… but not every day.” The boy was defeated in his next bout, though.
The tournament winner for the second grade was Takaaki Uno from Kanazawa.
The Kanazawa delegation got a lot of support from the latest Kanazawa sekitori, Enho:
And finally, here is a video with a summary of the events of the day, including the Hakuho jr. bout and various other bouts:
There is no Jungyo in February. Hence no Jungyo coverage. But luckily, the world of sumo takes pity on sumo-starved fans, and spices this cold month with exhibition events, called “hana-zumo”.
These events generally take place in the Kokugikan in Tokyo, meaning they are much easier on the wrestlers than Jungyo events – no traveling, practicing in their own heya, eating the chanko they are accustomed to, and so on.
This weekend included two back-to-back hana-zumo events. On Saturady, as Bruce already mentioned, there was the NHK charity event, which has been held for 51 years now. The most startling news item from this event has been this:
This, my friends, is Chiyotairyu. Sans sideburns. Rumor has it that Ichinojo heard that Chiyotairyu had mutton chops, and just ate them.
In honbasho, this happens only on senshuraku. And in any case, there’s no fooling around in honbasho. But in Hana-zumo and Jungyo, there’s a kore-yori-san-yaku every day. And Hakuho always finds himself a comfortable yobidashi to lean on. Sometimes the bored Yokozuna goes a bit too far:
During Saturday, the sumo worlds, attention was once again focused on Tokyo’s Kokugikan for the NHK charity event. This is a yearly single day program that features elements of Jungyo, at least one rikishi interview, demonstration matches, dohyo-iri and lots of celebrity appearances with famous rikishi.
There was an interview with Tochinoshin, and the people attending were treated to photos of his wife and child in Georgia. As expected, Ikioi treated everyone to his truly talented singing voice, and even Mitakeumi had a song with idol band WaaSuta.
Reports are that the event was sold out, and parts of it will be shown in Japan on NHK-G next weekend. Sadly for us sumo fans outside of Japan, we have to resort to finding parts of it on YouTube.
Unlike the Hatsu banzuke mess, the Hatsu results should make for a fairly predictable Haru banzuke.
The rankings aren’t in doubt, but nonetheless there are many questions about this group. Which if any Yokozuna will show up? Kakuryu (ankle) and Hakuho (toes) are nursing injuries. Kisenosato has declared that the next tournament he enters will be his make-or-break one—perform at Yokozuna level for 15 days or retire. My guess a month before the basho is that Hakuho is very likely to participate, Kakuryu is also likely to compete, and Kisenosato will most likely sit this one out.
In the upper ranks, a kachi-koshi (winning record) is no guarantee that your position within the rank won’t change: witness the Yokozuna and Ozeki getting reshuffled based on their performances at the previous basho. This used to be the case for Sekiwake as well, with 8-7 East Sekiwake frequently moving to West Sekiwake for the subsequent tournament when a more deserving candidate for East Sekiwake existed. However, this seems to have changed about ten years ago (perhaps someone can shed light on the history), and an 8-7 record at Sekiwake (or Komusubi) now appears to guarantee retention of rank and side. A recent example of this is S1e Tamawashi not switching sides with S1w Takayasu even after their respective 8-7 and 12-3 performances at last year’s Haru basho. Long story short, 8-7 Mitakeumi will retain his S1e rank, with 14-1 yusho winner Tochinoshin joining him at Sekiwake on the West side. Ichinojo and Chiyotairyu, the highest-ranked maegashira with winning records at Hatsu, should take over the Komusubi slots vacated by Takakeisho and Onosho.
Endo has been ranked M1 twice before, but has never broken through to San’yaku. Is this his time? Arawashi would similarly tie his highest rank, while Chiyomaru has never been ranked above M8. Everyone else in this group has been ranked in San’yaku, most of them within the last couple of years.
A mix of rikishi in a holding pattern in this part of the banzuke (Kaisei, Chiyoshoma, Chiyonokuni, Tochiozan), higher-ranked rikishi dropping down after rough Hatsu performances (Hokutofuji, Yoshikaze, Okinoumi), and up-and-comers making a move up the banzuke (Kagayaki, Abi, Daieisho, Yutakayama, Ryuden). Three of the rikishi promoted from Juryo for Hatsu put up good numbers and find themselves here.
Predicted demotions to Juryo: Terunofuji, Aminishiki, Takekaze. Predicted promotions: Myogiryu, Hidenoumi, Aoiyama. Often, this area of the banzuke contains a bunch of poor performances from the previous basho, but the only one who really fits that bill is Ikioi, who is dropping from M6 after putting up a 4-11 record. Kotoyuki, Daishomaru, and Sokokurai put up mediocre numbers, but Ishiura, Asanoyama, Nishikigi, and Daiamami all earned kachi-koshi records at Hatsu. Nevertheless, they’ll be fighting for their Makuuchi lives again in Osaka, as everyone in this group needs a minimum of 6 wins (more for those closer to the bottom) to be safe from demotion.