Japan Times – Kakuryu Feature


Noted sumo commentator and NHK media figure John Gunning has another excellent article in the Japan Times, taking a close look at Yokozuna Kakuryu, the Osaka basho, and some insightful discussion on sumo’s near-term future. An excerpt below, but go to the Japan Times and read the whole thing.

The quality of the sumo is not reflective of the quality of the man, however, as Kakuryu is both widely respected and admired by people inside the sport. A self-starter without any personal experience in, or family connection to Mongolian wrestling, Kakuryu originally wanted to be a basketball player but decided to try sumo after seeing countrymen Kyokushuzan and Kyokutenho on television.

A letter outlining that desire, translated into Japanese by a friend, impressed Izutsu oyakata (sumo elder) enough for him to give the then 16 year old a shot.

Of special interest to myself is his discussion of the conclusion of the current Yokozuna dynasty. As many fans, the only rikishi who could step up to constantly hold a Yokozuna slot is recent Ozeki Takayasu.

It is likely that if Takayasu were to take the rope now, he would struggle. But it would relieve the pressure on his senpai, Kisenosato. Kisenosato may in fact be beyond repair physically, and his retirement would be a blow to a sport already embroiled in negative press. A Takayasu yusho would allow everyone to move past the scandals and negative coverage. But of course, this would require Takayasu to actually win the cup. With Hakuho likely back in Tokyo, and Kakuryu eager to defend his yusho, a Natsu tournament win would seem a tough goal to reach.

8 thoughts on “Japan Times – Kakuryu Feature

  1. It is very painful reading this.

    “Kisenosato went 10-5 and 12-3 before a maiden 14-1 tournament win that saw him promoted. It would be unfair on his stablemate if the same criteria weren’t applied.”

    Kisenosato had 5 strong Ozeki years with over dozen of jun-yusho. Takayasu just started proving himself if he will be a good ozeki. It is 2 good tournaments in his whole ozeki career we are talking about. It is absolutely unthinkable to compare these both rikishi. Taking in account only their last 3 tournaments for promotion? No. While ozeki promotion works that way, this is not the case with a yokozuna promotion.
    Unfair the lad says. No one will risk to recommend Takayasu for promotion after 3 strong career tournaments.

    “…we are a few years away from seeing young guns like Takakeisho and Onosho push for the top and the non-promotion of Takayasu (if he takes the title) risks seeing a period without any yokozuna.”

    Since when being a young (gun?) rikishi means certain future success? How about giving them time to prove themselves as constant makuuchi rikishi first, then if everything goes well – strong performance in lower san’yaku? … And mentioning Takakeisho, Onosho and … yokozuna in the same sentence? No comment.

    “…it’s hard to imagine he won’t get the white rope with a 15-0 or 14-1 championship next time out”

    Oh, really? Is it that hard to imagine? Maybe. If the only thing one pays attention in sumo is win-loss adding and subtracting, even for yokozuna.

    “The Sumo Association doesn’t need any more bad news and a yokozuna-less tournament is PR disaster they will be keen to avoid.”

    We currently have 3 yokozuna. Whether one wants to have 0 yokozuna, 5 yokozuna, 10 yokozuna, the only thing we know is that right now we have 3 yokozuna. 2 are likely to participate in the may tournament, one is hoping to recover and get back on the dohyo. What “yokozuna-less” tournament? Let us hope first that the current yokozuna are in good health, shape and without injures. Do not bury them alive yet. And I do not think that the Sumo Association values more “PR disaster” than a “yokozuna disaster”, maybe mr. Gunning can cite a source to prove that otherwise.

  2. (This article was posted twice in Tachiai’s facebook feed, once as a shared repost of the original Japan Times article and once as a link to this blog post. This comment is a repeat of the comment I wrote the first time it showed up on facebook.)

    John Gunning wrote: “Kisenosato went 10-5 and 12-3 before a maiden 14-1 tournament win that saw him promoted. It would be unfair on his stablemate if the same criteria weren’t applied.”

    In the three tournaments prior to that 10-5 record Kisenosato got three jun-yusho with 13-2, 13-2, and 12-3 records. That kind of performance (in all five of the basho preceding Kisenosato’s yusho, I mean) is top flight for an ozeki and right in line with expectations for a healthy yokozuna so the YDC could be reasonably sure that (barring injury ˃̣̣̥᷄⌓˂̣̣̥᷅ ) Kisenosato’s ongoing performance would justify the rank.

    Takayasu does not have that kind of record as an ozeki. Per wikipedia, two 12-3 jun-yusho and a yusho would usually qualify as “equivalent performance” relative to the usual two yusho standard, but if I were on the YDC I’d be looking for one more basho of tsuna-worthy performance before considering a single yusho, even zensho, as giving sufficient reassurance of continuing yokozuna-level performance.

    • Yep, once when it came out and I thought “I should comment on that”. Then once more when I did in fact comment on it.

  3. It shocks me that someone usually so informed and thoughtful would write something like this. Also, “the non-promotion of Takayasu (if he takes the title) risks seeing a period without any yokozuna” pretty much assumes that Takayasu would not continue performing at a high level, as otherwise he surely would gain promotion in due course. If his promotion were such a precarious, one-time opportunity, surely that would be a reason not to promote him, as the last thing sumo needs is a new yokozuna who can’t perform at the level of one!

  4. I am fascinated by the strong reactions this article has evoked. I think that if you look at the core of what is being said, there is a lot to consider here. Kisenosato is possibly beyond physical repair. Hakuho, is a joy to watch, but he is one good injury away from intai. I would think that we lose Kisenosato this year​ and Hakuho after the 2020 Olympics. Kakuryu is another matter. He has shown some nice resilence now, and he could keep going.

    But if you look at the landscape today, it’s pretty clear the most likely next Yokozuna would be Takayasu. Now, the core problem – does sumo need another Yokozuna? Current state, I would say it does not.

    But let’s pretend a mutant flesh-eating bacteria that only inhabits the cloth that is woven into the tsuna springs to life, and kills the three remaining Yokozuna by horrific rotting bisection. Chances are the next man to “Face the Fearsome Fungus” would be none other than Takayasu.

    I worry that Takayasu may have difficulty improving his sumo to the next level. Largely because he is more training focused, and his training suffers now that he is not going against Kisenosato dozens of times a day.

    • The reaction is merely to the notion that there should be a rush to promote Takayasu now, should he win one yusho after literally his first two tournaments with double-digit wins as an Ozeki (and to the idea that this is somehow comparable to Kisenosato). Takayasu may very well be Yokozuna material, in which case he’ll put up the numbers that ensure promotion soon enough, and there’s no need to force things prematurely. But if he can’t sustain the necessary performances, than promoting him prematurely seems like by far the worse option.

      • Agreed. What they can’t do of course is promote Takayasu, see how he goes and then demote if he doesn’t cut the mustard. If he failed at the rank he would be lost to the sport. It pays to be cautious. The only exception I think, would be if they were in desperate need of a yokozuna and we aren’t at that point yet.


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