The YDC Convenes In Kyushu


The Yokozuna Deliberation Council meets following most basho to review the performance of the top rikishi, and give guidance to the NSK and the sumo world on the state of competition. These meetings usually take place in Tokyo, regardless of where the basho might be, but this Monday, the council convened in Kyushu. The primary subject on the table was the lack of Yokozuna during the second week for the second tournament in 2018, and the failure of Kisenosato specifically to win a single match.

The YDC could take a number of positions on the topic, ranging from “encouragement” to “caution” and finally “suggestion to retire”. Given the fact that Kisenosato has sat out part or all 9 of the last 10 tournaments, and was specifically admonished by this same council to not return to the dohyo until he was ready to compete as a Yokozuna, the fans would be right to expect a stern warning or guidance towards intai.

Instead the YDC returned “Encouragement”. Chairman Kitamura remarked on Kisenosato’s performance, saying that he should be showing physical strength and ability commensurate with his position and ‘the disappointment of the fans who had earnestly hoped for his recovery at the Kyushu basho was great’. Trying to put a good spin on things, he also said “There was a lot of excitement without any Yokozunae. So much so that people may be saying ‘Maybe we don’t need any Yokozuna..”.

If you are rolling your eyes at the last part, you are not alone. Clearly the YDC wants no part in pushing the only Japanese Yokozuna out of the sport. They see there is a problem, it’s easy to identify and its hurting sumo. If the broader sumo world tracks the intensity of interest that we see in traffic numbers at the site, a “No-kazuna” basho produced about 30% less interest. This has to be eating into the NSK bottom line at some point.

(Below is opinion only)

The sumo association is in a tight spot now. One would think that Kisenosato would have figured out that he is past his ability to recover, and take a dignified way out. He has his name beside an inglorious record in the annals of sumo history, and the numbers are just getting worse. In a broader sense, the NSK has a real problem with its kanban rikishi. As we have pointed out in the past, with the exception of the absolutely fantastic Aki basho, participation of the top ranking rikishi has been below 50%, and continues to be poor.

The NSK either needs to clean up its rosters, or accept that its going to fade in popularity among the core Japanese audience. This clean up is going to be painful and difficult. Many of the rikishi who may be past their sunset date are popular and well loved. But there is a significant cohort of older athletes who are not performing with the same intensity that they did 10 or 15 years ago. This has the quiet background effect of lowering the overall intensity of each basho, and I would guess it impacts the fan base, too.

Finally, it has to be said that the sumo fan base in Japan is elderly. To appeal to new (younger) fans, they need some new faces. Yokozuna Kisenosato should show his leadership, and step down to start his life as a sumo elder. We are always going to love him, and remember fondly how he put everything he had into attaining sumo’s highest rank. But for myself, I think it’s time to encourage some long serving favorites to start working towards their exit.

22 thoughts on “The YDC Convenes In Kyushu

  1. The fans in the stands seem pretty diverse in age o.o The ringside seating tends to be older, though, yeah. I guess by that stage in your life, the only experience you haven’t had is a 130kg+ rikshi landing in your lap =-p But overall, yeah… I suspect Takayasu’s failure to secure a yusho and Mitakeumi’s apparent abandonment of an Ozeki run AND losing his Sekiwake rank… There aren’t a lot of ready candidates for the next Japanese yokozuna, and I question if Kisenosato will retire until there’s a replacement.

  2. I’ve seen varying interpretations from the knowledgable folks at the sumo forum about whether “encouragement” in this case is in fact a first warning in the direction of caution/intai if matters don’t improve. Some see it as toothless, while others view it as a sign of loss of patience.

    With regard to your opinion, Bruce, given the structure of Grand Sumo, can the NSK really do anything to “clean up its rosters”? Obviously, a Yokozuna not performing up to standards can be asked to retire, but for everyone else, there are demotion mechanisms built in that can function very rapidly, as we’ve seen e.g. in Terunofuji’s case, so either they’re still good enough to maintain Ozeki/sanyaku/Makuuchi rank or they’re not. Given the Darwinian nature of the banzuke, those who maintain positions in the top 42 are there for a reason.

    • I frame the thinking this way – Is Kisenosato a bigger draw than the Yokozuna who will replace him? Is Goeido a bigger draw than the Ozeki who will replace him? Sure, the new ones can and will fight their way to the top, but if you weed the garden, your flowers grow better.

      • Perhaps, but does the NSK have any authority to ask (say) Goeido to retire while he continues to put up enough kachi-koshi records to stay Ozeki?

    • I think the point is that throughout Kisenosato’s travails over the last two years he hasn’t been “encouraged” quite like this before,so there is an escalation. With two fresh Japanese title-winners in the last 3 basho, Kise suddenly looks dispensable.

  3. It appears that currently Sumo is a lot more popular than it was even two years ago. That inability to secure tickets 10 minutes after they go out on sale wasn’t there before. Much of this is due to Kisenosato. There is a boom of sujo (young female sumo fans). The NSK is finding new ways to communicate with younger audience – their various social network outlets showing not just stuffy serious rikishi but also goofs and fun stuff, for example. That contract with Abema which broadcasts in a very different style than NHK (though personally I prefer NHK, but I’m 50 years old). Also the fact that rikishi are pretty much free to interact with fans and have all those Insta Live sessions and whatnot.

    The sport is booming right now. And much of this is due to Kisenosato.

    I ask myself – why did the YDC come to Fukuoka to hold a meeting? The reason is that they had tickets to at least part of the basho. I saw all of them there in the weekend (NHK commented on that), and Kitamura specifically in one of the earlier days as well – others may have been there but I can’t recognize them all.

    So, did everybody in the YDC open their wallets and decide to watch some live sumo exactly at the same time? I think the NSK gave them complimentary tickets. Kyushu is the least popular basho so I suppose the NSK had some to spare. And the YDC is an independent body who needs to make a decision about someone who is the main source of income for the NSK.

    Well, maybe that conspiracy theory is wrong. My point is that I think you have your reasoning backwards. The NSK income will suffer a lot more from Kisenosato retiring than from him not retiring. There is a raging argument between the “Yokozuna dignity” camp and the “Kisenosato rules” camp, but I think the NSK would prefer to keep his career… nailed to its perch, pining for the fjords… I am starting to repeat my metaphors here… Because the “Yokozuna dignity” camp won’t stop watching sumo just because Kisenosato lacks hinkaku, while the Kisenosato fans will stop watching it if there is no Kisenosato.

    • Among the most indelible moments in recent sumo history was the outpouring of love from the crowd for Kisenosato when he one his first bout at Aki. The sumo authorities likely are very reluctant to tread on that relationship. I suspect that, if he flops at the next basho, then Kisenosato will know that his time is up; he won’t need to be shoved out the door.

      (Other indelible moments in recent sumo history include Kisenosato’s two stunning one-armed victories over Terunofuji, which helped to create the love poured out at Aki.)

  4. Kisenosato was my favourite rikishi when I started watching sumo. He put up good numbers, was healthy and deserved his promotion. His injury-freeness was a selling point in his favour. Ironically, he got what should have been a career-ending injury in his shin-Yokozuna tournament. I feel like he should have retired then and it’s been painful to watch since then.

    But at 32 he’d be close to the end of his career anyway. Hakuho and Kakuryu are both 33. Hakuho should be able to make his goal of being active by the time of the 2020 Olympics, but he might only participate fully in 2 bashos next year to make it happen. Kakuryu is the healthiest Yokozuna, but even with 2 Yusho this year his career seems to be heading for a close within the next couple of years, depending on how well it holds up. The bodies of Yokozuna and Ozeki seem to deteriorate quicker.

    In such a situation you would expect the Ozeki to step up, but Goeido is also 32 and newish Ozeki Tochinoshin is already 31. Takayasu is 28 but needs to learn how to win a yusho.

    There are a contingent of rikishi of the same age that have persisted for a long time. Aside from those mentioned above we have Tochiozan, Tamawashi, Myogiryu, Okinoumi, Shohozan and Ikioi amongst those older than 30.

    Aside from Ikioi, all of those had good tournaments in Kyushu, but we can’t expect them to push for the highest ranks. But where are the younger ones at the moment. Aside from Takakeisho and Onosho there wasn’t much to see from them. Hokutofuji at 26 could be described as a mid-career rikishi by now and Mitakeumi and Ichinojo are soon to be there.

  5. Laying all the blame on Kisenosato for lower interest in this basho doesn’t seem exactly right. I’ve only been watching regularly for exactly two years, but this was the most anti-climactic contest in that time, especially after the rather splendid one in September. Only two members of the ten-man Sanyaku distinguished themselves, two didn’t start, three dropped out, one barely made kochi-koshi and the other two failed to do even that. Sumo has a bigger problem than fading yokozuna if the men who have done well enough to have a fan following are so frequently injured or fighting below par.
    Injuries are part of the sport, but I’m not convinced that Sumo is doing all it can to help its stars recover from them. They should be excused from the between tournament tours, for a start. (This is probably heresy!)

  6. I think the problem is that the majority of rikishi graduate from university. Mitakeumi, Endo or Yutakayama didn’t even fight their first bout by the age Takakeisho now got his first Yusho.
    Hakuho may have been a “slow starter” only reaching Juryo after his 16th basho, but he was 19 at that time and after that many basho had well rounded his sumo already. 6 straight kachikoshi later he made his Sanyaku debut.
    I think this university graduation, at least en masse, is a fairly recent phenomenom and one of the prime reasons, why the current top guard rains so long.
    We will see how Takakeisho does the next basho. Mitakeumi has been even more dominant in his Yusho, but totally faded afterwards. But other than him and maybe a Mitakeumi finding his mental sharpness again, there is currently no rikishi to challenge for an Ozeki spot within the next year and whether Takayasu can make the next step or not remains to be seen too.
    I don’t think Kisenosato lacks hinkaku, but as Herouth pointed out, I believe he is in a very unique position, bearing way more responsibility than just his performance..
    Non of us knows his body, so we don’t know how much this reported injury really affected him and how much was simply his opponents adjusting for his “one arm disadvantage”. However I seriously doubt that he will drag on much longer if there isn’t either a significant improvement in his physical condition in sight or an adjustment in his technique to help overcome his deficits.

  7. elephant in the room
    foreign rikishi being restrained, and it’s not working

    either ban the foreigners, so the native fighters don’t appear so weak and need so much ‘support’,
    or let ’em fight, and see how the public likes it

    sitting on the fence and orchestrating yushos is a huge fail
    the public gets it (even if subconsciously) and they don’t like it, as we see

    kisenosato as yokozuna was really asking for it, and we got it in spades
    enough is enough, even for exceptionally gullible audiences

    • I think you are fooling yourself. This would be the same in another sport and country. People want to cheer for their homegrown stars. Them competing with the best is the spice. If their are no local heroes, public interest will diminish very quickly. You can see how important that is on Jungyo. sumo has only one major market and that’s Japan. Thus they have to focus on keeping this market happy.
      Sumo is far from the only sport with such rules. At least in Europe non-European players are restricted on soccer teams, their are rules to enforce young local players etc.
      In many sports the nation holding a world championship is prequalified … there is a reason for this …

      Whether one per stable is the right number or not, but it’s intended to force stables to pick the top foreign talents and not just a ton of average guys.
      There sure is racism in Japan, but this is not the main reason here. To restrict a once flood of foreign (mainly mongolian) rikishi is simply a reasonable move to protect your brand.

  8. Here’s Kintamayama’s take on Sumo Forum: “Some voices within the YDC were heard saying that if Kisenosato goes kyujo in January, there is a possibility of them calling on him to retire (“retirement recommendation”).”I personally want to see him show up next basho. If he doesn’t, we will have to deal with this possibility..” said the chairman. BTW, it’s the first time ever that an “encouragement” was issued to a Yokozuna since it was decided upon in 1950. This “encouragement” decision is a nice way of pointing out that the Yokozuna is weak, for lack of such a choice, one step before recommending some action.”


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