Bruce’s Banzuke Commentary


Hello Tachiai readers, and I hope all of you are enjoying the festive holiday season. The Japan Sumo Association delivered the Hatsu banzuke for Christmas, and it was full of potential for a fantastic tournament in just over 2 weeks. While most of the world takes a year-ending breather, what could be a tumultuous January tournament lurks just around the corner.

Yokozuna Kisenosato’s posting to the 1 East slot is the first surprise. While he entered the Kyushu basho in November, he failed to win a single bout before he pulled out of the tournament citing an injury. We have written extensively about the tragedy that is Kisenosato’s tenure as Yokozuna, and in the past we have forecasted that it would become increasingly farcical if he chose to try and gamberize his way through things. But a “zero win” promotion has to be one of the more farcical things I have seen in sumo for a while.

None of the three current Yokozuna are presenting as blazing examples of genki power at the moment. Each sat out part or all of Kyuhshu, each have some lingering injury that is hampering their performance. None of them participated much in the Fuyu jungyo, either because of their injuries, or wisely conserving whatever health they had mustered for the January tournament. Could we end up with a second straight “nokazuna” tournament?

The Ozeki ranks also have their worries, with Goeido being the most banged up of the bunch. Only Takayasu seems to be in fighting form as we close out 2018, with Tochinoshin a potent but fragile rival.

But just past the Ozeki ranks, we find the upstart challenger. After blasting his way through Kyushu and scoring his first yusho, it’s Takakeisho who is at the Sekiwake 1 East slot. It’s tough to tell how much impact the promotional appearances and awards ceremonies will have on his sumo, but I expect him to show up strong and dominant from the start. His youthful vigor and stamina may give him an edge over the experience and boundless skill of some of his higher-ranked opponents for January. He comes into Hatsu with a string of kachi-koshi tournaments: 13-2, 9-6, 10-5, 10-5. For those keeping count, with 11 wins at Hatsu, he could be considered for promotion to Ozeki.

Mitakeumi finds himself still in the San’yaku, but in dire need to regroup, reorganize and reconnect with his sumo. He has been a “Future Ozeki” for a while, and should Takakeisho bypass him and reach sumo’s second highest rank, it would either be a source of frustration, or a stiff motivation to elevate his sumo to the next level. That’s an evolution his fans (myself included) have been looking forward to for a couple of years.

Further down the banzuke, it’s kind of interesting to see how many long-serving veterans are in the joi-jin for this tournament. The problem with that is that many of these rikishi are towards the end of their careers, and the cumulative injuries and problems mean that they struggle to perform consistently. I would include in this group: Tochiozan, Shohozan, Kotoshogiku, Okinoumi and Yoshikaze. This would mean that it is possible that the joi may give up a lot of white stars to the named ranks, giving someone an easy path.

Then there are a handful of rikishi that I think are worth some excitement. This would include Nishikigi, who against all expectations was able to earn his kachi-koshi at Maegashira 3, and finds himself at Maegashira 2. This guy really is a bit of a Cinderella story, and every time he wins, I cheer. Hokutofuji has struggled with injuries and stamina issues during tournaments, but he has sound fundamentals in his sumo, and few specializations that give him an exciting fighting edge in any match. Aoiyama has all of the pieces needed to be an upper ranked rikishi, but between injuries and what I can only guess might be “jitters” in some matches, he falls a bit short. He’s making another run towards the top now, and we wish him a solid tournament. Then there is Onosho, who seemed in November to still be recovering from his summer injury and reconstructive surgery. While his friend Takakeisho has become a driving force in sumo, I personally think Onosho is the stronger rikishi, and has greater upside potential. I am looking to see him continue to improve over November, and I think Maegashira 6 is a great rank for him this time. He is outside of the joi, and he will fight a lot of hit-or-miss vets who may struggle with his speed and energy.

With the table set, fans around the world are counting down the days to the start of Haru. The rikishi will begin to train in earnest starting in the next few days, and we will be following the workup to Sunday January 13th with eager anticipation!

10 thoughts on “Bruce’s Banzuke Commentary

  1. I think Takakeisho will make a better job of following up his yusho than Mitakeumi did. Mita has bucketloads of charisma and talent but maybe he was a little too pleased about the yusho: as if he felt he had reached the mountain top and wanted to enjoy the view. Takakeisho on the other hand acted like he had just arrived at base camp and knew that the real climb to the summit was about to start.

  2. If Aoiyama is to become an upper ranked rikishi, then the time to do it is now. Right now. He turns 33 next June (he and I share the same birthday) and does not have a particularly durable body type (he and I don’t share quite the same body type!). Recently he’s shown a quickness and inventiveness I hadn’t previously seen from him. He must put those tools to work while there’s still some cartilage left in his knees.

  3. Completely agree about Onosho. He and Takakeisho burst onto the scene at the same time with Onosho the stronger rikishi at first before an injury sent him down to Juryo and hampered him in subsequent tournaments. Now he’s getting back to his best I could see him being the latest guy to take advantage of the weakness in the Yokozuna and Ozeki ranks and pick up a yusho

  4. An FYI for anyone interested: NHK World are airing their sumo review of 2018 tomorrow (Friday 28th December).

  5. If Kisenosato’s ranking is not a prelude to his retirement I’ll be surprised. 8 missed bashos (that right?) And 5 straight losses then kyujo; totalling 9 missed bashos…..I don’t see how they reasonably justify his placement. Would they do it to encourage him? Maybe, but only to add, “Yusho or retire.” And I absolutely agree with Bruce concerning that possibility. At this point, if he retires he goes out on top. Difficult to predict, of course, but my guess says this is the last we’ll see of Kisenosato.

    • Kisenosato has been a wonderful rikishi — ozeki / yokozuna. His two yushos were thrilling. I don’t want to see another humiliation but it’s his call. Whatever he does I will always respect him.

  6. I think two other rikishi to keep an eye on are Abi and Ryuden. Both have done fairly well in the top division, but now it’s time to get down to brass tacks and see which one of them, or both if things go right, improves and moves upwards. Yago also gets his first shot at the top division as well. I think we’re going to see the older rikishi move down the banzuke into Juryo and the younger contingent migrate upwards over the next year or two. I don’t see Kesinosato or Kakuryu staying active that long and I also think that the Olympics will be the swan song for Hakuho’s career.

    • As you have mentioned juryo… it may be just me but whenever I read about or watch Tomokaze, I seem to hear the theme from “Jaws” playing faintly in the background.


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