Japanese TV Show “Arashi ni Shiyagare” at Kokugikan Saturday

This Saturday at 9pm (Japan time), TV Japan will slip into Kokugikan for a segment. They will be accompanied by Shibatayama oyakata and everyone’s favorite bruiser, Yoshikaze. We will hopefully be able to bring you a clip!

Hamatensei Danpatsushiki

元濱天聖断髪式

While the sumo world can still be a bit shy about social media, we do get occasional glimpses into their lives through platforms like Twitter and Instagram. This morning, the former Hamatensei shared photos from his private danpatsushiki ceremony. The youngster, still just 23 after an 8 year sumo career at Shikoroyama beya, expressed his appreciation to his supporters, his oyakata, family, and anideshi and ototodeshi (fellow wrestlers).

He had quite an injury plagued career, never escaping Jonidan division and dropping off the banzuke a couple of times before, according to his statement on Twitter, the doctors have finally put a hard end to his career. Aside from a neck hernia which limited his arm motions, he suffered multiple knee injuries. After the third surgery his doctors told him they could do it again but he probably wouldn’t be able to walk or would find it extremely difficult to do basic things.

Hamatensei Retirement Statement

In his final year at the heya he was able to graduate from high school and, interestingly, started driving lessons. That is very unusual because rikishi are not allowed to drive. However, driving school in Japan is quite intensive so there is a substantial amount of classroom training and videos. Perhaps that’s how he got around the prohibition. Bottom line, the guy was 23 with no high school education or skills beyond what he learned in the heya. So it would not surprise me if he got an exception for his second career. He mentions many times struggling with the heya lifestyle and the rigid social structure.

Nagoya Banzuke Crystal Ball

Tochinoshin will be an Ozeki again. Image from Japan Times.

It’s time for me to try to predict the sumo rankings for the Nagoya basho ahead of their official release on June 24th. The rankings represent a substantial reshuffle, with 3 new San’yaku rikishi, 3 predicted exchanges between Makuuchi and Juryo, and several big moves up or down the ladder.

Biggest Rises

I have Takagenji jumping 9 full ranks, from J2 to M9, after his 13-2 performance at Natsu, though you should take this with a grain of salt, as my forecasts have been known to be overly optimistic about the Makuuchi ranks of high-performing Juryo rikishi. [EDIT: In the spirit of learning from my mistakes, I’ve bumped Takagenji down a rank to M10w in my final prediction, with Daishoho and Yoshikaze each moving up half a rank.] Surprise yusho winner Asanoyma leaps up 8 ranks, from M8 to Komusubi. Another Juryo promotee, Kotoyuki, rises 7 ranks from J6 to M15. Rising 6 ranks each are Shodai (M7 to M1), Shimanoumi (M12 to M6), and Daishoho (M16 to M10).

Biggest Falls

There were not a lot of disastrous performances at Natsu, and some of them were cushioned by banzuke luck. So the only notable drop belongs to Kaisei, who is projected to fall 8 ranks from M8 to M16 after racking up an injury-marred 3-5-7 record. How do you go from East maegashira one to the bottom of the rankings in two tournaments? By posting a total of 6 wins. Kaisei is actually lucky to escape demotion, as staying in the top division with 3 wins at M8 has been a 50:50 proposition in the modern era. The last person in this position? None other than Kaisei, in March 2017, when he was demoted to M15 after going 3-7-5, posted a 7-8 record in May, and dropped to Juryo for July.

Best Banzuke Luck

As mentioned above, Kaisei is lucky to stay in Makuuchi, and Terutsuyoshi is even more so with a 6-9 record at M15, assuming that I am right about him not getting demoted. Interestingly, the last two rikishi with this rank and record also escaped demotion (Myogiryu a year ago and Ishiura last basho), but before that, it hadn’t happened since the 1950s.

But the best banzuke luck is to be found at M10-M12. Natsu performances left a giant hole at these ranks, with no rikishi “deserving” to be ranked there, and yet the ranks had to be filled, so they contain a combination of extreme over-promotions and under-demotions. The “ridiculously generous promotion” awards go to Daishoho (M16 to M10 with 9 wins) and especially Kotoeko (M15 to M11 with only 8 wins). For Kotoeko, this big bump comes after he managed to stay at M15w for 3 straight basho despite 7-8 records in the first two, so he is enjoying quite a run of luck.

The “extremely lenient demotion” award recipients are Yoshikaze (M6 to M10 with 4 wins), Nishikigi (M9 to M11 with 5 wins), Tochiozan (M11 to M12 with 6 wins), and Kagayaki (M10 to M12 with 5 wins). In particular, two-rank demotions after 5-10 records are very rare, but I can’t find more deserving candidates to fill these slots.

Worst Banzuke Luck

In the upper maegashira ranks, there were too many deserving rikishi to squeeze into the available slots. Ryuden did enough (10-5 at M5) to be ranked Komusubi, but will have to settle for the top slot in the rank-and-file. Similarly, Endo, Daieisho, Ichinojo, Kotoshogiku, and Takarafuji all ended up half-a-rank lower than their rank and record would suggest.

Biggest Question Marks

From the top of the banzuke:

  • Which Komusubi will be ranked on the more prestigious East side? Abi (M4w, 10-5) has higher rank and strength of schedule going for him, while Asanoyama (M8w, 12-3) sports the gaudier win total and the yusho. A toss-up in my opinion.
  • Will Aoiyama and Ichinojo receive milder-than-predicted demotions because of their San’yaku status?
  • What will be the relative ordering of the following pairs: Hokutofuji-Meisei, Myogiryu-Tomokaze, and Okinoumi-Onosho?
  • How high will Takagenji actually debut?
  • What will they really do with the mess from M10 down, and especially from M11w down? My forecast includes several rank-record combinations that have never occurred in the modern era, but I couldn’t come up with a better scenario that doesn’t involve promoting rikishi with losing records. With 14 rikishi all deserving to rank no higher than M13, something had to give.

With all that out of the way, here’s the guess:

Takakeisho’s Bento Box: A Tachiai Review

Takakeisho's Bento Box at Kokugikan
The Takakeisho Bento Box

The last day that I visited Kokugikan during the recent Natsu honbasho was actually also the first day I had ever had the fortune of sitting in one of the “masu” boxes on the ground floor. It felt appropriate to celebrate the moment by engaging in one of the time-honored sumo and uniquely Japanese experiences: purcashing a proper bento box for lunch and enjoying a meal while watching some feisty lower division matches.

Given that Natsu was the first basho following the promotion of Takakeisho to Ozeki, it was a good moment to explore the Takakeisho bento box. As covered previously on the site, there are bento boxes for sale which contain selections from all of the Ozeki and Yokozuna (as well as some other generic boxes). This also means, that following the demotion of Tochinoshin to Sekiwake before the Natsu basho, that the previously available Tochinoshin bento was no longer available (and presumably, as the man himself resumes Ozeki duties, will be making a return for Nagoya).

Takakeisho Bento Box Interior
Takakeisho’s bento is rich with both flavour and detail

The Takakeisho bento included the following:

  • Umeboshi rice with black sesame seeds
  • Katsu pork with sauce and mustard
  • Soy sauce egg hard boiled
  • Tempura thing which seemed to be a fish cake
  • Broccoli and corn
  • Mushrooms (buried under the egg – they really pack a lot of stuff in there)
  • Carrot cut into the shape of a flower

At ¥1150, it’s an insane bargain (as much food is at sumo), especially by western standards. The box feels like it would easily be a $20+ package here in the States.

It should be pointed out that if you want to get your hands on one, then you’d better arrive well before Juryo: all of the sekitori bento typically sell out on a normal day at the basho, and the new nature of the Takakeisho box and popularity of its curator meant that his were flying off the shelves quicker than usual. A further pro tip for our readers: if you’re seated on the ground floor and all of the bento have sold out, more may be available in the gift and snack stands on the second floor of Kokugikan.

Takakeisho has done a great job on the whole of choosing very attractive – especially for sumo – and filling ingredients. As a very hearty bento, I actually think it is a box that would be very suitable especially for the Hatsu basho in January.

Katsu, Tempura and Egg inside Takakeisho's Bento Box
Beside the katsu and underneath the perfectly cooked egg, delicious mushrooms are revealed

Let’s get into the taste. The dried marinated fish element is probably better suited to the start of the meal. And if we’re talking tactics, I’d probably eat this from the left, the right then the center.

The broccoli and corn were surprisingly flavorful – moist and incredibly well seasoned, very peppery. These were among the standout items of the dish. Conversely, if I have one complaint, it would be that the rice was somewhat cold and hard, although I don’t know that that can be helped in the bento format. The egg was extremely delicious and a perfect caramel shade.

It was a bit a bit early in the day for me to imbibe when I was eating it, but Takakeisho’s bento would be a very nice accompaniment for any beer. The tempura item was a bit bland, but the mustard packet helped.

Four very generous cuts of katsu were included, and the accompanying sauce was very rich. I recommend using it sparingly.

No wonder Takakeisho came back early from kyujo! if I knew this was at Kokugikan…

Tachiai’s Rating: ⚪️⚪️⚪️⚪️⚫️

Heyabiraki at Naruto Beya

Today, June 8th 2019, the new Naruto Beya was officially dedicated in an event similar to a house-warming, called a “heyabiraki”.

Although Naruto beya’s new building has already been put to use for the past two basho, this marked its opening in an official way. The event included a dohyo matsuri in the presence of NSK board members Oguruma and Shibatayama, as well as Sadogatake oyakata, master of Kotooshu’s original heya. Following the dohyo matsuri, the sekitori of the Nishonoseki ichimon, to which Naruto beya belongs, led by Ozeki Takayasu, practiced on the newly dedicated dohyo.

Nishonoseki ichimon includes many san-yaku and well-known sekitori

The new heya is located five minutes away from the Tokyo Skytree station on the Tobu Skytree line, at the Mukojima quarter of Sumida. It includes four floors spread over 178㎡ of land. It took two years, and more than ¥300M ($2.8M) from the time Naruto oyakata bought the land for it to be completed. The floor plan is as follows:

  1. Keikoba (practice space) and two baths
  2. Common room, chankoba (kitchen/dining area)
  3. Dormitory, three private rooms for future sekitori
  4. Oyakata and okami-san’s residence
Folding the Natsu banzuke at the dormitory area

Two points were most important to Naruto oyakata in the planning of his new heya. One was its proximity to the Kokugikan (“It’s the center of things. It also has a medical facility”), and the visibility of the practice sessions. The side of the keiko-ba that faces the street has large windows that allow passers-by to see the practicing rikishi. Naruto oyakata is fully aware that this close to the popular Tokyo Skytree, his heya may draw a lot of foreign tourists. Being foreign-born himself, he doesn’t see that as an issue – he wants to expose sumo to the world.

Naruto beya’s daily keiko. The street facing windows (on the right) are actually half covered by wooden blinds.

This is not the only form of visibility in the new keiko-ba. In addition to it having full air conditioning and a water dispenser on hand, two video cameras are installed in it.

Camera and monitor – next to the street-facing window

The cameras allow the oyakata as well as the individual deshi to review their practice sessions and improve their technique.

All this extra visibility may also keep some problem behavior away – at least away from the sacred practice grounds.

When Kotooshu retired and became Naruto oyakata, he stayed at first, as is customary, at his original Sadogatake beya, learning the ropes and doing his blue jacket duties. However, it’s generally expected of an ex-Ozeki to form his own heya if he does not inherit one. And in April 2017 he left the heya with his two uchi-deshi – Oshozan and Honma. Until this new heya was to be completed, he set up camp at a temporary place near Kinshichi station.

He soon added what he hoped would be his foreign talent, Torakio, from his own homeland of Bulgaria, and Sumidagawa, a Sumida local with experience in Judo. These two additions turned out to be less than fortunate, though, as Sumidagawa bullied a minor deshi using Judo choking techniques, unsettling the young heya with scandal.

Torakio was apparently not connected to that scandal, but his progress turned out to be slower than he and the oyakata had hoped, and then, all of a sudden – after the heya has already moved to the new residence – it was announced privately to the koen-kai that he has retired mid-April and returned to Bulgaria in a rush.

Torakio’s privately-held danpatsu-shiki

The heya now has 12 rikishi, 6 of whom are freshmen who made their first steps in Natsu 2019. These, however, include the heya’s first recruits with actual sumo experience: Motobayashi was considered a rival of Takakeisho’s when he was in high-school, but unlike the current Ozeki, chose to continue his education at Kinki university, where he won the West Japan Student Championship yusho. He is probably the heya’s leading sekitori hope. Sakurai is a graduate of Nippon Sports University, and Maruyama graduated from Kaiyo high school.

In addition to the rikishi, the heya has two additional young members – a yobidashi and a gyoji. It also has two hired managers, which is one of the lessons learned from the Sumidagawa incident – more adults were needed on hand, and the oyakata – who did not live in the temporary heya – has to be on-site a greater portion of his time. Hopefully, now that his residence is in the fourth floor, the heya’s character will reflect his good intentions.

Answering questions from the press during the Heyabiraki, Naruto said: “This is the real start. The feeling is different than in the temporary heya. I want all of us, my deshi and I, to lower our eyes and work together without complaints about this and that”. He adds “I want to bring up humans, not just sumo wrestlers”.

“My dream is to bring up a deshi who will surpass me” – this means a yokozuna – “and to have those three private rooms we prepared filled up. But to get there, my first goal has to be getting my deshi into Makushita”.

Former Rikishi Orora Hits the Gym, too

Orora, Anatoliy Mikhakhanov, famously was the largest rikishi ever, at just under 300kg just before his retirement. The “get your hands down” rule did not apply to him. Since retirement he’s been working to get in shape. If I were to replicate this particular exercise, I would lose my big toe.

Takekaze Retirement Ceremony Feb. 1.

The Japanese Sumo Association has announced a date for former Takekaze’s danpatsushiki at Kokugikan. For those who will still be around Tokyo for the week after Hatsu basho, which runs through Jan 27, the retirement event would be a great way to see some more action. There will likely be hanazumo and shokkiri, and sumo culture demonstrations that are more familiar scenes in Jungyo tours rather than hon basho.

The ceremony will culminate in the hair cutting for the former Sekiwake. For Takekaze this will surely have participation from former Oguruma stablemates Yoshikaze and Yago, and likely contemporary Yokozuna or two.