Short Jungyo News – Days 3,4

Day 3 took place at Kusatsu, Shiga prefecture. Day 4 took place at Echizen, Fukui prefecture. Here are some of the things that happened, on and off the Jungyo.

Injuries

Yeah, we couldn’t do without those, could we? Takanosho, a.k.a Onigiri-kun, injured his right knee during practice, and left for Tokyo, joining his two heya mates who are already kyujo, Takakeisho and Takagenji. The only Chiganoura sekitori to stay in the Jungyo is Takanofuji, the evil twin. I hope it’s not one of those career-shattering injuries.

And Ryuko, who was having a streak of bad luck ever since he had the privilege of being Aminishiki’s last opponent, also made his way to Tokyo with an injury. It’s not clear whether it’s a new injury or a lingering one from the basho.

Meanwhile, we are informed that neither Takakeisho nor Takayasu will be joining this Jungyo at all. Chiganoura oyakata says Takakeisho’s state is improving every day, but still, he is not practicing at the moment, taking treatments and rehab with a specialized trainer. He will apparently not be in until banzuke day, and then, says Chiganoura oyakata “We’ll see if he can wrestle sekitori”.

As for Takayasu… you can see for yourself. Torn ligament, arm in a cast. He is not supposed to be in the keiko-ba (practice ground) at all, but he is, though apparently, mostly moving a bit and bossing the youngsters around. I’m more worried about him, with his heya’s history of… Kisenosato… than I am about Takakeisho, though.

Chiyonofuji’s Death Anniversary

Three years ago today (July 31), former Great Yokozuna Chiyonofuji, AKA “The Wolf”, died age 61. Members of Kokonoe beya participating in the Jungyo, including tokoyama Tokotake (I hope I got that right) and Gyoji Konosuke, held a moment of silence in his memory:

Mitakeumi declares an Ozeki run

OK, enough sad news. Yesterday, Mitakeumi had his first on-dohyo practice.

On that occasion, he told the press he was very dissatisfied with his result in Nagoya – a mere 9 wins – and declared he was aiming for double figures and the possible start of an Ozeki run in Aki. “I keep telling myself I am the next Ozeki”. So far he is mostly getting reverse butsukari – yesterday he was pushing TV star Tochiozan, today Abi. His moshi-ai results are not exactly Ozeki-level. He had 5 bouts with Tamawashi, Ryuden et al., won 2 and lost 3. But the Jungyo is still young.

Kawaigari du jour

Yesterday Hakuho rested his inner khan, giving nobody kawaigari. But today, he was back. He told Kizakiumi he might go with him, getting a nervous laugh, but eventually decided to break the shin-Juryo pattern, and go with Tomokaze. That was a 7 minutes ordeal, as befits someone who is much more likely to actually meet Hakuho on the dohyo some time soon.

Yes, white-haired guy on the other side of the dohyo, Hakuho is actually tripping his victim as he is trying to push. Kawaigari is great fun!

As for Kizakiumi, Hakuho said “Well, the Jungyo has just begun!”

Merchandising, merchandising!

Kototsurugi (the official sumo illustrator, a former rikishi) created a design for a new line of Enho products, and had Enho promoting it for him:

Enho is depicted as Issun-Boshi in this design. Issun-Boshi, the tiny hero who leaves his parents’ house to sail the seas in a rice bowl with a chopstick for an oar, is the Japanese equivalent of Tom Thumb.

Of course, somebody else would need to empty that rice bowl for him, though, because Enho himself is famous for his dislike for cooked white rice.

I predict this line of merchandise (I have seen this shirt and a lunch bag so far) will be scooped off the shelves as soon as it hits them. Enho is the hottest thing in Sumodom at the moment.

Tachiai Interviews Kintamayama, Part 1: “It’s like breathing for me, I love sumo so much.”

Kintamayama / Moti Dichne Live in Concert
Moti Dichne, better known to many sumo fans as Kintamayama, prepares for his Tachiai interview

If you’re a sumo fan who lives outside of Japan, then it’s almost certain that you’ve encountered the work of Moti Dichne. Under the shikona Kintamayama, he has been present almost everywhere in the English speaking sumo community for over two decades. Between his popular newsletter, his presence on forums such as SumoForum, and his essential YouTube channel, he has not only provided outlets and lifelines for fans seeking content, but also introduced thousands of foreigners to the sport.

During the recent Natsu basho in Tokyo, I sat down for an extended conversation with Kintamayama. This is the first of several parts of that conversation which will run here on Tachiai. In this segment, we touch on how Moti discovered sumo, and the rikishi who inspired and continue to inspire him. It has been edited in places for length and clarity.

Tachiai: So, where did your love affair with sumo start?

Moti Dichne: When you’re growing up in Japan, in the late 50s and the early 60s, and you’re a kid and you like sports… then, all you have is baseball… and sumo. There was no soccer! Not like today. The only soccer was a league for companies. So, what could I like?

You [would] turn on the TV, and it was black and white, still. Sumo was on for 15 days, and I even got to watch it at Kuramae, the former stadium. Those were golden years, because it was [the time of] Taiho, Kashiwado, Wakanohana I… and you couldn’t miss it because it was everywhere. As a kid you love it, because there were the backstories. 

Without us actually knowing and saying, “yeah, that’s it,” the backstories are what’s important… what makes it fun! You know that Ikioi never lost a day [to kyujo], and you know he’s totally injured. It gives you a difference. It’s not that there are these two guys that you got nothing with, you know? You know each guy’s story. You know this guy, he always chokes, and this other guy needs to get the belt.

That’s part of the whole thing. It’s like a series: ‘Game of Fat Thrones.’ And you say, “wow, what’s going to happen?” [Nowadays] you don’t give it a second thought, because you know. 

I was sitting at the Kokugikan on Day 1, and there were 2 young Americans sitting next to me, a boy and a girl, and the girl said “wake me up – this is boring.” I said, “OK, you will listen to me from now on!” And by the end of the day, she was standing up, screaming, “Here come the towels!” I explained every bout. “You will see: the small guy’s going to go out there, grab the guy’s leg, and push him out.” “No! He’s 100 kilos more!” I said, “he’s gonna go under, he gonna get his leg, and push him out.”

And when Kotoshogiku’s up, it’s going to be X-Rated.

He’s gonna bump… and he did it! Not always, but he did on that day. 

Back to the story: I just grew up in Japan, I had no choice. We had baseball. I loved the Yomiuri Giants of course growing up in Tokyo. There was a saying: Jō-jin, Taiho, Tamagoyaki. That was what everyone was into. I never missed a day, it was great! School was over at 2 o’clock, so 4-6, that’s a very comfortable time zone. You can go out later.

I think everybody knows who your favourite guys are now, but back then, who were the guys?

Back then, it was of course Taiho. And Kashiwado, Taiho’s rival. And then there was a guy called Myobudani who had a dark complexion, thin and tall, completely different from the others and I guess that’s why he stood out. And of course there was Wakanohana I, he was the old man of sumo. He was incredible. Tochinishiki as well. As a kid, you go with the Yokozuna, you don’t go with the underdogs. You want the winners. I don’t want to be sad every day! Like, you know, going with Ikioi! 

Ikioi’s my favourite too.

Ikioi was always my favourite. 

We could talk about Ikioi for a long time. He has what I call… heavy metal sumo, high octane sumo. He goes full throttle.

And his heart is like a four year old. That’s the whole thing, and when it’s over, he’s limping. When it’s going on, he’s like a tiger.

Do you know his story? His background is a really interesting story. There was a guy called Kotokanyu, who was 39 years old. He was in Makushita. They had a bout, and Ikioi went in with slaps. Ikioi was 19. And won.

Kotokanyu put a towel across his hand and went – after his bout, not the next day – to the other shitakubeya, where Ikioi was in the bath, and beat the shit out of him. He beat the crap out of the poor guy. Because Ikioi slapped him, like Aoiyama slaps. And, the next day, Kotokanyu retired of course.

They both went kyujo, because Ikioi was injured. And Kotokanyu retired. Kotokanyu had been in Israel with Sadogatake-beya, with his wife and his two kids. He was gentle, but I guess that really humiliated him. Lower Makushita, Ikioi was just coming up! Whoever was there then, look it up, you’ll see it. It finished Kotokanyu’s career. At 39 years old, he could have gone on, he was OK, he wasn’t that bad.

That’s the Ikioi story. It was the first time I noticed Ikioi. I said, “OK, this guy is going to be my man.”

You couldn’t see Makushita then. It was a dream to see it, Juryo was a dream. Because we didn’t really have any idea who was where.

It predates a lot of information.

We had no idea what was going on. Today we know every guy all the way up from Jonokuchi, and who to look out for. You can see it. 

How hard is it for you to stay on top of sumo news? It seems like you get a lot of inside information.

You get the same internet in Israel! The camels are not on the streets anymore. We get everything, in real time, and also, every morning I read the papers!

Since I read the papers in Japanese, I know exactly what’s going on at every given time. [I know] Who was injured, who was in keiko, who was this, who was that. [I read it] with my morning cup of tea, at 9 o clock in the morning. If there’s something interesting to translate, I translate. I put it in the forum, and then my newsletter. If there’s nothing really interesting, then I don’t. It’s very easy, it’s all a question of wanting to do it. If you want to do it, and you love it, then you do it! It’s like breathing for me, I love sumo so much. I wouldn’t mind doing much less. But if no one else is doing it, it’s something that I feel I have to do! 

And I was at the Kokugikan, and I was astounded by the number of foreign fans! First of all, all the guys I was sitting next to got their tickets from BuySumoTickets because that’s the only way we can buy tickets now. 5 years ago, we used to walk in, and sit on a masu seat… alone… the whole day!

Now, it’s very difficult for foreign fans to get tickets through the Association.

BuySumoTickets is able to buy blocks. And other [vendors] buy blocks. Takakeisho’s sudden popularity, and new [female] fans, with the good looking rikishi: that’s a new thing, that wasn’t there ten years ago when I came, no way! The youngest guy there was a 70 year old, everyone was old!

The first basho I went to, it kind of felt like that, and then Kisenosato got promoted. After that, everything changed.

Oh, yeah. That was the moment. You used to [be able to] buy tickets at the entrance, the one day tickets, for 2000 yen. You know what we used to do? It’s called zabuton bingo. We would go and sit [in the masu] and then at 2:30, some guy would come, and we moved to the next seat. The contest was who could stay the longest [without having to move]!

I once made it to the middle of Juryo without having to move – in the 4th row! That’s an incredible experience. It’s nothing at all like anything else. And then… the old lady [whose seat it was] came!

Today you go, and they want tickets. They say, “where’s the ticket?” We used to walk around and only at the very end did you go to your actual seat. [This basho] I was sitting in the nosebleed seats, I started getting dizzy from the height!

I know what this experience has been like for me, so I’m curious about someone like you who’s been in the game as long as you have: What is the reaction of people you work with, who you know, who you play music with, when they find out how much you do with sumo?

They all give me the phone numbers of the nearest institution! Always! They say, “it’s right around the corner, they’ll be happy to have you. Shall I make the phone call?”  Everyone thinks I’m nuts. 

So they find out that you’re interested in sumo, and then…

They know! I came from Japan. There’s not many people in Israel who can say, “I grew up in Japan.” And nobody calls me between 9 and 12 in the morning, at all, because I don’t answer.

I don’t talk with my friends about sumo, unless they ask me. The guys in my band, they know nothing. They know about sumo stuff, but they don’t know how deep I’m involved, or what I do on the channel. I don’t tell them, because they think I’m crazy anyway. So, more than that, that’s institutionalised madness! But I really couldn’t care less. My [family] knows. My daughters grew up on this, they know everything.

I don’t think anybody knows the extent of my involvement, that’s for sure. It borders on crazy, so I’d rather it’s “maybe he has a passing interest, whatever.” I really don’t tell anyone.

Find out more from Kintamayama and subscribe to his mailing list at dichne.com, and keep an eye out for the next parts of our conversation, which will run soon on Tachiai.

Short Jungyo News – Day 2

Today’s event took place at Habikino, Osaka. By the way, the English language tour schedule on the NSK website is wrong. It’s actually last year’s schedule.

This is the height at which you’re supposed to hit me, youngster.

So, as expected, Hakuho keeps giving kawaigari to youngsters. This time, no genetics – he just picked up Ichiyamamoto, from Nishonoseki beya. You can see him in the photo above, observed by Okinoumi, Shohozan (his senior heya mate), and Tochiozan. Coincidentally, I’ll be talking more about both Okinoumi and Tochiozan further down.

Back to the victim himself, he got five minutes of kawaigari, which is a considerable time (though Hakuho has been known to give 8 minutes or more in the past. I guess not to beginners). Hakuho said he was hitting him too high, which makes sense, because Ichiyamamoto’s sumo style is very close to Abi’s and as you can see, he has rather long legs as well. Hakuho added that there was something fragile about him, but that he does have a “core” and “if there was nothing good about him, he wouldn’t be a sekitori”. Well, I guess that’s the sort of compliments you get when you don’t have yokozuna DNA.

Ichiyamamoto is an odd bird in the world of Sumo. He graduated from Chuo university and became a government worker up in his home area of Hokkaido. But then he decided to switch to professional Sumo, taking advantage of the extended age limit working wrestlers may enjoy, as he was just past his 23rd birthday.

So now he is a sekitori, and he said the practice with Hakuho “gave his status as a sekitori a sense of reality”.

The reporters asked Hakuho if he intended to do Kizakiumi and Ryuko next. He just gave them a big grin. He said “maybe tomorrow the young ones will say there is a devil on the dohyo”. I guess that means he will keep the kawaigari flowing.

Moving on to the next figure in the photo, it was Okinoumi’s 34th birthday today. Mazel tov. His ototo-deshi (younger heya mate), Hokutofuji, gave him a cake.

(From Hokutofuji’s Instagram)

Okinoumi was a bit embarrassed at the attention, and said he prefers to stand out on the dohyo, and off it he would like to be just an old-fashioned man.

So what about Tochiozan? Well, the day before this Jungyo event, this was aired on TBS. It’s from an episode in a serialized drama called “No-side game”.

The guys practicing at Kasugano beya are supposedly some sort of Rugby club. I’m not sure what that skinny dude is supposed to do in a Rugby club, or what the plot is in general. But anyway, this having aired the day before caused a swarm of reporters to land on Tochiozan today (Tochinoshin being kyujo, he missed the 15 minutes of glory).

Tochiozan was mighty pleased with all the attention. As it turns out, this was filmed some time in June, before the Nagoya basho, for two and a half hours – after morning keiko. Tochiozan recalls “it was quite tiring, since it was after keiko and all, and some of these guys are pro wrestlers and hit rather hard”. There were also former National Team members (in Rugby, I assume) among the group. And he was doing most of the butsukari. Tochinoshin just stepped in for the “star moment”. It’s good to be an Ozeki. Tochiozan recalls he kept getting instructions to assume a more fierce expression and to avoid laughing.

All that attention must have done the veteran some good, because in today’s Jungyo practice, he had 11 rounds of moshi-ai with Tamawashi, Abi, and others, and won 9 of them. Dosukoi!

Scoring a Kinboshi at Azasu in New York

Sumo Merchandise at Azasu New York
Merchandise on display at New York’s popular Lower East Side izakaya Azasu

The growth of sumo in the western world has led me to a few interesting and exciting spots over the years. Here at Tachiai we have covered the Sumo Stew event that has dotted various parts of America – so when a friend asked if I’d like to check out the sumo-themed izakaya Azasu on a recent trip to New York, I jumped at the chance.

Banzuke at Azasu New York
A framed banzuke from a past Nagoya, on display at Azasu

Azasu is located on Clinton Street in NYC’s Lower East Side, and is the sister restaurant to New York sake bar Yopparai. A fairly unassuming locale from the outside, one step inside vaults you into a world of ozumo-related goodness. The walls are covered in tegata from famous rikishi past and present – including famed Yokozuna such as the great Takanohana – and the front of the store boasts a merchandise store that practically doubles as a sumo shrine.

Tegata at Azasu New York
Just some of the many tegata on display at Azasu in New York

The restaurant presents ample opportunity for novice banzuke-readers to practise locating the names of favourite rikishi. An old banzuke from a Nagoya basho past hung framed in the front of the venue, which provided a nostalgic moment to see retired Yokozuna Haramafuji’s shikona on the rankings list once again. But even the toilets at Azasu provide this unorthodox type of reading material: indeed, the bathroom walls are lined with old banzuke!

Banzuke Bathroom at Azasu New York
Old banzuke line the walls of the toilets!

I’ve been told that Azasu also doubles as a venue for viewing live sumo. Unlike the Sumo Stew events which sometimes display replays (owing to the hour of the event), Azasu apparently has a commitment to live sumo for patrons. During my visit, the restaurant happened to show highlights from the latest Nagoya basho – which was a great time to discuss the physics of Enho and Chiyomaru with fellow diners.

As for the menu staples, I have to say I walked away impressed. While I swerved on the chankonabe options, this izakaya offers a number of hot pot selections to cater to punters with various dietary needs and restrictions, and the nabe comes recommended for parties of 3 or more.

Kinboshi Tofu at Azasu New York
A real treat: Azasu’s “kinboshi tofu”

My dining companions and I opted for a kushikatsu-forward selection and were not disappointed by the perfectly grilled and fried skewers which came accompanied by a heavy miso-dipping sauce which reminded me of the famous Osaka chain Daruma. We topped it off with the restaurant’s “chanko salad” – a very liberal interpretation on the “everything but the kitchen sink” concept that was notable more for its sumo size, and the intriguingly named “kinboshi tofu,” a wonderful tofu dish topped with an egg yolk and copious piles of bonito shavings.

Visitors who enjoy engaging in alcoholic delights will also be keen to note the izakaya’s extensive library of whiskey, shochu and sake.

All in all, as somewhat of a washoku connoisseur and a committed sumo fan, I have to say I walked away impressed and fulfilled by the visit. If I’m ever in New York during a basho I plan to make Azasu a staple of my trip – and our readers would be remiss not to do the same!

Azasu is located at 49 Clinton Street in New York City. Hat tip to Tachiai reader Lydia for the recommendation!