Tachiai Interviews Kintamayama, Part 4: “If Hakuho goes, we have no responsible adult.”

Moti Dichne (Kintamayama) and Takanohana
Kintamayama with Takanohana outside of Futagoyama-beya. Photo courtesy of Moti Dichne.

Welcome to Part 4 of Tachiai’s conversation with Moti Dichne, aka Kintamayama. Moti is well known in the online sumo community for his tireless coverage of all things sumo through his newsletter, his presence on SumoForum, and of course, his exhaustive YouTube channel.

Click here for Part 1, here for Part 2, and here for Part 3 of our conversation, if you are catching up. The interview took place during this year’s Natsu basho, and as such predates some current sumo events (such as the retirement of Aminishiki) and has been edited only for clarity and length. This segment touches on the state of some current rikishi and the ongoing transition in the sport.

Tachiai: A lot of people are very interested in debating Takakeisho’s ceiling. What are your thoughts on Takakeisho? What can he be? He’s got one trick, but it’s a weird trick.

Moti Dichne (Kintamayama): Listen, Chiyotaikai was not much better. He had the windmill thing, and it worked for him for 60 bashos! In the meantime, Takakeisho is looking really good, you can’t argue with that. [edited to add: this interview took place before Takakeisho’s injury caused him to at least temporarily lose his ozeki status]

I personally am a belt person, but [yotsu-zumo rikishi] are becoming like dinosaurs. Look at Makuuchi… out of 42, maybe 32 are slappers! You’ve got Tochinoshin, and Hakuho and maybe 3 more [who are yotsu-zumo rikishi]. But Asanoyama was down where all his opponents are slappers and he’s had a difficult time getting the belt.

I [now] think Takakeisho is the real deal for sure, and I didn’t think so. I was happy they didn’t promote him when they didn’t promote him [the first time he met the informal qualification]. I said, “let’s wait a minute and see how he does mentally.”

Kisenosato would be devastated [in that situation], and it would take him 3 bashos to get over it. Takakeisho got over it very quickly. He’s a cool cucumber. He has a mission, and everyone forgets that he’s a young guy.

Personally, Onosho was the guy that I was rooting for. He started off well, but I hope that his whole setback lately comes from an injury and not from that being how good he is. I’m looking for a reason, because he came up and was killing everybody. Even Takakeisho. Even Hakuho [couldn’t deal with him].

That’s an interesting point. One thing that we’ve been talking about the last several years is that sumo is in a transitionary phase.

Oh, yeah.

But I think that when people hear that, what they expect to see is the Kisenosatos of the world retire – and he did, as did Harumafuji, but Harumafuji retired in a freak situation. It wasn’t like, “we’re in a transitionary period, and all the top guys are going,” what we’re actually seeing is the Takekazes of the world and the guys who are the long serving veterans who are starting to work their way out, but I think it’s happening slower than people really expect. Is it because these veterans of that last period… Takekaze, Yoshikaze, Kotoshogiku, Aminishiki – are they that good that they’re able to hang around or is it because this new generation – Onosho for example – hasn’t been good enough to be able to push on?

A little of both. It’s very difficult to know. There’s one thing that foreign fans will never understand: It’s not yaocho when the young guys have respect. When they were five years old, they used to watch [the older guys] on TV. That has to factor in somewhere, on the dohyo, that “I don’t want to hurt the old guy. I don’t want to be the one who caused the old guy to retire.”

I’m not saying that they’re giving them the wins, but I think they are being extra careful. Nobody will tell you that, but I am pretty sure. And I can tell by the bouts, I can see, the younger the guys are more reluctant to go all-out against Aminishiki, against Toyonoshima. That’s my feeling. Toyonoshima a bit less because when you look at him, you don’t see him as that old. Aminishiki on the other hand, you see an old guy. [He’s] like an oyakata having fun.

The Japanese are very rooted in kohai and sempai. It has power when you were 10 years old and you adored [a rikishi], and suddenly you’re fighting him and you’re saying somewhere, “I don’t want to kill this guy, I don’t want to hurt him.”

There’s a totally different thing happening right now. I think for the first time, since I don’t know when… if Hakuho goes, we have no responsible adult. There’s no name. The minute Hakuho goes, we’re doomed. Kakuryu and Mitakeumi?

Always there’s a void. Takanohana came after Chiyonofuji. The Americans came. There were never 4… 5… 7… 8… 10 bashos like that, and if Hakuho goes…

Dominance is good and bad but it’s good for knowing there’s a responsible adult.

It’s also a society that’s dominated by the concept of eras. We’re talking right now at a time when the change to the Reiwa era has just happened. It’s an appropriate time for this discussion. You can bank on Hakuho, even if he’s kyujo 2 times a year, to get up to 50 to 60 wins a year. I think an issue if he leaves is that usually in that vacuum, someone will go, “ok, I’m going to take those 60 wins.” But right now, we’re seeing six guys taking ten of those wins apiece over the course of the year.

That’s what I’m saying! It’s not going to happen. In the NBA, you have your LeBrons and your Michael Jordans. In baseball you have [dominant] guys. Here, suddenly, there’s nobody. Because Kakuryu does anything but show leadership, you don’t know what’s going to happen with him. He has no charisma. 

Do you think the next Hakuho is in the sport now?

I don’t think there’s going to be a “next Hakuho” for quite a while. I’m not sure about Naya either. I have no idea. None from whoever’s in Makuuchi today. Maybe Takakeisho, but I doubt it if he’s going to be one dimensional. Somewhere along the line, but I don’t see anyone right now. I thought Goeido at some point, but he’s getting old. I think he’s going to win another yusho. I have a feeling that this is his basho [Natsu 2019], but we’ll see.

As we speak, Goeido is on his longest run of staying out of kadoban that he’s ever been on in his entire Ozeki career. [edited to add: he’s since gone kadoban again]

See, this is what we’re talking about: an Ozeki who’s 30 years old and been kadoban every 2-3 [basho]. Guys like Hakuho breeze through Ozeki, [not] stuck in Ozeki for 30 bashos. They just walked over Ozeki, except for Musashimaru, who stayed on for a long time.

I made a poll, a hundred years ago on the mailing list: “Who thinks Musashimaru will become Yokozuna?” Out of about 100 responses, three people. Because there was no way. He seemed to be a happy go lucky guy, content with a 9-6. 10-5.

We all were laughing, saying “he’s going to have to learn the dohyo-iri, just for that he won’t be come Yokozuna!” And then suddenly out of nowhere, he made it in. Everyone was healthy, it wasn’t like it was something that he picked up off the floor. And he was a great Yokozuna.

And Musashimaru was in an era where it was difficult to do that, with Takanohana still being in the sport. Whoever does it next may have a free run at it. 

That’s what we’re saying, exactly! It’s going to be easy! That’s why I have a feeling that even though he’s one dimensional, maybe Takakeisho will be able to do it. He just needs two [consecutive] yushos! And in this atmosphere at this moment, who knows. 

It could happen. I think the biggest issue with the current crop is consistency.

Listen, not only could it happen, it has to happen, because there’s going to be a void. 

There was the period in the early 90s before Akebono, where there was nobody for about a year. There were 4 Yokozuna, and then Asahifuji and Hokutoumi retired, having mostly been kyujo just before they retired. I think we may see that again, where there were 4, and then none. 

I missed Chiyonofuji and all of that era! The internet brought me back to sumo. Between ’67 and ’90, that’s 23 years I was totally out of sumo. There was no other way [to see sumo]. I had to go back and study everything and see what happened, for my own information and my own curiosity. 

It’s a weird parallel because you had this period where you had Onokuni, Hokutoumi…

Onokuni was a lousy Yokozuna also! He should keep on making cakes. He’s a baker!

They all kind of flattered to deceive a little bit, and it’s kind of like the current period, where you had Kisenosato with two yusho, injuries, and he’s out… and maybe the end of Hakuho’s career is similar to the end of Chiyonofuji’s career. Maybe there will be a year break with no Yokozuna because nobody can win two in a row, or the equivalent?

I think it’s going to be interesting. Because the fans now, for the first time, are coming in – not for the Yokozuna. I don’t remember that happening since I got interested in sumo.

It was always the Yokozuna, Asashoryu, these guys [who attracted fans]. Any time they were injured, the attendance went down. In those days, the basho wasn’t sold out in advance.

You look around the arena and see what things people hold up and who they are cheering for, and while you do get a lot of fans for Ozeki Tochinoshin now, a lot of people love Mitakeumi, Endo, Enho…

They’re Japanese! Endo, always! Of course it also depends which tournament it is, the local people always [get support]. Mitakeumi is very well liked, and I don’t understand why! Maybe he’s a nice guy. But his sumo…

He has consistency problems.

And he has training problems, which is worse. He trains [poorly], then he loses and everyone is on his case. He’s one of those guys that he comes on during the basho. 

He’s kind of the opposite of Goeido, who trains very hard, but then falters during the basho.

Yeah, exactly. The oyakata are already making jokes about Mitakeumi, that he loses all the time in training, and they’re saying he’s not going all out and that’s why he’ll never amount to anything. That used to be the case with Robocop (Takamisakari). He would never win a single bout in keiko! It was like he was scared. During the basho he had no choice, but in training he used to be scared! 

He was a character that was great for the sport.

Oh, for sure! A character you need. The way they cut Kotoyuki down… what the hell do you care?! Now, Kotoyuki has this new thing going, his helicopter move [before the tachiai]. Nobody cares. Nobody notices, nobody gives a shit, nobody laughs or claps. In his prime, everybody was waiting just for that! Now, you have the Takayasu “Gorilla.” The crowd goes crazy [for that].

I think Kotoshogiku needs to bring his back bend move back. He stopped when he fell out of san’yaku. Do you think if he goes back to san’yaku he’ll bring it back? 

He stopped his back bend and I didn’t even notice! I read somewhere that someone told him it’s not good for his back. Which sounds like total nonsense. Maybe it’s a san’yaku thing, like the change of names where when they drop out of san’yaku and go back to their real name.

Maybe he feels he’s not a top level guy anymore so he hasn’t earned the right to make a big show?

K: Well, knowing Kotoshogiku, that’s very possible.

The rumour on the street is that he wants to renew his rivalry with Toyonoshima. Do you think that’s ever going to happen?

Toyonoshima looks good. He looks like he has a lot of years in him, in contract to Aminishiki who doesn’t [edited to add: and has since retired]. But Aminishiki has been looking that way for the last five years… so what do I know! I’m telling you the factor is the guys are afraid to injure him and they’re not going all out.

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

18 thoughts on “Tachiai Interviews Kintamayama, Part 4: “If Hakuho goes, we have no responsible adult.”

  1. Again, such a wonderfull piece of interview. Reading all of this is so much refreshing. Just like sipping really cold iced tea on a blazing hot beach.

    What i’m really happy to discover, it’s that i’m not the only one thinking that it feel like ” There is no adult/dominant ” currently in the sekitori crop right now beside Hakuho. He’s like the only last one left there. (Harumafuji and Kisenosato where the two other i though were also doing that role by they are gone now.)

    Hakuho feel like he’s supervising a play ground full of kindergarten kids. Although he could still be around for a little more depending on his health, he sure isn’t going to be around for really really long. But right now, no one seem to be stepping out of the crowd to take his role as “the boss”. It’s a really free-for-all.

    This is just my opinion but….when checking years and years back, i felt that everytime a strong “adult-dominant” yokozuna was in place, at the end of his career, another stronger “adult-dominant” rised up to challenge him and eventully “pushed him” out and took his “mantle”, his role as being the “guy who is looking upon Sumo” in general and sekitori.

    For example, we had Chiyonofuji, Then Takanohana came and took his “place” has the sumo’s leadership figure. Than Asashoryu came and push him out too, and a while ago Hakuho did the same thing. In a metaphorical way.
    But today…..Harumafuji came and went, Kisenosato came and went, Hakuho overlasted them and i feel there is no one really left there to take his mantle and leadership. He may eventualy just retire without being “contested”, without have an “heir” to take the role of being the “boss”.

    Sure there is plenty of great rikishi right now in makuuchi. And there will be someone to “lift” the cup in his stead, but i’ve yet to see anyone right now taking the role of being Sumo’s figurehead. Just like Kintamayama said, Kakuryu is a good Yokozuna, but he lack charisma.

  2. I disagree about Musashimaru getting promoted the hard way. Basically everybody was injured or not that good at the time – granted, it was a relatively short window, but it was there.

    Records by ozeki and yokozuna in his two promotion basho and the first four basho afterwards:


    Other than Maru himself, that’s six records better than 10-5 by the whole Y/O cadre in those six tournaments. Nearly half the scores were either kyujo or makekoshi.

    He did grow into a very respectable yokozuna and continued to perform well when the competition got harder again, albeit assisted by having as many as three ozeki from his heya.

    Anyway, that very example makes me rather unconcerned for the medium term future at the top. Sure, we might be getting an early 1990s-style power vacuum for a bit, but I’d be extremely surprised if absolutely nobody gets going, has a couple of strong tournaments and starts thinking, “hey, I could be The Guy!” Winning breeds winning, as trite as that sounds. If anything, Hakuho hanging around to appear in half the tournaments every year forevermore is what stalls that process right now.

    • Can you do the same query for Asashouryuu, Akebono and Wakanohana’s promotion visa-vis the top guys at the time?

      • Does it need doing for the first two? It’s common knowledge that the other top rankers were basically dead during Asashoryu’s promotion-clinching first two yusho (best score one 10-5, by your fave Musoyama of all people), and that Akebono came up during that notorious void at the start of the 1990s.

        Wakanohana did have competition that was above average for a successful tsuna run, and even better for the (very) few basho afterwards when he was performing at yokozuna level. Anyway, it’s hardly a secret that most successful tsunatori in history were a matter of right-place-right-time, so all the stranger to portray Musashimaru’s as one of the exceptions.

        The real trick (and the part worth admiring) isn’t being in the right place at the right time, it’s being near the top long enough to take advantage of that right-place-right-time opening when it comes.

        • It was one of the exceptions- he had a tougher bunch of high rankers than Asashouryuu and Akebono at their time. And as you well know, sometimes the numbers themselves don’t paint the whole picture. I remember Musashimaru’s Yokozuna promotion came totally out of the blue. The competition was there, unlike Asa and Akebono, whose promotions we could see coming from a mile away.

  3. Regarding Onosho, I wonder if his oyakata’s health problems are having some influence on his stagnating recovery and form. Onomatsu stable is really isolated too, so it’s not easy for him to go on degeiko.

    • I don’t think Onomatsu beya is that isolated. First, it’s part of the huge Nishonoseki ichimon. Second, it’s located in Chiba, not in Osaka. There are other heya in Chiba itself, and going from Chiba to Tokyo by train is not more than many commuters do every day.

      Also, I’m not sure how much “health issues” Onomatsu oyakata really has. He can’t speak in public, and I believe the “blood pressure issues” were something invented to prevent him from having to speak in public again during the Nagoya basho. And there is a second oyakata in the heya.

  4. More disrespect of Kakuryu. As I have pointed out before, since I started watching sumo in Nov 2016, Hakuho has won 5 yusho, Kakuryu 4. It’s not that uneven. Linking him with Mitakeumi, who is bogged down in lower sanyaku, is ridiculous.
    There are two different questions:
    – can anyone replace Hakuho – of course not! How can you replace the GOAT?
    – does that mean the other current yokozuna is useless – absolutely not!
    There have been several occasions when Kakuryu has demonstrated his respect for the obligations of being a yokozuna and he deserves our respect in turn.

    • Nobody is saying otherwise. Kakuryuu has a lot of respect, just lacks charisma. He is not a dominant rikishi in the league of Hakuhou career wise of course, and taking the last three years as a benchmark is really not a fair assessment. You’ve been watching since 2016, so you missed the dominance of those that came before and how that manifests. Kakuryuu is not a dominant yokozuna by far. He is a good Yokozuna, but I don’t believe that he will be leading the sumo world after Hakuhou retires because A-he’s too old, and B- he doesn’t have “it.”

      • I guess it depends on our respective definitions of “responsible adult”. By my definition, he is.
        He’s won four times in just under three years which is more than anyone else can say, other than Hakuho.

    • As the author/editor of the piece I’ll chime in with my 2 cents to try and add some context to the conversation:

      I wouldn’t say it’s disrespectful, although I understand your criticism. That said, I think Nov 16 is an arbitrary endpoint until now, especially considering all of the changes in the Yokozuna ranks in that time period. If you look at his body of work as a Yokozuna, it’s understandable that so many questions were consistently asked of Kakuryu over a long, sustained period of time where he never showed anything like the dominance that Hakuho or Harumafuji were capable of, and even Kisenosato in his prime displayed much in terms of regulating the competition that Big K did not. He has been, however, consistently good enough for the rank when fit, and sometimes that consistency manifested itself in the way of titles.

      I don’t think any of that diminishes Kakuryu’s accomplishments in capturing yusho, and also I think history will probably look rather more kindly on his tenure as a Yokozuna when the bare stats and wins are considered. But as Kintamayama relates in his comments in this thread, it is clear based on the results that have come in the last 18-24 months that his tenure has not been especially dominant. I would postulate that he has simply been of a high enough quality and consistency than the opposition when not injured in that time period. Again, that’s nothing to be scoffed at – but it’s not disrespectful to say he hasn’t trampled the opposition during that time.

      It’s also worth pointing out that since the start of 2015, if we’re looking at arbitrary endpoints – no one was kyujo more than Kakuryu. I don’t think that he has done a disservice to the rank of Yokozuna at all, but I also don’t think it’s fair to say he’s won yusho and give that as the sole determination of being the “responsible adult” in regulating the lower ranks either. I’m burying the lede here in my response but the crux of it is: the root of the question was about who would step up and be the boss if Hakuho goes, and take the wins off the board that he would be vacating. Kakuryu has sort of performed at a similar level all along, he hasn’t started winning bouts at a higher level in Hakuho’s absence: He’s always been good for a 14 win basho every 6 or 7 tournaments but beyond that he’s between 11 and 13, or kyujo. He doesn’t consistently put up 13-15 and hasn’t moved to that level in Hakuho’s absence. So looking forward, even if Hakuho retired tomorrow, I agree it would be an unfair and unrealistic expectation of Kakuryu that he would suddenly be that rikishi at the age of 34, given his track record of injury and absence.

      • Thanks for your thoughtful reply. In the bigger perspective of those who know much more of sumo than I, I defer. I don’t disagree at all when the issue is framed in this way.
        However, the original comment was NOT framed I this way, at least not how I read it. It was framed as, there is Hakuho, then nobody. And then Kakuryu was linked to Mitakeumi. That was what I objected to. It would be unreasonable to expect there to be someone else who could have the impact that Hakuho had, and to expect Kakuryu to replace Hakuho would be grossly unfair. I certainly wouldn’t expect it.
        So in the period I have been watching, there have been 17 basho, of which Hakuho and Kakuryu have won 9. In my book, that makes them both “responsible adults” Kakuryu has helped to anchor the sumo world when Hakuho was not available, and I think he deserves recognition for that. That is all.

        • I not only think Mitakeumi and Kakuryuu are in the same bag, but I think Mitakeumi has a better chance of stepping up than Kakuryuu- he has has youth and health more or less on his side, while Kakuryuu is prone to injury and he is 34.

        • I see your point. I still tend to agree with Kintamayama (which doesn’t have to be so much a given, he’s the interview subject and certainly entitled to his own opinions!). For me when I think about Hakuho, I think about him in the context that, every time he starts a tournament, you expect him to put up 14+ and the only way that doesn’t happen is that he’s injured. For me that’s where I would look and see if there’s anyone else in the sport where it’s fair to leverage that expectation, and I think after him, well, there probably is no one that you can say you expect that from.

          Kakuryu has been, is, and hopefully will continue to be a very good Yokozuna with his own unique style who is intriguing and (for me anyway) fun to watch, but I think as you look through the eras – at least of the past 20 years, you could say you probably would always expect Takanohana, Akebono, Asashoryu, Hakuho to come into a tournament expecting to control the proceedings, with an exceptional winner required to beat them. In Kakuryu’s case, when he has lost a yusho in times that Hakuho has been absent, I don’t think that has so much been the story. Kakuryu doesn’t have to play that role to be a good Yokozuna (after all there have been many great Yokozuna who didn’t have to play that role when fighting in an era alongside a dominant one), but it is a super important role for the sport to have and it also means that those who qualify to be Ozeki then have to be of a really good quality to be able to meet and sustain the requirements of the rank – which since Hakuho’s injuries really has not been the case, we’ve had some poor Ozeki performances IMHO. And you have knock on effects down the banzuke. An exception to this rule would be, perhaps per Asashosakari’s point above, when you have a suite of Ozeki or san’yaku rikishi who didn’t have to fight the Takanohanas or Musashimarus of the world due to being in the same stable.

          The Mitakeumi thing is an interesting talking point – I think it comes down to whether you have belief in Mitakeumi. As Kintamayama pointed out in the piece, he trains poorly and many are starting to lack belief in him. But who’s more likely to be the serial 13,14, 15 match winner from here on out? He’s probably got as good of a chance as anyone in the top division right now on talent, given fitness and application – but his inconsistency makes him tough to dream on, which is why Kakuryu still may take more yusho than him in the foreseeable future despite K’s advancing age and fitness issues.

          • I agree with you. If there are problems navigating out of the Hakuho era, I think Kakuryu is maybe the one person who doesn’t deserve to have the finger pointed at him. He is delivering what one should expect from an “average” Yokozuna. The biggest culprits are the unsatisfying Ozeki corps, and yes, someone like Mitakeumi who has been stuck in lower sanyaku for 16 basho now. I like him, and hope he moves on to higher things, but I have been hoping that for quite a while now.

          • I really don’t think the presence or non-presence of a dominant yokozuna impacts the average ozeki performance that much. Asashoryu was as dominant as they come, yet that era set some very unenviable kadoban records.

          • Also, the Kyokai seems quite willing to take that presence or non-presence into account when it comes to ozeki promotion decisions, hence Chiyotaikai, Goeido and Kisenosato going up with 32 in what were relatively tough times, but Takakeisho not with his initial 33 against leaner competition. That intentionally diminishes the regulatory effect of a dominant yokozuna that you suggest.

  5. Again, my hat’s off to you, Josh! Well done. And Kintamayama doesn’t disappoint with his insightful commentary. Wonderful points made above, by all. Really good debate!

    I guess…only time will tell, once Hakuho retires. Who will step up? Who will find that samurai spirit and become The Man?! Kakuryuu? Mitakeumi? Takakeisho? Asanoyama? Or some new blood, like the Great Taihō’s grandson, Naya or former grand champion Asashōryū’s nephew, Hōshōryū? Hmmmm…


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