The line between Juryo and Makushita has been likened to the boundary between heaven and hell. Which rikishi will in a position to cross this line in the upward direction? There are usually two paths. The more difficult one is to post a 7-0 record in the top 15 ranks of Makushita, as Terunofuji just did. The more conventional path is to have a winning record in the top 5 ranks (top 10 rikishi) in Makushita, which are referred to as the Makushita joi. (The divide between Ms5 and Ms6 is referred to as “the invisible line”; for instance, after Aki, 4-3 at Ms5w was deemed sufficient to earn promotion, while 5-2 at Ms6e was not). This time, all four rikishi ranked Ms1-Ms5 with kachi-koshi earned promotions to the second division, although that’s not always the case, as there may not be enough open promotion slots in Juryo. On rare occasion, a winning record just outside the joi may be sufficient if the open slots can’t be filled otherwise.
So, who will occupy the all-important Ms1-Ms5 ranks at Hatsu? There is a baker’s dozen of contenders, who fall into three categories.
Demotions from Juryo
Rikishi demoted from the second division usually end up in the Makushita joi, unless their record is really terrible. In the current scenario, J11e Kaisho (5-10), J11w Wakamotoharu (5-10), and J14 Akiseyama (5-10) should definitely be in range of immediate re-promotion opportnunities. J12w Gagamaru (1-12-2) falls into the “really terrible” category and will likely be ranked below Ms5, while J6w Ichiyamamoto (0-2-13) is on the bubble due to his higher rank.
Losing record inside the Makushita joi
This will usually drop you out of the top 5 ranks, but a bare-minimum 3-4 make-koshi is survivable at a sufficiently high starting rank. The one rikishi in this category is former Makuuchi man Ms2w Chiyonokuni, who missed regaining sekitori status by one win, and should get another chance in January.
Promotions from lower in Makushita
Obviously, this requires a winning record. The number of wins also matters: to earn promotion at 4-3, you have to be ranked pretty close to Ms5, while 5-2 or 6-1 buys more breathing room. The 4-3 rikishi who should make it into the joi are Ms6e Chiyonoumi and Ms7e Naya, who’ll finally have his first conventional shot at earning sekitori status. In the 5-2 group, Ms7w Shiba and Ms9w Oki should make it, while Ms10e Hakuyozan joins the bubble. Finally, among rikishi with 6-1 records, one-to-watch pixie Midorifuji (Ms12e) should be ranked in the top 10, while Ms17e Asabenkei might be ranked too low.
To sum up, the Hatsu Makushita top 10 should comprise Kaisho, Wakamotoharu, Akiseyama, Chiyonokuni, Chiyonoumi, Naya, Shiba, Oki, Midorifuji, and one rikishi from the trio of Ichiyamamoto, Hakuyozan, and Asabenkei. And no, I’m not going to try to put them in rank order.