Makushita Joi for Hatsu

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.

16 thoughts on “Makushita Joi for Hatsu

  1. I was gutted that Tsukahara (at Ms4e) contrived to go from 3-1 to 3-4 in the second half. I suppose he’ll be at Ms7 or 8 in January. His time will come.

    • Yes 7/8 sounds right unless he’s very lucky or unlucky. He’s not a rikishi I’ve followed. Chiyonokuni similarly snatched defeat from the jaws of victory by dropping his final 3 bouts, which is perhaps surprising given his pedigree. After beating Terunofuji to take the yusho at Aki, he seemed like the much surer bet of the two to make it back to Juryo.

  2. I’d be curious to see how often someone gets promoted to juryo from outside the makushita joi, without taking the yusho. It seems reasonable that a 6-1 Ms6 should get promoted over a 4-3 Ms4 or Ms5, but how often does it happen? If we look at upper makushita as just an extension of juryo, it seems like a 4-3 at Ms3 should be about equivalent to 5-2 at Ms5 or 6-1 at Ms7?

    • You’d think that, but it almost never happens. People talk about an “invisible line” between Ms5 and Ms6. I don’t know the history of how this came about.

      • In January 2018 Enho got promoted after 4-3 at Ms6 and Takanofuji went up with 5-2 at Ms7. That, however, was a very unusual tournament in which the lower juryo underwent a collective collapse: there were seven men who HAD to dropped.

        • As far as I can tell, those are 2 of the 3 times this has happened since the 2011 scandal, the other being Ishiura after January 2015, when he went up with a 6-1 at Ms6.

      • I can only speculate, but I think it’s related to their reluctance to overdemote juryo rikishi nowadays. Up to the late 1990s it wasn’t uncommon to see demotions such as J12 7-8 or J10 6-9 (last rank J13) to make room for promotion contenders that would be considered very marginal nowadays, say Ms5 5-2. I wouldn’t be surprised if they decided “if we’re going to make it harder to get promoted, we’ve got to reserve the available spots for those who already earned a position near the top of makushita”. And Ms5 was just arbitrarily chosen as the cutoff.

        • It does seem odd when they promote a 4-3 Ms5w ahead of a 5-2 Ms6e, as they did at Aki. Not sure if the scheduling is such that the top 5 ranks mostly fight each other, and Ms6 and down have easier opponents?

          • Yes and no… :) As anywhere the first few matches are mostly against rikishi close by in rank, and then the rank differences tend to get larger later on.

            A quick check of results since 2012 (matches within Ms1-5, matches within Ms6-Ms10, matches putting a Ms1-5 against a Ms6-10):

            round 1: 210 / 205 / 26
            round 2: 177 / 167 / 64
            round 3: 167 / 142 / 82
            round 4: 135 / 111 / 127
            round 5: 117 / 79 / 128
            round 6: 92 / 61 / 146
            round 7: 46 / 72 / 112

            So at least from Day 7 onwards there’s at least as much mixing of the two “brackets” as there is internal action, and Ms6+ who want to earn a kachikoshi likely have to get past at least two top 5’ers.

            And without relying on Elo stats or anything, I’d say the skill differences aren’t significant anyway – sure there will be more rikishi in the Ms6-10 area who don’t “belong” up there (guys who randomly fluked 5 wins at Ms17, 6 wins in the mid-20s, etc.), but they’ll just be starting the basho 0-3 or 1-3 and won’t factor into KK-deciding matches anyway. And one could argue that Ms1-5 in turn frequently has washed-up demoted sekitori who aren’t competitive up there either.

            I’m not much of a fan of how thick that invisible line has gotten of late; it’s definitely more pronounced now than it was 10-15 years ago after those promotion patterns had first become noticeable.

            • I think on average those numbers you bring up might be right, but at least most times checked concrete examples of “competing rikishi”, there was a signifincant difference in “strength” of schedule. It’s also worth to mention that the makushita joi oftentimes are called up to Juryo. Ofcourse its not consistent. Last basho Chiyonoumi had no top 10 opponent, Seiro had 4. Naya had 2 and Shiba had 3, Tomisakae, Shonanoumi and Oki got 2 each. The top 5 rikishi have 2 juryo visits each, the next 2 still one each. The outlier is Daiseido, who had such an abysmal tournament, that he got paired with Ms32 in his last round.

              • In the “edge case” of Ms5w Akiseyama (4-3) getting promoted over Ms6e Churanoumi (5-2) after Aki, the former went 2-2 against Ms1-Ms5, while the latter went 2-1. Neither had any Juryo bouts.

              • Sure, on an individual basis the situation could be markedly different from the average. But I think it’s clear that it’s not something they take into account anyway, outside of matches taking place against juryo opponents apparently. (And then only when it’s Day 13 to 15…)

                Taking the fairly absurd Akiseyama-over-Churanoumi decision from after Aki:

                Akiseyama’s opponents in ranking order: Ms2e, Ms2w, Ms3e, Ms5e, Ms7e, Ms8w, Ms9e. Their combined record in matches where they didn’t face Akiseyama was 20-20-2.

                Churanoumi’s opponents in ranking order: Ms2e, Ms2w, Ms4e, Ms7e, Ms8w, Ms9e, Ms12w. Their combined record in matches where they didn’t face Churanoumi was 22-20.

                I don’t see anything concerning strength of schedule in there that would justify completely discounting that Churanoumi had 5 wins and Akiseyama only 4.

                Nobody is surprised when a Juryo 1-5 rikishi loses a match to one ranked J6-10, or even to one ranked J11-14 when it’s somebody who is competing well enough to not be in danger of demotion. A 10-rank difference just doesn’t mean that much there as long as two rikishi are performing similarly overall (i.e. both well or both badly). And there’s nothing to suggest that such a rank difference means more in upper makushita than it does in juryo.

                One thing I’d like to see again but which has gone completely by the wayside is juryo matchups for well-performing rikishi just outside the top 5 makushita ranks. That hasn’t happened at all outside of special circumstances (yusho contender, 8th bout bonus) since Haru 2012.

                But it seems there’s some circular logic on the part of the schedulers there, where “we’re not going to promote them anyway” leads to “there’s no need to test them like proper promotion candidates” and back again to “well, they didn’t do anything that shows them as worthy of promotion”. And so we end up with this strange situation where the Ms1-5 ranks are almost a separate division unto themselves, with nothing to really justify it.

              • Thanks to Asashosakari for the excellent analysis. It seems, then, that the Ms6 and under thing is just the committee being hidebound- though I’d sure hope that had Churanoumi gone 6-1, he’d have been promoted instead of 4-3 Akiseyama.

                I wonder whether they take veteran status into consideration at all. Akiseyama is a veteran juryo man, while maybe they think Churanoumi is new and needs to prove himself a little more, so they gave the old guy his potential last shot at a paycheck?

                Would Akiseyama be considered to have had a successful sumo career, all things considered? Managed to make it to makuuchi, had 5+ years in juryo. Not a star, but presumably has saved enough to get a good start on his second career when he retires?

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