One of the most important but least seen aspects of sumo life is, well… your day to day life. It has been said that the daily activity, the keiko, the act of being a rikishi is what sumo is all about. The tournaments we see on television, on the internet or in person are simply the culmination of all of the processes, traditions and daily activities one must endure.
There can be a number of reasons why a new recruit joins a particular stable. Perhaps the stable master has a strong scouting network in his hometown, or there are links with the stable’s supporters group. Perhaps he was invited to spend time in the heya and loved it, went to the same school as the shisho, or simply idolised the stable master or had mutual friends with someone connected to the heya. Perhaps, as with Hokuseiho, the recruit had a chance meeting with the stable’s superstar rikishi in an airport.
Let’s assume we have none of these personal connections, and decide to join a stable. Which one to join? In light of recent announcements heralding the future branch-outs of new stables from relatively recent top division names like Kisenosato and Takekaze, there’s much to be excited about in terms of the shifting landscape of sumo stables. Both of those guys have shared new ideas for their evolution of the place for which sumo’s lifestyle revolves – joining other recently minted oyakata such as former Kotooshu in attempting to push the sport forward. Of course, plenty of other stable masters have experienced incredible success with age old coaching methods or just good old-fashioned man management.
Our rikishi will be for all intents and purposes of average build and good (better than average but perhaps not superstar) ability. We can say they will be a little more technique driven than simply a pure pusher-thruster who relies on blunt strength and physicality. It will be someone for whom development will be required rather than being able to simply bulldoze the bottom four divisions and brute force their way to sekitori-hood.
Like the author, this rikishi will be very handsome and surely will attract some of Endo’s brand sponsors should they ever make the top division. This is of course my analysis and these are my opinions, and yours may differ, and that’s okay. But if there were no subjectivity in sports, they probably would not be as interesting and we’d all have the same favourite teams.
With that preamble out of the way, we’ll start today with the smallest ichimon, Takasago, and work our way through the other four over the next few weeks before doing a deeper dive and settling on a final decision. Come with me on my journey!
Part 1 – Takasago Ichimon
Hakkaku: This stable is enormous (growing yet larger with the import of Azumazeki’s crew) and has quite a bit of upwardly mobile young talent. The influential and inspiring stable master – the current chairman of the kyokai – was a yokozuna, the coaching staff now includes the exciting former “Robocop” Takamisakari**, and in a few years, you probably report to Okinoumi, one of the more underrated technicians of the current time. While you’re probably starting your career scrapping for sleeping space with a large number of lower-rankers, the location of the stable in Ryogoku is also really good, about as good as it’s possible to get without waking up to the sounds of the JR line. There are no long commutes to Kokugikan from here. Verdict: On the shortlist.
Kokonoe: Chiyotaikai took over from an all-time legend in Chiyonofuji about five years ago, and has done well to develop many rikishi he inherited into mid-level sekitori. Additionally, various rehabilitative efforts have kept that impressive number of sekitori on the dohyo, or returned them to the salaried ranks after they’ve dropped out. Kokonoe-oyakata is a visible presence within the kyokai, but for all of the recruits he’s brought in, he hasn’t added a ton of quality since he took over a few years back. So when you see a stable of this size, you wonder whether the recruitment efforts are in service of a tsukebito factory. Verdict: This shikona won’t be joining the thousand generations of “Chiyos” – it’s going to have to be a pass.
Nishikido: An apparently dying stable with plenty of scandal in its history. It’s a hard pass.
Takasago: There’s some degree of uncertainty, following the retirement (and re-employement as consultant) of the former high-achieving shisho, who apparently still lives in the heya. The roster is a bit bottom heavy, but contains some inspiring talent to practise with (the soon to depart Ozeki, plus names like Murata, Asagyokusei and Terasawa), and the recent recruiting (Fukai, Osanai, Ishizaki) has been interesting. But it’s tough to go where you’re not sure what the future holds, especially with some degree of punishment awaiting the new oyakata for the Asanoyama scandal. Verdict: A reluctant pass.
** Azumazeki-beya would have been an intriguing option due to the legacy and heritage, but Robocop, lacking the support needed to run a heya, decided to move over to Hakkaku’s place and recently shut it down.