Shohozan: A Brawler We Will Miss

We’ve often talked about our uncertainty of the legacy and achievements we will see from the current crop of sekitori. A large part of the reason for that uncertainty is that we were blessed by a group of rikishi for much of the previous decade which provided us with plenty of undercard excitement and intrigue. When someone like Bruce or Andy knocks out 21 previews of matches every day over the 15 days of a basho, generally the hope is that there are 21 matches that are going to be worth writing about.

I’m not saying there hasn’t always been the odd M12 vs M15 dud. Of course, throughout the years, there are matches every day that just flat-out aren’t exciting or interesting. But for many fans who got into sumo during the 2010s, they could be thankful for the guys up and down the makuuchi rankings who put on a hell of a show every time they crossed the tawara. One of those, without question, was Shohozan, who announced his retirement this past week.

The storylines that permeate most tournaments are: who’s going to win the yusho? Who’s going to be the next Ozeki/Yokozuna? Who’s this new top division debutant and how is he going to fare?

But it’s a real credit to the Shohozans of the world, the Yoshikazes of the world, the Chiyonokunis of the world (yes I know, he’s still going… kinda) that there’s a lot of sumo that doesn’t necessarily generate the headlines that inspire NHK to invest in luxurious half-an-hour-long special programming, but that still captures the excitement and the essence of what sumo is. Sumo that makes the whole of the product, and not just the top six bouts of the day, worth our time.

I’m not going to sit here drunk on nostalgia and pretend that the retirement of Shohozan gives me #allthefeels that I had for the retirement of Ikioi. Shohozan wasn’t my favourite rikishi. But he might have been yours. And his permanent scowl on screen, and his unmistakeable all-out brawler style cast him as a vital character in the recent, if now-bygone, era of this centuries-old saga that we all can’t stop watching.

Here, in a raucous – if half full – Kokugikan (calling back to the times in which you could go to Japan to watch sumo and the atmosphere was amazing), a fan captured Shohozan’s first kinboshi from 2013. It was the first of five in total and three which he took from from Yokozuna Harumafuji:

His stern on-dohyo demeanour always seemed all the more stark in contrast – to my poorly educated ears anyway – to the apparently eloquent and articulate way in which he spoke off the dohyo. In a world of mumbling Endos, here’s a guy who looked like he may go on to really do things in a future career in the kyokai.

This made it all the more shocking to sumo fans when, after a string of popular sekitori of the last decade had seemingly little trouble succeeding to their oyakata careers, the kyokai announced simply that Shohozan had retired with no mention of the elder name he would be taking. Because he wouldn’t be taking one.

SumoForum’s Akinomaki quotes a news article from PostSeven postulating that he was unable to remain in sumo due to a poor relationship with his oyakata, and that he will move on to a career in the food & beverage industry in his second life (and that the former Matsugane/Nishonoseki oyakata, former Ozeki Wakashimazu, preferred Ichiyamamoto as the eventual successor to his stock). This is a real shame if it is true, with Shohozan having been the oyakata’s finest product as a shisho. [updated to add: Akinomaki now reports (via ZakZak and recommended for the full quote) that Shohozan stated at his intai press conference that he did not have an intention to remain as a coach anyway.]

But we can’t possibly know or cast a value judgement on what goes on behind the scenes. You may already think I’ve spilled too many words in an opinion piece eulogising the career of someone who posted a 46% win rate in the top division and never found success in five tries at his career high rank of Komusubi.

Shohozan’s best wasn’t really about winning or losing though, at least not to me. It was about his contribution to enthralling battles, such as his epic late career encounters with Enho, or this bloody tsuppari special from Aki 2017 that ends in a loss to Yoshikaze (courtesy of Jason’s channel):

The man himself would surely prefer this example of a signature victory, his tsuppari giving way to the oh-so-satisfying bodyslam into the gyoji of Chiyonokuni at Haru 2012 (video courtesy of Maarike11):

The other day when reading quotes of interviews that Kintamayama had transcribed, I noted that rikishi are often reported with a desire “to go all out.” I asked our friend what the Japanese term for this actually was, and he said it’s “Ishoukenmei” (いしょうけんめい), and used in almost every interview to the press by rikishi. Lots of them may say it, but perhaps few actually deliver on the concept in the way that Shohozan did. Cheers to him for that, and best of luck to the man from Fukuoka in his second life.

14 thoughts on “Shohozan: A Brawler We Will Miss

  1. Thanks for this great retrospective Josh K. I had been hoping that Tachiai would mark Shohozan’s retirement with an article.
    Likewise Shohozan was never one of my favourite’s, but totally agree with you that he was a wonderfully distinctive character to have as a mid-level Maegashira – I always thought of him as the ‘attack dog’ of the top division. Maybe I am just getting old and sentimental but I was surprised how sad I felt at the news of his retirement. That footage of his Kinboshi against Haramafuji and the subsequent ‘purple rain’ definitely got my juices flowing. Really hope that the Kokugikan will soon return to that kind of raucous, electric atmosphere.
    Farewell then Shohozan – and good luck to him in his new life in the Food and Beverage Industry.

  2. Nice piece, Josh K! I for one: like Shohozan! Each rikishi are different and bring their own style of sumo to the contest, and Shohozan was just that — a brawler! He was no-nonsense mostly and you can count on this guy to give it his all. I am going to miss him, but every rikishi has their time on the dohyo, and Shohozan has decided to sail with the setting sun. I hope he does wonderfully well in the next life journey that he’s on! Take care, Big Guy!

  3. I wish him well. He was certainly not your average rikishi.
    His choice of new career made me think of another aspect of sumo I know nothing about – how lucrative is it being an oyakata? Compared to leveraging your celebrity in the business world? There usually seems to be an assumption that retiring rikishi will continue in the sport, but there must be some who want to break out into something new. For example, I visualize Tochinoshin going back to Georgia and opening a combination wrestling school/restaurant.

    • Oyakata pay is comparable to that of a juryo rikishi (about one million yen per month), but with 30+ years of job security if you’re not a complete screw-up.

      In any case, for those who don’t stay in sumo: Few sekitori who didn’t reach ozeki have the kind of popularity transcending the sport that their second life actually kicks off with a headstart. For most the primary benefit will simply be that their time in sumo has (hopefully) given them a financial cushion so they can figure out where they want to go in their own time.

  4. I was just about to say, “hey, what about Ikioi?” Then you mentioned him. You’re on point about how they put so much heart into it. There’s a reason 一生懸命 is such an important yojijukugo, and you nailed it here.

  5. I do not at all think you wasted words! Shohozan was someone I became of fan of rather slowly and unexpectedly, but definitely. Big Guns always came out blazing, and yeah he looked scowly and tough, but he never seemed mean or bullying. Just like someone who loved to do this, in its right place. Like Yoshikaze and Chiyonokuni, who I also love. I don’t remember seeing interviews with him, but I have seen his big smiles with little kids. I wish him all the very best.

    (Very fun to see that purple rain, and to see those guys all younger! And if I remember right, the match where the announcers were talking about Harumafuji’s bad performance was the basho where he came from behind to win the yusho – my first sumo basho, and he made such a good impression on me with his grave face that I grieved his going in the next one.)

  6. I’ll cast a value judgement. Personally, I find a kabu system in which a post-retirement-age Araiso gets to collect a salary for another 5 years over someone with Shohozan’s credentials being able to stay in the sport an embarrassment.

    • I’ve since updated the post slightly to take into account the excellent reporting from Akinomaki that Shohozan apparently stated at his intai press conference that he had “no intention to remain” as a coach anyway, thinking he wouldn’t be very good at it, and prefers to be a player rather than a coach. If that’s true, I think it’s admirable, and also I’ve never fully understood the feeling among a lot of sumo fans that the only thing rikishi are good for once they retire is to hang around in a blue coat. I am sure there are those who do have interests outside of sumo, and Shohozan does strike me as someone who might.

      But to your larger point, I agree. It’s possible Shohozan’s public statement is completely accurate, or it’s possible it’s a conclusion he came to after discussions were had, or both. I appreciate grey areas exist within career development especially. I appreciate it’s not my culture, but the idea that everyone gets a sanyo these days, making the transition to a post-dohyo career in sumo for talented retiring rikishi even more difficult than it already was, is something I find a bit ludicrous.

      • I had just read that now, and agree that’s fair and puts a different spin on this case (assuming he meant it).

      • I’m sure nobody doubts that rikishi have interests outside of sumo, the question (as with all people) is whether it’s stuff they can see making into a career, or if it’s “just” hobbies. Frankly, my impression is that if you’re not planning to run your own stable and you’re okay with slinking back into relative obscurity as an oyakata, being a member of the Kyokai is not exactly a “getting worked to the bone” type of job that precludes the engagement with other interests.

  7. I liked his fighting spirit – but slapping the other rikishi repeatedly was a bit too much. Isn’t slapping the opponent in the face considered dis-respectful? Everybody does it from time to time – but with Shohozan it was pretty much in every match – and in many matches more than once,

    As for becoming Oyakata – isn’t there any kabu available for rent? Looks like Shohozan was not able to or interested in pursuing even that option.

  8. Shohozan’s bouts in Juryo revealed that his slaps to the face no longer were effective. In recent basho, he had largely abandoned that tactic, which left him a not particularly distinctive rikishi. I’ll miss the brawler in his heyday, but we haven’t seen that guy for a while.

    BTW, I always pictured Shohozan as a bouncer in his next career. Maybe I wasn’t too far wrong!


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