Second week prognosis: He’s on the right path, but has been tested. He sits 4-4 after 8 days. He’s at a rank where you’re going to be called up to makuuchi to get tested and make up the numbers, and he’s failed both tests so far (against Aoiyama and Ikioi). His day 8 loss was maybe a bit unlucky in that he nearly pulled out the win, but he’s going to have to find four wins from former top division men like Terunofuji, Gagamaru, and Chiyonoo in the coming days.
2. Golden Oldie Revival?
Needs for success: Old timers show results that state their case for a return to the big time in circumstances where more questions are being asked about how much longer they’ll remain in the sport.
Second week prognosis: Of the five rikishi we’re picking on, Takekaze, Sadanoumi, and Gagamaru look as though they are positioning themselves for quick and perhaps once thought improbable returns to the top flight. All men have six wins after 8 days. Aminishiki, meanwhile, looks set for a rather longer stay in the second tier, clearly hobbled by injuries and destined for a potentially brutal make-koshi. Tokushoryu looks like he might be treading water at his level with a 3-5 start.
3. Whither Kaiju?
Needs for success: passing expectations with a competent kachi-koshi, exceeding expectations with a thunderous yusho challenge and return to makuuchi.
Second week prognosis: Terunofuji is going to run into a handful of guys looking to state their promotion claim in the second week which he starts at a record of 4-4. It’s been a mixed slate so far: the technique is still there, but the strength has eluded him as he looks to rebuild his status following injury and diabetes related issues. Odds are he pulls out four more wins from seven, but he may need another tournament at this level in Tokyo this May before making his return to the big time. Curiously, when I attended Day 8, the applause for Terunofuji during both the Juryo dohyo-iri and his own match was muted compared to many other former makuuchi men in the Juryo division. I would have thought he’d get a least a little more love than he did, all things considered.
Needs for success: passing expectations with a competent kachi-koshi to knock off the cobwebs, exceeding expectations with a yusho challenge.
Second week prognosis: He won’t challenge for the yusho or even much of a move up the rankings list at Natsu on current form. He finds himself 4-4 and shouldn’t be in any danger of demotion, but he needs to find at least 3 wins to keep himself in the division and regroup for next time. At times the strength of the Takanoiwa we are used to seeing has shown up, but he’s found himself amidst a group of young, hungry rikishi who aren’t giving any quarter in their own efforts to establish themselves as sekitori. The rest of his matches should be against mid-Juryo veterans having middling tournaments, so there’s an opportunity at least to build momentum – after Mitoryu he’ll have faced all the fierce young talents in his way this tournament.
5. The Second Wave
Needs for success: These talented youngsters either need to: Cobble together enough wins to consolidate place in division (Yago, Takagenji, Daishoho, Terutsuyoshi), limit damage and try to avoid demotion if possible (Enho, Takayoshitoshi), continue progress with good kachi-koshi (Mitoryu)
Second week prognosis: Mixed bag, as expected.
Out of the first group (Yago, Terutsuyoshi, Daishoho and Takagenji), only Daishoho looks safe right now with a 5-3 record. Yago’s 2-6 tally leaves him in immediate danger of demotion, and the others are 3-5 and need to find 4 wins from somewhere.
Unfortunately for all of them, they won’t come at the expense of Takayoshitoshi as the kyujo man has faced all of them (except his brother), so none of them will pick up a helpful fusen-sho from his abdication in light of pummeling his tsukebito (instead it will be Ms1 Hakuyozan who picks up the win). Takayoshitoshi was 3-5 and likely heading for the demotion that has now been all but confirmed, and should he indeed remain withdrawn from the entire tournament then he will likely face a drop steep enough to leave him without a tsukebito for at least a couple more tournaments.
Enho, meanwhile, has delivered on his excitement, but hasn’t delivered in terms of wins. His overpromotion has left him a little exposed at the level as he’s even dropped 2 matches to visiting makushita men (and future sekitori) Hakuyozan and Wakatakakage. You can’t do that if you’re trying to stay in the division, and it’s likely that he may face an equally steep demotion as Takayoshitoshi: on current form both men will probably find themselves somewhere between Ms8 and Ms10.
Finally, if there’s a silver lining, it’s been Mitoryu. Much like his progress in Makushita, after taking one basho to settle, he’s really found his form and posted a 7 win tally over the first 8 days. Guys like Takanosho, Kotoeko and Gagamaru are in his future, and possibly if he continues to lead the yusho arasoi, potentially even Takekaze. So, it’s possible that this week we may already get to see what the talented young Mongolian can do against men with top level pedigree, and I’ll go out on a limb and say that on current form he will pass his compatriot Terunofuji on the May banzuke.
If you’ve been reading Tachiai this week, you’ll no doubt be aware of the fantastic coverage that Herouth has been givingthe lower divisionseachday. That makes my job in rounding up the progress and goals for our “Ones to Watch” much much easier. As mentioned, I was at the EDION Arena on Day 8 and so was able to grab a couple more of my own videos to throw in with the footage that Herouth has collected over the week. Let’s get into it:
Ms1 Hakuyozan (Takadagawa) – As we mentioned at the outset of the tournament, the well traveled 22 year old is in the ultimate position of needing only a kachi-koshi to make his professional bow. And he has achieved that with his 4-0 start, so we will be seeing him in a kesho-mawashi when the basho returns to Tokyo in a couple months. ay 9 he visits Juryo for the second time – having already seen off the overmatched Enho, he’ll try and take his oshi-attack to the similarly fortuitously promoted Takayoshitoshi.
Ms1 Wakatakakage (Arashio) – The Hatsu yusho winner has been on great form, having already featured five times and sporting a 4-1 record, with two successful trips to Juryo, also at the expense of Enho and Takayoshitoshi. His lone black star came to Hakuyozan, as he attempts to also emphatically book his ticket from a position where the minimum would actually do. Let’s check out Day 8’s bout against Enho courtesy of me:
Ms5 Chiyonoumi (Kokonoe) – The callow 25 year old will be rewarded for his 3-1 start to this basho with a date with Jokoryu on Day 9. The way things are shaping up both at the top of Makushita and bottom of Juryo, he’d be very much an edge case in the promotion picture at the moment, so not only will he need to beat his veteran counterpart, he will need at least another win beyond that to make his case.
Ms11 Ichiyamamoto (Nishonoseki) – The 24 year old man who has made a blazing start to his career is on the verge of yet another kachi-koshi, having raced out to a 3-1 start care of a pair of slap down wins in his last two matches. If he can finish strongly then he has a chance of finding himself in a good position for promotion next time out.
Ms13 Murata (Takasago) – Murata has bounced back from the setback of Hatsu’s make-koshi in strong terms, having already secured his kachi-koshi with a 4-0 start. He’s faced decent opposition so far, and gets to participate in the narrowing of the yusho race with a match against fellow undefeated rikishi and former Maegashira Fujiazuma on Day 9. He misses out on a matchup with top man Hakuyozan due to the latter’s being called up to Juryo, but should both men prevail then they will almost certainly be each other’s 6th opponent.
Ms17 Ryuko (Onoe) – I predicted Ryuko would lose to Tomokaze, and he did. I did not, however, predict that he would lose his next two matches as well. He has not been able to establish his pushing attack and has been out-thrusted in a couple matches. At 1-3, he still has time to grab the kachi-koshi that I felt would signify good progress after a storming start to his career, but he’s got to win out.
Ms18 Tomokaze (Oguruma) – If Tomokaze is involved you can pretty much guarantee the final result will be an oshidashi for someone, usually him. He knocked off Ryuko and has gone on to post a 3-1 record leaving him in a good position to make a nice jump up the banzuke. He bested Hokaho today in a good match – though it was also notable for the fact that Hokaho might have a shiko to rival that of Abi.
Ms46 Tochikodai (Kasugano) – I was really excited to see Tochikodai make his debut in the division following an incredible tournament last time out, but alas he’s been kyujo for all of the first week, debuting on day 8 with a loss to a struggling rikishi in Sasayama. This has been disappointing for everyone concerned, but since I make the rules on this feature we’re going to sub in another exciting rikishi to make up for the fact that he’s been AWOL.
Ms47 Nishikifuji (Isegahama) – After Nishikifuji’s illness-riddled Hatsu, I was expecting to see a bounce back and he has so far delivered to the tune of a 3-1 record. If he can keep up the pace then at Natsu we’ll get to see whether he can recover his early career form to challenge for a spot nearer the top of the division.
Ms56 Fukuyama (Fujishima) – My comments on Fukuyama were that he might struggle given Tanabe’s struggles around the same area of the banzuke last time out, given that the two of them had tracked results quite closely to open their careers in the bottom three divisions. That has indeed borne out as Fukuyama needs to win out to avoid following Tanabe’s path back to Sandanme next time out.
Sd2 Musashikuni (Musashigawa) – My “draft and follow” choice and first of three Musashigawa selections in the division had a narrow make-koshi last time out and has featured mixed results this time en route to a 2-2 line thus far.
Sd12 Tanabe (Kise) – What a time to be a Kise-beya rikishi, what with all of the action in the stable around the sekitori promotion line. Tanabe made fast moves but stumbled last time out and I expected him to rebound, regain his promotion and join all his mates up at the top of that division. He’s very close to fulfilling my expectations and likely that of his oyakata with a 3-1 start and a variety of kimarite mixed into the bargain.
Sd37 Shoji (Musashigawa) – The grappler stumbled to a narrow make-koshi last time after a pair of zensho and I was hoping his development would see him back on track. He won the first three matches this time out to set him up for a strong promotion challenge, and then I showed up and filmed him which is basically the curse at this point for talented young rikishi. Let’s check out some VT of the zanbara-clad man’s “oshidashi” (looked to me like he was forced out rather than pushed) loss today to Wakanofuji:
Sd89 Wakaichiro (Musashigawa) – As we covered earlier, the Texan sumotori dropped his Day 8 bout to Ginseizan, leaving his effort to consolidate his Sandanme position somewhat in the balance as he’s now followed 2 opening wins with 2 losses. That being said, he’s clearly showing a much higher level of skill, ability and ring sense in his second crack at the division, and there’s no question he belongs at the level, so we will hope he can grab those 2 additional wins to secure his spot for Natsu.
Bonus! Sd100TD Kizakiumi (Kise) – Tochikodai’s kyujo week led me to insert Kizakiumi, younger brother to Kise’s Kizaki (previously featured on this rundown, who’s been floating around the top of Makushita for a minute). Kizakiumi’s advanced debut as Sandanme tsukedashi and his performance in that debut give rise to the thought that the 22 year old could scale similar heights before long: he finds himself fresh amongst a yusho challenge, albeit one where he has faced almost exclusively Jonidan challengers so far and he will get another one on Day 9. Should he win, it would be good to see him get pulled up to take on one of the multitude of unbeaten rikishi higher in the division.
Jd5 Hayashi (Fujishima) vs Jd5 Torakio (Naruto) – The pair have mirror records heading into the final week. Hayashi is having some trouble fulfilling his earlier promise at 1-3, while Torakio has recovered well from his injury riddled Little Hatsu of Horrors to put himself a win away from a re-promotion to Sandanme.
Jd42 Kototebakari (Sadogatake) – He’s bounced back nicely from an opening day loss to Tsukuhara (who also won the Jonokuchi yusho at his expense and is doubtlessly wondering what he needs to do to get featured here) to post a 3-1 record. They’re starting to build a decent rivalry for two youngsters and this big bopper of an 18 year old will want to finish strongly. Most of the rest of his stable are either hanging around the lower tiers with middling results or are sekitori who are falling apart, so it’s a good time to make some waves.
Jd78 Yoshoyama (Tokitsukaze) – One minute you’re the most exciting debutant in the game and then next month the bloodlines of two of the greatest of all time take over all the headlines. Anyway, while all the spotlight has been on the next two characters, Yoshoyama has somewhat quietly put a 4 spot on the board to open Haru. He takes on the 14 slots higher ranked Terumichi on Day 9 as the schedulers start to thin out the yusho herd.
Jk18 Naya (Otake) – Taiho’s grandson has been mowing down the opposition, including the next man on our list, en route to a 4-0 start. He draws Isegahama’s Osumifuji on Day 9, who is probably reconsidering his career choices. It’s too early to draw too many conclusions apart from the fact that it would take a seismic shift to stop him winning the yusho: he is both massive and has technique, either of which would be good enough to coast at this level but taken together makes him unstoppable for the time being. He has the body of a rikishi ranked divisions higher. We’ll see him there before long.
Jk19 Hoshoryu (Tatsunami) – Asashoryu’s nephew is also making a strong debut, simply having been outmuscled by Naya as Herouth posted earlier in the week, en route to his current 3-1 record. I was partially hoping that the schedulers would be cruel enough to throw Hattorizakura to the wolves and see what would happen when worlds collide, but they have not done that because they are nice. Instead we’ll watch as Hoshoryu continues to develop his rivalry with Naya, wait until the next time they face each other, and watch him push for as big of a promotion as he can get for Natsu, likely by way of 3 more wins.
Finally, our man Hattorizakura gets the newly renamed Houn on Day 9, a man with two career wins, both of whom came against Hattorizakura. Perhaps he can do the unthinkable?
As Bruce noted, Wakaichiro was in action today on Day 8, taking on Ginseizan of Otake-beya. Fortunately, I was at the EDION Arena taking in the day’s action, so Tachiai can provide the video of this match ourselves (with the usual disclaimer about elderly folks ambling into our camera angle).
Less fortunately, Wakaichiro suffered defeat to his 24 year old opponent by oshidashi in a battle of pushing and thrusting. He is now 2-2 on the tournament and we will continue to cheer him on as he pursues a kachi-koshi and upward momentum in the Sandanme division. As the rikishi walk past the spectators on the way into the arena, I attempted to find our man before the match but unfortunately could not find the entrance point for the east side until after his match had concluded. More on today’s experience at the EDION Arena will be coming soon to Tachiai.
This is the third and final part of our chat with journalist and sumo pundit John Gunning. Click here to read part 1 and click here to read part 2 to get caught up on our conversation if you haven’t yet! Many thanks to the Inside Sport Japan founder and NHK World and Japan Times man on taking the time to chat with us and answer many reader questions. While I wish we could have asked all of our reader questions, John was very gracious and giving with his time and volunteered the opportunity to do it again.
That being said, we weren’t going to miss the opportunity to talk about someone who’s become a bit of a curiosity to Tachiai readers (and the Tachiai team itself!), so let’s start with a question about our favourite hapless rikishi…
Tachiai: On a completely different end of the spectrum, have you heard of Hattorizakura?
JG: Yeah, yeah. Of course.
Tachiai: We’re huge fans of his enthusiasm, and the fact that he continues to have a go despite his incredible losing streak. Has there ever been anyone like that in sumo before that continues to not put up wins but just get up there on the dohyo and keep going?
JG: There have been lots of guys over the years. Do you remember Sugishita?
JG: He lasted 2 years in sumo and didn’t win a single fight. He got one win by fusen-sho. And he retired soon afterwards. He was something like 0 and 40. [nb: fantastic memory – including the fusen win, he was 1-41]. People were thinking he was just doing it as a piss-take. You never know. But you have guys that go their whole 20 year careers and never get past lower Sandanme.
You get all types of people. It depends on their own motivation to be a rikishi as well. Some guys you know from day 1, if somebody comes into sumo like Baraki who’s in Kitazakura’s place –
Tachiai: Shikihide-beya. Same as Hattorizakura.
JG: He’s about 161… 163 centimetres tall, right? What’s he going to do? There’s no way… no way in hell he’s ever going to get to the top division, or even become a sekitori, it’s just an impossibility. He’s too small. So… why is he even interested?
You’ve got guys who love the sport, guys that just love the lifestyle of it, guys who may be doing it for some other reason. Maybe their grandfather or grandmother loves sumo. Maybe they just don’t have anything else to do. A lot of the kids who join sumo at 15, if they’re leaving school at junior high school level, they’re not going to go on and get their doctorate in mathematics. So, for somebody who doesn’t really have any desire to continue education, what are they going to do? They might go and work in construction or farming or something like that, and sumo is a better option for them. So they give it a go, and when they retire they can go do that other thing anyway.
I know guys like that and I ask them that question – why do you stick with it? They just love sumo, they love being a rikishi. They might not be a sekitori, but it’s still special. They’re still part of a very unique group of people. Even if you’re not a Yokozuna and you’re just in Jonidan, you’ve got the mage, so that’s something you can say. You’re on the banzuke which has been published for a few hundred years, it’s a special thing!
Tachiai: Yeah, of course. Here’s more of a cultural question from AG. He says: “Mr. Gunning, we have all seen the tensions between the ‘sumo for Japanese rikishi only’ crowd, and those who accept or even celebrate the infusion of international talent. As Japan changes demographically, how do you expect that to change?”
JG: Sumo for Japanese only rikishi crowd? In the Sumo Association or online?
Tachiai: I think he means in the fan community. Let’s say that.
JG: If it’s in the fan community, it doesn’t really affect anything. In the Sumo Association there’s no “sumo for Japanese only” feeling – it’s one of the most open to foreigner-organisations in all of Japan. I think this may be a misconception among some foreign fans, that there’s some inbuilt dislike or distrust of foreigners. Look at all of the Mongolians who have become Yokozuna.
There is the one foreigner per stable rule, but that wasn’t introduced along racial lines. It was introduced because you would have ten Hawaiian guys in the same stable, they weren’t learning Japanese, and were just hanging out. That was about protecting the culture of stables.
Tachiai: So that people would culturally assimilate?
JG: Sumo’s remit is to protect sumo, not to give way to different thoughts and ideas. So with having one foreigner per stable as a rule, it’s to ensure anyone who comes does assimilate because they don’t have a little clique where they can just live in their own culture. There are still Mongolians that do hang out together, but if you come to join sumo there are no concessions made. You become a rikishi, the same as anyone else. There are people who are racist in every walk of life, but there’s no “sumo for Japanese only” crowd or thinking like that in the Sumo Association. If people think that, then they just don’t understand the world of sumo.
Tachiai: Yamanashi is a Tachiai reader who wants to know if you are able to identify any innovators in sumo – an oyakata, or someone with new training ideas – or someone who has invested in logistics, management, publicity, et cetera.
JG: Hmm! There are some stables and some rikishi who do stuff in addition to the traditional sumo training. But go back to the question of “what is sumo?” Ozumo is not a sport, it’s a lifestyle. This is also a thing that people have trouble getting their heads around.
If you say, “rikishi should pull out for a year and heal up and be ready to come back,” then you’re putting a priority on tournament results over the lifestyle and doing the training of sumo. A truer sense of sumo is being a rikishi and doing sumo every day. The tournaments are part of what being a rikishi is, but the daily lifestyle of a rikishi is also part of what sumo is. Training is not a means to an end in sumo, training is what sumo is. So, you can’t just modernise that, because then you’re changing what sumo is.
You get guys who will still do stuff outside of that in addition. Like we were saying, the young guys like Mitakeumi or Takakeisho will add on extra stuff, either gym work or even working in a pool like we showed with Hokutofuji (on the NHK World Sumo preview before Hatsu). But that tends to be a much smaller part. That’s more about just improving yourself physically. You have to live the sumo lifestyle. That’s what sumo is.
You’re not going to get huge changes, but there are variations: every stable’s keiko is different. What they do is different because they’re all schools of thought, from master to student. You’ll see a variety of different types of things, but they all fall inside sumo tradition.
Shikihide makes sure all of his guys go to high school and graduate. They do yoga after training is finished. There are other oyakata who try to give a more rounded education. Like any sport, you have different coaches with different approaches, and some guys have a much more open mindset to new ideas. In some places, nothing has changed since 1750! But I wouldn’t call them innovators as such, because still everyone has to stick to what sumo is. There’s no skipping keiko and, for example, only doing resistance-band training. There’s nothing like that. Each stable still has the core of sumo training.
Tachiai: So, kind of along those lines, let’s go back to the post that you wrote in The Japan Times about the Jungyo and injuries. We’ll finish with a reader question from Bakanofuji, who says:
“Clearly you believe, and most of us fans agree, that there needs to be a series of changes in the Sumo Association geared towards injury prevention and allowing for full rehabilitation of injured wrestlers. Are there any groups within the Kyokai that are working towards making it happen? One would assume that the Rikishi Association would push for this, but it doesn’t seem like that’s in the works, potentially because some of those people will soon be oyakata themselves. Who else is there that can advocate for the rank and file wrestlers?”
There are probably about 3 or 4 questions in there for you!
JG: Clearly? Really? (laughs) I don’t know if I said that I clearly believe that or not!
I understand the questions, but again that’s making some jumps and assumptions. First of all, the rikishi association is nothing. It’s informal, they don’t have any power, they get together but don’t do anything. There isn’t a monolithic Sumo Association. The Sumo Association is a very loose group of competing interests and ideas. As I said, doing sumo training is sumo. There isn’t the push to change that, because that would change what sumo is and nobody wants that.
I’ve said lots of rikishi hate the jungyo because it’s badly organised, and it doesn’t really help the rikishi. But the problem with that is, again, going back to the sumo association’s remit, they have to popularise sumo in Japan. And a traditional way to do that is to visit the regions and local areas. Nowadays, I think it’s not required as much, because people have more access to sumo through the internet. People have a connection to sumo that they didn’t have before. People can also travel more and have more disposable income, so they see sumo live or online or in a lot of ways they couldn’t before. So sumo may not need jungyo as much as it did before, but still it’s where a lot of rikishi first encounter sumo. Like I said, I saw sumo on TV but when I first went to a tournament that’s what really kicked my sumo interest into high gear.
Tachiai: Same for me.
JG: Same for you, and also for a lot of people in Japan. Most people in Japan have no contact with sumo in a physical sense, so the first time they see a rikishi even if it’s only at a jungyo event, that can spark somebody into wanting to become a rikishi.
Obviously there’s a financial element to it as well: they get a lot of money from these places. So jungyo generates a lot of money, and it’s broadening their appeal and popularity in Japan which is key to them. There’s a competing tension to that: it may not be good for the rikishi in a physical sense. But again, the Sumo Association is run by older people who had a much harder time when they were young, so they feel that “young guys these days are soft and should toughen up!” (laughs). There’s that mentality too!
So, I don’t think there’s any big push to change it. Rikishi moan and complain about it, and it doesn’t help, but it’s not that bad either. You can pace yourself on jungyo if you want. I might have overemphasised the rikishi complaining a little bit.
It’s a contact sport! People are going to get injured regardless, whether they’re at home or not. You can’t avoid it. I never broke a bone in my life until I did sumo, and then I shattered my arm top-to-bottom in 3 places, I fractured my skull, I broke teeth. I didn’t do keiko once without ending up injured. You’re smashing into people on a hard surface, with no protection: that’s going to injure you. It’s almost inevitable! That’s the nature of it, and the nature of sumo is essentially being able to fight through those injuries. That’s the mental thing, you know?
Tachiai: Thanks again for taking the time to chat with us.
If you’re a person who feels like the lack of functioningYokozuna has left a void of intrigue, or that the Juryo storylines for Haru weren’t enough to sate your lower division sumo appetite, then we’re happy to give you the gift of the Ones to Watch for this basho. Haru sees this series’ second and third graduates exit the listing, as Enho and Takayoshitoshi join Mitoryu as Ones to Watch alumni. We wish them the best of luck in the second division, hopefully onward and upward!
Ms1 Hakuyozan (Takadagawa) – We won’t get Hakuho at the top of Makuuchi in Osaka, but we will get Hakuyozan at the top of Makushita. The Takadagawa man has been around so long (seven years!) that it’s tough to believe he’s still only 22. After a long run at the level and a number of tries in promotion position, he has made it to the summit of the amateur divisions and four wins from a debut in a kesho-mawashi. He reached the same rank two years ago and failed at the first time of asking, and will hopefully be looking at better results this time, having skilfully navigated the brutal bottleneck at the top of the division to the extent that only his results matter now. He’s not a top prospect and struggles against more hyped opponents, but he’s worth a mention as someone who could be about to make the next step and potentially play a part in the turnover of the upper divisions.
Ms1 Wakatakakage (Arashio) – We’ve been featuring him here since his impressive debut, and now with a yusho in the bag in both the third and fourth divisions, the reigning Makushita championship holder will look to grab the kachi-koshi that will surely seal his promotion to Juryo. Last time out we featured him alongside his brothers, who may not be far behind, but the alliterative rikishi from Fukushima has established a rather impressive record to go with an equally impressive collection of early kimarite. This tournament will present different challenges than he faced in week one at Ms17, but it’s hard to look past the yusho holder when making a list of must-follow competitors at this level in Osaka.
Ms5 Chiyonoumi (Kokonoe) – It dawned on me while writing this that for all of their mainstays in the top divisions, we’ve never featured a Kokonoe-beya rikishi in one of these listings. Chiyonoumi won three early yusho to vault him up the banzuke only to fall to an extended kyujo period and have to rebuild his status again. Therefore it is a bit of an anomaly that at the age of 25, this is only his 14th tournament. Of his previous tournaments, he has suffered only one make-koshi and has rebounded nicely to put himself into promotion position, a lane made slightly clearer now that he will no longer have to face a seasoned sekitori in Osunaarashi.
Ms11 Ichiyamamoto (Nishonoseki) – Hatsu made it a sixth consecutive convincing kachi-koshi to open Ichiyamamoto’s career, and he will look for similar results in Osaka to set himself up for a promotion window at Natsu. ‘Big Guns’ Shohozan is the only sekitori in the stable, but the oshi-specialist Ichiyamamoto is making a case to join him later this year by relying on relentless forward motion to put together a string of impressive, clinical performances. As with Wakatakakage, the top quarter of the Makushita division will present some altogether different challenges than he faced the last few times out, and adjusting to veteran opposition will be the challenge here. There are a slew of Juryo/Makuuchi vets right in front of him on the banzuke and he will surely get matched with some of them over the next two weeks.
Ms13 Murata (Takasago) – Murata had a setback last time as he ran into highly competitive opposition, but there’s not going to be any let-up this time despite the drop from Ms8 to Ms13. He will likely face many of the same names that pushed him to a 3-4 make-koshi, but he suffered the same result at Aki and responded at Kyushu by correcting errors en route to a convincing 6-1 record which vaulted him up the banzuke and into the promotion mixer. The good side of his challenging list of likely opponents is that he did face many of them four months ago in that strong Kyushu, and that should position him confidently to reclaim his spot in the top ten at Natsu.
Ms17 Ryuko (Onoe) – Ryuko is just one loss worse off than Ichiyamamoto in his career, and it’s fairly incredible that the difference between them at this point is their first ever professional match in Jonokuchi, a head-to-head bout won by Ichiyamamoto on his way to the yusho. Another oshi-heavy fighter, Ryuko now comes into a part of the banzuke where he’s going to be pitted against tougher opponents. A 4 or 5 win tournament here would be a good show of progress.
Ms18 Tomokaze (Oguruma) – He knocked off Ryuko at Hatsu and I would expect him to face him again and win again. I expect a little more from the Oguruma man who has pocketed two lower division yusho already. He shows promise, and may be able to stem the bleeding the stable is starting to experience in the top two divisions. It would be an enormous surprise if he’s not able to get to Juryo by Kyushu, especially as the promotion lanes appear to be more open than ever, in spite of the enormous bottleneck at the top of the division. Tomokaze is a good sized rikishi with good physicality, but maintaining mobility and balance in his matches against tougher rikishi is going to be key.
Ms46 Tochikodai (Kasugano) – It’s an exciting time at Kasugano-beya, and after a steady start to his career, Tochikodai pressed the accelerator with an impressive 7 win run at Sandanme to launch himself far up the banzuke. Many who dominate the lower levels tend to struggle in their first matches in mid-Makushita, so how he copes with a significantly increased quality of opposition may be fascinating. What’s also interesting is where we see many prospects relying on oshi-zumo manoeuvres, Tochikodai is, like his stablemate Tochinoshin, a rikishi who wants to get on the mawashi. He has no issue waiting out his opponent in the middle of the dohyo before attempting a more varied mix of kimarite than the common oshidashi-or-nothing.
Ms47 Nishikifuji (Isegahama) – We’ll allow a mulligan here as Nishikifuji suffered along with many other Isegahama rikishi from illness during the Hatsu basho, which deposited him back down around the ranking we saw him at Kyushu. He turned in a strong performance there, however, and the goal now is to reclaim the ranking in the upper half of the division that he ceded with his poor performance at Hatsu. Hopefully he’s genki and ready to go.
Ms56 Fukuyama (Fujishima) – It’s five straight kachi-koshi to open the Fujishima man’s career, but the last two have been of the last day variety. Fukuyama has somewhat tracked careers with Tanabe thus far, and as the rikishi that I’ve always felt was more talented – Tanabe – struggled to hold his own at this level last time out, that may forebode similar results. An early 4th win would do wonders here.
Sd2 Musashikuni (Musashigawa) – As I said at the time, this is going to be more of the draft-and-follow type of pick for me. We’ll hang in there because we believe in the man’s pedigree, and there’s just a lot of interesting stuff happening at Musashigawa-beya right now. We regularly have 2-3 rikishi on the list and while it has taken him a while to progress, it’s getting tough to look past this man – the top in the stable – as potentially the one who will represent the stable at some point (maybe late 2019 or 2020) in the professional ranks.
Sd12 Tanabe (Kise) – Tanabe was still in zanbara at Hatsu and in addition to not looking the part, he didn’t act the part. He’s another oshi-zumo guy who suffered some truly humiliating losses in his debut at Makushita level following a confident progression to the division over 4 tournaments in which he made it look, frankly, easy. The minimum requirement here is a competent, strong kachi-koshi, so that he can get back where he belongs and continue his progression. Confidence is really the key word in terms of what I’m looking for out of Tanabe this time out.
Sd37 Shoji (Musashigawa) – Shoji probably wasn’t the best rikishi in the two tournaments he won over Torakio, but he won them and that’s what counts. But in so doing, he was promoted beyond his means and fell to a narrow make-kochi last time out. I think he’s well placed here to regain his momentum. His tachiai isn’t brilliant but that’s to be expected at the level. This guy does more grappling than Edmund Hillary. The interesting thing in that is that while he cruised to those first two yusho mostly with push/thrust victories, he clearly seems to want to go to work on the mawashi, as Murray Johnson might say. Watching the development of a young rikishi in that moment is pretty fascinating stuff.
Sd89 Wakaichiro (Musashigawa) – Obviously, we breathlessly covered the Texan’s re-promotion to the fourth tier at Hatsu, and we’ll be looking for better results this time out following a tough Kyushu at the level where he posted just one win. However if we’re looking for positive omens, he seems to struggle a bit against the seemingly omnipresent Sadogatake rikishi in this part of the banzuke with a 1-4 record against the stable, and it’s unlikely he’ll face more than one of them this time out. His markedly more confident dohyo presence (including a face slapping routine which feels like it could even develop into something Takamisakari inspired) is continuing to make him an even more enjoyable watch. As ever, Team Tachiai will be cheering him on.
Jd5 Hayashi (Fujishima) vs Jd5 Torakio (Naruto) – It’s kind of cool when you get to see two really interesting rikishi at the same rank this far down. Mike Hayashi has had two quietly good tournaments to start his career. His positioning at the top of the division is arguably a lot more interesting from a competitive perspective than had he been promoted a level after his 5 win Hatsu, as a good tournament could see him set for a huge promotion next time out. Torakio, meanwhile, has been demoted following a shocking time of it at Hatsu where he went 2-4-1, suffering a henka loss and then two nasty throws which left him clutching his arm in pain both times. The strong Bulgarian has already shown he can be a force to be reckoned with – and it’ll be interesting to see his health tested, especially should he be drawn as expected against his counterpart here from the off.
Jd42 Kototebakari (Sadogatake) – Kototebakari just had too much for his opponents last time out, and at 188 cm had a big height advantage on competitors. He is an imposing rikishi and only lost the yusho via a playoff after dropping his only match on a visit up a level to Jonidan, so it will be interesting to see how he handles the improved level of competition. Sadogatake have an enormous amount of rikishi in the stable – he’s going to be an interesting follow as the stable has a couple interesting prospects but many rikishi who are lost in Sandanme.
Jd78 Yoshoyama (Tokitsukaze) – Bigger things were expected in the debut from the Mongolian who limped to a 4-3 kachi-koshi. He didn’t appear as strong as his billing, but if you’re looking for positives at least you can say he has a lower and more aggressive tachiai than his much maligned stablemate Shodai. This is still a part of the banzuke where a good prospect can do some serious damage, and if he’s added strength/weight he should still be a good bet for a strong tournament.
Haru is the tournament that sees the most amount of entrants to the sport, and we will see a bumper crop of new, talented rikishi taking their turns in mae-zumo. However, two of the most anticipated debutants will make their full bow in Osaka, and both come with connections to two of the all time greats – along with considerable media coverage:
Jk18 Naya (Otake) – he is the grandson of Taiho, and so naturally has moved into the predecessor heya to the one owned/operated by his grandfather, the great. He is also the son of former Sekiwake/oyakata and 9-time kinboshi specialist Takatoriki. So, he has some fairly large footsteps to fill. However, at just the age of 18, he is already a fairly massive 166kg. His progression will be fascinating to watch, along with that of…
Jk19 Hoshoryu (Tatsunami) – The nephew of Yokozuna Asashoryu has been covered/anticipated in sumo circles for a while. You may have seen him referenced under his real name Byambasuren before he took a shikona referencing his famous relative. While comparisons will doubtlessly be made, it would be unfair to expect the meteoric rise of his uncle. Naya got the better of him in maezumo, and they will inevitably match up again here, and it may be the first of many interesting battles to come, should they both meet their potential and hype.
As we all know, sumo is a sport punctuated by ritual. I’ve created a new ritual for myself: I like to enjoy a trip around the start of every honbasho to Sumo Dog – a Japanese and quasi-sumo themed hot dog specialty restaurant in Los Angeles. In anticipation of the upcoming Haru basho, I did this again today. It is both odd and cool that a sumo-flavored restaurant exists and for those of you who are reading and are very near or very far from Los Angeles, please enjoy the following review of the Sumo Dog experience.
Sumo Dog is a fast-casual establishment which opened about a year ago on the periphery of Los Angeles’s Koreatown neighborhood. Opened by Chef Jeffery Lunak and Mark Stone, it’s an unassuming small shop on a block which has now come to be lined with ever more ridiculous dessert options (like cotton candy ice cream burritos). With that in mind, we’ll focus on the main Sumo Dog selection.
When you enter the restaurant you are created by an impressive sized statuette of a yokozuna. I believe this is Asashoryu in the below image (if it’s not, please correct me in the comments!), however when I asked one of the chefs one day (which may have been one of the owners) he said “that’s Sumo Joe.” For a sumo fan, it was not the most impressive response.
The walls are plastered with Sumo Dog posters which comprise of a drawing of a rikishi and the Sumo Dog logo, as well as their admittedly very impressive and cool selection of merch, like t-shirts and hats. The atmosphere overall is casual and good and one can imagine it might not be out of place in Tokyo with a bit of work.
Sumo Dog’s menu is where they really shine. Out of the 8 hot dog based dishes, several have taken very liberal inspiration from Japanese flavors. I’ll add a few photos of the menu below from several trips.
The Sumo Dog is their signature dish, and comes covered in wasabi relish, furikake and nori as well as pickled peppers, onion, spicy mayo and teriyaki sauce. I have never been much of a hot dog person, but I love Japanese flavors and they have captured some great – potentially even complex – flavor in this dish. It gives you the sort of satisfaction you get when you see a classically executed uwatenage.
The Miso Katsu dog is a spot on recreation of a classic dish in hot dog format, with a perfect panko crust giving a nice contrast to the miso and cabbage. At $13, the Godzilla is perhaps best suited to aspiring sekitori, and is a monster foot long hot dog covered with many of the same elements of their classic Sumo Dog as well as their togarashi cheese sauce and slaw. Perhaps they should rename it the kinboshi because it is simply so big that taking this hot dog down is like a rank-and-filer trying to knock off a Yokozuna: it’s hard work, and if you can finish it, people will be very impressed!
The menu also sports a number of more Angeleno-centric and traditional inspirations, but each one of the frankfurters has some kind of Japanese element, whether it’s the pickled daikon and togarashi on the chili dog, or the tempura crunch that’s been added to their “Romero” guacamole hot dog.
Finally, Sumo Dog is also known for its sides, especially the tater tots formed from sushi rice which are delivered with a generous helping of wasabi and the togarashi cheese dipping sauce. It’s a nice compliment for a Ramune, several flavors of which are kept in the cooler.
Sumo Dog is a very good, fun addition to the food landscape in Los Angeles and a great place to enjoy an interesting take on Japanese ingredients. While the restaurant has done a great job capturing some sumo-themed elements in their branding and merch, if they can put some more work into paying homage to the sport in the restaurant’s overall design and staff’s knowledge, they will have a very special winner. As ever, I’m sure I’ll be visiting ahead of the Natsu basho as well.
Sumo Dog is located at 516 S. Western Avenue in Los Angeles – and you can check out their full menu on their website at eatsumodog.com.
While we tend to focus the lion’s share of our attention on what’s happening in the top division, or who the hot up-and-comers are in the sport, the banzuke announcement for Haru 2018 has prompted an unusual amount of intrigue at Juryo level. The division typically features a handful of grizzled vets trying to make it back to the big time, a couple interesting prospects, and/or some rikishi trying to recover form and rank following some recent injuries. But this time, we get all of those features and more in larger than usual numbers. Incredibly, 11 out of the 28 rikishi are also fighting at their highest ever rank. So, here’s a look at some storylines heading into next Sunday’s action:
1. Can Kyokutaisei win promotion?
He’s not a household name and was never a hot prospect, but Kyokutaisei has been an interesting follow for a while now, and plies his trade under the former fan-and-rikishi-favorite Kyokutenho at Tomozuna-beya. He’s an intriguing name, not least due to his rare status as a rikishi with a starring film credit in the film “A Normal Life,” which detailed the then-18 year old’s entry into the sumo world. It’s a fascinating, highly-recommended watch, and details a lot of the less-glamourous aspects of the life of a young rikishi.
Since debuting at this tournament 10 years ago, it’s been a slow and steady progression for the 28 year old. He reached the rank of Juryo 1 West and put up a 8-7 record at Hatsu, but it wasn’t enough to clinch one of the three promotion places and he’ll start Haru as the top ranked man in Juryo. He has clearly benefitted from the tutelage of Tomozuna-oyakata, and after a collapse that saw him fritter away a promotion opportunity having won 2 from his last 7 at Hatsu, hopefully he will be able to find the consistency to push him up to the top division after an incredible journey.
2: Golden Oldie Revival?
While 30 is not so old in the scheme of things, it is the age in many sports where serious fitness questions start to be asked. Of the eight rikishi directly behind Kyokutaisei in the banzuke, six are 30 or over, with the other two being 29 year old Azumaryu who will turn 30 by Natsu and the 22 year old up-and-comer Meisei.
This group includes the fan favorites and recently demoted makuuchi pair Aminishiki and Takakaze, as well as Gagamaru, Tokushoryu and Sadanoumi, who have recently spent more time in the Juryo wilderness than out of it. Haru should give us a good sense of whether any of these men can win the day and emphatically book their ticket back to the top division, or whether we will see an attritional battle indicative of the winding down of their careers.
3: Whither Kaiju?
Terunofuji’s health and the direction of the career have been the subjects of much debate, on these pages as well as within the comments section of the site. How long has it been since he last pushed someone out of the dohyo? The Juryo 5’s last win came as an Ozeki (interestingly, against current Emperor’s Cup holder Tochinoshin). He’s 0 for his last 15, and 2 for his last 21 excluding fusen losses, and has withdrawn at some stage of the last four tournaments.
The numbers, then, don’t look encouraging. But longtime followers will know what Terunofuji is capable of, and it’s possible that the jungyo-less time between Hatsu and Haru will have provided a platform for him to recapture some kind of form, and maybe even enough to find a promotion opportunity or at least get himself in a better position for Natsu. This tournament will be one year since the Haru 2017 Day 14 ‘henka heard round Osaka’ which halted Kotoshogiku from regaining his Ozeki rank – and at that time it would have taken a bold punter to bet that Kotoshogiku would be so far in front of his former Ozeki colleague a year later on the banzuke. Sumo is better for seeing the Isegahama man at his incredible best – but even some fraction of that will be a positive step forward for the Mongolian.
The Takanohana man hasn’t been seen since the Remote-Control-gate scandal that cost Yokozuna Harumafuji his sumo career. While the scandal rolled on through the end days of 2017, Takanoiwa abstained from duty while his head injuries healed. Now he finds himself near the bottom of the Juryo division at J12, surrounded by a plethora of talented youngsters. The Mongolian, in good health on his day is a match for anyone in the top division owing to his incredible strength. It stands to reason then that, if active, he should be an automatic title favorite in the Juryo yusho race. But will he even be active for Haru, and if so, will he be able to knock off the cobwebs and challenge for it?
5. The Second Wave
Much has been made of the new wave of talent that has rolled into makuuchi in the last year. While Takakeisho and Onosho and Hokutofuji have taken the division by storm and already established themselves in the top half, more up and comers like Asanoyama, Yutakayama and Abi have latterly pushed on and forced their way into the tournament story lines, grabbing special prizes and charming audiences along the way.
Now there’s another new crop of youngsters looking to depose the favorites who have dominated the sport over the past few years: as mentioned above, 11 of the 28 Juryo men are competing at a new or joint-highest ranking. But digging a little deeper, of the 11 men at the bottom of the Juryo ranks, seven are 23 years of age or younger, with the much watched Enho and Takayoshitoshi making their debuts in the division this time out as part of the incredible 7 promotees from the Makushita tier at Hatsu.
Different questions will be asked of each of these rikishi. For Yago, Takagenji, Daishoho and Terutsuyoshi, the challenge is simple: they need to put cobble together enough wins to consolidate their place in the division, and establish themselves at the level. For Enho and Takayoshitoshi, who were promoted with records at ranks that wouldn’t normally justify a promotion, it’s about damage limitation and seeing if they can put a surprise run together: no one, after being promoted with the records they had last time out for the very first time at this level, would begrudge them a return to Makushita, but you can be sure that isn’t what they are thinking about. They are here to prove they belong. Enho in particular is a comparatively very small rikishi who can provide entertaining all-action sumo, but he’s got to keep himself healthy.
Finally, that leaves Mitoryu. The enormous, much hyped Mongolian made a strong start at Hatsu before fading with just 2 wins over the last week, but that was enough to get him a kachi-koshi in his first tournament as a sekitori. Now, he’s got a great chance to push on, in a very competitive field.
While the five story lines above are interesting in their own right – incredibly, they may not even facilitate the top headlines when it’s all said and done. Youngsters Meisei and Takanosho are two rikishi not discussed here in detail, and they could well make waves this time out as well after their progress over the last year. While Juryo is sometimes a bit of a difficult division to get excited about, at Haru, it will certainly be “one to watch.”