Originally, knowing that I was to attend two days of the Haru basho, I had intended to write one post about the basho experience, enjoy this amazing city of Osaka, do a podcast with Bruce (like and subscribe), and then head back to the EDION Arena for Day 11 only with the intention of enjoying the action.
But then, magical moments intervened, and here I am again.
Day 11’s torikumi was pretty remarkable. And there are multiple reasons for that. First of all, the big performers have been delivering big performances. There are challengers down the banzuke. There is intrigue from the ozeki ranks going in both directions. And also, apart from Chiyonokuni’s pre-tournament withdrawal, there have been no kyujo announcements and no fusen-sho. The gang’s all here.
The Haru day 11 torikumi is insane. Terunofuji. Roga. @IchiroYoung_ (!). (lunch break) Maikeru. Naya. Kuni. Midorifuji. 3 Onamis. Churanoumi. Kamatani. Enho. Ishiura/Kotoshogiku. Shohozan/Abi. Aoiyama/Ichinojo. Takayasu/Tochinoshin. Hakuho/Takakeisho.
I will be there. CAN’T WAIT
— Josh Kahn & Co. (@jsklfc) March 19, 2019
I didn’t get all of it. Partly because I arrived a little later than I had intended, and partly because I wanted to enjoy more of what the venue had to offer. So while I’m happy I missed Wakaichiro losing, because I never want to see him lose – I’m also sorry I missed a few Makushita and Juryo matches I would have liked to have seen.
I also missed almost every dohyo-iri. That’s because I decided to take part in one of Osaka’s great traditions, waiting by the shitakubeya entrance/exit for the rikishi to cross through the fans on their way to the dohyo. For every 10 pictures you’ll try and snap of this, you’ll get, well, one that might be passable:
The other thing that I saw during this period, that I think needs to be called out, was the warmness and generosity of one Kotoyuki-zeki. Rikishi are not really meant to interact too much with fans on their way through the open areas, because if they did then all hell would break loose. Usually, they do turn the blinders on, and stay deep in focus. But Kotoyuki, on his way back from winning his match was fist-bumping fans in the hallways, and then later, on his way back to (presumably) the heya, was warmly shaking hands with elderly fans and thanking them for their support. The proximity that punters can get to the rikishi, especially here in Osaka, is truly part of what makes the sumo experience special.
Bruce has done an excellent job covering many of the Ones to Watch, and I’m going to dig back in to some of the lower division performances I’ve seen in a later post, likely after the basho. For now, I’ll close with a few comments on the top division:
Ikioi: his heavy metal sumo hasn’t been on display, and he probably isn’t fit to be on a dohyo. And probably, if he were anywhere else, I don’t think he would be, even though he is the consummate competitor. But his match was the first time the fans really sparked into life on Day 11, and I think he deserves immense credit for turning up in his hometown every day, even if he is – as Kintamayama accurately remarked in his subtitles today – a “walking hospital.”
Ichinojo: Today’s match against Aoiyama felt like a step forward for him. He was up against a lesser-heralded opponent and in a high pressure situation. Usually, you’d bet on him folding in these scenarios, but he set a booby-trap for the Bulgarian by wearing him down, and using his own immense stamina to his advantage. He’ll avoid big names from here, and a 13 or 14 win tournament could certainly make things interesting come May and July, whatever happens.
Goeido: He has rebounded from his defeats and he continues to display the hell for leather attacking sumo that won him a yusho. If he continues to fight like this and can keep himself in this kind of shape, maybe it won’t be in Osaka, but he will challenge for more titles. The crowd support for him was greater than anything I’ve seen in Fukuoka or Nagoya for any other local rikishi – and if you scroll through the content that the NSK themselves have been interacting with and reposting on Instagram, it’s clear to see just how much people in this city absolutely love him. If he brings the noise against the Yokozuna, it may change the course of the basho.
Takayasu and Tochinoshin: Both men are in a period of some kind of transition. Tochinoshin is clearly trying to figure out how to scrape any kinds of wins when he can’t deploy his singular superior manoeuvre, in a desperate act to save his rank. Takayasu is training himself into a lesser reliance on his heretofore opening gambit and is looking to become and even more polished all around rikishi. Takayasu’s throw today felt like it simultaneously deflated and elated the arena. While Tochinoshin is by no means down or out from (or prohibited from returning to) the rank of ozeki, the loss today felt like it punctuated the inevitable. Tochinoshin’s fans were loud and proud but it is not an exaggeration to say his impact on the clay could be felt all the way back in the cheap seats.
Hakuho: I have watched the musubi-no-ichiban back several times, as I did before leaving the arena while NHK were showing the replays on their screen in the lobby. It is folly to say that today was in any way remarkable simply for the style of his result, or even that he cashed in a get out of jail card in his victory over Takakeisho: it wouldn’t be the first, second or third time he’s done that in this tournament alone.
Let’s look at three screenshots via the Kintamayama wrap-up video:
While it may seem quiet on the video, the reality is usually somewhat different from what the NHK microphones catch, and each of these moments amplified the environment by an order of magnitude. First, the above moment: Hakuho, for a lengthy period of time, stares down Takakeisho. He had said before the basho he wanted to teach the sekiwake a lesson. Here, as everyone in the building watches, and everyone on TV watches, and everyone on the internet watches, Takakeisho is looking up at the big man. Hakuho is the boss, and we all know it.
Hakuho crouches down at the shikiri-sen for the tachiai, but again, there’s a longer than usual pause before the start of the match. He is making Takakeisho wait at every turn, and again, this was clear in the arena and it added to the sense of anticipation. This was also not the first time we saw a rikishi wait out an opponent: there were several matta on the day, and several non-starts. Tamawashi is known to regularly wait out the tachiai, but whenever Tamawashi tries to play mind games, he always loses (see: his match against Kakuryu).
In some of the matches in this tournament, we saw a cheeky grin from The Boss after he got out of jail. Not this time. He played a cat and mouse game with Takakeisho before grabbing the belt and throwing him to the clay with authority. Then he let out a huge grunt before grabbing the largest pile of kensho of the day. At this point, the top was about to come off the building. It’s a massive credit to Takakeisho (as with the other rikishi earlier in the tournament), that this match was close. But nothing with Hakuho is by accident. Whether or not you like the theatrics, I would argue that moments like this are what makes sport worth following, they give us heroes, they give us a relationship with the game.
I had been not feeling well earlier in the day and had considered heading back to the hotel to catch makuuchi on TV, but I’m glad I didn’t. Everything in the 8+ hours long day of sumo builds gradually to the musubi-no-ichiban. This was one of the best possible matchups we have seen in a long time, with titles and promotions on the line, and the greatest rikishi of all time was the conductor of an atmosphere which ratcheted up to fever pitch during a match that turned out to be yet another topsy-turvy emotional victory. With just four days remaining in one of the best tournaments in recent memory, I’ll be sad not to be returning to the EDION Arena again this year.