Heya Power Rankings: Nagoya-Aki 18

mitakeumi-preparing

Two thousand eighteen. The year that the underclassmen upset the balance of the hallowed Tachiai Heya Power Rankings. Well, almost. After Tochinoshin’s toe-bustin’ adventures in sansho and yusho, Ice Cold Kakuryu came back to restore the natural order of Yokozuna dominance.

But what’s this? A newcomer has etched his names in the annals of time with a heroic championship win, and you know what happens when that happens: he gets loaded up with special prizes. And in our rankings system, titles and prizes are a good way to load up your stable with points. Step forward Sekiwake Mitakeumi of Dewanoumi-beya, for you, king of tadpoles have arrived.

Ahem. Here’s the full chart for this period:

Heya Power Rankings - Aki 2018

Largely, you’ll note drop-offs in points across the board. This is what happens when everyone is injured. Here’s the top 20-formatted chart:

  1. (+16) Dewanoumi. 95 points (+75)
  2. (+1) Tagonoura. 65 points (+15)
  3. (+4) Sakaigawa. 58 points (+13)
  4. (+5) Tokitsukaze. 58 points (+33)
  5. (-3) Kasugano. 45 points (-45)
  6. (-1) Oitekaze. 44 points (-4)
  7. (-1) Kokonoe. 42 points (-5)
  8. (-4) Miyagino. 40 points (-10)
  9. (+7) Takanohana. 37 points (+16)
  10. (-9) Izutsu. 35 points (-60)
  11. (-3) Tomozuna. 28 points (-4)
  12. (-2) Minato. 25 points (even)
  13. (-2) Isenoumi. 23 points (-2)
  14. (+-) Takadagawa. 20 points (-2)
  15. (**) Kataonami. 20 points (+5)
  16. (**) Hakkaku. 20 points (+9)
  17. (**) Takasago. 20 points (+15)
  18. (+1) Isegahama. 18 points (even)
  19. (-4) Oguruma. 16 points (-6)
  20. (-8) Nishonoseki. 15 points (-10)

(legend: ** = new entry, +- = no movement, tiebreaker 1: higher position in the previous chart, tiebreaker 2: highest ranked rikishi on the banzuke. Nishonoseki and Sadogatake both had an even score after Natsu as well as Nagoya, so Nishonoseki grabs 20th position by virtue of Shohozan outranking Kotoshogiku.)

Movers

After a 38 year title drought, Mitakeumi’s sansho-laden yusho-winning tournament gives Dewanoumi-beya the top spot on our chart. Elsewhere, a 100% kachi-koshi rate for Sakaigawa-beya meant Goeido’s stable returned to the top 3. The impressive veteran Myogiryu (along with Sadanoumi) has succeeded so far in his bounceback to the top division to add to the returning Ozeki’s success in the Nagoya basho. As to whether this ageing crew behind the underachieving Ozeki can continue this improvement at the Aki basho, time will tell.

Yutakayama’s jun-yusho performance vaults Tokitsukaze-beya back into the upper echelons of our chart as well. The stable grabs fourth slot in spite of Shodai’s disappointing tournament. Both Shodai and Yutakayama should return to the joi for September’s forthcoming basho, and after a spirited but underwhelming tilt at the level in May, it will be intriguing to see if Yutakayama can ride the wave of his more recent success to greater achievement in the coming weeks.

Finally, a word for Takanohana-beya, whose beleaguered oyakata guided positive results from resurgent tadpole Takakeisho and Juryo-yusho winner Takanoiwa. When faced with a similar promotion push, Takanoiwa’s fellow Juryo man Takagenji stumbled to a 6 win make-koshi, otherwise the former dai-yokozuna turned stablemaster would be sporting 3 rikishi in the makuuchi ranks for Aki. That said, both Takakeisho and Takanoiwa may be well placed for continued improvement, and Takagenji’s twin Takayoshitoshi probably has a 2019 ETA on a hopefully more humble return to the professional ranks after a dominant 6-1 return to competitive sumo in July.

Losers

By far the most disappointing performance for me this time out has to be the stable that couldn’t even crack the chart, despite an astonishing seven sekitori: Kise-beya. The stable has an incredible number of rikishi in the upper tiers of the third, Makushita tier, as well as the Juryo ranks (and fan favorite Ura still to come back from injury), yet none of those rikishi have been able to make consistent progress. Remarkably, all seven members of the stable’s pro ranks fell to make-koshi losing records, so it’s possible that they were hindered rather than helped by not having to fight each other. Most notably, when faced with the possibility of promotion to the top division amidst a stunning late career comeback at Juryo 1, inelegant veteran Akiseyama fluffed his lines, unable to muster a single win until day 8 against a mostly steady stream of grizzled vets. Newcomer Churanoumi-nee-Kizaki meanwhile will return to the unsalaried ranks following a disappointing 5-10 debut at Juryo.

There’s no great shame in Kasugano-beya’s drop from the top 2 ranks after a series of strong chart positions this year, fuelled by the success of shin-Ozeki Tochinoshin. However, we probably wouldn’t have foreseen the man being docked points for going kyujo. Hopefully his return to competition as a kadoban Ozeki consolidates the stable’s position at the peak of our chart, and stablemates Tochiozan and Aoiyama will be fighting at advanced ranks as well next time out, following winning tournaments in Nagoya.

Izutsu-beya meanwhile takes a tumble following sole sekitori and back-to-back yusho winner Yokozuna Kakuryu returning to the place he occupied most of 2017: the kyujo list.

What’s Next

I’m looking for bouncebacks from Kasugano and Sadogatake beya. In the latter’s case, Kotoshogiku has been mostly competitive in the joi, but his kyujo status midway through Nagoya means he will be fighting at a much lower rank in September and if recovered, should be formidable. The stable will also have Kotoyuki also returning to the top flight.

Oitekaze-beya is another stable whose rikishi could be placed for success next time out. The heya features seven sekitori and despite setbacks for Daishomaru and Daieisho in Nagoya, both should be well placed for success. Oitekaze’s fan favorite Endo, meanwhile, should return to the joi and Juryo man Daishoho may well be positioned to compete for his makuuchi promotion.

Tachiai Giveaway: Sumo Playing Cards

Sumo Rikishi Playing Cards
Win this deck of Sumo playing cards!

One of the cool things about the sumo experience is the large array of merch on sale for attendees to snap up at their leisure. There are souvenirs ranging from cookies to towels to figurines to decks of playing cards, and more. And we’re happy to let our readers know that we’ve got an extra deck of those playing cards to give away!

How to enter: all we’re asking is that you share either of the below links to the latest Tachiai podcast on iTunes publicly, on Twitter or Facebook, and post the link to your shared post in the comments of this post. Then, we’ll randomly select a winner and send you the deck! Easy as that.

Share link to podcast on iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/podcasts-tachiai-立合い/id1233828207?mt=2
Share link to podcast on Tachiai: https://tachiai.org/2018/08/12/tachiai-summer-podcast/

As new decks haven’t yet been produced, the deck includes recently retired fan favorites like Harumafuji and Osunaarashi, so it’ll be a great “last chance” collectible if you’re a fan of those fellas. Sadly, it was produced before the ascension to sekitori status of Enho, so you won’t have luck finding him as the Ace of Hearts (a title that is, of course, bestowed upon Ichinojo)! Meanwhile, Nagoya-yusho winner Mitakeumi takes up the rock and roll mantle of Ace of Spades.

We’ll pick a winner at the end of August, so you’ve got until then to enter! We’ll send the prize to the winner in early September.

What It’s Like To Face a Rikishi

Often, those of us who pontificate about the skills of those who mount the dohyo will throw in a few qualifiers about the strengths and weaknesses of said rikishi: “If they could just add a yotsu-element” or “if they could just set their feet” or “if they could just maintain composure in the vital moment” are all things you’ll sometimes hear in the context of the development of a sumotori.

It’s why being a pundit is great fun. But it’s also easy to say, because it ignores the fact that there’s a whole other person in the dohyo with that rikishi. And usually, that other person is a whole lot of man-mountain to move. And usually, most of us spilling the ink can’t say from experience exactly what that’s like.

But equally, all of this enthusiasm and desire for sumo analysis has brought a new enthusiasm for professional, amateur and exhibition sumo around the world – especially the English speaking world, as we here at Tachiai have been fortunate to experience. While NHK World recently covered the USA Sumo Championships – one of the larger events in the amateur calendar – in their latest Grand Sumo Preview, all around America there are plenty more sumo exhibitions, and many of them feature some familiar names.

Recently, the city of Grand Rapids, Michigan hosted its annual Asian-Pacific Festival. As part of the festivities, the popular Byamba (the 33-year old former Daishochi of Shibatayama-beya, now a multiple amateur title winner) and Yama (the 34-year old former Maegashira Yamamotoyama of Onoe-beya) descended on the town to take on each other as well as some locals.

Following the event, I connected with Christopher Acklin, a Grand Rapids local who was able to fight Yama in the ring. He was kind enough to answer a few questions for us about the experience:

Tachiai: How did you find out about sumo coming to Grand Rapids?

Christopher Acklin: I’m pretty lucky. At my firm, we have a fairly diverse crowd. One of the partners knows the organisers of [the event]. One day she said, “Hey! Would you like to go as our representative? You can invite some people and get to experience this event” So I said “Sure, I’ll go.” I was planning on going to Japan in September, so I felt this would be a great way to learn a little bit more about the culture and one of the more unique cultural aspects of Japan. Later, [the partner] said “they’re going to do celebrity matches – would you be interested?” And I said: “Why not?” If you’re going to go, you might as well go all the way. I started doing a little research and I watched some of the old Grand Sumo tournaments, which caught my eye, because it’s amazing – the tradition behind all of it, the preparation and effort that they take, and the style too. I do Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, where balance is important, and I was noticing that balance is so important for sumo. In an Americanized way you think “oh, well these aren’t athletes,” but then you see them in action and it’s not just their size, but their ability to balance and their speed – it’s pretty impressive, which I got to find out first-hand.

Tachiai: When you signed up, did you get to pick who you fought? How did that work?

CA: When I went up, they had three guys. So I said, “I might as well go for the gold” and go for the biggest guy they had there [which was Yama]. I’m about 300 pounds, I’m pretty strong… and when we actually faced off, it wasn’t even as much the size difference that got my attention – still, he’s twice my size – it was his ability to move with my movement that surprised me. I’m thinking, “he’s just a big guy, how much is he going to be able to move?” He shifted his feet immediately and so I instead of pushing just dead-on on him, I’m pushing off to the side, my force was going off to the right and I didn’t have a clean shot on him. And he was good about it after that, he just kind of let me push him out, but clearly this was only because he was allowing me to do it at that point.

Tachiai: What is that even like when you’re trying to push a guy like Yama – the biggest guy?

CA: The organizer explained to me later, that although there’s a lot of fat there, it makes it very difficult to get a solid hand hold or grip anywhere. I’m trying to push him and my hands are moving on me, so it’s hard to get force when your force is moving in different directions. Combine that with him being able to shift his feet, all of the sudden instead of trying to push a boulder, I’m pushing up against a pillow or a water mattress – I’m not getting anywhere!

Tachiai: So, when you step into the dohyo and you see that guy: what are you thinking? Like you said, he’s twice the size of you. What’s the first thought that comes to your mind?

CA: Actually, my first thought was that he was really cool. He gave me a handshake at first, he was chill. I like to push myself, so that made me feel that this would be a fun test, it would be exciting. Afterwards, he was very polite and very pleasant, but when you first see him, you’re like, “Man! What did I get myself into? Well… alright. Now I’m here, I might as well make a good show of it!” And he was cool: I didn’t see, because I was busy pushing, but apparently he was posing for people out in the crowd while I was pushing him. Which basically says he was very polite and it could have been much more difficult had he actually [had to try]. Even without him trying, trying to push him was incredibly difficult.

Tachiai: What else did they do at the event? Was there any kind of tournament?

CA: They had a mini-tournament with the three sumo wrestlers. They explained the rules with the scoring, and how that worked. Byamba ended up winning the mini-tourney, and they had a more traditional opening with the drums. They didn’t do the whole ceremony with with the [salt-tossing], and I liked that they explained that, and that you get a sense that this isn’t like [American] wrestling, there’s actually symbolism and history and tradition to it.

Tachiai: Thank you for sharing your story with us! I think you chose wisely – out of all those guys of course, Yama’s the one who made it to the top division.

CA: More than happy to. I was so excited just to get the opportunity – how often can you say that you’ve partaken in something like doing a sumo match, but to do it against somebody like Yama, who has the pedigree that he had. Now I can say that at some point in my life I stepped into the ring with somebody that big, who’s been that successful.

Check out some video of Christopher’s match against Yama below:

 

(video provided courtesy of Christopher Acklin)

Tachiai Enjoys Sumo Stew in Brooklyn

Sumo Stew - July 2018

As Bruce shared with Tachiai readers earlier in the month, our friends at Sumo Stew hosted their 22nd event during the Nagoya basho. This event took place at Arrogant Swine in Brooklyn, NY. As I coincidentally happened to be in New York at the time, I decided to check it out with a couple of friends who were new to sumo!

Menu

For the latest event, Sumo Stew founders Michael Harlan Turkell and Harry Rosenblum teamed up with Arrogant Swine’s Tyson Ho to deliver what they called a “North Carolina BBQ-style Whole Hog” chankonabe. Arrogant Swine is a barbecue restaurant and bar located in Brooklyn’s industrial East Williamsburg neighborhood, and so this take on chanko was a fusion of traditional chanko flavors with a falling-off-the-bone pork twist.

Sumo Stew - July 2018 Chankonabe
The Chankonabe of Sumo Stew 22

While the chanko is perhaps the main event of Sumo Stew, it is far from the only item on offer. Upon entering the venue, attendees were given a bento box full of items from four different local vendors:

  • Spicy beef shank & yuba salad from Junzi
  • A mushroom and umeboshi onigiri from Momo Sushi Shack
  • Seaweed salad with ikura and fried potato from Juku
  • Cold ramen from O Ya

This menu was further augmented by the presence of a number of whiskey, wine, and sake vendors. A number of representatives from the enormously popular tea brand Ito En were also on hand doling out bottles of Japan’s favorite Oi Ocha.

Vendors

Besides the sumo and the amazing food & drinks, one of the aspects of Sumo Stew that shouldn’t be overlooked is that the organisers bring in all sorts of vendors with specialties that run the gamut of various facets of Japanese culture.

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All sorts of hand crafts were on display for sale, and there was also representation from the US branch of Japanese cutlery brand Kikuichi Cutlery (their stateside headquarters are located not far away from New York City in nearby Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey). They had an impressive array of knives on hand for demonstration.

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One brand I hadn’t been aware of before attending was NYrture, a natto company based in New York City. For Western palates, the fermented soybean can perhaps be an acquired taste, but this vendor did a great job of pairing what is often a divisive ingredient with incredibly interesting flavors to create a really cool snack. I especially appreciated the combination of black natto with coconut milk yogurt, honey, and blueberry.

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Sumo

Owing to the time difference between Tokyo and New York, it was clearly difficult to line up live sumo with the evening dinner hour. The folks at Sumo Stew had a playlist of videos from the first several days of the Nagoya basho projected onto a big screen inside of the venue. From time to time they cut in trailers from various features from an upcoming film festival put on by the event’s partners at the Japan Society in New York.

There were quite a few regular attendees on hand, and many of the folks I talked to seemed newer to sumo and were somewhat more connected to the food and cultural elements of the event. In that sense, Sumo Stew is doing a really great thing by bringing members of the local food community together to get an initiation into the ways of a sport that many of us have come to dearly love. On the flip side of the menu which all attendees were given was an overview of how the sport works, its rules, traditions and key vocabulary words to help newcomers understand a bit more about what was happening on the big screen.

I had a chance to speak briefly with the event’s organizer Michael Harlan Turkell during the event, and he mentioned that the Sumo Stew team are looking to continue bringing the event to other cities around America in the near future for forthcoming basho. So if you’re interested in attending, perhaps there will be one nearer to you in the future, and of course we’ll continue to share news of this unique Sumo-themed event here on Tachiai.

For more info on Sumo Stew, check out sumostew.com.

Mitakeumi & The Curious Case of the Ozeki Run

Mitakeumi Kensho Stack

With Sekiwake Mitakeumi having deposited himself in pole position for the Nagoya yusho, chatter is already starting to begin about whether the incredibly popular rikishi can follow Tochinoshin and start to mount an Ozeki-run.

As we have often commented on the site, sumo is amidst a transitionary period where new heroes are soon to arrive. Mitakeumi has often been speculated as one of those new heroes, but has struggled to convert momentum into dominance. Yet, he’s been a good san’yaku rikishi, suffering just 2 make-koshi losing records since his initial promotion to Komusubi 18 months ago. But if he could just take the next step, the man with a sizeable cheering section at every basho would possibly inspire the type of fanatic reaction recently afforded to the likes of Kisenosato.

First, the positives: Mitakeumi has done a good job over the course of the past couple years developing his all-around game. While it is true that it is possible to be an incredibly successful rikishi playing often one note – and the “bumpity-bump” hug-n-chug belly bop of yusho-winning Kotoshogiku comes to mind – the chances of thriving at the very top level are often better if one can develop multiple facets to both their pushing/thrusting (oshi) and mawashi (yotsu) sumo. Mitakeumi has taken notable steps forward in this department.

However, the man from the exalted Dewanoumi beya has been somewhat of what we’d call a flat-track bully: he beats up on the weaker competition in what is usually the easier Week 1 of the Sekiwake schedule, but as soon as the calendar hits the halfway mark on Day 8, he stumbles and throws away whatever advantages he has in the yusho race or progress towards putting together a promotion run.

In 6 tournaments as Sekiwake since his promotion to the rank this time last year, Mitakeumi has never ended the first seven days with a negative scoreline, losing as many as three matches in Week 1 just once. However as soon as Day 8 comes, the kuroboshi arrive – the current tournament is actually the first time he’s won on Day 8 as a sekiwake at all, and his overall Week 2 record as a Sekiwake entering the tournament in such conditions was 15-26 (he has obviously since added two wins to this tally). This compares rather unfavorably to the 26-9 record he had in Week 1 conditions entering the current tournament at his level, which has since been improved to a very satisfactory 33-9 record you’d expect to see of someone ready to make the move to the next level. This difference is especially stark considering Mitakeumi’s noted status as the killer of Hakuho’s last great run at Futabayama’s record of 69 consecutive wins, in the second week of last year’s Nagoya basho.

Mitakeumi has won the first two matches in Week 2 in Nagoya, ushering out Daishomaru on Day 9 in particular without seemingly even breaking a sweat in the oven-like conditions of the Aichi Prefectural Gymnasium. But even if the prohibitive favorite were to go all of the way and finish the job this basho, while we could formally declare this the start of an “Ozeki run” it would feel too soon to do in real terms: one of the questions answered by Tochinoshin during his successful recent run was: “could he do it against the Yokozuna?” In ending Hakuho’s 25 match dominance over him, he affirmed his credentials. Mitakeumi meanwhile, that summer swoon last July aside, should have to consistently answer similar questions in tournaments where a majority of Ozeki and Yokozuna can mount the dohyo.

We must take nothing for granted about what may transpire over the course of the coming days. For many rikishi, there is a yusho to be won. Mitakeumi has the hardest challenge because he is the only man for whom there is presently a yusho to lose. And the cliché that you can “only beat what’s in front of you” is often trotted out – I am certainly guilty of its overuse – but it’s true that any further success for Mitakeumi at the business end of the current honbasho should not be diminished by the composition of his torikumi. When it comes to an Ozeki run however, we must watch the final days of “Act 3” for signs that one of sumo’s up and coming rockstars will be more than a one-hit wonder.