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.

The First Eleven Men of Makushita

Enho-Takayasu
… When you can see over the top of the mountain

Instead of a traditional “Ones to Watch” section this basho, we’ll mix things up with a few lower division storylines. We’ll start by taking a look at what’s going on at the top of Makushita.

This division is an absolute slog. There are 120 men in this division fighting for usually 2 to 4 of the 28 slots in Juryo. As described on a recent NHK World sumo preview, the division between Makushita and Juryo is like “heaven and hell,” given the resources and opportunities provided to rikishi once they reach the professional, sekitori level.

If you’re a college rikishi of good pedigree, usually you will cruise through the bottom 2-3 tiers before meeting your tougher matches here. Rikishi who have left school before college often take several years to reach the level as they get acclimated to the sport and the lifestyle. One of the reasons it’s tough to escape the level is because there’s a crush at the top – but Nagoya 2018 is unique. With respect to Natsu whipping boy Amakaze, usually there are a couple rikishi around the top of the division who have departed Juryo due to injury or performance, not soon to return back, and these guys get beat up by the hot young up-and-comers on the upswing of their career.

This time, however, there’s no filler at the top of the division and it’s going to be an all out melee to reach the professional ranks when sumo returns to Tokyo for the Aki tournament in September. Let’s look at who’s jockeying for position:

The Battle Scarred Veterans

I’m going to put 29 year olds Jokoryu (Ms5E) and Asabenkei (Ms4E) in this category, though their careers have taken different routes to the same location. The former Komusubi Jokoryu spent 4 years as sekitori before dropping down the divisions due to serious injury. He’s been stuck in the wilderness for 2 years, but has fought his way back up to striking distance of promotion. Asabenkei, who has been in sumo since 2007, recently made it back to Juryo after an 18 month hiatus. He then suffered a humiliating 3-win tournament in May, which started 0-7, en route to an immediate demotion back to the third tier.

While these guys have a wildly different pedigree and career accomplishments, it’s probably fair to say they have been operating on a similar talent level and with an ambition to scrape back up and re-establish themselves as professionals.

The Hot Shots

Enho (Ms2W) – the first man to open his career 21-0 since Jokoryu – arrived on the scene earlier than predicted in Osaka, but it was clear he was over-promoted before his time and was swiftly demoted back to Makushita. It’s good news for him that he has such an esteemed some-time sparring partner in Hakuho, however, and the hard work he’s put in has seen him rebound after a solid Natsu to the fourth position on the banzuke. We’ve been hot on Enho so long it’s hard to believe it’s still only his 8th tournament. 5 wins should see him back up.

Meanwhile, fellow “Ones to Watch” honorees and college men Murata (Ms1W) and Ichiyamamoto (Ms3E) reach the division’s summit in just their 9th tournaments (though Ichiyamamoto gets bonus points for having got here just as quickly from Jonokuchi). Murata is a big bopper who loves a good ol’ fashioned oshi-fuelled brawl. Ichiyamamoto mixes it up a little more but is still mostly a pusher-thruster.

The Brother

The youngest of Arashio-beya’s three Onami brothers, Wakatakakage not only made it first to Juryo but then stuck at the level, managing a kachi-koshi in his first trip to the pros. Middle brother Wakamotoharu (Ms4W) now finds himself on the brink – with the third and oldest brother Wakatakamoto not so far behind at Ms10. Having only eked out 3 wins from similar positions on the banzuke in the past, he’ll be looking to improve his record in this part of the sumo world this time, to set up a promotion challenge either this time or next. It’s a sprint between the two remaining brothers to catch Wakatakakage now, but Wakamotoharu is in the pole position.

The Cups of Coffee

27 year old Akua (Ms5W) and 23 year old Hakuyozan (Ms1E) both spent years making the long and winding trek through the lower reaches of the banzuke before managing just a “cup of coffee” in the pros, each returning back to Makushita after one tournament where they both clearly looked overmatched. They’ll be wanting to make sure the chance to establish themselves at a higher level does not go begging again.

The Wild Cards

22 year olds Gokushindo (Ms2E) and Kiribayama (Ms3W) have different origin stories and routes to this point, but what they have in common is a certain inconsistency. Kiribayama at times has looked utterly dominant in this division, and is the current yusho holder. Gokushindo has tended to take 2 steps forward followed by one step back as he adjust to the differences in quality in what is a Makushita tier which effectively has divisions within the division, such is the gulf in class between various areas of the ranks. Having posted a 6-1 record last time out, it would seemingly stand to reason he would need an adjustment period again this time, but he will face familiar foes having beaten Ichiyamamoto, Murata and Wakamotoharu in May (the latter two using a style best described as “Ichinojo” – a ponderously lengthy wait-out of a grapple in the centre of the dohyo followed by an escort over the bales and a throw respectively), losing only to Kiribayama.

The Terunofuji

At the time of writing, it appears to be unclear whether we’re going to see Terunofuji (Ms6E) in Nagoya. The man has undergone plenty of work on both knees, and suffered a less than fruitful spell in Juryo, which was also apparently hindered at times by diabetes related treatment. What his tournament ability is, at this point in the game, is still unclear. While it’s possible and even likely he may drop further (either due to performance or kyujo-status), the very presence of a former Ozeki in this part of the banzuke should give pause to each of the other names listed here – if he does show up, it’s obviously to compete and to win.

Heya Power Rankings: Natsu-Nagoya 18

Kakuryu Yusho Parade
The ranking is strong with this ichimon

Yes, it’s that time again, the time when we tabulate all the points and rank the top heya based on their respective sekitori rank and performance in the previous basho. Last time out, Izutsu-beya grabbed the top spot off the back of a long awaited yusho win for Yokozuna Kakuryu. How do the top stables fare this time compared to last time? Onward:

Heya Power Rankings: Natsu-Nagoya 2018

And now that we’ve added a couple more new (but non-sekitori-bearing) stables to the chart, let’s have a look at this in our Top 20 format:

  1. (+-) Izutsu. 95 points (even)
  2. (+4) Kasugano. 90 points (+40)
  3. (-1) Tagonoura. 50 points (-40)
  4. (+4) Miyagino. 50 points (+14)
  5. (-2) Oitekaze. 48 points (-17)
  6. (+1) Kokonoe. 47 points (-1)
  7. (-3) Sakaigawa. 45 points (-15)
  8. (-3) Tomozuna. 32 points (-23)
  9. (+2) Tokitsukaze. 25 points (+5)
  10. (+3) Minato. 25 points (+5)
  11. (+8) Isenoumi. 25 points (+10)
  12. (+8) Nishonoseki. 25 points (+10)
  13. (**) Sadogatake. 25 points (+11)
  14. (-5) Takadagawa. 22 points (+1)
  15. (+2) Oguruma. 22 points (+6)
  16. (**) Takanohana. 21 points (+8)
  17. (-7) Dewanoumi. 20 points (even)
  18. (**) Onomatsu. 20 points (+20)
  19. (-5) Isegahama. 18 points (-1)
  20. (-8) Kise. 15 points (-5)

(legend: ** = new entry, +- = no movement, higher position in the previous chart breaks the tie. Shikoroyama and Kataonami also scored 15 points but were lower placed than Kise on the previous chart)

Movers & Losers

We’ll group both sets of upward and downward bound heya together this time. It’s an interesting chart to put into context this month because the absence of so many rikishi at the top of the banzuke meant that several rikishi from heya usually found further down the listing put up better results, grabbed kachi-koshi they otherwise might not have (see: Kotoshogiku, Shohozan, etc), and added more points to their stable’s tally.

So, this creates a situation where a heya like Takadagawa can actually score one more point than last time (via addition of Hakuyozan to Juryo) but slide 5 places overall. Similarly, Dewanoumi put up an equivalent score to last time (our model gives Mitakeumi the same amount of points for a kachi-koshi at Komusubi as a make-koshi at Sekiwake), yet slid 7 places overall. The more cynical among us might say there were 16 more impressive storylines than Mitakeumi eking out his winning record from a position where he looked like he’d throw it away again.

Izutsu-beya holds the top spot with no change in the tally owing to Kakuryu’s repeat yusho, while Kasugano-beya reclaims the second spot after Tochinoshin’s sansho-laden jun-yusho. His promotion means he’ll add more points to the heya’s tally next time as an ozeki, but the overall points tally will be dependent on yusho challenges going forward as he’ll be unable to repeat his special prize wins.

Beyond those two stables there weren’t many remarkable performances among the groups: Kokonoe actually took a step backwards in terms of points in spite of Chiyonokuni’s remarkable sansho-winning exploits, as the four other sekitori in his heya all put up make-koshi en-route to a miserable 23-37 combined record.

In terms of what’s next, the stables to watch with potential to bound up the listings in Nagoya are going to be Tagonoura (who will be forced into action next time with the return of kadoban Takayasu and a potential last stand for Kisenosato) and Kise. Kise-beya receives two promotees from Makushita (Kizenryu and Churanoumi-née-Kizaki) and will have fully 1/4 of Juryo with no fewer than seven rikishi in the division next time out. And potentially making way on the chart could finally and sadly be Isegahama-beya which slips to the penultimate spot this time: perma-injured Aminishiki has been relegated to Juryo, and Homarefuji and Terutsuyoshi will be hovering ominously in danger zone to the Makushita demotion to which former Ozeki Terunofuji has now been condemned.

Unboxing some Tachiai Merch

Sumo-Evolution

Have you ordered your gear from the Tachiai Shop yet? No? Well, that’s silly.

As some of our readers know, I spent quite a bit of time around the Natsu basho in Tokyo, and when I came home, I had my order from the shop waiting at my doorstep. Good thing no one took it, because it’s full of cool stuff!

If you’re like me, when you order something exciting, there’s always a sense of anticipation opening the box. And, if you’re curious what the products in the shop will look like when they are arrive, how they are packaged, etc – then join me as I discover the wonderful gift of sumo t-shirts in the (very DIY) below video that I slapped together:

 

Check it out! We’re excited that so many cool people are already wearing the gear around Tokyo…

Natsu Day 10 Preview

IMG_3099-e1526791006270.jpg

Hello friends! The Natsu Day 8 live blog was a whole lot of fun, and I hope we were able to bring some of the flavor of live sumo to the site. I’m happy to report I’ll be back in action from Kokugikan on Day 10, my final day of live sumo for this tournament. But while this brings “Act 2” to a close, there’s still a whole lot of sumo to come, and plenty of storylines yet to develop as we reach the business end of the second week.

So, let’s get into it.

Natsu Leaderboard

Leader – Tochinoshin
ChasersKakuryu, Hakuho, Chiyonokuni
Hunt Group – Ikioi, Myogiryu

6 Matches Remain.

Day 9’s action certainly thinned out the “hunt group,” which should bring some clarity and focus to the scheduling we’re likely to see over the coming days.

What We Are Watching Day 10

Myogiryu vs Kotoeko – With Goeido having swapped places on the sidelines with Endo, Kotoeko gets called up from Juryo to make up the numbers and test his promotion mettle – not unlike Kyokutaisei, who was called up several times in March for experience which has clearly stood him in good stead. Myogiryu has looked surprisingly strong this basho, leads their lifetime matchup 2-0, and I would expect him to win here and grab the kachi-koshi he needs to solidify his place in Makuuchi.

Arawashi vs Sadanoumi – Sadanoumi got absolutely dismantled by Yoshikaze on Day 9, and that’s notable because Yoshikaze has not been “Mr. Feisty” in several months. None of Arawashi’s three wins have come against especially strong opponents this basho, and with both men really needing a win, it may come down to who wants it more.

Aminishiki vs Asanoyama – I think this is a big moment in Asanoyama’s development. He’s an affable man in the ring, but his great manners should not extend to respecting his elders here if he wants to take the next step. Aminishiki has been utterly broken this tournament, and his sumo can maybe best be described as “If Kakuryu didn’t work.” He will backpedal and try to hit the slap down. Asanoyama will need to show a killer instinct, put him away and take a big step towards that kachi-koshi.

Nishikigi vs Chiyonokuni – Similarly, Chiyonokuni at 8-1 has a glorious opportunity here to continue his run and hang around the yusho race while the other competitors are doing their business much further up the banzuke. Nishikigi has made a great go of it at M17 – a rank that won’t likely exist next basho – where he has no margin for error, but Chiyonokuni, who has never won more than 9 matches in Makuuchi, needs to continue to take advantage of the gift of kind scheduling he has been given.

Okinoumi vs Kyokutaisei – 5-4 Okinoumi did well on Day 9 to deal with a Ryuden who fought hard and was desperate to avoid his make-koshi. Here, he gets the 6-3 newcomer from Hokkaido who had an outstanding first week but has come a bit unstuck the last few days. The two have never met.

Tochiozan vs Takakeisho – Takakeisho has turned things around the past couple of days, and here he gets a veteran who was said to look in great shape before the basho but whose results have indicated something rather different. Again this is a step in Takakeisho’s development: he is facing the lowest ranked opponent of this basho by far, an opponent he has beaten 4 times in 5 tries, and in order to move up he needs to find his best sumo and put him away.

Daishomaru vs Takekaze – Daishomaru gets a breather after being banged around the last couple days higher up the banzuke with a visit to M14 Takekaze. We haven’t seen a whole lot of good sumo from the 4-5 veteran this tournament, so it’s an opportunity for 6-3 Daishomaru to get back on form. Takekaze leads the career series 6-3.

Yoshikaze vs Aoiyama – Takakeisho must have really slapped some life into Yoshikaze with all of those roundhouses on Day 8 because Yoshikaze meant business on Day 9 against Sadanoumi and still didn’t look remotely satisfied with his win afterwards. You got the impression he was ready to do it two or three more times, he looked that angry afterwards. Aoiyama, at 4-5, is in fairly poor form this tournament and Yoshikaze leads the career matchup 11-8, but more likely that not, we’re going to see some sumo that won’t be easy on the eye here.

Ishiura vs Kagayaki – I tend to agree with Bruce and think Kagayaki’s ceiling may be Ozeki Kisenosato. On the other hand, the reason Kisenosato was such a great Ozeki is because of his consistency, and Kagayaki has found consistency difficult to come by. Ishiura is a real wild card. He’s attempting less henkas, and I don’t think he’ll deploy one against Kagayaki whose new found composure means he’s not as likely to fall for that trick. Ishiura is, however, desperate for wins to avoid demotion to Juryo, and though he leads the career series 6-3, Kagayaki has won 3 of the last 4 and is odds-on to seal the smaller man’s make-koshi here.

Ryuden vs Hokutofuji – Back to the drawing board for the 1-8 sumotori bobblehead Ryuden, after he huffed and puffed and still couldn’t escape the throw on Day 9. Hokutofuji should see this as a good opportunity to overcome yesterday’s blip and get back on form. Ryuden won their only prior match.

Daiamami vs Chiyomaru – Neither of these guys have been showing their best sumo this tournament. The winner will plant the penultimate nail in the loser’s make-koshi coffin. Daiamami leads the all time record 2-1 here, but I have a good feeling about Chiyomaru for this one.

Daieisho vs Takarafuji – Daieisho’s been knocked around on both occasions he’s entered the joi, and while there’s not a whole lot that anyone could do right now if faced with his Day 9 opponent Tochinoshin, I think he’ll still find it difficult against an opponent as technically gifted as Takarafuji. He’s having a solid tournament and will likely replace Daieisho in the joi next tournament. If Daieisho wants a good omen as he looks to stave off his make-koshi, it’s that he leads their head to head rivalry 2-1.

Chiyoshoma vs Yutakayama – Chiyoshoma (2-7) is just having an awful tournament, but Yutakayama has fought rather better than the goose egg after his name would indicate. If he can keep his fighting spirit and energy going, and avoid a flying henka or any other tricks that Chiyoshoma might bring to the party, he’s got a golden chance to open his account here.

Tamawashi vs Abi – In a year, Abi has supplanted Ura as the star entertainer among the up and coming Makuuchi rikishi. On the NHK broadcast earlier in the week, it was pointed out that Shikoroyama-oyakata had set him a target of 4 wins for this basho – but the man himself was gunning for the yusho! With the first target achieved and the second out of reach, he takes on a man who has perhaps been the benchmark for how to establish yourself as a pusher-thruster and live in this part of the banzuke over the past couple years. Neither man seems to have especially good traction with his feet at the moment, so we could be in for more of an ice skating competition in which someone gets slapped into a triple axle off the side of the dohyo.

Shohozan vs Kaisei – It’s been a brutal re-introduction to the upper ranks for Kaisei (2-7) after his brilliant Haru basho. Here he meets an opponent with whom he is more evenly matched after a rough first week. Big Guns Shohozan (3-6) is no pushover either, but these men have met 18 times and have split the bills right down the middle.

Mitakeumi vs Ikioi – Ikioi has played a blinder in the first week in his typical style of high-octane, full-throttle, heavy-metal sumo. But, having not faced anyone above M4 until now, the challenge will get considerably harder as he’s pulled up to face a resurgent Mitakeumi who holds a pristine 100% record over his taller opponent. Mitakeumi has still yet to face Kakuryu or Ichinojo, so with that in mind he’ll be looking to bank this one and take a step closer to rubber-stamping his return to the Sekiwake rank in Nagoya.

Tochinoshin vs Chiyotairyu – If you look up “genki” in the dictionary, you won’t find it. That’s because Tochinoshin got a left-hand outside grip on the page, ripped it out and ate it (along with one of the five packets of natto he apparently consumes daily). While we all eagerly await Tochinoshin vs Hakuho and Tochinoshin vs Kakuryu, he still has to take care of business for the next few days to make those matches matter. Which technique Chiyotairyu tries to take to defend himself from this and halt his losing streak will be interesting, but it’s likely to center around a momentus tachiai and trying at all costs to keep Tochinoshin’s hands off his mawashi. Even that may be of little use: their last meeting ended in Tochinoshin spinning him out for an easy okuridashi/rear push out.

Shodai vs Ichinojo – This may be the longest tachiai in history. Shodai made a decent go of it on Day 9 against Kakuryu, while Ichinojo is well rested from his fusen-sho win over Goeido. Shodai will know he has a shot at making it back to san’yaku with a strong finish, but Ichinojo is going to want to secure his kachi-koshi as soon as possible and establish himself at his rank so he can push on for an ozeki run later in the year. We could see a long match here between two mawashi fighters with the edge going to whoever’s mentally strong enough to take it.

Kakuryu vs Kotoshogiku – I felt Kotoshogiku was desperately unlucky against Hakuho on Day 9 and he may want to prove a point here and try and grab a kinboshi. In Kakuryu, who continues to move backwards, he’s certainly got a willing opponent for him to deploy his trademark hug-n-chug. Kotoshogiku has got to get his feet set however, because this has been his downfall in recent months. The technique is there but if Kakuryu senses he can get his man off balance, Kotoshogiku will get slapped to the floor. This will be their 49th match and Kakuryu holds a narrow 26-22 edge.

Endo vs Hakuho – It’s worth remembering Hakuho’s antics on the side of the dohyo, making an appeal for a matta that wasn’t given last November, when considering his bizarre win against Kotoshogiku yesterday. He didn’t need the luck to win that tournament, but he might now, and he may be in the luck for a second day in a row as he faces an Endo who makes his comeback from kyujo status, and who we’d written off as thoroughly injured. Hakuho owns this matchup (as he does most) by a 6-1 scoreline, as the Uncle Scrooge of kinboshi has gifted just the one gold star to the man in the gold mawashi. There’s no kinboshi at stake here of course, and probably little danger of an upset.

Ones to Watch: Natsu 18 Midpoint

kokugikan

As we wrap up the first week of the May 2018 basho, let’s check in with some of our up-and-comers to see whether or not they’ve got good chances of moving up the banzuke after the tournament.

Before we start, a few items that might be of note to lower-division watchers:

Toyonoshima and Toyohibiki have both got off the mark to perfect records in upper-Makushita. Many sumo fans will be rooting for Toyonoshima to make it back to sekitori status, but that’s not the extent of his ambitions: despite turning 35 in a few weeks, he’s trying to come all the way back up to Makuuchi. Hiro Morita noted on today’s NHK broadcast that Toyonoshima made Kotoshogiku promise he wouldn’t retire until he made it back to makuuchi, so that the two could resume their long-standing rivalry!

Next, Chiyootori has come back into the dohyo down in Sandanme-land. The big man was heavily bandaged and looked awful on Day 3 when I saw him, but somehow won his other two matches and sits with a decent chance of a promotion back to the third tier. He gets called up to face Shikihide’s Baraki next, a smaller man making his debut at the Makushita level this time, a man whose chances of making the top divisions John Gunning poured cold water on in our Tachiai interview earlier this year. So, that might be a match to look out for on Day 8.

Now, onto the young guns:

Makushita

Ms1 Chiyonoumi (Kokonoe) – The 25 year old is a win away from clinching a debut in Juryo, as he sits 3-1 so far. His sole loss has come to a desperate Tsurugisho when called up to Juryo for a day to make up the numbers following Terunofuji’s kyujo. He’s not in action day 8 but it’s likely his next match will be against Ichiyamamoto thereafter. He’s knocked off a couple ex-Juryo guys already in Amakaze and Tochihiryu. I saw him unleash an unstoppable oshi-attack on day 3 against the latter to win by tsukidashi.

Ms5 Ichiyamamoto (Nishonoseki) – The pusher-thruster is the only other rikishi in the top 5 Makushita slots to post 3 wins thus far, so if he does in fact get drawn against Chiyonoumi, he’s got a bit more riding on it. 4 wins should be enough to get Chiyonoumi up whatever the outcome, but at this rank Ichiyamamoto may need as many as 6 wins depending what happens up in Juryo and above him throughout the second week. He too has knocked off two ex-sekitori in Jokoryu of Kise-beya and Kizenryu. When I saw him Day 3 against the latter, he was absolutely flawless against the more experienced rikishi, winning by oshitaoshi.

Ms6 Enho (Miyagino) – Mixed results so far for the “Next Generation” star, who finds himself 2-2. While he beat Akua, his losses came against Kizaki of Kise-beya and Murata – two guys who may well make it to Juryo before he gets back and the exactly the kinds of rikishi he needs to be beat to show he’s ready for the next level after his overpromotion last time. He too won’t be in action until at least Day 9.

Ms7 Murata (Takasago) – His second go in the Makushita joi is going a bit better than the first, as he’s adjusted to the higher level of opposition en route to a 3-1 start. His next match is likely to be against Wakamotoharu (the middle of the Arashio-beya brothers), so hopefully the big bopper brought his Onami code to the basho (… I’ll get my coat).

Ms13 Tomokaze (Oguruma) – As I said at the outset this is the first time Tomokaze’s been put up against strong opposition and it shows in his 1-2 record. He gets Makushita lifer Tsurubayashi of Kise-beya on Day 8 in what will likely be a bellwether this tournament for his current ability to compete at this part of the banzuke.

Ms13 Wakatakamoto (Arashio) – The elder Onami brother came into this tournament on fire (not literally), which was quickly doused by first match loss to Toyonoshima. There’s no shame in that, but he now finds himself at 2-2 and so will need a strong second week to keep up the progress.

Ms20 Midorifuji (Isegahama) – The small man from Kinki U has come out 1-2 to start the tournament, and Tokushinho of Kise-beya now stands in his way on Day 8. It used to be that your route to a yusho in makuuchi ran through Isegahama-beya, and while that’s no longer the case, you will have noticed by this point in the post it’s impossible to make progress in the Makushita division without a good record against Kise-beya.

Ms26 Ryuko (Onoe) – I said it was “all about the rebound” this time up, but the man has been pushed, shoved and crushed out en route to 1-3 start. Big second week on the cards.

Ms30 Nishikifuji (Isegahama) – One of the men doing the business to Ryuko is this man, who beat him on Day 7 by yoritaoshi. He’s 2-2 in his proper debut in this part of the banzuke after flu-enforced absence last time, so I’ll be looking for that 4th win so that he can resume his good progress. He’s another guy I caught in Day 3 action and despite his heavily strapped knees, he delivered a professional performance, moving forward against Asakoki and depositing him out via yorikiri with minimum fuss.

Ms36 Tanabe (Kise) – He’s looking to get it right in his second go at the division and looks to be off to a good start at 2-1. On day 3 I saw him take on Ichiki and my word, he absolutely tossed him out of the dohyo. He has immense strength. Also he’s still in zanbara in tournament number 7. His only loss came to the as yet perfect Kiribayama who blows hot and cold (currently very hot), and he’ll take on Aomihama on Day 8.

Ms50 Inoue (Kise) – He looked good on Day 3 against Wakanofuji but I must have been his lucky charm as he’s dropped his other two matches in his makushita debut. Lucky for him, I’ll be in attendance on Day 8 when he gets Kokonoe’s fabulously named Chiyonokatsu.

Ms52 Shoji (Musashigawa) & Musashikuni (Musashigawa) – I had the American Musashikuni just shading it among the two promoted stablemates, as he has more experience of the level. So far, both men sit with two losses, though Shoji also has two wins having competed a day more. Both will need a winning record to secure their place in the division, and Musashikuni gets his chance to keep the party going with a Day 8 match against 34 year old Katsunofuji. While I witnessed his loss on Day 3, I did feel that his commitment to always keep going forward was notable and a very good sign.

Sandanme

Sd40 Kizakiumi (Kise) – He steamrolled Jonidan opposition last time out in his debut as Sandanme tsukedashi and he has picked up where he left off, posting 4 from 4 as he looks to get out of the division as quickly as he got into it. It doesn’t look like he’ll get pulled too far up the banzuke by the schedulers in his next match, so we’d look for that to happen by his 6th or 7th match assuming he’s still in the yusho race.

Sd42 Tsukahara (Kasugano) – It won’t be a 3rd yusho from his 3 first tournaments for the Kasugano man, but there are other guys in his stable challenging for honors this time so we’ll give him a pass. He’s 2-1 thus far though and will partake in a battle of the extremes against 39 year old Gorikiyama on Day 8, who is taking in his 145th basho in an example of what makes sumo great.

Sd73 Torakio (Naruto) – The Bulgarian’s first attempt at the division was disrupted by injury and his second attempt has at least started rather better, as he’s at 2-1. He gets lightweight Hamadayama on Day 8, who could be a good candidate for the strong youngster to attempt to dominate.

Sd77 Kototebakari (Sadogatake) – He started with 3 wins but was dropped from the yusho race by Satoyama on Day 7, so the big man will have to be content with another big move up the banzuke if he can regain his form in week 2.

Sd89 Hayashi (Futagoyama – moves from Fujishima) – Mike Hayashi appears to be faring better against callow opponents in his first appearance at Sandanme as he’s beaten a 20 year old while dropping two to much more experienced counterparts. Somewhat more luckily for him, he gets 22 year old (but experienced) Ariake on Day 8.

Jonidan

Jd6 Yoshoyama (Tokitsukaze) – Not the best week for the much vaunted Mongolian as he sits 1-2 and on the verge of having his promotion campaign derailed. 3 wins from his last 4 should still do it, and the challenge begins anew against 23 year old Jonidan sumo addict Masutenryu on Day 8.

Jd11 Naya (Otake) – No problems here. The future superstar and postcard art subject has continued his bulldozing act through the fifth tier and looks to be on course for another yusho. His next opponent is oft-injured 21 year old Wakasenryu, and I can’t imagine Naya – an incredibly developed 18 year old war machine with a young history of winning and a perfect pedigree – is the kind of person that a young rikishi with fitness problems is going to want to be facing.

Jd14 Wakaichiro (Musashigawa) – We’ve been covering him all week on the site as usual, and he’s back on the winning track, taking a 2-1 record into the midpoint. He’ll get Naya’s 20 year old stablemate Shinyashiki on Sunday, so we’ll be looking to catch that match.

Jd42 Hoshoryu (Tatsunami) – Asashoryu’s Nephew™ is working hard for a rematch date with Naya as he’s also off to a perfect start, at 3-0. He gets youngster Izumigaya on Day 8 and if he can come through that and probably one more match, we’d expect to see the rivalry resume in the sixth match of the basho.

Jonokuchi

Jk16 Terasawa (Takasago) & Jk16 Kawamoto (Kasugano) – Out of all of the new debutants this tournament, it was always going to be tough to come up with the goods, but it looks like I’ve drawn a blank with the obvious choice of taking two college guys to take the division by storm. Terasawa’s already dropped two matches, and Kawamoto sits 2-1 and definitely out of the yusho running. That said, as many as 3 wins may still be enough to move up to Jonidan for the pair.

Jk25 Iwamori (Hakkaku) – The rikishi with zero sumo experience but more of a sumo frame than most, is off to a 1-2 start. We’ll be interested to see where this ends up, as it will still be fun to follow the career of a person who joined sumo after being teased at school for their big frame.

Finally, for fans of Hattorizakura, Herouth posted a great video on Twitter earlier of his latest defeat. Video comes from the “Sumo Samurai Hattorizakura” channel. He gave it an almighty go:

Hanging out at Kokugikan: Day 3

kokugikan

With many live sports, the better viewing these days will come on TV, or online, or however you consume your video content. You get the benefit of close-ups, camera angles, replays, and analysis. However, the best and most irreplaceable pure experience will still usually come in person. I was fortunate to attend Day 3 of the Natsu basho yesterday, and so will share some of my experiences. I will caveat that almost all of you who saw yesterday’s highlights saw those matches better than I did, and I will do a more complete post on the Kokugikan experience after one of the later days I attend in the tournament, but hopefully this will add some color to yesterday’s proceedings.

Tickets/Seats

Due to the incredible popularity of sumo, the full tournament sold out in under an hour, and this caused an incredible amount of strain on ticket agents like BuySumoTickets who provide services to those of us based outside of Japan. Unfortunately, my seat was downgraded to “Arena C,” which is the furthest back section at the top of the upper deck of Kokugikan. While the Arena A and B seats feature comfortable, plush upholstery and armrests, the Arena C seats are more of the hard plastic variety you might find in a normal sports stadium. It’s worth paying whatever you can afford to get into one of the closer sections, as it makes a difference when you’re sitting for several hours. Kokugikan, which does offer very good sight lines from almost any seat, is fairly steep, so even getting into the Arena B section does make a meaningful difference. Still, I’m not complaining – at least I was lucky enough to be able to attend.

As far as the surrounding fan contingent up in Arena C, it was made up largely of folks who had queued for “day-of” tickets in the AM as well as tourists. Obviously, I’m all for more fans experiencing sumo and welcoming them to our site to follow English language coverage, but with the incredible demand for tickets, it would be good of tourists to read Tachiai and other sites, and brush up on the rituals of the ring before making their maiden trip to Kokugikan! It would make their sumo experience more rich, and if they are going to take the seats of people who are legitimately fans of sumo (either locals or other tourists), it would sit a bit easier with me if these folks made more of an effort [edit: I appreciate while the spirit of this comment is positive, the tone did not sit well with everyone, so please see further elaboration on the subject in the comments]. The likes of Tachiai are here to help, and we will welcome them!

Despite this, there were pockets of empty seats all around the upper bowl in particular – the three seats next to me were all empty. Later in the day, a few massive groups of school kids filled in the Arena B section and were fantastic for the atmosphere.

Snacks & Shopping

Oguruma-beya is serving their brand of chanko throughout the basho, but I took it a bit easy yesterday, skipping that and the yakitori and just enjoying a custard bun in the shape of the NSK mascot, a snack-box of roast beef sushi with wasabi, and a package of Lotte Koala March cookies.

What was surprising was the amount of Harumafuji stuff you can still find. The postcard vendor inside Kokugikan still carried Harumafuji goods, and they were still selling $100 Harumafuji statues in the gift shops. I always buy postcards at Kokugikan – it’s very rare you can find one of someone below Juryo division, but they were already selling postcards of a certain hotly-tipped Jonidan rikishi:

Additionally, I picked up a pack of cards from the trading card vendors. Opening the package of 5 cards (¥300) to find an Enho card filled me with immense joy. One of the coolest features of this vendor is that he will offer to trade you from a pile of other cards for one of the cards in your pack that you don’t want. I pretty much snapped his arm off to give him my Daiamami card in exchange for Onosho, I don’t know how I got away with that one!

Matches

I did get to see a handful of the folks I’m tracking in this basho’s Ones to Watch series in the Makushita division, but I’ll save the analysis for the mid-basho check in post. Instead, let’s talk about some higher division action:

Wakatakakage has tons of fans. You will always hear people shouting for him, and if you thought that Raja Pradhan’s rapid fire pronunciation of his name was impressive on Grand Sumo Preview, wait until you hear someone’s drunken grandpa shouting it for all of Kokugikan to hear [as I’ve just written this, Hiro Morita has shared during the Day 4 broadcast that Mitakeumi says he is worried Wakatakakage is too light to compete as a sekitori. Make of that what you will!].

Abi vs Mitakeumi: If you think back a year, Mitakeumi always had one of the loudest cheering sections at any tournament. Not anymore. A new generation of exciting upstarts has taken root, and none more so than Abi. If you’re looking for a signal as to how much things have changed and how Mitakeumi’s star has dimmed, it was impossible to hear anyone cheering for him over Abi fans. They created an incredible cacophony and it was the loudest I had ever heard Kokugikan for a single rikishi. But unfortunately for them, in the match, Mitakeumi put him on the run. He’s come up in the first few days against guys who are working hard to be Ozeki (two in with a good chance, and one trying to recover his past momentum in Mitakeumi). I think he’ll be able to turn it around and I agree with Bruce that if he can develop some yotsu-zumo techniques, he would be a total force.

Ikioi: I’ve mentioned before on the site that he is my favorite, so I am biased. I’m also a life long fan of Liverpool Football Club. Their manager Jürgen Klopp became known earlier in his career for his approach to “heavy metal” football: intense, unrelenting, in your face action. Maybe this is what also draws me so much to Ikioi. Ikioi’s brand of sumo is heavy metal sumo, high-octane, full-throttle sumo. In football parlance, his extreme gegenpressing might leave him open to the kind of counterattacks which might make a charge for silverware a bit of a vain exercise for him (even if he wins the odd special prize here and there). This is perhaps evidenced by a second monoii in three days leading to a gyoji-decision reversal in his favor. I often say Hakuho is “box office,” and he is the consummate entertainer, but Ikioi is can’t-miss sumo. And in an era of declining numbers in the upper san’yaku (two years ago there were 7 yokozuna and ozeki, and they usually all turned up…. now we have 3 who are active), the sport needs can’t-miss performers.

Lost: Hokutofuji and Yoshikaze.

Found: Kotoshogiku and Ishiura. Ishiura did sumo, and won. Imagine that! Usually baseball pitchers establish their fastball and then mix in an off-speed pitch like a curveball to confuse batters. Ishiura is doing the opposite now: he leads with most people’s curveball, the henka, and then when he throws good sumo out there, he can blow people away. Kotoshogiku is always trying to get his feet sorted, and yesterday he kept composure through a couple waves of attacks from Yutakayama to deal with a rikishi who didn’t have much experience of his signature move. The old dog’s still got it, you know.

Daieisho threw a henka on Ichinojo and the big man reacted like someone untied his favorite pony and set it free while he wasn’t looking. The crowd reacted and he throw Daieisho to the floor, the gyoji’s decision confirmed after a monoii.

The crowd reacted very disapprovingly to the Tochinoshin/Tamawashi matta. Long time watchers of Tamawashi will know that he will sometimes play mind games at the tachiai with higher rankers and eke out a longer than usual stare down. However, whenever he deploys this tactic, even when he provokes two or even three matta in an apparent attempt to unsettle his opponent, he always seems to lose. It seems it might motivate his opponents more than anything, not that Tochinoshin needs extra motivation at the moment.

I have never experienced an atmosphere like I did for Endo vs Goeido, the first massive upset of the basho. There were huge groups of fans for both rikishi chanting and screaming and clapping in the run up to the match. When Endo finally threw Goeido to the clay, the explosion of noise was one of those moments that makes Kokugikan one of the most special sporting venues in the world.

Ones to Watch: Natsu 18

EDION Arena - Enho vs Wakatakakage - Haru 2018 Day 8 Juryo
Your Tachiai column for half full arenas

We are less than 12 hours out from the start of the Natsu basho! So it’s time to check in with our up and coming friends from the lower divisions. This time we say goodbye to Hakuyozan and Wakatakakage, promoted to Juryo. This post will also be a very abbreviated version of this feature (analysis wise – the list is actually longer than usual) as I am under the weather, however I intend to gambarize and will be back with you with some coverage from the tournament and the usual analysis on all of these guys at the midpoint and at the end. Perhaps you will see me at Kokugikan!

Makushita

Ms1 Chiyonoumi (Kokonoe) – The 25 year old has run his way through the Makushita meat-grinder with a series of impressive performances to leave himself poised for promotion with a kachi-koshi here.

Ms5 Ichiyamamoto (Nishonoseki) – This will be the oshi-tending rikishi’s 8th tournament. He has stern competition at this part of the banzuke but has only put together less than 5 wins on one occasion in the bottom tiers and no losing records. A good tournament here should see him move into the pole position or better at Aki Nagoya.

Ms6 Enho (Miyagino) – He’s back! We love Enho, but there’s no doubting that he was over-promoted to Juryo due to wild circumstances with a record that usually would not merit it. Now, unless he grabs an unlikely yusho, he’ll hopefully get a couple more tournaments to season himself, develop his physicality and bounce back before the end of the year.

Ms7 Murata (Takasago) – This is also the 8th tournament for this big man, however while Ichiyamamoto got here “the hard way,” Murata was a Sandanme tsukedashi starter. Either way, it’s not where you start, it’s where you finish.

Ms13 Tomokaze (Oguruma) – Tournament number 6 for the big osha-fighter from Oguruma-beya, and probably the first one in which he will face strong opposition. He should run into Toyonoshima and that will be a good one to watch, and a good test for the veteran against a newcomer here with a developed physique.

Ms13 Wakatakamoto (Arashio) – I’m going for -takamoto over-motoharu of the remaining brothers to watch this time out. While both his brothers are ranked higher, he’s on a solid 16-5 run since coming back from injury and in Vegas you always just play that hot hand.

Ms20 Midorifuji (Isegahama) – First time on the list for the slight man from Isegahama. We’ve talked at length in the Heya Power Rankings about the stable’s decline relative to others for various reasons, but there is some light and some hope and it could be that this man is starting to put it together at this level after a 6-1 tournament in Osaka in what was his 9th tournament. Curiously, he loves a katasukashi, having won 13 bouts with the slightly less common technique in his young career.

Ms26 Ryuko (Onoe) – The 19 year old is still young for the level, and is yet another man making his 8th tournament appearance, but suffered his first make-koshi last time out, so it’s all about the rebound as he tries to keep up with some of his more esteemed mates.

Ms30 Nishikifuji (Isegahama) – The other hot talent of Isegahama got a bit of a mulligan last time as he fell down the banzuke having succumbed to the heya flu in January. Now he gets a second bite at the division from mid table, and hopefully this time we can see what the youngster, who has two lower division yusho, can do.

Ms36 Tanabe (Kise) – Another guy who had a gnarly Hatsu, Tanabe put it right in his return to Sandanme, reclaiming his impressive form with the 4th 6-1 record in his 6 career tournaments. The 23 year old university man should be placed well to continue making progress. Kise have a lot of good talents right now, and I skipped over Kizaki who has been included in this feature before, but has had middling results of late.

Ms50 Inoue (Kise) – Another first time member of the list, and it’s the man ranked opposite Ura. The 18 year old has more tournament experience than many members of this list combined, but started to put it together in 2018 with a pair of back to back records that saw him finally out of Sandanme purgatory after a couple years. 4 losses will probably send him back, so he hasn’t got a lot of margin for error.

Ms52 Shoji (Musashigawa) – The first of a few Musashigawa men passes Mushashikuni by the narrowest of margins in the race to give the heya a sekitori. It’s just the 5th tournament for a man who struggled in his first go at sandanme after grabbing two yusho to start his career, so we’ll be a little conservative with our optimism this time out.

Ms52 Musashikuni (Musashigawa) – Let us not forget that this stable has two Americans (Wakaichiro is technically not the foreign rikishi) and Musashimaru’s nephew has escalated himself back up to the third division for what will be his ninth tournament at the level after just a one-basho stay in Sandanme. We’ll look for him to get the consistency to stick around and start to consolidate his place at the level this time out, so I’d have him doing better than Shoji if forced to pick.

Sandanme

Sd40 Kizakiumi (Kise) – The Sandanme tsukedashi entrant from Haru – and brother of Kizaki – put “six of the best” on the board, but did it largely against Jonidan opposition. He gets a decent bump up the rankings this time and a similar return will see him join the umpteen rikishi higher up this post in Aki. If he can keep moving fast, it will be good to see another sibling rivalry in the sekitori promotion fight.

Sd42 Tsukahara (Kasugano) – It’s basho number 3 for the Kasugano newcomer, the first two having ended in championship glory. I limited the list to 20 rikishi until now, but I’m not making the mistake of leaving him out again, so we’re going to start to follow his performances more carefully. Like Kizakiumi he’s in with a decent shout of a step up if he can put together another title challenge.

Sd73 Torakio (Naruto) – Ever seen a photo of someone and think, “wow, that person just looks like a thoroughly nice and decent person?” That’s what Naruto-oyakata looks like to me. I haven’t met him or his fellow Bulgarian disciple but both men will be wishing for better as Torakio takes a second stab at the division following an injury-inspired nightmare in January.

Sd77 Kototebakari (Sadogatake) – The big bopper takes two promotions from two with 12 wins from 14. Here’s where the opposition should start to become a little more challenging for a man of his larger build… or perhaps he’ll just continue bulldozing his way through the banzuke.

Sd89 Hayashi (Futagoyama – moves from Fujishima) – Mike Hayashi follows the former Miyabiyama to Futagoyama beya and so in his debut for the new stable, his 4th tournament in total, the half-Filipino man will look to establish himself at his new level. He had to recover from an 0-3 hole last time out, so expectations will be somewhat tempered as the 19 year old finds his footing.

Jonidan

Jd6 Yoshoyama (Tokitsukaze) – The Mongolian started to put it all together in his second tournament in March after surprisingly struggling a bit in his Jonokuchi debut. At this rank the erratic young talent should be as nailed on for a promotion as anyone on this list…

Jd11 Naya (Otake) – … apart from maybe this guy. The Grandson of Taiho™ blasted his way through his debut tournament, inking a mammoth promotion and will probably do the same again here. It would be shocking if he’s not got to Makushita by year’s end.

Jd14 Wakaichiro (Musashigawa) – Bruce covered his prospects in a little more detail earlier today on the site. We’ll be looking for a third promotion to Sandanme for the Texan rikishi this time out. A matchup with Naya would also certainly be interesting.

Jd42 Hoshoryu (Tatsunami) – Asashoryu’s Nephew™ is a more slight fellow than Naya and his loss to said starlet perhaps overshadowed his wholly expected impressive result last time as well. There are a handful of other competitors (like Nakanishi who dropped his only Jonokuchi bout to Hoshoryu) but it’s possible the two men may again meet in a final bout or playoff.

Jonokuchi

There are an enormous – not unprecedented, but still a lot – amount of new names added to the banzuke for this tournament after the usual annual influx of new names into mae-zumo in Haru. Massive props are due to everyone at SumoForum (including frequent Tachiai commenter Asashosakari) who put together a pretty amazing resource thread of all of the new recruits this time out, cobbled together from various news posts/tweets/etc. We’re just going to have to see what happens, but here are three names worth watching:

Jk16 Terasawa (Takasago) & Jk16 Kawamoto (Kasugano) – These guys are the two college entrants this time, and Terasawa in particular has a good pedigree having narrowly missed Sandanme tsukedashi qualification. There’s plenty more in the SumoForum thread which frequent readers of this column are recommended to check out.

Jk25 Iwamori (Hakkaku) – The stable that brought you the hotly talented Hokutofuji now brings in a rikishi with… absolutely zero sumo experience. Seriously. Apparently he was picked on at school for his big-bodied physique, and now he has an opportunity to feel good about himself. So, that’s a cool feel-good story. And, by the way, he won 2 from 4 in the maezumo tournament, so he’s already put dirt on more foes than our man Hattorizakura has managed. He could be a fun one to follow.

“I’m glad there’s such a great community around sumo” – A Conversation With Jason Harris (Part 2)

Jason Harris: Yokozuna
Photo courtesy of Jason Harris

In the second and final part of our interview, we’re happy to present more takes from the very popular Jason Harris of Jason’s All Sumo Channel. Here, he shares more opinions on what he’s looking forward to in sumo, some fantasy matchups that he would create on the dohyo, and the role of YouTube videos in the English speaking world where content can be hard to come by.

If you missed Part 1 of our interview, click here to check it out. As in part 1, the interview has been edited for clarity and length. We’ve embedded Jason’s “Welcome” video for the upcoming basho as well, so make sure to tune in to learn more about how Tachiai has partnered with him for his upcoming contest this month.

Tachiai: In all of your time watching sumo matches over the years, is there one particular matchup (either because it was something a lot of people related to on the channel, or just because it’s something that you’ve enjoyed) between two rikishi that you could just watch again and again?

Jason Harris: Oh boy! There are so many. I went back through some of old playlists recently, because I wanted to see how it started, and I watched a match here and there. I loved it when people came not out of nowhere – because sometimes they were Ozeki – but when they just won that one tournament. People like Kotooshu and Baruto, or even the wild basho that ended up with Kyokutenho winning – those were very fun [to watch]. Of course, in 2008 & 2009, the showdowns between Asashoryu and Hakuho were always fun to look forward to on Senshuraku.

Videos that stick with me the most probably have to be Harumafuji matches, like when he did the back to back 15-0 [tournaments]. Even when he won recently [in September], I was so happy for him. What happened to him was a terrible way to go out, but he seems to be OK with it. He’s going to have his hair-cutting ceremony this year and I think he’s going to stay in Japan and try and stay connected with sumo.

One of the things I like, that I wish I could show more, is when I get to watch on the weekend for my own enjoyment: They do a pretty good job on NHK of having guests go over sumo history. Every now and then, they’ll show an old Chiyonofuji match, or one of the big Americans like Akebono. I really have zero knowledge of sumo pre-2004: I came into a complete void, I’d never seen the sport before. So, when I get to see older matches from the 80s and 90s and even before that are in black and white, I love watching all that old stuff, it’s great. The amazing thing about watching Hakuho [now] is that I have watched Hakuho from Day 1, attaining Yokozuna and being the “GOAT” that he is. Every record that he’s broken, they go back and show you, “Taiho (or someone) did this and Hakuho beat that record.”

I’m not one of these baseball fans that knows all of these players on the roster going back to the 30s, or one of these football fans that’s been rooting for the team since I was 5 years old. Sumo came to me when I was 36, but it is a huge part of my life. It’s amazing to me that it takes place so often and at such a high level. I can’t think of any sport aside from maybe tennis, where you have tournaments every other month! It’s not easy winning a yusho in professional makuuchi sumo, and they really do go all out every other month.

I wish more people in Japan would watch it, because I go to work sometimes, and I’ll be high on the previous day’s tournament, and I just wanna be like: “Man! Did you see Kisenosato? His arm was falling off! And he won that match (laughs)!” And it’s just crickets. The kids aren’t home from school yet [when sumo is on] and the adults are blasé about it. There’s one old guy at work now who talks to me about sumo. I love to wear my sumo shirts around town – people love that a foreigner is so invested in it.

Tachiai: I’ve had similar experiences. I want to go back to something you said about watching matches in the 2000s up through now. This is a Marvel vs DC kind of question: let’s bring two universes together. If you could pit any current rikishi against a former rikishi from when you started watching to create an ultimate fantasy matchup, what might that be?

JH: The obvious one has gotta be Chiyonofuji against Hakuho. That’s the Muhammad Ali vs X, or Michael Jordan vs X… the matchup for the ages. When you look at Chiyonofuji, he’s just so muscular! He doesn’t look fat to me! My gosh, I can imagine how formidable an opponent he must have been, and to see him fight Hakuho!

I loved how Harumafuji was so quick and so good with technique, and I think that was the one thing that allowed him to have any yusho wins during the Hakuho reign. It would [also] be great to see somebody like Ichinojo who’s now tipping the scales at 225kg against somebody like Akebono or other huge guys from the past. It would be great to see some Americans make it back up to the top division, and have that fun pride. We talk a lot about foreigners in sumo, and now we’ve got a guy from Texas, that Tachiai promotes a lot, Wakaichiro.

Fantasy matches are fun to think about. Hakuho vs. Chiyonofuji though, that’s gotta be the one, right there.

Tachiai: I’ve got a question coming up now from Andy, who runs the site.

JH: Yo, Andy!

Tachiai: Andy is curious as to your thoughts on Araibira, who used to put the whole NHK feed on Youtube before he got shut down and moved over to Vimeo. Firstly, have you ever been worried about how close you might be cutting it in terms of the amount of content you put on Youtube, and how the authorities might feel about that? How do you, as a person who’s in that space, react to seeing someone else having to move off Youtube and onto another platform?

JH: Araibira was a nice dude. I talked to him a few times back when he was popular. He had some feed – not proper NHK. The thing that I think got him in trouble is that he was so quick, and he would put up the matches literally minutes after they were live, and he just would take the footage and post it. And that’s kind of direct competition [with NHK] in a way. He wasn’t adding commentary or anything, and I don’t think he wasn’t using an English feed, it was all in Japanese. So he got in trouble and taken down. I don’t know if he’s still over on Vimeo. If he is, then good luck to him.

I could never match the speed of Kintamayama, who does a really good job with his editing. I feel like I just offer a slightly different product, and you’re not going to get the whole day [of matches]. I don’t live in fear of the channel being shut down, but I know that at any point it could happen. I would just have to be sad, and be like: “oh well.” And then move on.

It is completely not my content, which is why I’ve never put any ad on any content, I’ve not monetised [my videos], I’m not a partner on YouTube. It’s just a portal for me to share what I love about sumo with other people… and I’ve been attacked for it. There was a guy who wrote a whole article in The Japan Times about two years ago, calling me bad names and saying “why is this allowed?” And I thought, “well, that’s it, they’re going to shut me down.” But they didn’t, and I heard from other people that guy is kind of a crank anyway! [editors note: the writer in question was not current Japan Times sumo writer and friend of the site, John Gunning]

Every now and then, especially when I first started, NHK would flag this video or that video, and then I’d say “oh, damn!” People would ask “where’s so and so… where’s the Kaio vs. Asashoryu match, the final match of the day?” And I’d just have to say, “yeah, it got snagged.” When people first watched my channel, they just got used to that. But it really hasn’t happened since 2011, since they changed the broadcast.

I think NHK are trying their own thing at streaming services and apps and it hasn’t quite come all together yet, and they’re really leaving me alone. And I’m very thankful about that. Because I think as much as I do it, and I’m in English (and I don’t want to toot my own horn but I’m kind of the most high profile person posting in English), there’s probably tons of people posting and reposting NHK sumo in Japanese. I don’t type in kanji for the names of the wrestlers and see all of those videos. So I’m sure that happens a lot and I’m just not aware of it. If you’re going to ask me to justify what I do, I feel like I’m spreading the sport around to people who wouldn’t normally get to see it.

Tachiai: That touches on the second part of Andy’s question too, which is that in an era where only so many fans around the world can make it to Kokugikan or one of the other venues around Japan, it’d be interesting to get your take on what role videos like yours and other online content can play in the spread of sumo as a sport. Specifically for people who can’t get there: maybe they’re in Japan and it’s too far away, or they’re in other countries and are never going to make it there. What roles do these videos play in creating more fans? 

JH: Absolutely. If I lost my job tomorrow, and I had to move back to California, I would want my channel: somebody who does what I do, so that I could keep watching sumo in America. Now, I would be lucky, because the US has a large Asian-American population, so there’s a cable channel you can get called TV Japan, and it’s $25 a month, and you can watch sumo on it. But sumo is on at midnight or whatever it is in America because of the time difference.

NHK World, I gotta admit, is doing a good job. They’re stepping up, they’re putting out these [daily] summary videos. They’re fairly accessible, they’re free, and they get reposted on YouTube a lot! They’re not comprehensive, they don’t show every match of every day, they drop 1 or 2, but it’s a good way to get into the sport too.

I just hope there’s still something my channel can offer that’s not redundant. If people say “I can go to NHK World, why come to your channel?” Hopefully people find interesting things, and the fact that I’m reacting to it live most of the time is a little bit of a different flavor. A lot of people surprisingly don’t just want to see the tachiai and the outcome. They want to see the ritual. They want to see the salt throwing, and the stare down, and the replay, and all of those things that I provide.

And it’s definitely a big space! It’s a big huge thing, YouTube. I know for a fact that people in Mongolia, and people in Georgia, and Canada, and all the places that I get a lot of hits from, their source for sumo is YouTube. Maybe they don’t have that [premium] cable channel in their country. I’m sure now in Georgia, they probably do have somebody watching [and posting updates]. I know they’re going to be watching Tochinoshin closely this tournament, but who knows if they still cover sumo in Estonia now that Baruto’s gone.

So many people send me messages and say “I used to be stationed in Okinawa as a soldier,” or “I used to live in Japan where I was a teacher,” or “I was a student,” and they are reigniting their nostalgia and feelings for sumo by seeing some of my videos and starting to follow the new guys. And that’s great. That makes me feel great and I’m just glad that there’s such a great community around. Tachiai, and my channel, and people on Twitter, and what John Gunning is doing: everybody is talking about it in English, which is an important part to spread its popularity.

Tachiai: I agree. I certainly feel it because a lot of the content that I personally write for Tachiai is covering stuff that happens outside the top divisions: things that happen in the lower divisions, and how guys making their debuts are doing, and things like that. And it’s hard enough for us to see the content from the top divisions in America. There’s just absolutely NO WAY that without the folks who are there at Kokugikan at 10am shooting video from the Jonidan division and posting it on YouTube, that it would be possible. It just wouldn’t.

So finally, our last question… what are you looking forward to in sumo over the course of the next year or so?

JH: It’s hard. Talking to sumo fans, Japanese sumo fans have their own point of view because they are Japanese and they want a Japanese champion… and then they got Kisenosato and then they didn’t, know what I mean?

Tachiai: Yeah. 

JH: He became Yokozuna, and then unfortunately, bad things happened and he just couldn’t keep it up. I think – and it’s funny, because I get called out for this a lot, people [think I don’t like him] – that Hakuho is the greatest of all time. Absolutely. We are in a special era to be able to watch him on a daily basis.

Tachiai: He’s trying to make it until the Olympics.

JH: He’s talked a lot about that. Sure. But we don’t want diminishing returns, he should go out on top.

Tachiai: Well, he is trying to get 1,000 wins in makuuchi. That’s the next thing. He’s 28 wins short.

JH: I hope he gets that! You know, I feel like he should get a little more respect from some of the other fans. It’s hard when you’re that consistently good and you’re always winning, people do then cheer for the underdog because they just want somebody different.

But that’s not a reflection of how good he is and how much he deserves, because if somebody could have stepped up to him, then certainly I think he would have been happy to have had a good rival. Not that Harumafuji wasn’t a good rival, or Kisenosato, but they were not and are not him. And when Asashoryu left as unceremoniously as he did, we really lost that good rivalry.

So, my hope for the next couple years is that we do see some of these new guys: the Enhos, the Abis, the Mitakeumis, these guys come up, and a new crop take over the san’yaku. And some new blood, and some new really strong rivalries that will really keep us entertained for the next 4 or 5 years. Harumafuji’s retired, and there’s talk that Kisenosato might retire this year. There was talk about Kakuryu, but that’s gone, he’s back pretty strong. I don’t think Hakuho is going to retire, but I don’t think he’s going to dominate like he did in the past. It’s the middle of 2018, so he’s got to stay wrestling for 2 more years to get to the Olympics? He could do it! He’s not that old.

Tachiai: He’s 33.

JH: Yeah, so you look around at some of the other guys [over the years] who were able to hang on. Kaio was able to hang on because he had that Ozeki “safety net.” Aminishiki has stuck around, he is going to be 40 soon. But to be a Yokozuna like Hakuho, and have everybody gunning for you, it’ll be interesting [how long he can keep going].

I’m excited about the next couple years of sumo. I think we’re going to have some great tournaments, and in each basho some story emerges that you weren’t really prepared for – along with the standard narrative: “Hakuho’s going to dominate.” What’s going to upset that apple cart may be more interesting.

I’m looking forward to it. I plan to live in Japan at least until 2021. At that point I’ll be turning 50, and then I have to think about what I want to do from there. I hope the channel stays around, and stays popular, and sumo is still a lot of fun for everyone for the next 3 or 4 years at least!

Thanks again to Jason for taking the time to chat with us. You can find his channel on YouTube by clicking here, and follow him on Twitter by clicking here.

“I feel like I have a duty to provide the coverage” – A Conversation with Jason Harris (Part 1)

Jason-Yokozuna.jpg
Photo courtesy of Jason Harris

If you’re a sumo fan in the English speaking world, then it’s very likely that at some point after discovering the sport you also discovered the work of Jason Harris. He’s the man behind Jason’s All Sumo Channel on YouTube, and has built an incredible community wherein he watches each day of every tournament’s biggest matches and provides commentary for fans online. As he says in our interview, watching a video on his channel can be like watching sumo with a buddy, and over the years he’s become the sumo buddy for tens of thousands of fans all over the world.

In a world where sumo content can be difficult to come by for English speakers, we wanted to talk to Jason about his experiences, successes, and what gets him excited about sumo. The first half of the interview, below, has been edited for clarity and length.

Tachiai: Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us. For those folks that don’t know you or maybe haven’t been around since the channel began, can you tell us a little bit about how and why you started the channel?

Jason Harris: Sure. A question I get asked a lot is: “why are you so interested in sumo?” The simple reason is, when I moved to Japan in 2004, to become a teacher – pre-Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube, even – I lived in a very, very rural part of Japan called Shimane-ken, and there wasn’t a lot to do after school as far as entertainment.

You could turn on the TV, and everything was in Japanese, which is no surprise! My Japanese wasn’t so great, but a friend said “hey, if you watch sumo, you can watch in English by hitting a button on your remote control at 4pm every day.” My first basho was in September 2004, which Kaio won, believe it or not. I thought, “Oh! This is interesting.” The next January, it was so cold outside, I ended up watching the whole basho sitting under my kotatsu. Asashoryu won, which started his year when he won all six basho in a calendar year – and that’s never been done by anyone, including Hakuho!

When I started doing videos on my main YouTube channel, and I talked about living and working in Japan, part of my life was watching sumo. So, I would turn my camera around from time to time, and point it at my pretty small TV, and just say “hey, this is the sumo on today.” I’d show maybe 1 or 2 matches every other day. And [the videos] got some hits, people were sort of interested, but it wasn’t quite the same audience overlap.

I moved back to the States in 2010 after I finished my stint on the JET program, and [by then] some videos had gotten really good hits – big Asashoryu matches, etc – and a big thing on YouTube was doing reaction and reply videos. And, I thought, “maybe I’ll just do an all-sumo channel because I love it, and I know there’s at least a thousand other people who probably want to watch in English and then talk about it.”

I really didn’t think it would go much beyond that, and that started in 2011 when I moved back to Japan. Unfortunately, that was the year of the great tsunami and earthquake, and the yaocho scandal in sumo, when they cancelled a basho. I was having a hard time getting sumo in my house, because NHK then switched it from BS1 over to the NHK G channel and curtailed the [broadcast] hours, so it really started in earnest in 2012.

And it’s just grown. It’s been pretty amazing, especially recently as more and more people turn to YouTube for information on sports and everything they’re interested in. I just found a niche. There’s a few of us: me, Kintamayama, and a couple other guys that do good sumo coverage on YouTube. A lot of people just reshow the NHK broadcast, but time and time again I get messages – as many comments as I get about how I should shut up and stop talking – that a lot of people enjoy my talking, and I think it’s like watching sumo with a buddy.

I don’t think I come over as overly informed about sumo! I enjoy it, and I know of course more than the average person, but I’m not super encyclopedic about it. There are people in my YouTube comments who know way more about sumo than me, and that’s awesome because they add a richness to the community that’s now formed around the channel.

Tachiai: We have had a similar experience on Tachiai with a rich community that is developing in the comments, so I can relate to that. In the English speaking world, we are so limited for content. A lot of people’s first exposure to sumo when they look it up online brings them to your videos. Especially in the days before NHK started stepping up their coverage – which is pretty recent in the English speaking world – it has really been a lifeline and stepping stone for so many fans. What has it meant to you to be able to participate as you have in the growth of sumo to the English speaking community?

JH: Oh, that’s very flattering! I hope that’s what the channel has been able to do.

It’s just a hobby. But at the same time, in the past 2 or 3 years particularly, it’s kind of taken on more of a duty. I feel like I have a duty to the community to provide the coverage, and I take it pretty seriously. I try to have fun with it. My commentary is mostly light, I don’t go into serious topics very often, and I throw in a lot about what’s going on in my day, and stuff like that.

But at the same time, I get so many emails from people about how they start their day with sumo, or how they look forward to every lunch break where they can tune in for half an hour. The way you build playlists in YouTube, if I put up 6 videos from Day 7, people can just play them in a row like they’re watching a little sitcom or half hour TV show. It’s incredibly satisfying that people are that dedicated.

A lot of people that saw the viral video [of Tochinoshin winning the yusho] I’m sure thought: “What is this? Why did I get taken here, why did I hit this link?” Then, they look at it and they’re like “oh, this is interesting.” Then, if you click on the channel, there’s so much there to watch. That’s the good thing about YouTube: people can say “oh, I want to watch a little bit more of this,” or “who’s this Tochinoshin guy? Let me see what else he’s done.” I just hope I don’t get lost in the shuffle as different players come into the game. It seems to me that NHK is stepping up their game and offering more content now, but they’re still a little out of touch with what people want and need.

Tachiai: That Tochinoshin video from January where he wins the tournament has over a million views now, which is amazing. What does it even feel like to reach the point where that many people are watching?

JH: If you go on my channel, my next highest viewed video has 280,000 views, and that’s an insane number of people when you think about it. That’s like, soccer stadiums full of people. How can you rationalize that in your brain?

It’s so out of my hands what happens after I post, in terms of where they get shared. [The Tochinoshin video] obviously got shared on some Reddit board or some other place, especially in Georgia. Huge numbers of people from Georgia have subscribed [to the channel], and I get comments in all kinds of languages. My subscriber numbers have gone crazy in the past year. And that’s great, I hope they come and they stick around.

It’s funny, because in that particular video, I get criticised a lot from the casual Joe Internet guy: “Shut up! You’re talking too much!” But, I rewatched it recently, and I said: “I’m actually giving solid information about Tochinoshin’s career.” If you came into this completely blind, you would actually know a little bit before you watched the match, and it was serendipity that I chose that video to recap what was happening.

Then of course, there was the emotion of me being so happy for him, and that comes across all the time in my videos. I’m a fan. I’m watching live most of the time, and I’m getting excited just like anybody watching a live sporting event. I think it turns off some people, but they can watch with the sound down!

It’s great if people find sumo through the channel, that’s a huge part of the reason why I do it. I don’t really plan on changing anything too much, but I do have some announcements coming up in May.

Tachiai: Was there a moment before that Tochinoshin match, or is there ever a moment where you’re filming a particular video and you think, “oh, a lot of folks are going to see this one”?

JH: You like to think you can plan for it, but you certainly can’t plan for something taking off like that.

I know there’s an audience out there that’s very eager to get it right away: as soon as I post it, they want it. Maybe [those people] don’t want it spoiled, they want to watch it that day. And then the views steadily stack up over the basho. I’ll end the basho sometimes with a video that’s got 25,000-30,000 views. But over 100,000 views is certainly an anomaly and no, I never plan for it.

It’s great when one takes off. I certainly know sometimes if there’s a big match, and it’s a match where other people, people who even tangentially know about sumo would say “oh, he’s fighting him? OK, I want to watch that.” There certainly have been moments, like when Harumafuji won to become Yokozuna, where I got really emotional “on camera.” Things like that, you can’t hold back.

Sometimes I pause to think about how important [the match] is. Most of the time it’s like: “Hey! Here’s the next match! Let’s keep going!” That makes me give a lot of respect to the guys on NHK who do it for a solid 2 hours. I only do it for 5 minutes for a time and I can pause. And I choose which videos I put up, but they have to do it non-stop and sometimes they have no one to play off. I don’t either, but I see the value in having a John Gunning sitting next to you, somebody who knows about sumo!

Tachiai: We’re coming up on the Natsu tournament and as you mentioned already online, you’ll be doing your welcome video soon, if you haven’t already.

JH: I’ll be doing it this weekend.

Tachiai: What kind of topics will viewers have to look forward to in that video?

JH: We’re going to talk a little bit about the banzuke, and the fact that the Sumo Association is just stubborn! Why can’t we have 3 Sekiwake, why can’t we have 3 Komusubi? Poor Tamawashi. 9-6 at Maegashira 1 and he doesn’t get to be Komusubi. That’s not cool! (laughs)

It’s so hard, because I try to find out “is Hakuho going to show up? Is Kisenosato ready?” A week out, they’re holding their cards so close to the vest. We don’t know either, and they often don’t announce until a day or two before. Plus your excitement by the idea of things like “oooh, is this going to be the time when we get all 3 healthy Yokozuna [in the same tournament]” is tempered. Tachiai does a great job of translating news on the internet into English, along with some other people on Twitter that I’ve found, but especially when I’m doing a contest, [those late changes] can really throw a monkey wrench in.

We’ll talk about the sad case of Terunofuji and what’s happening with him down in Juryo, and we’ll talk about Endo becoming a san’yaku wrestler for the first time. I get an English version of the Yomiuri Shimbun, and there was an article in today’s paper about the whole thing with women on the dohyo – that was a big issue recently – and why foreign wrestlers can’t become elders without giving up their citizenship. I think sumo needs to gradually make some changes, it’s the 21st century guys! So, we’ll talk about that. I’m going to have a contest in May, and I do have some announcements about changes to the channel, and I’ll put those out there and see what the response is.

Tachiai: Everyone who follows your channel knows how much you loved Harumafuji. It might be too soon for you to have a new favorite with that level of emotional attachment – I know you like Okinoumi – but if you had to pick one guy that you just love to watch right now, who would it be?

JH: Oh wow, good question. I wish we had a stronger Ozeki crop. I like Takayasu, but Goeido I think has had his moment, and it’s never going to come again.

I gotta say, I like Abi. He’s fun! He’s a lot of fun to watch. Tochinoshin is obviously the exciting guy of the moment: “Will he become an Ozeki?”

As far as somebody who’s a little older, who I’ve always enjoyed to watch other than Okinoumi (who I obviously root for as you know), I’m always, always rooting for Ikioi. Every time I’ve seen him on Japanese programs, he’s been such a nice guy. I think he really enjoys the fans, and he’s a talented wrestler. He’s a big guy, and he can never quite seem to get it all together. But I’m always rooting for him, he’s someone I definitely keep an eye out for.

Tachiai: That’s funny, he’s my absolute favorite.

JH: (excitedly) Oh yeah?! That’s cool.

Tachiai: He turned up so insanely injured in Osaka, for his hometown tournament, and he just left it all out there every day, and managed to get results. It was amazing, incredible to watch.

JH: Yeah, yeah it was.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of our interview with Jason, which will arrive in the next few days before the start of the May tournament. [Edited to add: you can now click here for part 2]

Click here to check out Jason’s All Sumo Channel on YouTube, and click here to visit Jason on Twitter.

Tachiai drops in on the YDC Soken

Kokugikan Interior - YDC Soken
The Makushita division moshiai during the Yokozuna Deliberation Committee’s soken

Once a year, the Yokozuna Deliberation Committee opens their soken to the public. Anyone can simply turn up to the fabled Kokugikan in the Ryogoku neighborhood of Tokyo and watch all the stars (and more besides) work out in front of the Committee and a selection of esteemed stable-masters, several of whom are also on the board of the Sumo Association. Oh, and by the way – it’s free.

The soken started from 7:30am and ran until just after 11am. The open training session and assessment contains a few features, the two most prominent being moshiai (where two rikishi fight and the winner stays on and picks his next opponent from an eager crowd) and butsukari (one rikishi holds firm while the other tries to essentially plow him across the dohyo). At the end of the day, each Yokozuna also picked a handful of friends to come up for some sanban (a series of 1 on 1 matches).

The crowd at this event was overwhelmingly elderly in nature, though there were a handful of families in attendance. Again, a gift shop was set up, and curiously, I spotted a rare piece of Harumafuji merch: a statue that retailed for about $120, a beautiful collector’s item for any super fan of the former champion. In the arena, the lower boxes were almost completely full, and the upper deck of Kokugikan was about 10% full. Owing to my vantage point, occasionally the odd punter walks in front of my camera, so please mind any interruptions in the videos below.

Juryo & below

Soken - Kaisho, Tomisakae, Enho
Kaisho and Tomisakae do battle as Enho awaits his turn. (Photo credit: @nicolaah)

Terutsuyoshi gave Enho butsukari, but the wee Miyagino man either really had some trouble pushing the wee Isegahama man across the dohyo, or Terutsuyoshi was digging in with some incredible strength. The soken is meant to be a quiet training session, but the first sign of the day that that clearly wouldn’t be the case was the big cheer given to Enho when he mounted the dohyo for this first practice.

Wakatakakage put a nice little run together when picked for moshiai, but got a little over ambitious in picking the experienced Azumaryu, as he was no match for the veteran on this day. Wakatakakage seems a little more ready than Enho was for the lower end of Juryo, and his promotion may be well timed.

Fellow Juryo promotee Hakuyozan was by far the most popular pick in the Juryo moshiai, and also the recipient of the most losses. That said, no one in the Juryo division was really able to put a run of more than 3 wins together in the moshiai. Rikishi were presumably getting tired quite quickly with so many repeated matches under the hot lights. Tokushoryu managed to stay up for 5 matches which seemed the longest run in the division.

Lower Makuuchi

Soken - Sumo Elders & Oyakata
Several oyakata look on as their charges mount the dohyo. (Photo credit: @nicolaah)

Uncle Takarafuji (the heir to the Uncle Sumo mantle whenever Aminishiki hangs em up) put together a nice run in the moshiai. He also called on shin-makuuchi man Kyokutaisei for his first moshiai in the top division. The Hokkaido movie-star gave him a good match before disposing the veteran. Kyokutaisei in turn then got even more ambitious and selected Mitakeumi, and… he learned a lesson.

Everyone wanted a piece of Tochinoshin. And a lot of them were able to get it, because he was an absolute monster on the dohyo. The only time the Georgian relented during a remarkable stretch where he laid waste to about 10 rikishi in a row was simply to get his man servants to come over and wipe him down from all the sweat he accumulated under the lights.

Chiyotairyu was the man to finally beat him, and must have enjoyed it so much that he then pushed the crowd away to give the Kasugano-beya star a rematch, which he also won. Chiyotairyu must make a great DJ because he was in a real crowd pleasing mood, and evoked a massive applause from the crowd by giving shin-Komusubi Endo his first outing of the day.

For those of you who haven’t been to Kokugikan, if you walk around the halls, the only non-yokozuna rikishi that you see anywhere is Endo. He’s on advertisements, he’s on cardboard cutouts where you can have your picture taken with him, he’s a bona fide sumo rock star. That said, his wins were far and few between today as he did not look particularly genki.

Here’s Endo knocking off Myogiryu before losing again to Chiyotairyu:

Chiyonokuni was tapped by Yoshikaze to take the stage and this was a brilliant street fight, with Yoshikaze getting dumped off the dohyo having been thrusted out by the man from Mie. I cursed myself for missing out on filming this (but an iPhone battery can only take so much abuse in one sitting), but I look forward to a rematch here in the Natsu basho, Great Sumo Cat-willing.

Maegashira basement-dweller Nishikigi was a popular selection for many rikishi in the moshiai. Here he is, taking on and defeating everyone’s favorite pony-tossing sekiwake:

Notable absentees included many of the same men absent from jungyo, as Ikioi and Aoiyama were nowhere to be seen. Injured men Takakeisho and Aminishiki were in attendance, and fan favorite Abi did not take the dohyo but performed stretching activities out to the side. Another man who didn’t spend much time on dohyo was Chiyomaru, but he was certainly a favorite amongst the fans gathered outside after the event: when the rikishi exited the soken, many of them had to walk right through the fans and over to the taxi rank outside Ryogoku station, and the hungry man had to stop to pose for more fan photos than anyone else I saw.

San’yaku

Soken - Kisenosato v Kakuryu
Kisenosato drives Kakuryu back. (Photo credit: @nicolaah)

The men of the top ranks mostly fought against each other, and this was prime fare for the sumo watcher. Luckily for you, dear reader, we’ve got lots of video!

Kisenosato was very active and got several rounds in, mostly against Goeido and Kakuryu. He snuck a couple wins but didn’t look great. Again, Goeido showed no mercy and looked like he had the beating of him. If this Goeido shows up to Natsu, it could be a really good basho.

Kakuryu looked really good. He looked like a yokozuna. Ichinojo was on hand for the san’yaku moshiai but didn’t as feature much either in the moshiai, or later, the butsukari, as the other men of the san’yaku.

Takayasu spent most of the day hanging out on the sidelines with his man-servant and doing stretching activities. It was clear before he even got on the dohyo that he was not in good shape, and his feet were heavily taped. Goeido wasn’t in the mood to show any man from Tagonoura-beya any mercy today: when Takayasu eventually did mount the dohyo, he was dispatched multiple times by his fellow ozeki. His final attempt at battle had the hairy man ending up howling in pain, grasping his right shoulder, and stumbling back to the corner to stretch out for the rest of the morning.

Hakuho showed once again why he is such great entertainment. As you can see from the videos, he waits off to the side for ages. After everyone has had their little fun, The Boss takes the stage and he is utterly and completely box office. It’s san-ban time and Hakuho goes several rounds with Mitakeumi, then Endo, then Mitakeumi again. Mitakeumi gives him more of a game than Endo, who just looks totally overmatched. Hakuho looked like he still had it in for Mitakeumi for breaking his win streak last summer. Towards the end it gets humiliating, like when Hakuho spins Mitakeumi around and just kicks his leg out from under him. The very next fight, Mitakeumi finally pushes his man out of the dohyo, only to be rewarded with yet more san-ban.

Soken - Hakuho & Endo
Hakuho and Endo in butsukari. (Photo credit: @nicolaah)

Hakuho later gave absolutely brutal butsukari to Endo that lasted at least 10 minutes. I captured perhaps the least humiliating parts of that encounter in the below video, because I didn’t want Endo to see much video evidence of what happened today on the internet. From time to time Hakuho threw a few kicks in for the dirt-covered star while he’s lying prostrate on the clay. Hakuho also took reverse butsukari from new maegashira Kyokutaisei, in what must have been another cool moment for the Tomozuna rikishi.

Tochinoshin and Kisenosato were butsukari bros for the day, alternating attacks. When Tochinoshin was on the offensive it looked like he was targeting Kisenosato’s injured left pectoral in particular, and I wondered if that might have been more with Kisenosato in mind than Tochinoshin, perhaps to show those in attendance (and perhaps the Yokozuna himself) how much the beleaguered Yokozuna could withstand from a strong Sekiwake at the peak of his performance. Tochinoshin was absolutely on fire all day, displaying a confident and authoritative presence, and if he turns up to the upcoming tournament displaying the form we saw today, then he will make a very strong case for a promotion to Ozeki.

Many thanks to Tachiai’s instagram moderator Nicola for many of the photos in this post. For more photos from the soken, head over to Tachiai’s instagram profile!

Ryogoku Festival & Golden Week

 

Shikoroyama-beya chanko
“Team Shikoroyama” serves chanko at the street fair in Ryogoku

We have a busy week ahead of us in sumo, as the banzuke is revealed on Monday here in Tokyo, and the Yokozuna Deliberation Committee will host their upcoming soken on Thursday at Kokugikan. Coinciding with all of this is the holiday period here in Japan known as the Golden Week. This weekend in Ryogoku, a street fair was conducted, and our friends at Inside Sport Japan alerted us that rikishi would be serving chankonabe at food stalls in the area:

I went to drop in on the action today, and met up with Tachiai instagram contributor Nicola. As part of the festivities, the Kokugikan was open to the public, meaning that members of the community could check out the incredible sumo museum as well as buy sumo merchandise normally only available at a honbasho. The Sumo Association mascots were also on hand to take pictures with children (and Tachiai contributors).

Sumo Merch at Kokugikan
Sumo merchandise in the Kokugikan (photo credit: @nicolaah)

Members of Tatsunami-beya were on hand selling chanko for ¥500 on the grounds of Kokugikan, so we had a seat there and indulged in a tasty dish which was not too different from the variety typically served during a Tokyo basho. Down the street in the main part of the street fair, Shikoroyama-beya (some members of whom were dressed in very cool “Team Shikoroyama” t-shirts) were also selling their brand of chanko. Unfortunately, I was sated from the first bowl and did not indulge. I hope Tachiai-favorite Abi does not hold this against us!

Chanko at Kokugikan
Chanko served up by members of Tatsunami-beya at Kokugikan (photo credit: @nicolaah)

Plenty of rikishi were out in the street. Nicola spotted a few members of Michinoku-beya, and that unique smell of binzuke was almost impossible to escape.

Much like the jungyo event I experienced earlier in the week, the street fair events were very family friendly, with plenty of activities for children (and Tachiai contributors) including balloon animals, games, and dance and drum performances. Much credit should go to both the local community and the sumo community for putting together a great event!

Golden Week street fair Ryogoku
The festival was very well attended and featured numerous food and activity vendors.

Enjoy Hawaiian BBQ with Konishiki

Konishiki's Hawaiian BBQ Stand

Earlier this month, Andy tipped off readers via the Tachiai twitter account that sumo legend Konishiki would be hosting a stall at the BB (“Beer & BBQ”) Fest, which takes place from now until May 6 in Odaiba:

The festival is taking place out on Symbol Promenade Park in Odaiba, and I decided to head out there today to check it out. Getting there took about 15 minutes from Shimbashi station in central Tokyo on the unique Yurikamome line (a must-ride for transit enthusiasts, owing to its looping track that goes out over the Rainbow Bridge).

There are three festival areas running concurrently during Golden Week on Odaiba: an Oktoberfest, a large section of the BB Fest that is dedicated to Japanese-style BBQ vendors, and then a section of the BB Fest on the eastern part of the island featuring international BBQ food and craft beer. Konishiki’s Hawaiian BBQ is located in the latter area.

Konishiki's Hawaiian BBQ Menu
Konishiki’s Hawaiian BBQ menu board

As for the menu, Konishiki offered a couple selections: a meat plate (featuring BBQ pork, spare ribs and chicken) and then a combo platter which contained all of the meat items plus rice, slaw and the classic Hawaiian macaroni and egg salad. Obviously, I opted for the latter choice:

Konishiki's Hawaiian BBQ Plate
Konishiki serves up a meat lover’s Hawaiian BBQ paradise, replete with Mac Salad

Konishiki has long been one of the most flavorful names in sumo, and puts out a dish to match. All of the meat selections were very succulent, very moist and well coated in the right amount of marinade and sauce. The macaroni salad was delicious as well. I opted to wash it all down with a bottle of water from Konishiki’s stand owing to the hot weather, but there were a number of craft beer vendors also in the park and Konishiki’s BBQ would surely make a great pairing for many of them. When he says he knows how to have a good time cooking up Hawaiian BBQ, he’s not joking.

Konishiki has also provided a video that takes you behind the grill, in promotion of the event (in Japanese):

The event also has plenty of other food vendors offering BBQ from a variety of regions and countries. I was too full from Konishiki’s Ozeki-sized platter to take in any of the others, however a man at the Texas BBQ stand was offering free samples which were also delicious. Hopefully, up and coming Texan sumotori Wakaichiro can make it out to the festival to get a taste of home!

BB Fest International Vendors
Other vendors in the international portion of the festival included Spanish, Jamaican and Texan BBQ.

As for the man himself, Konishiki, he was off to the side of the stand, relaxing under a tent near the festival stage with family and friends. A number of his fans ambled up from time-to-time throughout the afternoon to request photos, which he graciously provided. I was able to get a few moments to chat with the man to let him know just how good the BBQ was, and ask if he had any words for Tachiai readers.

Konishiki says he wants everyone to come on down to Odaiba, and adds: “Bring your hungry on, and bring your thirsty on!”

Konishiki’s Hawaiian BBQ is located at the BB Fest on Odaiba in Symbol Promenade Park, located just off the Odaiba-Kaihin-Koen station on the Yurikamome line, and the Tokyo Teleport station on the Rinkai line. The festival runs through May 6 during the Golden Week. For more info, check out bbfest.jp

Additionally, for those readers who will be in Tokyo during the upcoming Natsu basho, Konishiki will be appearing at the Island Music Festival in Symbol Promenade Park on May 18 and 19. For more information, check out islandmusicfestival.jp

A Day Out at the Koshigaya Gymnasium: Spring Jungyo Finale

Koshigaya Gymnasium - Exterior
The Koshigaya Gymnasium

It’s been a month since the conclusion of the Haru basho, and if you’re like me, you probably really miss sumo right now. If you’re like me, you’re also in Japan for the next month and will be looking to cover some unique events for Tachiai. So, with that in mind, I headed up to Koshigaya today for the final date of the spring Jungyo tour. This is my first time covering Jungyo for the site, and I will do my best to do justice to the work of the mighty Herouth!

Getting to Koshigaya

From my base near Shimbashi Station in Tokyo, it took about an hour, two trains and around ¥600 to reach the town of Koshigaya in Saitama prefecture. Koshigaya Station is your typical Japanese suburban train station with a decent amount of amenities, and it was very handy that the station had a 7-11 ATM that supports international cards, as I didn’t have much cash on hand for food and/or souvenirs.

From the station, it’s about a 3km/35-40 minute walk to the Gymnasium (which is part of a sports complex in the town), and the alternative options are bus and taxi. I didn’t see any buses and there was one taxi nearby, so I grabbed that at the price of an additional ¥1450. Both the driver and I had a very limited grasp of each others’ languages, but I showed him where I wanted to go on the map and off we went.

The Venue

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The entrance to the Gymnasium was very festive, despite some scaffolding in front of the venue as you can see in the photo at the top of this post. There were a number of food stalls set up out front, and also some rikishi walking around (most prominently, in more ways than one, Chiyootori).

It is safe to say I have never been at a place in Japan where people were so happy to see me, at every stall. They were incredibly surprised to see a foreigner in their town (I saw, at most, 3 or 4 others in the venue), and everyone wanted to be very welcoming to me. An older gentleman at a noodle stall asked where I live, and when I told him that I live in Los Angeles, he was extremely excited to share that he spent time in Chicago in his younger days. He assumed I must have friends in Koshigaya and when I told him I was just visiting to come see the sumo, he shook my hand in surprise multiple times and very enthusiastically thanked me for supporting the town and his stall.

At the door, you receive a sheet with the day’s torikumi and a plastic bag for your shoes. Fortunately, our friends at BuySumoTickets.com alerted me when I purchased my ticket that everyone must remove shoes inside the venue and switch into your own slippers. If I hadn’t brought a pair with me, I probably would have been OK just wearing socks, as I saw a handful of people doing (the restrooms, if you’re interested, had a space outside for switching from your slippers into special provided shoes for the toilets). The whole floor inside the entry of the venue was covered with tarp. At the entry, it was quite easy to make this costume change, but the large group of (mostly elderly) fans exiting the arena at the end of the day led to quite a bit of a bottleneck.

The food and merch stands inside the venue had good, if limited selections. The best option at jungyo seems to be to take advantage of the numerous local vendors outside. I grabbed a box of karaage inside the venue which was tasty, if a bit fattier and greasier than you’ll usually find at the Kokugikan.

The Gymnasium layout consists entirely of floor seats on the main dohyo level, and a couple of sections of arena seats in the upper level. I had an Arena “A” seat, of which there were two rows up against the balcony wall in front of the corridor, so I had a view unimpeded by pedestrians.

The crowd on hand consisted mostly of the extremes of very young children and very elderly folks. There were a lot of grandparents on hand with their grandchildren. A very large group of school kids wearing yellow bucket hats filled out the room for the sekitori bouts. In all, the venue and events provide a great day for families and in the local community to connect with sumo, and I found that being there in person was an interesting counterpoint to how jungyo is often discussed: “that endless injury-causing tour that everyone complains about.”

The Events

I arrived just in time to see Hakuho engaging Ryuden for butsukari. Hakuho was playing up the crowd, who loved every appearance he made throughout the day. It was clear that his presence just electrifies the room, and this was made even more clear given that we were in a smaller, local gymnasium.

Kiddie sumo came up next, with a group of very eager kids pairing up to take on the three local Saitama-born rikishi Hokutofuji, Daieisho and Abi, as well as Endo and Ryuden. Endo led off, after which Hokutofuji and Ryuden took several rounds. Abi, who was unquestionably the star of the day, played up the local crowd by interfering with Hokutofuji and Ryuden’s bouts, coming up behind and helping the kids push/pull the big rikishi out. Ryuden looked absolutely exhausted and was still covered in dirt from the Hakuho treatment he had received moments earlier, but he still managed to give a pair of kids the helicopter treatment, grabbing one each by the mawashi and spinning them around in the air!

Finally, Daieisho and Abi got their turns to loud applause from the crowd. With Abi, the kids took the logical approach: trying to lift up those huge legs! And of course, shiko-wizard Abi took this as an opportunity to show off just how high he could raise his leg (answer: well over the head of a small child).

Abi with fans. Jungyo Koshigaya 27 April 2018
Local hero Abi: taking pictures and signing autographs for fans

There was a bit of a lull after the butsukari and kiddie sumo finished. While the jungyo events follow a different cadence to the relentless progression of a day at a honbasho, it’s still a long day, and plenty of folks were taking naps in the upstairs part of the venue while the sandanme and makushita wrestlers were having their bouts.

The shokkiri team of Sadogatake-beya’s Kotoryusei and Kotorikuzan definitely brought the comedy to their portion of the day’s events, and I’ve added the first 5 minutes of their performance here:

The performance was a real welcome moment to get everyone in good mood and ready to enjoy the stars as they prepared to mount the dohyo for their proper bouts. The only sad part of the shokkiri was that the crowd didn’t seem to recognise Kotoryusei’s impression of Kotoshogiku doing his famous belly bend. Is it possible that now that the former Ozeki has stopped doing his famous pre-match routine, some memory-challenged fans simply forgot it?

The Bouts

Touching on just one bout outside of the top two divisions, I will say that the Chiyootori comeback tour is looking good. He appeared mostly unbandaged apart from one foot, and created a thunderous tachiai that I actually felt in the second row of the upper deck, as it reverberated in the entire gymnasium. I suppose that is one benefit of the odd acoustic differences between a gymnasium and a proper arena like the Kokugikan.

Juryo

Enho easily dealt with Akua but came away with a bloodied face for his troubles. Here’s the video:

Terutsuyoshi deployed his heaping salt throw and had a decent start against Akiseyama as he worked to lock up his arms. But, when he shifted to get a mawashi grip, the big man took advantage and got two hands around the smaller rikishi, picking him up by the back of the mawashi and carrying him out spectacularly.

Billy no-mates Takagenji, the lone sekitori representative of his more isolationist stable at the jungyo, posted a good yorikiri win over a thoroughly exhausted Daishoho, after a prolonged grapple in the center of the dohyo. If Takagenji can continue that form, then he should have a good tournament at Natsu.

Tsurugisho is middling at the moment, but he absorbed Kotoeko‘s tachiai in an almighty clash and tossed him aside, laying waste to the notion that the Sadogatake man might be ready for a big promotion that it’s possible he will get this weekend.

Terunofuji beat Gagamaru, who showed up without any strapping, so I assumed he’d be in good health and genki. You wouldn’t have known that to be the case, as Gagamaru appeared to be so confused at the tachiai that he must have thought he was Shodai. He just stood up and took two blasts from Terunofuji, who promptly switched to plan B, turned the Georgian around and pushed him out. This was not really a match that will tell us much about either guy, and Terunofuji, who received a hearty applause in the dohyo-iri and then entering and exiting the arena floor, appeared a little disappointed in the level of opposition.

Kyokutaisei, who usually has an expression like someone ate his chanko, had a grin on his face all day, both in the dohyo-iri and before his match with Takekaze. It looked like Takekaze might get the better of him, but after a good grapple, the soon-to-be shin-makuuchi man pushed out his elder colleague.

Makuuchi

A number of infants made the makuuchi dohyo-iri and one man holding an infant was Saitama prefecture’s Abi who received an almighty ovation during the ring entering ceremony for the east rikishi of the top division. On the west, Tochinoshin seemed to receive the largest round of applause. I didn’t think there would be a louder cheer than we got for Hakuho‘s dohyo-iri, but the place exploded when Kisenosato walked in the room.

Asanoyama meant business and led with what appeared to be a Takayasu-style shoulder blast before leading Nishikigi to the bales and out.

Chiyoshoma vs Ishiura is a battle I want to see every basho. The Tottori protein spokesman and GQ model drew a nice round of applause, and this match also had a handful of sponsors. As for what happened, regular readers won’t need to guess: Even at jungyo, Ishiura tried a henka. He nearly pulled it off, as the Kokonoe man ran right through. Up against the bales, Chiyoshoma managed three times to pull the smaller rikishi up with his legs dangling horizontally in the air, but all of those protein shakes are working for the muscular man from Miyagino-beya, and Ishiura managed to put him over the the line. Then he threw a cool party on Instagram Live tonight, featuring Daishomaru, Terutsuyoshi and a very reluctant Akiseyama.

David Gray was a pop singer with a good run of success in the 2000s, and on stage, he became known for how his head would wobble from side to side when he played guitar. Ryuden has an oddly-similar pre-match demeanor, and suffered a fairly straightforward yorikiri loss to Yutakayama, whose technical ability has improved tremendously. Mawashi-watchers will note that Ryuden has switched from black to a new wine-colored mawashi.

Daieisho got a good round of applause from the locals as he mounted the dohyo. Okinoumi had him going backwards, but Daieisho turned the veteran around and got a yorikiri win for his troubles. Again, it’s tough to take a lot from this match, and I’ll just say it was probably not a match he would have won in a honbasho that wasn’t taking place in a gymnasium in his home prefecture against a perma-injured opponent.

Chiyonokuni is now sporting a blue mawashi. Not a vibrant Kotoshogi-blue but more of a soft Shodai blue. I don’t know what Kagayaki was doing engaging him in a high octane slapfest but Chiyonokuni loves a good handbags-at-ten-paces kind of encounter and ushered his opponent back and out.

Yoshikaze didn’t look great, and Hokutofuji grabbed him one-handed by the belt, pulled him around and shoved him out. I thought the winning technique was going to be called an okuridashi, but, perhaps charitably for the elder, losing rikishi, it was ruled uwatedashinage.

Kaisei v Chiyomaru: these guys are big enough to bring a small gymnasium down with a thunderous tachiai. The announcer gave Kaisei’s shusshin as Sao Paolo rather than Brazil, which I hadn’t heard before, and thought was cool. Chiyomaru dropped the pretense he has sometimes flirted with of trying to be a mawashi guy, and relentlessly thrusted Kaisei out. Chiyomaru reminded me of a smaller, rounder Aoiyama in this match. Kaisei (who has been giving great face lately) walked away toothily grimacing and clutching his stinging chest.

Kotoshogiku and Takarafuji engaged in a battle of the vets. Takarafuji is always technically very sound, but this time he was clinical as well: he wrapped up his man, and escorted him out. Takarafuji has also switched to a soft matte blue mawashi from his previous wine blend.

Big Guns Shohozan took on Tamawashi, who also has given up his signature teal mawashi for the very in-vogue soft matte blue. This was a street fight that I wish I caught on video. Both men bounced off each other and then stood a few paces apart, seemingly egging the other to bring it on. Shohozan threw a right hook which Tamawashi ducked, then both men traded attempts at a roundhouse and missed before Tamawashi just shoved Shohozan into the crowd. This was another matchup I hope to see again soon.

Endo was wearing a dark purple mawashi, and took on local man Abi, who got an enormous applause. Endo got the better of the tachiai and moved Abi back, but of course the local hero danced his long limbs out of danger and recovered to put Endo away. Abi exited to huge cheers from the crowd. Watch the match:

Ichinojo smacked into Chiyotairyu in the matchup of the two current komusubi, and had him out within seconds.

I’m not sure where the version of Mitakeumi we saw today has been. He charged into Tochinoshin, moving him back. But then, Tochinoshin lifts him off his feet, and as his feet are wiggling in the air, you think: “oh no, he’s going to get embarrassed again.” But he recovers, turns the Georgian and lifts the Hatsu yusho winner off his feet and out.

Goeido beat Kisenosato in a lengthy match where it looked like he was going to snap the Yokozuna’s left arm in half probably 2 or 3 times. It was clear even in an exhibition contest that Kisenosato has very limited ability to do much with that injured left side. Let’s cut to the VT:

In the musubi-no-ichiban, Hakuho has a good match against a Kakuryu who fought hard. Kakuryu moves Hakuho back, but this crowd is here to see The Boss win and he delivers them the victory. As Kakuryu moves to pin him back, Hakuho lifts up his fellow Mongolian yokozuna in the air, spins and deposits him out of the ring.

After the event ended, there were long lines on hand for buses and taxis in a suburban town which perhaps wasn’t used to holding large events. There didn’t appear to be enough buses or taxis, but the bus seemed my best bet to get back to the train station. In spite of the wait, the elderly crowd was very good-natured, and a nice old gentleman waiting next to me gave me a wrapped seat cushion from the event as a gift.

I can’t say enough about how friendly and warm and welcoming everyone in the Koshigaya community was, and I strongly recommend checking out a jungyo event if you ever get the chance.

Ones to Watch: Haru 18 Wrap-up

EDION Arena Osaka Lower Division Match

Tachiai readers please forgive me, as I was so pre-occupied trying to get folks to Osaka so that I forgot to wrap-up a few loose-ends of our Ones to Watch coverage! So let’s dig into it.

As usual let’s start with some high level stats on how our picks performed. At Kyushu we managed 17 kachi-koshi against 3 make-koshi, but slipped to a 12-8 record at Hatsu. How did we do at Haru?

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