Whither… Takanoiwa?


Takanoiwa
There’s still him.

As Bruce did a great job of detailing, Harumafuji is in hot water for his role in potentially putting Takanoiwa out of action for quite some time and inflicting what may potentially be some degree of lasting damage to the head of his fellow rikishi. Much of the speculation, owing to the shocking nature of this incident and Harumafuji’s standing as a Yokozuna, has been around the subject of intai (by his choice or the association’s), what kind of punishment might be forthcoming, or what Harumafuji’s life will be like going forward.

But let’s not forget there is another side of this as well, and that’s the future of Takanoiwa’s career. Obviously, he has received extensive hospital treatment, and it’s unclear where and when we will see him functioning again on the dohyo as we have seen him function before. This passage from the Japan Times article on the scandal caught my eye:

Takanoiwa, 27, was one of the early withdrawals from the Nov. 12-26 tournament. He is expected to miss the entire meet and be demoted to the lower juryo rank at the meet in January.

It is certainly true that anyone kyujo from the entire tournament from the level of Maegashira 8 under normal injury circumstances would be demoted to Juryo. It has happened 14 times in the last 40 years and in the 9 of those times that the kōshō seido system was not applied, the rikishi concerned ended up ranked between J3 and J7 on the banzuke for the following basho.

However, these are not normal circumstances – and they also fall at a time when there have been renewed calls from luminaries of the sumo world (as well as, for what it’s worth, from these pages) to reconsider a reinstatement or a replacement for kōshō seido. While this isn’t a new thing (and you can find hot debates on sites like sumoforum about this, going back at least ten years), the increase in injuries certainly makes the conversation more relevant. John Gunning recently doubled down on the comments he made in the Japan Times regarding the size of rikishi during the NHK World Sumo Preview episode, the training regimen for fitness and injury recovery has been scrutinised in light of failed recoveries by key competitors, and the rigorous Jungyo schedule has not only strained the health of sekitori further but was the time during which the above incident occurred.

One should wonder then, whether special consideration will be given to Takanoiwa’s rank for Hatsu 2018 (if he is able to compete). After all, it is not like this was a normal injury caused on the dohyo or even the case of a clumsy accident at home: if the reports are correct, he was taken out of commission by an act of another rikishi for which there is an ongoing police investigation. If this special consideration to preserve Takanoiwa’s rank is given, could that then be a springboard to a new system that enables rikishi to get urgent appropriate medical attention in order to preserve their rank for even just one tournament?

There are no definitive answers to that latter question right now. But at a time when there’s seemingly nothing good coming out of this saga (the potential loss of a great – and sometimes also good – yokozuna’s career, a rikishi with potentially life changing injuries), the Association has an opportunity to reserve insult from injury. I, for one, hope they mark out this extraordinary circumstance, and allow Takanoiwa to resume his career in the division in which he has worked to establish himself over the past couple of years.

Ones to Watch: Kyushu 17


enho_21
The real test awaits

We debuted the “ones to watch” feature at Aki, and I’m going to attempt to make this a regular feature before, during and after each basho. Again, I’ve picked out 20 rikishi from the bottom four divisions that I think I have interesting story lines going into the upcoming tournament. You may have other rikishi who you might think are also interesting, and I encourage you to share their stories in the comments!

Makushita

Ms4 Mitoryu (Nishikido) – The Mongolian delivered the huge basho everyone had been anticipating at the third time of asking at Aki, posting 6 wins and coming a final bout loss short of a yusho. He now finds himself 10 places higher, and despite the incredible amount of traffic and talent at the top of the Makushita ranks, a similar run of results this time out combined with favourable results elsewhere might just give him a kesho-mawashi in January.

Ms7 Hokaho (Miyagino) – This might seem like an odd choice given that most of the rest of this list is going to consist of young up-and-comers, but as we’ve speculated quite a bit on the future power of Miyagino-beya on these pages, I think Hokaho will have an interesting tournament to follow. At the age of 28 he’s fighting at his joint-highest ever rank and while all of the attention has been on his exciting young stablemate (more of whom in a minute), he’s quietly racked up 5 straight kachi-koshi. Could it be not 4 but 5 sekitori from this stable by the middle of next year?

Ms11 Takayoshitoshi (Takanohana) – The wonderfully named 20 year old is another rikishi fighting at his joint-highest ranking and will be hoping for better after suffering 5 losses at Makushita 11 earlier in the year. With his twin brother Takagenji having been promoted back up to Juryo, he will no doubt be determined to prove he too can fight at a higher level.

Ms12 Wakatakakage (Arashio) vs Ms22 Murata (Takasago) – These two had identical records and were ranked opposite each other coming into Aki, and a win for Wakatakakage over Murata ended up being the difference maker in their records last time out. The two former university men have moved quickly and we will continue to track their progress this time out.

Ms14 Jokoryu (Kise) vs Ms14 Enho (Miyagino) – Enho is of course worth tracking in his own right (as we have been doing and continue to do somewhat comprehensively and breathlessly), but his bow at Makushita level is given a bit of extra spice by the fact that his route to further advancement runs right through the last man to accomplish the three consecutive 7-0 records he has put up to start his career.

The former Komusubi Jokoryu has been making a comeback attempt after an injury-inspired tumble from the top division and has been entrenched in Makushita with varying results for much of the past year. While the goal for Enho is simply to see how many more wins he can continue to rack up from day 1 to continue his climb, Jokoryu will be looking to re-establish himself – there is so much good young talent rising up the banzuke right now that he’s in danger of running out of time to make it back to the professional ranks.

Ms26 Ichiyamamoto (Nishonoseki) – He has continued to torch the competition, running his impressive career start now to 25-3. The part of the banzuke he now finds himself at consists of many more experienced names and a few ex-sekitori who just kind of hanging on. Just like Kagamio last time out, the oshi-specialist could be a sleeper yusho candidate owing to a weaker strength of schedule.

Ms50 Ryuko (Onoe) – Another pick from last time that we will continue to follow, Ryuko (his given name) has racked up four straight strong tournaments to start his career and will likely now receive his first stern test, along with…

Ms52 Nishikifuji (Isegahama) – … the Isegahama man whose bright star has dimmed somewhat following back to back yusho to open his career, but who nevertheless has made quick work of the bottom three tiers to progress up to a Makushita debut.

Sandanme

Sd13 Fukuyama (Fujishima) vs Sd16 Tanabe (Kise) – I really love following these guys as their battles have all been quite good, and all won by Tanabe. And Tanabe has only suffered three defeats in his career, all coming at the hands of Enho. Of the two, Tanabe has shown himself to be more of an oshi-specialist to open his career while Fukuyama has shown somewhat of a diversity of throwing techniques (in a small sample size, admittedly). It will be interesting to see if the two rivals can continue their rise.

Sd53 Tomokaze (Oguruma) – He couldn’t grab a second consecutive yusho last time out, but nevertheless finds himself as the highest placed debutant at this level and we’ll want to see if he can keep moving quickly.

Sd84 Kotokumazoe (Sadogatake) – Having spent a year out of action, Kotokumazoe came back with back to back 6-1 records to take his career tally to 18-3 and force a promotion to Sandanme. The impressive Tomokaze is one of the only men to take him down so far.

Sd85 Wakaichiro (Musashigawa) – Wakaichiro continues his progression to make his Sandanme debut in Kyushu and the whole Tachiai team will be cheering him on and covering his matches!

Jonidan

Jd15 Shoji (Musashigawa) – I accurately predicted Wakaichiro’s stablemate for the Jonokuchi yusho last time out, and now he’ll try and make it two out of two.

Jd49 Torakio (Naruto) vs Jd49 Sumidagawa (Naruto) – These men won’t face each other, but have one thing in common which is that they’ve both only been beaten twice and on all four of those occasions it was by Shoji. Now that they should be clear of him (barring a playoff or final day matchup), we may get to see if these guys can make a run at the yusho with an easier schedule.

Jonokuchi

Jk20 Amatsu (Onomatsu) – A 27 year old in Jonokuchi really shouldn’t be that interesting, but it is when he was last seen in competitive action over two and a half years ago in the middle of the Makushita rankings. Add into the mix that this is a man who’s put dirt on makuuchi regulars Chiyoshoma, Chiyomaru and Takanoiwa, and you’d expect that he’d not only make quick work of the bottom divisions but also challenge for the yusho.

Jk20 Hayashi (Fujishima) – With only one spot left, it’s got to go to the bespectacled 19 year old Mike Hayashi who’s apparently been called the “next Takayasu” owing to his Filipino heritage. He’s going to get the nod over Chiganoura’s Hakuho-approved Yuriki owing to having beaten him in maezumo and starting as the top debutant. Both of their matches against Amatsu should be interesting.

Obviously, we will always monitor the progress and pour out a sake for Hattorizakura, whose run at avoiding historic futility continues from Jk24 where he will attempt to dodge a 9th consecutive 0-7 record and score a second career win in 80+ attempts against the new batch of recruits. You have to feel for the two guys ranked below him.

Enho & The 21 Club


enho_21
A man with more than an ace up his mawashi

Promise is addictive. People who cover and expose audiences to any subject – especially sports – are always searching for the next new big thing. It’s exciting, it gives you something to follow, and to cheer for. As a fan or a follower, getting in early might provide a sense of ownership, and the satisfaction of seeing a real true talent develop all the way from the beginning. As the person or publication covering the subject, being right about the next new thing might lend an air of credibility (along with the pressure of then finding the next new thing!).

While we weren’t the only ones to mark out Miyagino-beya’s Enho as “one to watch,” we’ve definitely spent most of the year on the Enho train and we’ve been rewarded in watching him rack up a remarkable three consecutive championships in his first three tournaments, as he’s rocketed his way through the divisions and into the third, Makushita, tier of the banzuke ahead of the upcoming Kyushu honbasho.

While there are indicators of future success, and those indicators were present for Enho (age relative to division, experience, university pedigree, stablemate of one of the all time greats, good looks), indicators are not guarantees in-and-of themselves. By winning his first three basho without a blemish on his record, Enho has done something remarkable. How remarkable? Well, since the tournament format changed to its current iteration, Enho is just the fourth rikishi to win his first three tournaments unbeaten, the fifth rikishi to finish his first three tournaments with a 7-0 record, and the sixth to open 21-0. And that’s a period spanning over 40 years.

So, while the past is no predictor of the future, let’s take a look at the other five members of the 21 club:

Itai (Kyushu 78-Haru 79)

Itai, of Onaruto-beya, became the first man to open with 21 after the format change, and picked up yusho from the Jonokuchi, Jonidan and Sandanme divisions. He took the fast track to sekitori status and stayed in the top two divisions for most of his 13 year career. He topped out as a Komusubi and plucked two special prizes and three kinboshi, all of which were given to him by the Yokozuna Onokuni.

Immediately after his 21 run, he scored a 6-1 record and it only took him 2 tournaments to reach the professional ranks. His unbeaten run was snapped at 26 by former Komusubi Onishiki – a somewhat unfortunate turn of events, as Onishiki was visiting the amateur ranks for the only time in the middle of an astonishing 15 year period as sekitori.

Kototenzan (Hatsu-Natsu 86)

An incredible story if ever there was one, the Sadogatake-beya’s Canadian rikishi racked up his 21 wins over the first three tournaments of the 1986 and then never mounted the dohyo again. The controversial and tattooed John Tenta eventually went on to take the ring name Earthquake in the WWF. If you’re not familiar with his fascinating story, you should give his Wikipedia page a read.

Unfortunately we will never know what he might have accomplished at the higher levels of the sport, since he walked away having struggled with the physical and cultural demands of the sport and with his unbeaten record still intact.

Tochiazuma (Hatsu-Nagoya 95)

It would be nearly a decade before the next member of the 21 club signed up, as Tochiazuma (then known by his real name Shiga) joined the ranks in 1995. His route to 21 actually took 4 basho, after a bit of a false start – he opened his debut basho kyujo and joined midway through, posting 4 wins before going on to collect the silverware in his next three tournaments (2 of which came via additional wins in 3 playoff matches).

Like Itai, his official win streak would be snapped at 26, as he slipped to his first make-koshi with 3 wins in his debut Makushita tournament. It was to be future Maegashira Dewaarashi who first put dirt on him. But never mind, as he bounced back and collected another zensho yusho in the following tournament, one of 4 that it took him to reach Juryo.

Tochiazuma has had a long and storied career – he spent 13 years as an active rikishi, the last five of which were spent at his peak level of Ozeki (save for two successful Ozekiwake recovery basho). He was decorated with 3 yusho at the highest level, 12 special prizes and 4 kinboshi plucked from household names Akebono, Takanohana (twice) and Musashimaru. He now runs a very large (and less successful) stable as Tamanoi oyakata.

Tokitenku (Aki 02-Hatsu 03)

The Mongolian of Tokitsukaze-beya was the first to collect his 21 this century, and his run culminated with a Sandanme playoff victory over the future Sekiwake and still active Toyonoshima. However, his run was not to last much longer – it stopped at 22 before he ran into former Juryo rikishi Furuichi en route to a 5-2 record in his Makushita bow.

He would need 6 tournaments in all to make it to Juryo, but he never fought below the second tier again. He went on to rank as high as Komusubi, collecting one special prize along the way. After his career he took up coaching as Magaki oyakata, and sadly passed away earlier this year.

Jokoryu (Nagoya-Kyushu 11)

A familiar name with recent sumo fans, Kise-beya’s Jokoryu (then Sakumayama) was the last man to join this club before Enho. He actually didn’t win all three yusho however, as he coughed up the Jonidan championship to the future Takamai (then Watanabe). However, he would atone for that by grabbing the Makushita yusho in his first tournament at that level by way of a playoff win over current sekitori Chiyootori.

He finished that first basho in Makushita at 6-1, one of 2 tournaments he needed at the level to make it to Juryo. His official win streak was snapped at 27 by journeyman and future Juryo rikishi Sensho – a loss which prevented him from opening his career with an unprecedented four straight zensho.

Jokoryu is still only 29 and has made it as far as Komusubi so far in his career, and he is still dining out on kinboshi money from a victory over the generous Harumafuji. He is currently making a valiant attempt to come back to the professional ranks. It is poetic in some respects that he and Enho will play some part in each other’s attempts to make it to that next level: Enho now finds himself ranked opposite the very last man to accomplish what he has achieved, at Makushita 14.

In summary…

None of the above men managed to make it a fourth straight zensho, but they all achieved some manner of success in their career: of the four rikishi who carried on, all of them reached san’yaku with one going as far as to become Ozeki. Enho will need to overcome many challenges (including most pressingly, a crunchy ankle) to reach that level. But if he is fit, we should expect his momentum to carry him at least to a kachi-koshi this time out, and if history is any indicator then by the middle of next year he should be wearing a kesho mawashi.

Heya Power Rankings: October 2017


Is it still October? OK, cool. A few folks have sent messages asking: “where in the heya are this month’s power rankings?” Here they are! Apologies for putting this together a little late, but as a measure of where everyone’s at, maybe it’s timely to publish this around the banzuke announcement. Of course, as stables don’t compete against one another, this is more of a fun exercise anyway.

I’ve made a couple changes this time from the original calculations. Owing to the craziness that was “Wacky Aki,” it didn’t really make sense to award a kyujo rikishi the same amount of points as one who battled all 15 days, only to fall to a 7-8 make-koshi. So, for the first time, I’ve introduced points deductions, only for kyujo rikishi:

  • 10 points deducted for makuuchi rikishi who is kyujo the entire basho
  • 5 points deducted for makuuchi rikishi who is kyujo for part of the basho
  • 1 point deducted for juryo rikshi who is kyujo for any or all of the basho
  • 0 points deducted for rikishi in either division who is kyujo but still manages a kachi-koshi (this did not happen at Aki, but it’s a good rule to set going forward as fighting through an injury to achieve a winning record should still be recognised with the full amount of points)

Finally, Andy had asked a cool question after a previous iteration of these rankings: what if we could also measure by ichimon – the network of stables to which each heya is affiliated? I’ve now included a chart of that as well – it could be interesting to watch over time. Changes in the strength of a stable can take years to materialise in many cases, so I would imagine it will take several years to see shifts in the strength of groups of them.

chart-8

I’ve added in Naruto-beya here (formed in April this year by former Ozeki Kotoōshū), which isn’t of consequence yet but perhaps someday soon it will be. Let’s jump into the “Billboard” style Top 20 chart form (ties broken by previous ranking with the most recently better heya ranked higher):

  1. (+1) Isegahama. 147 points (+52)
  2. (+4) Sakaigawa. 67 points (+20)
  3. (+4) Kokonoe. 56 points (+13)
  4. (+-) Tagonoura. 55 points (-20)
  5. (+5) Oguruma. 48 points (+16)
  6. (-5) Miyagino. 40 points (-67)
  7. (+8) Takanohana. 38 points (+20)
  8. (-3) Oitekaze. 36 points (-12)
  9. (-6) Kasugano. 30 points (-48)
  10. (-2) Izutsu. 30 points (-10)
  11. (-2) Dewanoumi. 25 points (-10)
  12. (+7) Onomatsu. 25 points (+12)
  13. (-1) Sadogatake. 24 points (+2)
  14. (**) Shikoroyama. 23 points (+17)
  15. (+1) Hakkaku. 20 points (+2)
  16. (**) Takasago. 20 points (+15)
  17. (-6) Kise. 15 points (-10)
  18. (**) Tomozuna. 17 points (+5)
  19. (-5) Kataonami. 15 points (-5)
  20. (-3) Tokitsukaze. 15 points (even)

Movers

As opposed to August’s chart which was fairly placid, the combination of a bizarre basho along with some new rules has created all manner of changes and lots of movers.

Isegahama returns to the top spot, because when you have a champion Yokozuna, everything is wonderful. Harumafuji’s title more than makes up for Terunofuji’s injury-inspired absence, but while that’s the main driver, the stable’s four other sekitori all scored more points than in the last basho as well. Sakaigawa vaults up to #2 fuelled by a Goeido jun-yusho, in spite of Sadanoumi’s kyujo start.

Kokonoe makes up the final spot in the top 3, owing to a solid basho in which all of their six rikishi matched or improved their standing from the previous rankings. Oguruma places in the top 5 owing to the continued resurgence and special prize of Yoshikaze along with a debut point for Yago, while Takanohana-beya benefits from continued good performance from the potential starting to emerge in Takakeisho and a rebound from Takanoiwa.

Losers

Three stables took a particularly significant tumble this time, all owing to missing stars:

Miyagino lost a truckload of points owing to its yusho-holding Yokozuna missing the entire party, while Ishiura continued to struggle. Reinforcements may soon be on the way as we have covered in some detail, but a present Hakuho is a dangerous Hakuho and this may be a one-basho blip for their chart position, while Ishiura may well benefit from diminished competition and be able to challenge for a Juryo yusho like many before him who have made the drop.

Tagonoura’s drop is simply down to the absence of its only sekitori for all (Kisenosato) and most (Takayasu) of the tournament. It is more difficult to forecast a rebound here, not knowing if either will really be able to withstand the full tournament in Fukuoka. And finally, Kasugano takes a huge drop, owing to its Nagoya jun-yusho winning slap-happy Bulgarian missing half the tournament. Tochinoshin’s make-koshi didn’t help matters.

Up Next

Chiganoura-beya will post points next time for the first time, as Takanosho (formerly Masunosho) makes his Juryo debut. He’s only their second ever sekitori since reforming 13 years ago. And Takagenji’s return to Juryo may help Takanohana move further yet up the ranks should their other rikishi be able to maintain their recent encouraging performance.

Finally, while a number of other heya have numerous immediate promotion candidates, the longer term outlook for Miyagino-beya is starting to get interesting. While the focus is on Ishiura putting it together and Hakuho staying healthy, Enho and Hokaho could put themselves into promotion contention early in 2018. We’ve talked breathlessly about the former, but the latter has quietly racked up 5 straight kachi-koshi. While his track record and somewhat advanced age makes it unlikely he would ever make a serious or sustained dent in the second tier, the presence of 5 rikishi headlined by a constant yusho-challenger could give Miyagino depth similar to their ichimon-mates at Isegahama.

Speaking of which… here are those ichimon totals:

chart-9

While I’m comparing these to the previous basho, I may start to show a longer term view when we revisit the rankings in December.

Eating Sumo: A Homemade Chanko Experience


Anyone who’s been to a basho can tell you that food is one of the great parts of the sumo experience. Whether it’s a yakitori box or a full bento or an “Ozeki” sushi set, there are loads of great snacks to be had around the stadium to tuck into while you’re enjoying the day’s matches. The most revered dish of course seems to be chankonabe, the sumo stew that at the recent Nagoya basho had punters lining up well in advance of it going on sale. It is of course well known that this is the fuel that powers the gut busting development of the men who mount the dohyo.

Here in the States, and specifically in Los Angeles where I live, there are actually a surprising amount of places you can enjoy sumo staples – we are spoiled for choice when it comes to Japanese dining. But having been prompted by Bruce after he caught my tweet earlier today, I decided to write about making my own chanko.

There are a lot of recipes for chankonabe out there so I encourage a good old fashioned google search. What most recipes seem to state is that you can feel free to take some liberty with your recipe. I tend to cook a bit more by feel, so here’s what I did:

Broth

First I made a broth from bringing to a boil the following:

8 cups water
4 tbsp soy sauce
4 tbsp mirin
4 tbsp sake (I used “Ozeki,” obviously)
1 tsp salt
Kombu – I cut up about 6 squares (probably 2″ x 2″) of kombu and threw that in the pot
1 packet (56g) of vegetable based dashi stock starter
1 packet (5g) of bonito flakes

There are a lot of different stock starters out there – I knew I was going to pour in a packet of bonito flakes so I opted to use a starter that had a vegetable base, and this gave me the broth that I was hoping for. It’s possible you don’t really need the dashi starter packet but as I used more water than some recipes do, it helped bring out more flavor. After bringing all of the above to a boil I let it simmer for probably 10 or 15 minutes while doing prep on the other elements.

Non-Meat elements

Naganegi or long green onions cut diagonally into 2-3″ chunks (I tend to throw away the green ends, but I know different regions enjoy different ends of this)
1 whole green cabbage, chopped up into 3-4″ pieces
1 box of Shimeji mushrooms
1 nice big carrot, sliced about 1/8″
1 packet of tofu, about 1″ cubed

Once I got all of this together, I just put it in a bowl and reserved it off to the side.

Meat elements

1/2 lb ground chicken
1/2 lb sliced pork

I ground some fresh ginger into a paste (using a nice shark-skin grater I picked up in Asakusa on my last trip), and mixed it with some diced up smaller green onions and formed the meatballs from that mixture. Regarding the pork, you’re probably better off with a fatty cut like pork belly (and many Japanese and Asian grocers will have this pre-cut and pre-packaged) but that wasn’t available for me so I opted for a loin which got a bit tough. Next time I’ll try a juicier, less dense cut.

Cooking

I dropped the meatballs and pork into the simmering broth first and put the vegetables in on top. I’d recommend putting the carrots in first so that they’re closer to the bottom of the pot and then the cabbage in last. I decided to cook the whole concoction over medium-high heat for about 18 minutes, stirring occasionally.

The nice thing about this meal is that anyone can do it: you just pile everything into the pot and let it go. This is probably why 18 year old recruits can make the food for the rest of the stable. While the dish that I made, along with a side of rice, will fill you up, I encourage everyone to try other variations using other proteins and additional elements like udon or shrimp or bok choy or miso, just for starters. You might be limited by what your local grocer carries, but your palette and imagination will help you make up for that. I know I’ll definitely keep working to improve my brand of chanko.

Itadekimasu!

Aki: Wrapping up the “Ones to Watch”


Enho

Many thanks to the readers of the blog who have mentioned that they liked digging into the interesting rikishi making their way through the lower reaches of the banzuke. We’ll look to make this a regular feature: picking a selection of guys who are interesting for some reason ahead of the basho, catching up with their progress midway through, and then seeing whether those story lines continued after the conclusion of the basho.

Of course, for many, many rikishi down in the lower divisions, the road is “long and winding” and their progress cannot be judged on one tournament alone. So, some rikishi will be featured next time out, while other rikishi with interesting stories may replace some of the crop from Aki 2017. Either way, I’ll be trying to keep it at around 20 rikishi per tournament and I look forward to Tachiai readers sharing stories of the lower division rikishi that they are following, as well.

Makushita

Ms3 Kizaki (Kise) – I had been very bullish on Kizaki, a rikishi who had never fallen to a make-koshi before Aki. However, the streak will always end somewhere and it ended at Ms3, so Kizaki will need to take a step back and we won’t see him in Juryo until at least Haru, barring a zensho next time out. Unfortunately, a very strong group of opponents provided a stern learning curve. Although he did beat a Juryo opponent in the demotion-bound Kitaharima, he couldn’t repeat the trick against Yago in his final bout and ended up 3-4.

Ms14 Mitoryu (Nishikido) – Mitoryu has been much hyped and delivered his best result yet, with a 6-1 record that should see him near the top end of the Makushita listings in Kyushu. Again barring a zensho yusho (which is possible given that he only coughed up the yusho on his final bout, to the eventual winner), he’ll likely need a couple more strong tournaments and it may be March at the earliest that we’d see him as a sekitori.

Ms16 Wakatakakage (Arashio) vs Ms16 Murata (Takasago) – These two had identical career records all the way until day 10 of this tournament, and had been quick movers, starting out their careers 18-3 over their first three tournaments. Wakatakakage finished the Aki basho 4-3 to Murata’s 3-4, the difference effectively coming down to their head to head on day 1.

Ms30 Ikegawa (Hakkaku) – Ikegawa started his career strong and I picked this as a bellwether tournament to see whether he could continue his recent progress at the level, which had slowed considerably. Ikegawa took another backward step here en route to a 3-4 record.

Ms56 Obamaumi (Sakaigawa) – I loved the story of this rikishi coming back from a very long layoff to force his way up the banzuke and to a career high in Nagoya. This was his second chance to establish himself in the third tier but he looks to have passed up the opportunity, going 3-4.

Ms57 Ichiyamamoto (Nishonoseki) – The past few paragraphs make for grim reading, but here’s another pick we got right: Ichiyamamoto is a former university man who has absolutely cruised through the divisions so far and he’s set for another big promotion after a 6-1 record that saw him react to a second-bout loss to another yusho challenger in Asakoki by rattling off 5 straight wins.

Sandanme

Sd2 Nishikifuji (Isegahama) – Nishikifuji started his career with a pair of zensho yusho and looked to be a fast mover but he’s found the Sandanme division tougher to negotiate. He’s still impressively made it through in no more than 4 tournaments, and will fight in the third tier for the powerhouse Isegahama-beya in Kyushu, having notched another 4-3 record this time out.

Sd11 Ryuko (Onoe) – I liked Ryuko as it seemed he was fighting below his level when compared to his more esteemed counterparts in Wakatakakage and Murata. This was confirmed as he cruised to a 5-2 that will probably see him promoted, having coughed up both losses to extremely difficult opponents – the first to the next man on this list and the second to Makushita yusho-challenger Asakoki.

Sd18 Enho (Miyagino) – The young rockstar of Miyagino-beya takes the yusho in some style after winning the only lower division playoff of this tournament. While his career record officially starts 21-0 after a remarkable three consecutive zensho yusho in the three bottom divisions, adding in playoffs and Maezumo you can consider it 25 consecutive wins to open his career. Given where the past several Sandanme champions have landed on the following banzuke, we will likely see him well inside the top half of the division and probably somewhere around Makushita 15-20 for Kyushu. Were he to repeat the trick again, he’d be Juryo bound in time for Hatsu but it will likely take him a few tournaments to cope with the jump in competition.

Sd68 Fukuyama (Fujishima) vs Sd71 Tanabe (Kise) – Going into this tournament the incredible stat here was that Fukuyama had only ever lost to Tanabe, who in turn had only ever lost to Enho. And after they posted identical 6-1 records yet again, nothing has changed. Fukuyama coughed up his sole defeat to Tanabe on Day 6, while the schedulers threw the 6-0 Tanabe up against the 6-0 Enho for their final scheduled bouts and, well, you know the rest. The cool thing is that we are getting to see some nice rivalries develop. These guys should both be pushing for promotion from somewhere around Sandanme 5-15 next time out. I’ve taken lumps before for asking minor questions of the NSK on the banzuke, but it will be incredible if they continue to rank Fukuyama above Tanabe next time.

Here’s Enho’s spirited zensho clinching win over the larger Tanabe (who will need to work on his Hatakikomi technique):

Jonidan

Jd4 Wakaichiro (Musashigawa) – As has been covered extensively, our main man Wakaichiro posted another kachi-koshi with a 4-3 record, and will find himself up a division in Sandanme next time out. Congratulations Wakaichiro!

Jd15 Tomokaze (Oguruma) – Tomokaze held the Jonokuchi yusho and I’m always interested to follow rikishi who can repeat the trick. He turned out not to be one of them as he coughed up an early loss, but should find himself comfortably promoted to the fourth tier in Fukuoka and will have a chance to continue to challenge for honors.

Jonokuchi

Jk25 Shoji (Musashigawa) vs Jk26 Torakio (Naruto) – I loved this battle of first timers on the banzuke. My pre-basho pick for the yusho was Shoji and he indeed delivered a zensho for his first career title. Torakio was the one man I thought might be able to stop him and he really came close, just losing their head to head and finishing 6-1. These guys may sweep all comers again in Jonidan, so we’ll continue to track their respective progress. Torakio, a rare Bulgarian rikishi, will no doubt attract interest – and here he is knocking off stubborn Jk1 Fukuazuma on his final bout:

Jk18 Sawanofuji (Isegahama) vs Jk28 Hattorizakura (Shikihide) – I called this the fight for futility and these two continued to deliver. Hattorizakura put up a remarkable 8th consecutive 0-7 tournament that leaves the enthusiast rooted to the bottom of the banzuke, and it will be interesting if the NSK ranks him above any newcomers at all next time out. I really want this guy to put together a nice run of results and at least get a promotion to Jonidan at some point in his career – perhaps a run of fixtures against a handful of 15 year olds at some point will see him someday get those magical 4 wins. As for Sawanofuji, his 2-5 record was artificially propped up by a fusen win. Whether he can muster a win against anyone not named Hattorizakura again, we’ll have to wait until November to find out.

Conclusion

Of the 18 competitive rikishi we picked this time out, we saw 12 kachi-koshi against 6 make-koshi (I’m not counting Hattorizakura and Sawanofuji), and yusho winners in 2 of the 4 divisions. I’m fairly happy with a 67% hit rate – while the goal isn’t simply to pick winners but interesting narratives, continued success and progress up the banzuke is certainly a part of the story. We’ll continue to follow a number of these guys, as well as add in some interesting stories next time out.

Thanks to YouTube’s incredible “One & Only” for the videos as ever.

Aki: Sekitori Rememberance


wakanoshima_rikishin

With the Aki 2017 basho now in the rearview mirror, let’s pay tribute to two rikishi and former sekitori who announced their retirement during the tournament.

Wakanoshima (former Juryo 7)

Wakanoshima (latterly of Shibatayama-beya) finished his career with a kachi-koshi in Makushita. The 32 year old took the long and winding path to achieve sekitori status, entering the banzuke as a 15 year old in 2000. He managed 7 basho at Juryo level over his career, across four separate trips to the professional ranks.

While Wakanoshima never scored a yusho at any level, he did manage to put dirt on familiar recent makuuchi names like Chiyonokuni, Chiyomaru, Ichinojo, Kagayaki, Shohozan… and he loved to face Ishiura, beating the latter five times out of six career matchups. The rikishi his career tracked most closely with was another Juryo yo-yo man in Kizenryu, and the pair split their 18 career match-ups evenly. He might be one of few men who can look back on their career and brag that the great Ozeki Takayasu never got the better of him, having bested one of sumo’s popular men in both bouts, in Takayasu’s younger days.

Wakanoshima, real name Fumiya Saita, finishes his career with 398 victories in the dohyo, and let’s remember him appropriately, with a sukuinage win over his longtime foe Kizenryu:

 

Rikishin (former Juryo 10)

We have often covered the battle that rikishi must endure to remain healthy, and so it is very sad to wave goodbye to the promising 21 year old and appropriately named Rikishin, who reached Juryo this year. He retires due to injury.

Another rikishi who started as a 15 year old, Rikishin’s achievement where so many others have failed in reaching the professional ranks should be commended. While his career was short, he still managed do to battle with several names with which Tachiai readers will be familiar. His greatest foe might have been Nagoya Juryo winner Daiamami, whom he bested on 3 of their 5 meetings.

Rikishin, real name Tatsuki Kubota and of Tatsunami-beya, finished his career with 158 victories. He also managed one division championship in his career, scoring a zensho yusho in the Makushita division in Nagoya three years ago. Here he is, dominating a Tachiai-favorite in Osunaarashi, marching him along the straw bales before finishing him off:

 

We wish both men the very best!