A Day Out at the Aichi Prefectural Gymnasium


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I was fortunate enough to take in Day 2 of the Nagoya basho in person, so here’s a firsthand account of the day, the venue and the atmosphere.

Booking Tickets

At Bruce’s recommendation, I reached out to BuySumoTickets.com a couple months in advance to try and get tickets, and they delivered! I knew I would have time in Nagoya to go to either Day 1 or Day 2 (or both), and knowing how difficult it would be to get tickets owing to Nagoya being a smaller venue and the ever-rising popularity of the sport, this ended up being a safer option than booking my own tickets through NSK like I did for Hatsu before Tagonoura-beya changed the face of the banzuke with a pair of promotions.

We ended up getting Chair “A” seats. In the Kokugikan this will put you at the front of the second tier, but in the smaller venue this puts you at the very back of the arena. I also threw a pair of J-League 2 tickets into the bargain for Nagoya Grampus. The tickets arrived to California well in advance of my flight to Japan (which was 11 days before Day 2 of the basho), and the site was a pleasure to work with.

Arriving at the Gymnasium

Coming from near Nagoya station, we took the subway to Shiyakusho/City Hall station on the Meijo line. Exiting the station, you end up just on the edge of Meijo Park, which houses both the Aichi Prefectural Gymnasium as well as Nagoya Castle. The park is nice and leafy and green, and provides a nice counterpoint to the majesty of the Kokugikan. We arrived at around noon, and the atmosphere outside was mostly subdued, with a handful of lower division rikishi walking around and the punters being generally easygoing and happy.

Entering the venue is quite cramped and I’m glad we arrived “early” (it would have been earlier if Wakaichiro had been competing!), as the hallway can only fit about 3-4 people across at a time which is quite a difference from the great hall that welcomes you to the Kokugikan! Already a handful of fans were queueing up for the arrival of the more vaunted rikishi, so we decided to make a lap around the arena and check out the merch and food options before heading to our seats.

Speaking of entering the venue, here’s a time-lapse of the makuuchi (west) rikishi getting started (sorry for the shaky camera – I had to hold it a LONG time!):

Merch, Food & Souvenirs

Keeping with the theme, both the diversity as well as the quantity of the merch and food offerings are downsized at Nagoya, however the dispersal and consistency of merch to be found is very impressive. You are just never far from a pretty good collection of sumo merch regardless of where you are in the venue. As it was a hot day, ice cold beer, water and ice cream were plentiful and there were plenty of roving vendors supplying ice cream throughout the day as well. There was a decent bento selection but we opted to grab some edamame and dango before heading to our seats. I’d been hopeful to get a cup of chankonabe, but there was quite a long queue and the signs around the venue made clear that today’s stew would be limited to 400 cups.

As the hallways were extremely narrow, it made purchasing merch (and boy, did I ever) a challenging proposition. When ordering multiple items, the vendors often needed to go around the shop to work out what each item cost before totalling them all up. It’s not quite a smooth of an operation as in Tokyo but everyone was extremely enthusiastic and thankful for the business.

And judging by what was on display, it was clear that shin-Ozeki Takayasu was the popular man – not only gracing most of the main magazines but also quite prominently across most of the featured food items and other souvenirs. There is just enormous love for Takayasu right now and most of the media coverage we saw leading up to the day centered squarely around him. Beyond that, as expected, Kisenosato and Hakuho were the other two big sellers.

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Yum!

Seats

Our seats were near the back of the arena on the west side, but the sight lines are outstanding in the Aichi Prefectural Gymnasium. There literally is not a bad seat there, and at the back the slope is just steep enough that you don’t need to worry about seeing over the row in front of you – there’s always a clear sight of the entire dohyo.

When we visited the Toyota Stadium a few days earlier to take in the Grampus match, we were able to book a “pairs seat,” which is a fantastic innovation in that it’s two seats with direct aisle access that has a mounted table in front (if you live in a city in America that has an Alamo Drafthouse movie theatre, it’s similar to this). This was unbelievably handy and it was cool to see that the Aichi Prefectural Gymnasium also has these type of seats installed – I would highly recommend trying to book those seats if you are able. I will definitely try to do so on my next visit.

It was also interesting that both the tickets that I booked directly from the sumo association as well as the tickets I booked through BuySumoTickets put me amongst a large group of foreigners. It was cool to be able to explain what was going on to others and hopefully help them get more excited about the sport, but I will say that in future it would be good to be able to participate in more of the atmosphere by being surrounded by folks who know the sport. I have a feeling that may come simply by managing to get better/more expensive tickets. On the whole however, the tourist crowd was better in Nagoya as they were at least more interested in the matches – when I was in Tokyo in January there were several disinterested tour groups whose presence probably prevented a few genuine sumo fans from getting into the venue.

Finally, the one oft-discussed element of Nagoya has been the weather. While the hallways were very swampy and humid owing to doors being open to the outside, our seats themselves were very cool and comfortable. It rained earlier in the day which may have contributed to this, but since we weren’t anywhere near the hot lights down below, and the venue does have a degree of air conditioning, it was very nice. It only started getting warmer once the venue started to fill up, and the seats are VERY close together (by American standards). So I was only a little upset that I didn’t need to use my new Ura fan!

Matches

Bruce has largely covered this so I won’t go into too much detail, but it is true that the live experience is very different from both the extended coverage and the NHK highlights, both in terms of the cadence of the day as well as the angle you experience the match and the crowd.

We got to see huge wins for Takayasu, Tamawashi and Ura, and the crowd really exploded at each of those owing to the nature of each victory. In fact, the Australians behind us spilled their beer from celebrating when Ura won! Kisenosato seemed extremely defensive, and people seemed more relieved than anything at his win. Fans were really behind the typically popular rikishi – though one woman a couple rows down tended to scream out the name of whoever the crowd favorite was up against! The day of course ended with the Shodai kinboshi and as I’ve now been fortunate to experience that final match kinboshi on 2 occasions, the sight of seat cushions flying everywhere is just one of the coolest ways to end the day.

The Hakuho/Tochinoshin match was notable because you could really hear and feel the battle, and also because getting to sit and witness someone like Hakuho who is the very best at what they do is always special no matter what it is that they do. In a few years we will be talking about The Great Hakuho in the past tense, and being there for even just a piece of those 1,038 wins feels significant. And also, the chance to see this, perhaps one last time:

 

Projecting a Champion: Part 1


One of the interesting by-products of my dive into Miyagino-beya’s silver medal squad was uncovering a potential new jewel in Enho. For a stable that produces very little in talent behind possibly one of the greatest rikishi ever to walk the earth (and let’s be honest, Miyagino-oyakata can be forgiven for that), it was curious to see a newcomer blast his way to a 7-0 yusho in the lower levels.

When looking to see whether this was at all something he shared in common with the current crop of sekitori as a possible signal of success, the answer was overwhelmingly yes. Of course, it is not the only signal, and as with many other sports, so much can go wrong (injuries, confidence, new trainer, etc.). But several top level rikishi put up multiple such records in their early (first year) basho and many more did it at least once. So this then begs a new question: out of the hundreds of men trying to break their way into professional sumo, is it possible to use this indicator to pluck names from down the banzuke – and if it is, when do we expect to see them bringing honour to their heya? If they don’t manage it, how much harder is it to then reach the top? This will be the first part in a series to attempt to try and figure all of this out.

First things first, let’s look at the most recent crop of 70 sekitori. We can use the March banzuke as a guide to figure out if there’s a story here because any makuuchi/juryo promotions/demotions aren’t going to massively change the calculus and the turnover from juryo to makushita doesn’t meaningfully affect our sample size (and we’re not only interested in who might make it to Juryo 14W someday).

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What I’ve done here is split the sekitori into four categories: those who managed multiple 7-0 records in their first 6 full tournaments (post-maezumo), those who managed it one time, those who didn’t manage it, and those who didn’t manage it but were already in Juryo well before their 6th tournament (owing to entering the banzuke at makushita level as an amateur champion). This doesn’t tell the full story but it is somewhat telling that half of the professional ranks managed an early zensho. Of course, you’d expect the wrestlers who have been contending for titles their whole career to float towards the top, and so let’s see if that’s what we’ve got:

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This confirms those suspicions. Makuuchi contains a higher number of rikishi to have put a zensho on the board their first year at least once (Kisenosato registered his first in his 7th basho otherwise this would have been more extreme), and as you’d expect it also contains a larger number of amateur champions who fast tracked their way to the top (and stayed there).

For the next parts in this series, we’ll start to look at how long it took these sekitori on average to reach juryo, and then start to look at the success rates of those who score this record and start to identify commonalities among them (kimarite, stature, etc), to model out who we might expect to charge up the banzuke soon and give us some more lower level candidates to track over the coming year. Again, this is just one of many signals – and there are many other intangible variables (stable, personality/confidence, etc) but it will be interesting to dig in and get an understanding of how impactful it is.

Heya Power Rankings: June 2017


With the banzuke announcement just a few days away, it’s time to revisit the Heya Power Rankings series. Thanks to everyone who commented on the first version of this post – this time I’ve been able to make the key update of stacking the bars vertically, and hopefully by the time August rolls around I can get them sorted properly and then we’ll really be off and running!

For a refresher on the methodology and calculations behind these rankings, visit the original post. I’m pretty happy with how this held up for the second version – for example the accomplishments of Tochinoshin (kachi-koshi and jun-yusho from M12) are ranked equivalent to Tamawashi’s kachi-koshi at S1, and that seems fair. Without further ado:

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And in “Billboard” style Top 20 chart form (ties broken by previous ranking with the most recently better heya ranked higher):

  1. (+1) Isegahama. 124 points (-1)
  2. (+2) Miyagino. 107 points (+57)
  3. (-2) Tagonoura. 75 points (-55)
  4. (+5) Kasugano. 58 points (+24)
  5. (-2) Sakaigawa. 50 points (-10)
  6. (+5) Oguruma. 42 points (+15)
  7. (-1) Kokonoe. 41 points (-2)
  8. (-3) Izutsu. 40 points (-5)
  9. (-2) Oitekaze. 34 points (-4)
  10. (+3) Kise. 33 points (+9)
  11. (+7) Isenoumi. 33 points (+18)
  12. (+3) Dewanoumi. 30 points (+10)
  13. (-5) Sadogatake. 29 points (-6)
  14. (-2) Kataonami. 25 points (even)
  15. (-5) Takanohana. 24 points (-6)
  16. (-2) Hakkaku. 23 points (even)
  17. (-1) Tokitsukaze. 20 points (even)
  18. (**) Onomatsu. 20 points (+15)
  19. (**) Takadagawa. 17 points (+8)
  20. (**) Minato.  / (-3) Tomozuna. (both 13 points)

Movers

Isegahama takes the top spot this month on a slightly diminished score owing to quality AND quantity: Terunofuji’s second straight jun-yusho and consistent levels of performance across the board push them up to the summit. Miyagino vaults up as the greatest gainer on points owing mostly to Hakuho’s zensho-yusho (we’re not currently giving a bonus score for a 15-0, but this is something to think about), and Ishiura grabbing a KK didn’t hurt.

Kasugano takes a big jump up the listing owing to a big performance from Tochinoshin which more than offset declines elsewhere. Yoshikaze’s special prize gives Oguruma a boost, while all four Kise rikishi grabbed winning records to propel the stable forward with modest gains. Isenoumi is the greatest chart gainer with just two rikishi, but Nishikigi’s Juryo yusho and Ikioi’s regained form give the heya a big boost. Dewanoumi’s sole contributor Mitakeumi grabbed a special prize and he’ll likely have a good shot to maintain his score next time out as he will in all likelihood fight at a higher level.

Finally, 3 new heya hit the chart as Onosho’s performance drives Onomatsu, Kagayaki and Ryuden’s solid performances put Takadagawa on the board, and Ichinojo grabs a kachi-koshi for Minato.

Losers

Tagonoura lose their grip on the top, but this is simply owing to Kisenosato not winning (in any capacity). Their top 3 spot should be relatively safe however, with Takayasu’s promotion confirmed, and both of them when on-form now represent title challengers. Elsewhere, Sakaigawa takes a hit just owing to Toyohibiki coming off a Juryo yusho onto a make-koshi and not much support among the rest of the crew beyond Goeido. Meanwhile, Kokonoe’s quality doesn’t translate to quality as despite 6 sekitori, only 3 could manage winning records and the toppermost – Chiyonokuni and Chiyoshoma – ran into a san’yaku slaughterhouse.

Up Next

Takanohana could be set for another dip, with Takagenji heading out of Juryo and Takanoiwa and Takakeisho likely swapping ends of the banzuke. Tomozuna’s fortunes will also likely get worse before they get better, with Asahisho likely following Takagenji, moviestar Kyokutaisei set for a drop down to the nether regions of Juryo, and Kaisei looking like he may only be a couple tournaments behind.

Shikoroyama (not ranked) should grab their second Juryo rikishi as Abi should certainly be promoted (5-2 at Ms1), and one would think Iwasaki (6-1 at Ms2) would join him in the pro ranks to give Oitekaze a shot in the arm. If Daishoho can get his act together soon and join up later this year, the stable would have a truly impressive number of rikishi in the top 2 divisions.

Kise had a great basho at Natsu as outlined above and they may also be ready to call on reinforcements soon: they boasted 7 rikishi between Makushita 1 and Makushita 12 and while none look like certain promotion candidates for Nagoya… ALL of them scored winning records, as did 2 of the 3 just behind (so that’s 13 of their top 14 with a kachi-koshi – bear in mind some stables don’t even have that many rikishi in total!). As always with the larger stables, a number of these guys are journeymen and also-rans, but the names to watch here are Shimanoumi (5-2 at Ms5W won’t get the job done this time, but he’s scored no less than 5 lower division unbeaten yusho and will be determined to get back to Juryo after fighting back from a period out of competition), and former university man Kizaki (who has raced to the top of Makushita in a year with 7 straight KK, including a pair of yusho).

Beyond The Boss


Hakuho is a legend, and if you are reading this site then you probably know this. The meteoric rise, all the titles, all the techniques, all the style and lately, all the attitude. There’s a lot that’s interesting about Hakuho, and you could probably do a whole site just about him. However that’s not only why you’re here, and so we’re going to talk about Hakuho in the context of not really talking about Hakuho.

One of the things that has been discussed quite a bit recently on the site is that there are some interesting story lines involving top rikishi and their relationships with others within their stable: Kisenosato and Takayasu, Terunofuji and Shunba, etc. There are also a number of rikishi at the top who hail from notable heya which have stacked the banzuke with talent. To name just a few: the Isegahama powerhouse, belly bop king Kotoshogiku topping the ranks of the prolific Sadogatake stable, and of course the incredible volume of wrestlers created of late by Kokonoe.

But Miyagino, Hakuho’s stable, hasn’t produced a whole lot of note beyond the man himself over the past 20 years. There are potentially numerous reasons for this. One of them is that they simply don’t carry many rikishi – there haven’t been more than a dozen at a given time since Hakuho’s emergence. Another might be that perhaps the stable just isn’t good at producing talent in general: Hakuho’s emergence in its own right was unexpectedly one of the greatest stories in sports after no other heya would accept him and Miyagino took him on only as a promise and/or had him foisted upon the stable, depending how you hear the story told. Still yet another reason could come from dysfunction at the very top: stablemaster and architect of legends Chikubayama was forced to give up the elder stock to Kanechika who obtained it by marrying the daughter of the previous holder (perhaps not a recipe for coaching excellence in any sport). Kanechika was a fun guy who, after eventually having to hand the elder stock back over to Chikubayama after getting snaffled in a match fixing claim, then had his assistant eat a whole tub of wasabi in addition to inflicting a bunch of other punishments upon him (what’s not to love?).

All of that turmoil can’t have been helpful, but let’s look at it by the books. Here are the four men who have been #2 to The Boss since his ascendance to top dog at Miyagino in March 2004:

  • Kobo: a journeyman and one of the first products of Chikubayama to become sekitori, he was already on the down slope by early 2004 and only made a solitary appearance (at Maegashira 17!) in the top division after Hakuho surpassed him. His career as a sekitori was over 3 years later.
  • Ryuo: a Mongolian who surpassed Kobo at Nagoya 2006, but whose career was spent almost entirely in the bottom divisions. He managed 4 tournaments in makuuchi and only one kachi-kochi (though he did manage to claim the scalps of young Kisenosato and Goeido during his brief stay). He finished his career with 4 unbroken years as a Makushita before calling it quits.
  • Yamaguchi: some 6 years later, he appears at Haru 2012 out of Nihon University and instantly becomes the second highest ranked in the stable upon his debut. Managed a single makuuchi bout as Daikiho before everything fell apart and he tumbled down to Sandanme. He has been working his way back up over the past 4 years however and seemed like a good bet to challenge for a makuuchi promotion in the near future before a catastrophic Natsu basho landed him with a 10 loss make-koshi in a tournament which, as this site has covered, was both a massively up-for-grabs and turgid affair. Still only 28 though, and with a lack of can’t miss talent at his current level, could be back in the big time by 2018 if he can string together some winning records over the rest of the year.
  • Ishiura: at Nagoya 2014, having just been dealt his first make-koshi after a strong start to his career (including two lower division yusho), Ishiura moves past Yamaguchi and he’s been at that level since. Notably, he possesses a pedigree the 3 aforementioned rikishi do not and makes quick work of the lower divisions, making his pro debut in 2 years. We’ve all seen quite a bit of him over the past 4 basho in makuuchi and his evolution from henka-addict to a more respectable rikishi trying to develop what he would probably describe as “his brand of sumo.” Namely, not being a particularly excellent pusher-thruster or mawashi man or as flexible as Ura, he seems to either run around a lot or just get in low and try to pull his man down, and will need some more developed facets of his game if he’s able to consolidate and push up the banzuke in a meaningful way.

Beyond these folks, there just hasn’t been anyone of quality at all in the stable since Hakuho started to dominate the sumo world, which makes Hakuho’s achievement all the more stunning in that no one else that his coach has coached has even shown promise of being a top level rikishi until Ishiura.

One of the signals of a fast moving rikishi is racking up multiple unbeaten records/yusho at the lower levels (in many cases back to back) in their first few basho, and so for this reason it will be worth keeping an eye on young Enho who went unbeaten in his first tournament at Natsu and will make his Jonidan bow at Nagoya. Many rikishi who have made a dent on the top division, including Goeido, Yoshikaze, Ishiura, Aoiyama, Hokutofuji, Takakeisho, Sokokurai, Ura, and the recently deposed Yutakayama, have managed this. Many, many others at the level managed at least a single early yusho in their first tournaments (notably, Hakuho did not, mostly owing to his unique development as a very slight rikishi in his younger days).

Given that the percentage of rikishi reaching the top level is so small to begin with, and the number of Miyagino rikishi reaching that level is just 2-3 per decade, it will be interesting to see if Enho can establish himself. Of course it is silly to read too much into a rikishi at this stage of their career, though his sumo best seems to be described as “composed.” He appeared unrattled in all 7 wins at Natsu and the only rikishi to even put up a serious challenge was his former university-mate Tanabe, who created a fight better than some of the stuff we get on the NHK highlights (Enho is the little guy):

Hakuho is obviously a force, and statistically he will retire in serious contention to be debated among the very greatest of all time. A lot of this comes from his background, his sheer desire to continue to develop, and his coaching. But it is curious in the context that his stable does not possess a particularly keen ability to scout and develop as evidenced by their lack of ability to put a second even competitive product onto the dohyo. Hopefully at least, with continued improvement from Ishiura and the development of rikishi like Enho, that could soon change.

Mitakeumi & The Sekiwake Squad Face Down 1972


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This man has some more winning to do.

I’ve focused quite a bit on mathematics in my first couple of posts, so I wanted to formulate a minor Natsu banzuke prediction in this post based more on history. As I detailed in looking at the shift in first week results, much of the change we’re seeing has come down to those at the Sekiwake rank punching above their weight. And much of the debate around the new banzuke seems to be focused on how many such ranked rikishi we may see as we prepare for the next tournament in Tokyo.

So let’s go back 45 years and look at an interesting turn of results that led the banzuke to shift from the standard 2 Sekiwake up to an incredible 5:
Continue reading

Introducing the Heya Power Rankings


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Where winning is born

Now that Haru is in the books, I thought it might be fun to dig back into the maths and introduce an equation to work out which of the Heya, or sumo stables, are the real power players at the top end of the game. If it looks like we’re on to something, then perhaps it’s something we can revisit after future tournaments as well. As this is our first post on the subject, let’s tackle the methodology and then we can get into the rankings for Haru and analysis. So, whose chanko nabe tastes the best?

Methodology

In order to work this out, I built a points system which can be loosely based around these Three R’s: Ranking, Results, Rewards. Very simply put, a heya should get points for the level at which their rikishi perform, the results they achieve, and the rewards which bring them glory. All good positive stuff.

Ranking

Points are awarded for fighting at the following ranks:

  • Yokozuna: 40
  • Ozeki: 30
  • Sekiwake: 20
  • Komusubi: 15
  • Maegashira 1-5: 10
  • Maegashira 6-10: 8
  • Maegashira 11+: 5
  • Juryo 1-7: 2
  • Juryo 8+: 1

I separated Maegashira and Juryo into separate points categories as rikishi at the various ends of these ranks tend to have vastly different schedules. Fighting at a Maegashira 2 rank and having to face the likes of Hakuho is a bigger accomplishment than fighting at Maegashira 14. And being Hakuho is an even bigger accomplishment. So the points should be awarded accordingly. This obviously could be scaled up to accommodate even lower ranks, but it makes sense to start awarding points based on the world of professional sumo.

Results

I added 5 points for scoring a kachi-koshi in makuuchi, and 3 points for achieving a kachi-koshi in Juryo. I did not subtract points for scoring a make-koshi. Again, the rationale here is that fighting at a particular rank is the achievement. Achieving success at that rank should be recognised. Achieving failure at that rank will be reflected by the lower rank the rikishi will receive in the next banzuke, and therefore the lower score that the heya will receive in these next rankings. So, theoretically, it takes care of itself.

Additionally, if you follow the above logic, it stands to reason that a rikishi competing at the top end of Juryo and achieving kachi-koshi and on the cusp of promotion (2+3 points) is fighting at a similar level to a rikishi at the bottom end of Maegashira rank who gets a make-koshi and is in danger of demotion (5+0).

Rewards

Here’s where we will create variance from month to month, with points being awarded for the following achievements:

  • Yusho (Makuuchi): 50
  • Jun-Yusho (Makuuchi): 25
  • Makuuchi Special Prizes: 10
  • Yusho (Juryo): 15

At the end of the day it’s really all about winning the big prizes, and these represent prestige. These are the people who have been the focal point of the two weeks that have passed, either because they have outperformed their level, they have challenged for the yusho, actually won it, won a big promotion up to the next level, or all of the above.

Haru-basho Power Rankings & Analysis

PowerRankings

What we’ve got above is a bar chart of January’s ranks vs. March, so that we can see for this first edition which stable is at the summit of the sport, who’s improved their standing, and also how the Haru basho might have negatively impacted stables. Here’s our inaugural top 20 chart, with their score in brackets:

  1. Tagonoura (130)
  2. Isegahama (125)
  3. Sakaigawa (60)
  4. Miyagino (50)
  5. Izutsu (45)
  6. Kokonoe (43)
  7. Oitekaze (38)
  8. Sadogatake (35)
  9. Kasugano (34)
  10. Takanohana (30)
  11. Oguruma (27)
  12. Kataonami (25)
  13. Kise (24)
  14. Hakkaku (23)
  15. Dewanoumi (20)
  16. Tokitsukaze (20)
  17. Tomozuna (19)
  18. Isenoumi (15)
  19. Arashio/Minezaki/Nishonoseki (10)

The headliner for the second consecutive basho is the Tagonoura-beya, headlined by Shin-Yokozuna Kisenosato‘s heroic yusho, and another prize-winning outing by san’yaku fixture Takayasu. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the dominant Isegahama is not far behind, off the back of several prominent rikishi towards the top end of the banzuke and a just-nearly performance by Terunofuji. We can probably expect to see these two stables in or near the top two for some time to come, especially if Takayasu is successful in his Ozeki run.

Taking the bronze medal this time, it’s Sakaigawa: a stable with a number of makuuchi wrestlers and featuring the Juryo yusho winner Toyohibiki, who we’ll see back in the top flight for Natsu. While it’s not impossible, Sakaigawa will have a challenge to hold onto a position in the top 3 in May. Goeido will need to chase a kachi-koshi to retain his Ozeki status, but they may lose 2 rikishi from makuuchi to Juryo with demotions, and the next best heya Miyagino will hope for a healthier outing from Hakuho and better returns from Ishiura as he tries to cement his place in makuuchi.

Looking at whose stock plummeted the most this month, you can’t look further than the first name on the list. With only one rikishi in the top 2 divisions, Arashio‘s prestige is wholly dependent at the moment on the performances of Sokokurai, whose gino-sho winning Hatsu was followed up with an 11 loss outing this time around. Solid but unspectacularly performing heya with a diversity of competitors (e.g. Kokonoe) are better able to insulate themselves from this kind of performance, and Arashio doesn’t have anyone else near the top divisions at the moment.

On the whole, this exercise has shown that out of all of the places that rikishi live and train, about a dozen are real players at the top end of the game, and another dozen are developing middling talent trying to gain a foothold in the professional ranks. The rest are in limbo, either unable to produce top level talent at the moment or simply in a transitional period where their top level participants have recently retired or been demoted while they try and bring through a new generation of rikishi with the ability to compete at the highest level.

Looking ahead to Natsu, I don’t think we should expect much change in the top 5. A few stables under the radar who might make moves one way or the other in the near future:

  • OitekazeEndo will move up, and may face a tougher schedule given that many of the rikishi in front of him this time out are staring at demotion. Meanwhile, Daieisho‘s due a promotion and Oitekaze’s quintet could be joined soon in the professional ranks by Iwasaki, who picked up a kachi-koshi at Makushita 3, and Daishoho, who made his brief Juryo debut in November and just put up 5 wins at Makushita 7.
  • Takanohana: As Andy noted earlier in the week, Takagenji is set for his Juryo debut at Natsu, and while Takanohana isn’t teeming with the sheer volume of rikishi that you might see at other stables, there are actually a couple more young wrestlers not far behind. Star man Takanoiwa‘s results have been volatile, but he has made a step forward in the past year which is that he’s now more able to cope with what the schedule throws at him at the lower end of makuuchi. Likewise, Takakeisho seems to be settling in well as a rank-and-filer and will move up the banzuke next time out.
  • Sadogatake: It’s tough to call a heya with such a rich history at the top level “under the radar,” but they’ll take a hit if Kotoshogiku does retire or show diminished performance following a soul-crushing nearly-basho in March, and it would be charitable to say that Kotoyuki hasn’t been at his best recently. He looked overpowered and out of sorts more often than not at Haru. Realistically the next wave of talent here is at least a couple of years away – there are a handful of journeyman rikishi at Makushita level already, but the next youngster showing serious promise looks to be 19 year old Kotokamatani who just finished up a 5 win basho at Sandanme 3 and is primed for already his second spell at Makushita having only made his tournament debut last January.

A Closer Look at San’yaku after Week 1


Moment of Silence
One of these men is more consistent than the others – and basically everyone else.

Hi there – this is my first guest post on the site, so thanks for having me! Following Bruce’s analysis last week, contrasting the early upper san’yaku vs lower san’yaku results from the current Basho to that of last year’s Nagoya tournament, I posited that it might be interesting to have a look at a larger sample size and determine if what we’re seeing is the product of a shift in the performance of the upper san’yaku over time, and what it might mean.

I pulled the first week win/loss data (up through day 8) of each tournament going back to January 2015, the logic being that a 2 year period of first week bouts would give us an idea of what it means to perform at the level of a Yokozuna or an Ozeki in this day and age. I selected 8 days because this has typically been the tipping point in the tournament after which the upper san’yaku (of which there have usually been 7) stop being polite and start being real, and are then starting to fight each other.

Finally, I removed forfeit matches due to rikishi going kyujo from the equation entirely. While these wins and losses show up in the history books, they don’t give us a true read on whether or not the rikishi involved are performing at the expected talent level.

This is all basic stuff and is meant to be a jumping off point from which assumptions can be based so that we can have some more detailed conversations in future. So let’s see what the data (which you can see in rawer form here) tells us:

* A Yokozuna can usually be counted on to lose one match in the first week. Over 2015 & 2016, the win rate (or wins per day in Bruce’s format) of a Yokozuna is 85.7%. Taking into account that healthy rikishi will fight 24 times, we’d expect to see 3 losses from the group and this is exactly what happened in 8 of those 12 tournaments.

* Ozeki typically perform 15% worse than the Yokozuna. So, they lose a little more than 1 more match apiece on average than their more prestigious counterparts. Interestingly, this is exactly what has transpired in 2017 as well as 2015 and 2016 – the downturn in Yokozuna performance (~10%) has been almost exactly matched by their Ozeki counterparts in spite of Kisenosato moving up a level: his brilliant Hatsu masked disasters from Terunofuji and Kotoshogiku, while his promotion has covered for the kyujo Hakuho and underperforming Harumafuji and Kakuryu.

Yokozuna Win Percentage 2015-16: 85.7%
Yokozuna Win Percentage 2017: 75.6%

Ozeki Win Percentage 2015-16: 70%
Ozeki Win Percentage 2017: 60.5%

* Hakuho isn’t in trouble – at least as far as week 1 is concerned. He was 7-1 in January and having gone kyujo twice in the 2 years prior (including once mid-basho), he came back with 8-0 and 7-1 starts. He clearly was struggling early in this tournament along with Harumafuji and Kakuryu (who have since seen their records improve), but if his body works then the early results bear out when fighting against his lower ranking san’yaku competitors.

* Sekiwake up their game. Over 2015-16, the expected win rate for a Sekiwake in week 1 was a paltry 46.3% – you wouldn’t even expect them to end up 4-4 never mind challenge for Ozeki promotion, which obviously only happened once (Terunofuji) in that time frame. However this has increased over the first two basho of 2017 to 64.6% – almost as good as an Ozeki would usually be expected to perform (70%).

* This hasn’t been reflected at Komusubi level. Usually Komusubi win 33.2% of their first week matches, but that’s only up to 35.4% this year. Tochinoshin’s tanking at Hatsu is somewhat to blame for this but of the four Komusubi performances this year, only Takayasu has turned in a winning performance at the level in matches fought, and even that was only a 4-3 standing after 8 days. This is still as hard of a level as ever to compete at.

* The recent lower san’yaku level of performance isn’t totally unprecedented, however. While we began to see the tide swing toward the lower san’yaku in January, there were actually 5 better performances over the past couple years – a 5 basho streak starting with a 50% success rate in March 2015 through to a 43.8% hit rate in December 2015 – from the up and comers than in January (42.9% success rate).

* Takayasu may be more special than we think. Most Sekiwake have never returned to the rank over the past 2+ years: only 3 prior rikishi have re-obtained the title after losing it since the start of 2015. However, unlike Ichinojo, Myogiryu and Okinoumi, Takayasu looks to be the first to fight back and look capable of not only hold the rank but have the stuff to move up. Of the prior three, only Myogiryu was even tenuously able to cling on for one more basho at the ranking.

* Kisenosato starts as well as anyone not named Hakuho. While his historical troubles with finishing off the yusho have been well detailed, his week 1 performances have outshined Kakuryu over the last 2+ years and he’s in a dead heat with Harumafuji’s level of performance. While it’s not clear yet that he’s better at this level than a healthy Hakuho, Hakuho’s toe problem means the Shin-Yokozuna was already for all intents and purposes the top dog coming out of the traps even before the the first grain of salt was thrown at Haru.

* No one’s success rate has taken a bigger hit than Goeido. The Ozeki from Osaka’s first week win rate has dropped over 20% in 2017. Historically he’d been expected to win almost exactly two thirds of his opening week matches, but he now sits at a lacklustre 46% – the exact tally we’d typically expect from a Sekiwake that’s might be demoted lower. He really shouldn’t have turned up unfit at Haru.

So what does all of this mean? There’s a certain shift as we’re seeing results that haven’t been there over the past several years, but it’s much too soon to call it a day on the current crop of Yokozuna. At Haru, they’ve lost 2 more matches as a group than we’d expect to have seen, but as recently as November they were turning in a vintage week 1 performance that stands up to anything else they’ve done recently, battering the lower san’yaku with better than expected results.

Health aside, in the short term the data shows that we can probably expect to see some more turbulence in the rankings of a small group of rikishi in between the Sekiwake and Ozeki tiers, and what it means to fight at those levels may become somewhat blurry if Kotoshogiku ends up as the first in what could be a string of yo-yo rikishi. The next two or three basho will be telling to be sure, and I’ll continue to update the data to see how the san’yaku bear out against each other in the early going to try and pick up more signals.