Another Day Out at the EDION Arena: Haru 2019 Day 11

EDION Arena Osaka - Dohyo-iri
The EDION Arena, Osaka

Originally, knowing that I was to attend two days of the Haru basho, I had intended to write one post about the basho experience, enjoy this amazing city of Osaka, do a podcast with Bruce (like and subscribe), and then head back to the EDION Arena for Day 11 only with the intention of enjoying the action.

But then, magical moments intervened, and here I am again.

Day 11’s torikumi was pretty remarkable. And there are multiple reasons for that. First of all, the big performers have been delivering big performances. There are challengers down the banzuke. There is intrigue from the ozeki ranks going in both directions. And also, apart from Chiyonokuni’s pre-tournament withdrawal, there have been no kyujo announcements and no fusen-sho. The gang’s all here.

I didn’t get all of it. Partly because I arrived a little later than I had intended, and partly because I wanted to enjoy more of what the venue had to offer. So while I’m happy I missed Wakaichiro losing, because I never want to see him lose – I’m also sorry I missed a few Makushita and Juryo matches I would have liked to have seen.

I also missed almost every dohyo-iri. That’s because I decided to take part in one of Osaka’s great traditions, waiting by the shitakubeya entrance/exit for the rikishi to cross through the fans on their way to the dohyo. For every 10 pictures you’ll try and snap of this, you’ll get, well, one that might be passable:

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Takayasu prepares for the dohyo-iri

The other thing that I saw during this period, that I think needs to be called out, was the warmness and generosity of one Kotoyuki-zeki. Rikishi are not really meant to interact too much with fans on their way through the open areas, because if they did then all hell would break loose. Usually, they do turn the blinders on, and stay deep in focus. But Kotoyuki, on his way back from winning his match was fist-bumping fans in the hallways, and then later, on his way back to (presumably) the heya, was warmly shaking hands with elderly fans and thanking them for their support. The proximity that punters can get to the rikishi, especially here in Osaka, is truly part of what makes the sumo experience special.

EDION Arena - Katsu sando
Cheers to Herouth for the Katsu sando recommendation, a vast improvement on the EDION Arena’s yakitori

Bruce has done an excellent job covering many of the Ones to Watch, and I’m going to dig back in to some of the lower division performances I’ve seen in a later post, likely after the basho. For now, I’ll close with a few comments on the top division:

Ikioi: his heavy metal sumo hasn’t been on display, and he probably isn’t fit to be on a dohyo. And probably, if he were anywhere else, I don’t think he would be, even though he is the consummate competitor. But his match was the first time the fans really sparked into life on Day 11, and I think he deserves immense credit for turning up in his hometown every day, even if he is – as Kintamayama accurately remarked in his subtitles today – a “walking hospital.”

Interview Room - EDION Arena Osaka
The nondescript hallway to the mysterious and secretive Interview Room – where we won’t be seeing Ikioi this basho – and where rikishi must walk when they defeat a Yokozuna or get kachi-koshi

Ichinojo: Today’s match against Aoiyama felt like a step forward for him. He was up against a lesser-heralded opponent and in a high pressure situation. Usually, you’d bet on him folding in these scenarios, but he set a booby-trap for the Bulgarian by wearing him down, and using his own immense stamina to his advantage. He’ll avoid big names from here, and a 13 or 14 win tournament could certainly make things interesting come May and July, whatever happens.

Goeido: He has rebounded from his defeats and he continues to display the hell for leather attacking sumo that won him a yusho. If he continues to fight like this and can keep himself in this kind of shape, maybe it won’t be in Osaka, but he will challenge for more titles. The crowd support for him was greater than anything I’ve seen in Fukuoka or Nagoya for any other local rikishi – and if you scroll through the content that the NSK themselves have been interacting with and reposting on Instagram, it’s clear to see just how much people in this city absolutely love him. If he brings the noise against the Yokozuna, it may change the course of the basho.

Takayasu and Tochinoshin: Both men are in a period of some kind of transition. Tochinoshin is clearly trying to figure out how to scrape any kinds of wins when he can’t deploy his singular superior manoeuvre, in a desperate act to save his rank. Takayasu is training himself into a lesser reliance on his heretofore opening gambit and is looking to become and even more polished all around rikishi. Takayasu’s throw today felt like it simultaneously deflated and elated the arena. While Tochinoshin is by no means down or out from (or prohibited from returning to) the rank of ozeki, the loss today felt like it punctuated the inevitable. Tochinoshin’s fans were loud and proud but it is not an exaggeration to say his impact on the clay could be felt all the way back in the cheap seats.

Hakuho: I have watched the musubi-no-ichiban back several times, as I did before leaving the arena while NHK were showing the replays on their screen in the lobby. It is folly to say that today was in any way remarkable simply for the style of his result, or even that he cashed in a get out of jail card in his victory over Takakeisho: it wouldn’t be the first, second or third time he’s done that in this tournament alone.

Let’s look at three screenshots via the Kintamayama wrap-up video:

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While it may seem quiet on the video, the reality is usually somewhat different from what the NHK microphones catch, and each of these moments amplified the environment by an order of magnitude. First, the above moment: Hakuho, for a lengthy period of time, stares down Takakeisho. He had said before the basho he wanted to teach the sekiwake a lesson. Here, as everyone in the building watches, and everyone on TV watches, and everyone on the internet watches, Takakeisho is looking up at the big man. Hakuho is the boss, and we all know it.

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Hakuho crouches down at the shikiri-sen for the tachiai, but again, there’s a longer than usual pause before the start of the match. He is making Takakeisho wait at every turn, and again, this was clear in the arena and it added to the sense of anticipation. This was also not the first time we saw a rikishi wait out an opponent: there were several matta on the day, and several non-starts. Tamawashi is known to regularly wait out the tachiai, but whenever Tamawashi tries to play mind games, he always loses (see: his match against Kakuryu).

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In some of the matches in this tournament, we saw a cheeky grin from The Boss after he got out of jail. Not this time. He played a cat and mouse game with Takakeisho before grabbing the belt and throwing him to the clay with authority. Then he let out a huge grunt before grabbing the largest pile of kensho of the day. At this point, the top was about to come off the building. It’s a massive credit to Takakeisho (as with the other rikishi earlier in the tournament), that this match was close. But nothing with Hakuho is by accident. Whether or not you like the theatrics, I would argue that moments like this are what makes sport worth following, they give us heroes, they give us a relationship with the game.

I had been not feeling well earlier in the day and had considered heading back to the hotel to catch makuuchi on TV, but I’m glad I didn’t. Everything in the 8+ hours long day of sumo builds gradually to the musubi-no-ichiban. This was one of the best possible matchups we have seen in a long time, with titles and promotions on the line, and the greatest rikishi of all time was the conductor of an atmosphere which ratcheted up to fever pitch during a match that turned out to be yet another topsy-turvy emotional victory. With just four days remaining in one of the best tournaments in recent memory, I’ll be sad not to be returning to the EDION Arena again this year.

A Day Out at the EDION Arena: Haru 2019

Edion Arena - Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium. Haru 2019
The EDION Arena in Osaka, Day 6 of the 2019 Haru basho

Ahoy sumo fans. I am here in Osaka, where I spent Day 6 of the Haru basho at the gymnasium/arena known as the EDION Arena for sponsorship purposes, also known as the Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium not for sponsorship purposes!

Allow me to fill you in and transfer all of the vibes into your brain space:

Haru basho 2019 - EDION Arena/Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium
It’s easy to feel close to the action in Osaka

Atmosphere

Outside of Tokyo, I really think Osaka is the best basho. If you are from Nagoya or Fukuoka, I’m sorry. Actually I’m not that sorry, because those are cool places to be from. But it is hard to rival the atmosphere in Osaka, which most days verges – for sumo – on downright raucous. It’s loud and people have no shame in letting everyone know who they are cheering for.

I arrived during Jonidan, and as usual the place was milling with senior citizens, who typically come early with their copy of the torikumi and highlighters and go through all of the day’s matches. In that sense, the late morning crowd-watching is not unlike that of a bingo hall. It is incredible how much these elderly folks know all the lower division guys and then in many cases make their way to catch them leaving the shitakubeya for a photo.

Kakuryu vs Shodai - Haru basho 2019 Osaka
Kakuryu prepares to beat Shodai in the musubi-no-ichiban

This brings me to the next great Osaka tradition: waiting by the front door for rikishi to enter. They come right in the front door, and people get excited. There are clearly marked areas in the lobby where it is acceptable to stand. You can just wait there all day, and it is somewhat predictable what time the more popular rikishi will show up, but if you want to also see sumo, it can be a real lottery. You could miss good sumo and end up waiting for 10 mins just to see Tokushōryū as I did (no offense Tokushōryū, I’m sure you are a very cool guy and we are blessed to have smelled your binzuke). You had better like the scent of binzuke if you come to Osaka, because with so many rikishi passing you regularly in the halls, it is inescapable.

You can tell a lot from who the crowd largely supports by the nature of applause during the dohyo-iri. The two big names in Juryo this time were undoubtedly Aminishiki (potentially fighting his last tournament) and Enho, who is now solidly a crowd favorite. Since the crowd gets so much louder than it usually does at a basho, it’s easier to get a read on who has a few fans and who is legitimately popular at the moment. It’s fair to say Enho is now at least on the Chiyomaru level.

I got my tickets through buysumotickets.com, and ended up in what a fellow fan called “gaijin alley,” as typically happens since they block buy the tickets for overseas customers. I sat next to a family of very nice and friendly Australians, who stayed all the way to the end and were hugely interested and excited to see sumo for the first time. I have noticed plenty more fans from Australia coming to tournaments lately, so maybe study-abroad alumnus Ishiura has started doing protein shake commercials down under (Australians, please let us know in the comments!).

Snacks - Haru Basho 2019 Osaka
Snacks and gift boxes for sale at the Haru basho in Osaka

Food

I would probably rank Osaka third out of the four basho cities in terms of the availability and quality of food on offer in the venue (ahead of Fukuoka). This is a fairly shocking and damning indictment, given that Osaka is definitely-not-probably one of the greatest food cities, not only in Japan but in the world.

I grabbed some edamame as I was in need of sustenance, and it did not let me down. The yakitori, however, was far worse than at Kokugikan in Tokyo, and was a bit cold and slimy. My advice, if you’re planning to attend the Osaka basho, is to have a large breakfast beforehand and then either smuggle snacks in your backpack or just grab a couple things at the venue.

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Katsu sandwiches, Yakitori and Edamame for sale in Osaka

You will find stuff like dried squid and cheese packs here, but the sweets game in Osaka is pretty weak. They do stock the usual rikishi/dohyo-decorated-cookie gift packs, but none of the Hello Panda action, candy, or NSK-branded treats like the wacky Hiyonoyama pancakes that you’ll get at Kokugikan. There is a restaurant in the basement that has a deep if uninspiring menu when compared with what lies outside – so you’re better off taking advantage of the single re-entry policy than eating at the venue. If I’m the NSK I would probably figure out a way to do a deal with a couple beloved local vendors, and play up the local culture in order to enhance the in-venue experience.

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The East and West sides of the venue provide a much closer look of the action from the second level (right), owing to the shape of the gymnasium

Seats

This is where Osaka just flat-out wins. I had Arena “A” seats, which are the furthest back seats on either the east or west sides of the venue. The rectangle shape of the arena means that there’s a strong distance difference between Arena “A” and the Arena “B” & “C” seats, which are the furthest back on the front and back sides of the dohyo. The layout is very different from Kokugikan, where the A seats put you at the very front of the upper tier, so that’s something to bear in mind. The “S” and “SS” seats are the best upper tier seats.

This all being said, despite being in the penultimate row on the west side of the venue, the view is just incredible. You can very clearly see everything that’s going on, and you don’t feel far away from the action at all. In fact, I felt closer to the action in these seats than I did at a jungyo event in Koshigaya last year, in a local gymnasium.

Arigato Kisenosato - Thank you Kisenosato message board - Haru Basho 2019 Osaka
The “Thank You Kisenosato” message board for fans in Osaka

Merch & Experience

The official NSK merch booth got set up around 1pm, and it is staffed by oyakata. This booth always provides a good opportunity to interact with ex-rikishi you may have known and/or loved. It was a little odd to see someone like ex-Satoyama/now-Sanoyama, who very recently wrapped up his career, still with his mage, setting out the merch like a shop assistant. One of the oyakata started the daily sales by passing out fliers to and loudly hawking tickets for Satoyama’s danpatsushiki to the assembled masses, much to the bemusement of the soon-to-be-shorn ex-sekitori.

The hot item at this booth was the limited edition Kisenosato collector’s photo and postcard set. I told Bruce during our Hatsu basho podcast that it felt like it wouldn’t be until Haru that his retirement would feel more real, because we wouldn’t see him around the place as much. Well, guess what? We now see him more than we have in years! In addition to the new merch items, the rest of the stalls still ran a robust trade in Kisenosato merchandise, a huge “Arigato Kisenosato” board was erected for fans to write their thank-yous and memories (a really nice touch), and the man himself has been all over the arena and TV as he comes to watch Takayasu every day. I wouldn’t be surprised if the robust merch offerings are on offer at the Natsu basho in Tokyo, as well as the “thank you” message board.

The NSK did a slight revamp of their “purikura” feature which allows fans to take photos in pre-selected frames and share to their social media profiles. However, this was broken for most of the day, so I wasn’t able to try it out. They really should bring back the old, proper purikura box they used to have.

Merch - Haru basho 2019
T-shirts (including Kisenosato’s) on sale at the arena, including the name of each rikishi’s stable

As for rikishi merchandise, local man Ikioi’s merch was very scarce compared to last year’s Osaka basho, and even Osaka superstar Ozeki Goiedo wasn’t as well represented as some of the hot young names of the moment. After the top ranks, the usual suspects – Abi, Asanoyama, Takakeisho, Hokutofuji – were very big sellers. There were a few more Tamawashi items than usual, owing to his recent yusho. The diversity of merchandise and gifts was quite good: the offerings easily rivalled that of Kokugikan in selection if not in volume. One item I had never seen before was shochu, the bottles of which were branded with the shikona of various Yokozuna and Ozeki.

Tachiai will be heading back to the EDION Arena for Day 11’s action – if you have information you’d like to know about the sumo experience – let us know in the comments! We’ll be happy to answer, or find out for ourselves and report back!

Haru Day 1 Recap

EDION Arena Interior - Makuuchi Match
The EDION Arena, Osaka

With Day 1 of the 2019 Haru honbasho in the books, the most unique tournament in sumo is officially underway. I have to say, I like the Haru basho the most of the non-Tokyo venues, and am looking forward to bringing everyone coverage of the tournament live from Osaka later this week.

What notable news do we have to report? Well, Terunofuji is IN, and Ura is OUT – and to those asking – unlikely to be seen before Aki at the earliest. At the top level, Chiyonokuni is the first makuuchi name to hit the kyujo list. As for Terunofuji, he fought – and won – in his long awaited return to the dohyo on Day 1, but it was clear that he’s not in anything resembling sumo form, never mind the Terunofuji we know from his heyday. It would be wise to maintain measured optimism for the rest of his tournament without looking too far down the line, on the basis of the early evidence. We’ll see our first glimpse of our favorite Texan sumotori, Wakaichiro, on Day 2, as he makes his return to Sandanme.

So, how did the top rankers get on? After we’ve seen several tournaments chock full of early shocks, did we have any today? You’ll just have to read on…

Day 1 Results

Chiyoshoma defeats Shimanoumi – Chiyoshoma just can’t henka soon enough. This bout was so anticlimactic, and not the way you want to open a basho. It was hard to learn much from that, apart from that Juryo visitor Shimanoumi will have to get streetwise to the henka if and when he does make it to the top division.

Yutakayama defeats Daishoho – Welcome to the top division Daishoho! Yutakayama starts with a nodowa and then blocks all of Daishoho’s attempts to get anything going, before finishing him off with a simple oshidashi. This is the sumo Yutakayama needs to show on a consistent basis.

Ishiura defeats Kotoeko – There are about four matches in this match. Ishiura predictably starts low and gets to the side, locking up Kotoeko’s arms. He drives him back several times before losing his grip, and it looks like Kotoeko may seize the advantage when Ishiura tries to pull. But, the little man reacts wildly with a number of (missed) roundhouses before dragging Kotoeko back across the dohyo, where Kotoeko gets twisted down very awkwardly on his knee and looks visibly pained. Good stuff from Ishiura, and the knee will be a worry for Kotoeko.

Toyonoshima defeats Terutsuyoshi –  The crowd is very appreciative of Toyonoshima’s win on his top division return. Hiro Morita actually predicted him as a yusho contender in the NHK Preview show, so if you thought Andy was wild with his Tamawashi yusho prediction last year, think again. Terutsuyoshi takes the initiative from the tachiai twice, driving the larger man back but can’t finish him off. The vet ultimately hits the pulldown. Again, if there’s a teachable moment to a newcomer, it’s that maybe Terutsuyoshi can be more streetwise at this level.

Tomokaze defeats Kagayaki – One thing that’s remarkable about Tomokaze is that physically he looks very much the part of a top division rikishi. If you were bracing for an oshi fight, he’s not going to oblige, and it’s clear from the off he’s not one of these pusher/thrusters that comes up to the top division with no plan B. This match is over in a second and it’s very good sumo from the new man. Kagayaki tried to get under his arms and lift him up from the tachiai, and as the tall man is bent over, Tomokaze simply pulls him down by the head in a very simple and decisive motion.

Yoshikaze defeats Meisei – Meisei goes with the silver mawashi/towel combination, which is a strong dedication to a colorless existence. He starts with all kinds of verve however and I even thought he might have even jumped the gun for a matta. Yoshikaze deals well however, and it’s a third consecutive pulling manoeuvre for a win. Meisei launches with all kinds of intention and flailing arms, but Yoshikaze won’t be moved. Eventually the veteran gets his arms on top, gets a hand on Meisei’s head and pulls for the white star.

Ryuden defeats Yago – Three Oguruma-beya rikishi take the dohyo in succession, but this time, the vaunted stable comes up empty. They say “start as you mean to go on” and so it’s no surprise that Ryuden, as usual, opens with a matta. This guy can’t get enough matta. Both men get a decent left hand grip, but Yago can’t really do anything with his, Ryuden is much more stable and pulls the throw, a shitatenage.

Ikioi defeats Shohozan – Ikioi’s ready for a new tournament with a whole suite of fresh looking bandages. He looks genki in front of his home crowd, and Shohozan is a great opponent for some heavy metal sumo. Shohozan pulls a hit and shift, but Ikioi isn’t buying any of it. It’s a brilliant move when it works against someone who lunges as much as Ikioi does, but if you don’t execute then you’re in trouble and Ikioi shoves the older rikishi out in one strong maneuver, and then picks up the spare by bowling him directly into the salt barrel in the process, with salt flying everywhere. There’s always something very fulfilling about seeing a rikishi flung straight into the salt barrel.

Kotoshogiku defeats Sadanoumi – Abema leads into this match with a very cheery Kotoshogiku interview. He utterly dominates Sadanoumi, even lifting him briefly off the ground at the tachiai. This is vintage Kotoshogiku. He immediately starts the hug and chug, and it’s over less than 4 seconds later.

Asanoyama defeats Takarafuji – This ends in a nice sukuinage from Asanoyama. As predicted, Takarafuji plays a mostly defensive game, as Asanoyama has to work to turn his initial tsuppari attack into a winning strategy. Eventually Asanoyama is able to lock both of Takarafuji’s arms. His winning move ultimately could be the “chug and hug.” After moving Takarafuji clear across the dohyo, and having both arms inside, he finally gets the leverage to toss him down.

Aoiyama defeats Abi – Again, as predicted, this ends up with a furious Abi flailing arms at the boobous Bulgarian, whose strategy is just to keep him at arm’s length. As they hurtle toward the edge, Aoiyama steps to the side and Abi goes flying into the shimpan in comedy fashion, limbs spread everywhere.

Onosho defeats Okinoumi – Onosho has a lovely bow in his hair for his Abema interview. He starts right on the shikiri-sen while Okinoumi is well back, most of the way to the tawara. The run up does not work in Okinoumi’s favor as Onosho takes control of this from the beginning, keeping Okinoumi high, starting low, driving the man from Shimane-ken back and out. No ring rust from Onosho here.

Ichinojo defeats Chiyotairyu – Ichinojo looks pretty genki here, though we did say that at the start of the last basho as well. Let’s see if he keeps it up 14 more days. Ichinojo takes the hit from Chiyotairyu, which moves him back briefly, but then lands a number of strong shoves which ultimately move Chiyotairyu off balance. He finishes the Kokonoe man with a tsukiotoshi.

Tochiozan defeats Shodai – In the lead up to this match, which happens just as NHK World went live, Abema shows more of the actual shiko while NHK decides to just show pictures of Takakeisho walking around and sitting down. Shodai spends most of the match in trouble and on the run after absorbing the tachiai, but he does show a lot of tenacity at least to stay in the match. This is kind of like watching your drunk friend on a mechanical bull – everyone knows they’re going to fall off but every second they stay on seems an order of magnitude more impressive. This all being said, Shodai doesn’t really get an opportunity to regroup and go on the offensive, and eventually Tochiozan wins with the katasukashi under shoulder swing down.

Tamawashi defeats Nishikigi – Tamawashi has abandoned his teal mawashi and that’s a real shame. I hate when rikishi have great success and then change up from a signature color. Teal was his signature look! The new mawashi is a very deep navy blue. This match requires a little more effort than Tamawashi maybe will have wanted. There’s a lot of hustle but not much bustle. One thing Nishikigi has been great at, especially in these last two basho in the joi, has been positioning himself as a less movable opponent. But it’s an oshi bout, and Nishikigi is not going to be able to go toe to toe with the reigning champion in that kind of fight. Eventually Tamawashi is able to pivot and march forward, shoving Nishikigi out.

Takakeisho defeats Myogiryu – The speed from Takakeisho in this bout is incredible and the crowd loves it. Myogiryu takes the tachiai head on and in this kind of form that’s going to be a mistake. This is overwhelming sumo from Takakeisho and what a response to the concept that his last match against Goeido cost him his promotion – this was everything that wasn’t. He wins by tsukidashi. Over in a second, straightforward, and as the NHK team agrees, he’s got (probably) nine more to go.

Tochinoshin defeats Daieisho – Tochinoshin has abandoned his purple mawashi and I’m here for it. He’s gone back to the filthy looking grey thing that he was so dominant in, winning yusho and throwing around lesser men like bags of rotten miso. In spite of this, Tochinoshin gets in all kinds of trouble from the start and pushed back from the tachiai, but at the tawara he manages to hit the pulldown. This was dangerous stuff from Tochinoshin, it was kind of a Aminishiki-esque pulldown at the edge, but you wouldn’t call it masterful. Perhaps the kindest thing you can say is it’s the kind of pulldown attempt that always seems to see Yokozuna Kakuryu lose, but the Ozeki managed to nail it. Ultimately, it was a match he needed to win and he did.

Goeido defeats Endo – Goeido gets a rapturous applause as he mounts the dohyo. The noise is everything I love about the Haru Basho and am looking very much forward to being in the arena later this week. We start with a matta from Endo. On the restart, Goeido responds straight away with a face slap. Don’t matta Goeido! Goeido attacks with the pace that he’s known for, and it’s him at his best. He’s got Endo facing the wrong way and Endo is driven back and shoved out in a flash. Goeido gets an enormous stack of kensho and we see him clapped by the fans in the hallway on his way out, another one of this unique basho’s hallmarks. I’d go home more often too if I had that to look forward to!

Takayasu defeats Kaisei – As Takayasu takes the dohyo, Araiso Oyakata looks on in his new blue jacket. Kaisei gets the better of the tachiai, but both men lock up and few men can move forward successfully out of an endurance battle like Takayasu. He’s got a better grip than Kaisei, who can’t manoeuvre his arm into a meaningful position. Takayasu moves forward and wins by yorikiri.

Mitakeumi defeats Kakuryu – It’s amazing to see Mitakeumi with no bandaging on his knee at all – he says he felt he just didn’t need any. I didn’t think Mitakeumi’s footwork looked all that good at the start of this match but certainly his knee didn’t seem hobbled. Kakuryu starts moving forward with a nodowa and Mitakeumi looks a little slippery, but he grows into the match. Mitakeumi finally gets planted and moving forward, and Kakuryu is in all kinds of trouble, eventually getting spun out backwards. You don’t see a Yokozuna lose by okuridashi that often. I still think the goal for Mitakeumi has to be 8 wins but let’s see if he can maintain this form at least through the next few days before revising that at all. In the interview room after the match, Mitakeumi attributes to the win to his ability to take advantage of Kakuryu’s moving backward. We’ve heard that before.

Hakuho defeats Hokutofuji – The musubi-no-ichiban is a bit of a non event, and Hakuho doesn’t get tested much here. This win is ruled a tsukiotoshi but this was less a win for Hakuho than a loss for Hokutofuji. Hokutofuji tried to get an angle around the outside to Hakuho’s left from the tachiai, but just slips and it’s over in a second. We won’t know more about the dai-yokozuna’s fitness and form until at least Day 2.

Haru Day 1 Preview

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Here we go, sumo fans! We’re less than 24 hours away from the start of the 2019 Haru basho. I’ll be joining the action live from Osaka later in the week, and in the meantime am here to help bring the coverage of Day 1’s action.

While this tournament marks the final basho of the Heisei Era, we enter Haru well into the current transitional period between the era of sumo that was and the era of sumo that will be. As friend of Tachiai John Gunning notes in a recent Japan Times feature, the current period of sumo may feature less notable rivalries than in the past, although that doesn’t necessarily mean any less intrigue.

Three of the last four and four of the last seven yusho champions have been first time winners. Will we see a return to the dominant Yokozuna performances of old, another step forward for one of the newly minted superstars, or yet another debut yusho?

What We’re Watching on Day 1

Chiyoshoma vs Shimanoumi – As lksumo noted in his preview post, here’s an opportunity for Juryo yusho champion Shimanoumi to eat the Kokonoe man’s lunch and prove he deserves to be in the top division. Shimanoumi is visiting from Juryo for the afternoon to make up the numbers, with Chiyonokuni predictably kyujo from Day 1. Sneaky trickster Chiyoshoma narrowly clings to the bottom of the Makuuchi banzuke for Haru, after a series of underwhelming tournaments. He has not been relegated since making his makuuchi debut, so it’s a big tournament for Chiyoshoma. This will be the first match between the two men.

Daishoho vs Yutakayama – The first of the three makuuchi debutants, Daishoho gets his first match against Yutakayama, who has struggled mightily from last September onward. Yutakayama won their only previous matchup, back in 2016. Yutakayama will want early wins to stop his backslide, but Daishoho may well see this as an early opportunity to get his first true top division win and an early visit to the interview room.

Ishiura vs Kotoeko – Ishiura makes his top division return against a rikishi from whom he leads the career series 3-1, having defeated Kotoeko thrice with a variety of tricks. Ishiura’s opening fixtures don’t seem to provide much in the way for henka opportunities (though he’s proven us wrong before), so hopefully we will see some good, low, body-to-body sumo from him early on in this basho. Kotoeko is searching for his first makuuchi kachi-koshi on his third attempt and while he has displayed flashes of good sumo, not much of anything to show us he’s going to be able to consolidate a place in the top division. This is another good early matchup for two guys to prove they belong.

Terutsuyoshi vs Toyonoshima – Terutsuyoshi gets his makuuchi stripes against a man making his 974th appearance in the top division. Toyonoshima, of course, has also just been promoted after a two and a half year absence from makuuchi, and he will be sure to receive an enormous reception from the crowd as usual. Both men – despite their wildly different body shapes – are very capable of mixing in a variety of styles so this should be an entertaining match. Toyonoshima has won both of their previous encounters, which took place in the previous two basho.

Tomokaze vs Kagayaki – We started following Tomokaze not long after his entrance to the sumo world, and his ascent to this point – his top division debut – has been startling. The Oguruma man has lost just 21 matches, suffering no make-koshi, on his journey all the way from jonokuchi to makuuchi. The pusher-thruster has been starting to develop other techniques in recent basho, and gets “Fundamentals” Kagayaki in his makuuchi debut. The 24 year old is on a 4 basho make-koshi streak that he will be looking to snap, but if Tomokaze can get the pushing attack working and keep Kagayaki’s somewhat awkward physique high, he’s got a good chance of winning this. Going out on a limb, I’d give Tomokaze the best chance of the three debutants to grab a special prize this basho.

Yoshikaze vs Meisei – A good chance to see what the berserker has left in the tank, against an up-and-coming Meisei who’s doing a good job of consolidating his top division position. Should be a mawashi match.

Ryuden vs Yago – According to Herouth, Yago’s motivated to speed ahead of stablemate Tomokaze en route to san’yaku. I have a feeling he might get passed. He’s going to be a makuuchi mainstay but has seemed to struggle for stamina at times. Ryuden seems to have less issues with longevity and more with technique. This match feels a little early in the schedule for me – if it were in week 2 you’d say it might have some say in determining who gets kachi-koshi. It’s their first ever meeting.

Shohozan vs Ikioi – It’s the 14th matchup between these veterans, with Ikioi leading 8-5. Ikioi may have taken the mantle from Yoshikaze of “most likely to bleed all over everything” in recent basho. Shohozan hasn’t displayed his all-action brutality in recent months but this is probably the one match on Day 1 most likely to resemble a street-fight (with Aoiyama-Abi perhaps second). This probably hinges on what condition Ikioi is in to start the basho but if he’s genki then I’d make him the slight favorite.

Sadanoumi vs Kotoshogiku – Not a whole lot remarkable here… Sadanoumi has done a good job maintaining his position since rejoining the top division, while in Kotoshogiku’s decline we’re just waiting for the long-teased Toyonoshima matchup. Kotoshogiku leads this one 4-1.

Asanoyama vs Takarafuji – Asanoyama leads the series 2-1 from the veteran Little Uncle Sumo. This should be another good mawashi battle, and could (hopefully) be a prolonged match as I feel both men have tended to show more defensive tendencies recently.

Aoiyama vs Abi – Body parts will fly. If Abi has added any yotsu to his game, we’re not likely to see it here, as Aoiyama’s piston powered oshi-action will be in force to keep the tall Shikoroyama man away from his mawashi or any other grabbable body parts. This seems likely to end with Abi dancing around the edge before Aoiyama either slips and falls or Abi goes flying into the shimpan.

Okinoumi vs Onosho – Onosho, who has been wildly inconsistent since returning from injury, somehow leads this matchup against the wily vet 4-1. This will be a contrast of styles. On form, Onosho would be the easy favorite again but he needs to start displaying the consistency that has eluded him in recent basho if he is to rekindle the rivalry with the likes of Takakeisho that will excite sumo fans. This is a good opportunity to put down a marker.

Chiyotairyu vs Ichinojo – A new element could be discovered from the force created at this tachiai, assuming Ichinojo doesn’t just stand up and take the hit. The Mongolian ice-cream enthusiast leads the series 5-3 from Tokyo native Chiyotairyu, and needs a good start if he’s going to reclaim his position in san’yaku any time soon.

Tochiozan vs Shodai – Another lopsided score, with Shodai having won five from six against Tochiozan previously. It’s probably a cliche but this comes down to the tachiai and whether Tochiozan gets a winning position straight away, or whether Shodai recovers from his standing position to defuse the veteran. It seems like this would be a more even matchup as Shodai has faded a bit from his early, more hyped days and I’d pick Tochiozan for the “upset” this time.

Nishikigi vs Tamawashi – If Nishikigi, whose very position on the banzuke has been a shock, is to spring yet another surprise, there’s no better chance to start than against the reigning yusho champion on Day 1. Tamawashi has won all 4 previous matches and will be the extreme favorite, but we’ll see early whether he can put the wins he needs to put on the board before having to defend his title against the likes of Hakuho and Takakeisho. Nishikigi tends to want the mawashi which is not Tamawashi’s game, so I’m looking for this to be a quick one in favor of the veteran Sekiwake, should the Isenoumi man miss a chance to land a grip.

Takakeisho vs Myogiryu – This is exactly the kind of early match against an overperforming veteran (albeit one much beloved and with a surprisingly large fanbase) that Takakeisho needs to win in order to assert his claim for a successful Ozeki push. Myogiryu is a seasoned rikishi who is comfortable fighting in a variety of styles, but has lost to Takakeisho on all 5 previous occasions. Myogiryu is a fairly high intensity rikishi so it should also give us a good sense of Takakeisho’s fitness after his foot injury at the end of the previous basho.

Tochinoshin vs Daieisho – On paper this is a mismatch, with Tochinoshin up against a smaller pusher-thruster fighting at his highest ever rank. Tochinoshin leads the lifetime matchup 4-1, and Daieisho seems to get thrashed every time he enters the joi, but Tochinoshin has been susceptible to pusher-thrusters in recent months as he has battled for fitness and often been unable to land or use his signature left hand grip. The kadoban Ozeki can’t afford to lose this though, and if he did it would be a major shock.

Endo vs Goeido – This is the tenth matchup between these two, and a match that should get the crowd into a frenzy as national icon, ladies’ favorite and brand partnerships darling Endo takes on Osaka native Goeido. The Ozeki leads this well-matched series 5-4. With questions over Yokozuna fitness, Tochinoshin being kadoban, the two Sekiwake overcoming different ring-rust issues and Mitakeumi also coming back from injury, Goeido may have a wide open shot here. Endo won’t be an easy customer but if Goeido wins here it could give him the confidence to go on.

Takayasu vs Kaisei – If you’re Kaisei, this match is probably a “free hit” in that at M1, these aren’t necessarily the matches you need to win to hold your position or even move up into san’yaku. Takayasu, like Goeido, is probably the other rikishi you could make a clear tournament “favorite,” although it’s yet to be seen what his renewed practise with the former Kisenosato will have done to tune him up. What is for certain is that the huge Kaisei isn’t likely to be moved by Takayasu’s signature shoulder blast, so this could be an early endurance test for the Ozeki. Look for a good facial expression from Kaisei in the wake of this one, win or lose.

Mitakeumi vs Kakuryu – Question marks abound in this battle between two historically evenly matched stars (the Yokozuna leads 5-4). Mitakeumi is in extremely questionable condition, while Kakuryu needs a strong basho to fend off questions about his ongoing position after recent withdrawals. Mitakeumi almost never fails to spring a surprise, but I’m backing the Yokozuna to get an important opening win here.

Hakuho vs Hokutofuji – Look, Hakuho in the musubi-no-ichiban is what just feels right. Hokutofuji makes his san’yaku debut in the most horrible way, against the record yusho winner, and will be determined to spring a shock (he’s beaten Hakuho once in four prior matchups). Realistically, we need to see 15 days of the best fitness possible from Hakuho, but 80% Hakuho is still better than almost everyone’s 100%, so it’s impossible to say he won’t be a challenger – he is still the heavy favorite here. His recent success has come when successfully deploying a game plan set to defuse the strengths of his opponent, so it will be curious to see what he has prepared to take on the Shin-komusubi.

Heya Power Rankings: Hatsu-Haru 19

Tamawashi Yusho Parade
Riding on the back of glory

Hello and welcome to the latest edition of the Tachiai Heya Power Rankings! The exciting news is that we’re rethinking the way that we do this ranking system. Andy has really pushed things forward in terms of data vizualisation on the site in recent weeks and we are thinking about how we can apply those features to give more detailed information not only about stables but about their performance.

Since we started the ranking system, we’ve been looking primarily at – and scoring – the stables based on performance by sekitori (those rikishi competing in the top two, salaried, ranks). But I think perhaps there are ways we can expand this, especially if we’re using bigger data sets. What do you think, Tachiai readers of this feature? Should we expand beyond the top two divisions? We’ve done this feature for two years now, so it’s right that we should continually try to make it better.

That’s a whole lot of talking without a whole lot of chart action. Here’s the chart following Hatsu 2019 and going into the Haru basho:

Heya Power Rankings - Post-Hatsu 2019

This is the first chart that doesn’t reference Takanohana-beya in any capacity since we started. Here’s the breakdown in the ever popular Billboard-style Top 20 format:

  1. (+17) Kataonami. 95 points (+80)
  2. (+-) Tagonoura. 70 points (-25)
  3. (-2) Chiganoura. 63 points (-45)
  4. (+-) Sakaigawa. 60 points (+7)
  5. (+1) Miyagino. 49 points (+10)
  6. (-1) Oitekaze. 46 points (+3)
  7. (-4) Kasugano. 45 points (-15)
  8. (+-) Izutsu. 35 points (+5)
  9. (+-) Kokonoe. 31 points (+4)
  10. (**) Kise. 28 points (+17)
  11. (-4) Oguruma. 25 points (-10)
  12. (+2) Dewanoumi. 25 points (+5)
  13. (+3) Hakkaku. 25 points (+5)
  14. (-4) Tokitsukaze. 20 points (-7)
  15. (-3) Isenoumi. 20 points (-3)
  16. (+3) Isegahama. 20 points (+5)
  17. (-6) Takadagawa. 18 points (-5)
  18. (+2) Tomozuna. 18 points (+5)
  19. (-6) Sadogatake. 15 points (-8)
  20. (-3) Onomatsu. 13 points (-7)

(legend: ** = new entry, +- = no movement, tiebreaker 1: higher position in the previous chart, tiebreaker 2: highest ranked rikishi on the banzuke)

Analysis

The one-sekitori stables are subject to more profound swings owing to the consistency of their single salaried rikishi. Before the promotion of the Onami brothers, Arashio-beya was a stable that would bounce all over the rankings owing to Sokokurai’s wildly variant top division performances. Kataonami, meanwhile, has always been a typically consistent stable as Tamawashi has put up consistently good-not-great records around the lower-san’yaku and topmost Maegashira ranks. That obviously all changed with his first yusho, which ultimately vaults the stable for the first time to the top of our charts. It’s an almost completely dormant stable but for the culinarily-talented Mongolian pusher-thruster, strangely having produced about as many oyakata as active rikishi.

Chiganoura-beya is relieved of top spot, but holds 3rd position on the back of Takakeisho‘s jun-yusho, as well as the number of rikishi still with the stable following the zero-scoring retirement of Takanoiwa. Takanofuji‘s promotion to Juryo next time out will make up the numbers, and should Takakeisho complete his Ozeki push, the stable will remain a dominant force among our rankings (as currently composed).

One Ozeki-led stable which may be set for a tumble from its usual place around the summit will be Tagonoura-beya. Our model gives credit for banzuke placement and only gives partial docked points for going kyujo mid-tourney, so Kisenosato‘s retirement will be reflected in the next version of the rankings when the stable is no longer fielding a Yokozuna. That said, Takayasu has done his level-best to consistently grab Kisenosato’s old jun-yusho “bridesmaid” mantle. With little hope of sekitori reinforcements at the stable in the near term, Tagonoura likely becomes a Top 5 or 7 rather than Top 3 heya by our figures from here on out.

Let’s have a shout for Kise-beya, which, owing to Shimanoumi‘s Juryo yusho finds itself back up in mid-table. It’s long been a perplexing stable, as they’ve fielded by the largest number of sekitori in the history of this rankings rundown (ten), yet never seem to have any rikishi capable of mounting a prolonged run in the points-grabbing realms of makuuchi, especially since the downfall of Ura. Still, the stable – as ever – has a number of rikishi not only in Juryo (including the bizarrely resurgent Gagamaru) but also in the makushita joi. While Shimanoumi will be the best placed of the six Kise-sekitori to make the move to Makuuchi owing to his position at J1, the stable has no fewer than sixteen makushita rikishi this time out (including the Sandanme-bound Ura), including six ranked Ms10 or higher. All rikishi obviously come with different ability levels and pedigrees, but if the stable can’t see their Juryo rikishi up into Makuuchi and their Makushita class further up the promotion chain this year, it would be awfully perplexing.

Will brighter days be ahead for Isegahama-beya, which now starts to move back up the listings in a meaningful way? It’s tough to say. Old man Aminishiki has taken a nasty fall down the banzuke and it’s yet to be seen whether he can – against all odds again – get up. At Juryo 11 it would be easy to predict that like many before him, a significant make-koshi would send him into the barber’s chair. However, Terutsuyoshi will look to consolidate a place in Makuuchi this basho, and with Takarafuji having grabbed his first kachi-koshi in yonks, and reinforcements on the way from Makushita soon, the stable may yet return to its powerhouse days as a top 10 (or better) heya by our reckoning soon.

One thing that made this rundown a bit more unique is that usually we see quite a bit of turnover, especially between places 7-20, but this time out, the chart stayed – with the notable exception of Tamawashi’s Kataonami-beya – remarkably stable. This echoed my initial gut feeling that there weren’t too many shocks in the new banzuke. As for the next rundown, should Juryo newcomer Kiribayama stay on the dohyo for 15 days, then Michinoku-beya will score their first ever points in our tally. But, as stated above, we’ll be having a look at how to revamp and improve the rankings after the Haru basho.