The Makushita Intrigue

It now feels like it’s been many months since we’ve lamented the reduction of top division quality, as many beloved veterans have shorn the mage in favour of a more gentle future. Many of the names that have taken their place in makuuchi have failed to inspire, leading sumo fans to ask the question: where are the next generation of stars?

I don’t know that we can truthfully answer that, but going even beyond the makushita joi, there are some very intriguing names within the third division’s automatic promotion zone (the top 15 ranks can go up automatically with a 7-0 yusho). Now let’s be clear: I’m not saying most of these guys have it in them to zensho at this level, but what I am saying is that there are a whole host of very young rikishi and a few other intriguing names to watch out for when we look at Juryo promotions in the upcoming several basho. There just happens to be a very intriguing crop this time. I’m not going to go through all 30 of them (please see the comments section if you’d like to call me out on this), but here are the names I think are worth watching over the next few basho:

Up and Comers

Ms15E Tomokaze – The piano-playing erstwhile Yokozuna-slayer has continued his gradual comeback from injury and plays out his last basho under the Oguruma-beya name in this tournament, after which the Takekaze and Yoshikaze factions will split and it seems likely he’ll eventually end up in the latter’s Nakamura-beya. He has been fallible at times during his comeback and his ETA to Juryo is probably May or July, but it seems likely that at 27, he should still see out his remaining peak years in makuuchi, whatever his ultimate level. And don’t @ me – he still very much counts as an “up and comer,” even if he’s at the very upper limit of that category.

Ms12W Hokuseiho – Sumo fans were largely deprived of seeing Hakuho’s enormous prodigy in his sektori debut, as he was held out for Covid-19 reasons, then in his second basho was promptly dumped out in his first match before going kyujo. He’s one of a small list of names who, fitness permitting, could theoretically go 7-0 from this position against a slightly easier schedule (he’s done it from higher up the banzuke already once), although I’d posit his somewhat clumsy technique might make him a better shout for a return to Juryo in May, and a potential Makuuchi debut by November under the total supervision of what will be the new shisho at Miyagino-or-Magaki-beya.

Ms12E Oshoma – The Mongolian amateur champion served up a mixed bag in his makushita tsukedashi debut and the next couple tournaments from him will be intriguing to watch, as Naruto-oyakata hasn’t yet found the formulae to graduate any of the broad number of mid-20s prospects (Oshoma is 24 in his second basho) into the junior sekitori division. One suspects it will only be a matter of time, but while there’s a number of intriguing names, who ultimately rules the roost as heyagashira at this fledgling but interesting stable seems anyone’s guess.

Ms11W Oshoryu – Oshoma’s stablemate blazed through his first few tournaments but has very much hit the wall as he hasn’t been able to find the technique required to make the jump to sekitori level. He turns 26 after Haru and one suspects this may be a make or break year if he’s ultimately someone with a hope of ultimately impacting the top division.

Ms10E Tsukahara – It seems like the Kasugano man has been around absolutely ages, but he’s only recently turned 22 and is already a 2+ year veteran of the makushita joi. Having entered the sumo world at 18 and made short work of the bottom three divisions, he’s a case which makes you question what all of those coaches at Kasugano beya are able to do to mobilise their young talent. The critical issue for Tsukahara is that while he’s been able to put up wins, he hasn’t always been able to do it against the other top talent of his age group. But others have been able to build on their makushita experience at a young age to put together lengthy top division careers, so time is on his side.

Ms9W Kanno – Tsukahara’s physically imposing stablemate has passed him on the banzuke, and while his advancement stalled a bit after Kyushu’s 4-3, he seems certain to make his sekitori bow before long. This basho should tell us a bit more about how long his progression should take now that up against more serious opposition.

Ms9E Mineyaiba – A tall, lanky but physical presence from Terao’s place? Say it ain’t so. Mineyaiba, who’s fought most of his career under his family name Ito, made a quick rise to the top of makushita over 2020, and was one of the rare cases of a rikishi in the top half of the division still in zanbara. In any case, While Shikoroyama-beya has had trouble in recent years establishing anyone not named Abi in the top division, with Oki and Irodori having disastrous promotions to Juryo and veteran Seiro retiring, Mineyaiba (who’s now been joined in the heya by his younger brother) has always seemed the pick of the stable’s prospects after Saitama’s famous kyabakura-bothering jokester.

Ms8W Fukai – It’s hard to gather the headlines at Takasago-beya. Whether it’s the indiscipline of the former oyakata or presumed-Yokozuna-in-waiting heyagashira, the promotion exploits of Asanowaka and his missing rabbit ashes, the abortive attempts at sekitori success from the awkwardly renamed Asagyokusei, or the still beavering away veteran Asabenkei, there’s always someone making news among the top two divisions. Successful collegiate rikishi Fukai entered as a sandanme tsukedashi less than 2 years ago and has collected a couple zensho already in the sport’s middle tiers, and while he has stormed twice to the division’s upper reaches, he actually has a losing record (15-20, 4 makekoshi from 5 basho) while ranked in the top half of makushita. This has seen his star dim somewhat, in spite of Aki’s storming surprise zensho which saw him top new sekitori Kitanowaka in the winner takes all finale. The ability to make the next step is there and at 24 he is entering his prime years, but to claim his “morning” shikona from the nascent stablemaster, he’s going to need to play more than just the spoiler.

Ms7E Roga – The 22 year old Mongolian seemed destined for instant success and was tipped by many – even NHK’s Murray Johnson in an interview on these pages – for makuuchi stardom. Yet, he’s registered a shocking four makekoshi in six trips to the division’s top 10 ranks, and while his reading of matches seems to be sekitori-ready, he simply lacks the ability to dispatch opponents in short order. He was unbeaten through week 1 last time out, and a similar hot start here might finally start the promotion train. He’s too talented not to be in Juryo by the second half of this year and makuuchi by the second half of next year, but it’s clear he might not be the fast mover we originally expected.

Ms6E Dewanoryu – Dewanoumi beya’s 20 year old unit has appeared at times inconsistent, but I don’t think it’s anything to be concerned about as he feels his way through the sport from a very young age, finding himself on the verge of reaching a promotable position. He’s another one we’ll learn much from in this basho, because while we already know a bit about his technique and ability, we just haven’t seen him in a whole lot of matches against meaningful names yet.

Ms1W Atamifuji – Age is most certainly an indicator of future success, particularly the age at which one makes it to the top division, as analyses have indicated elsewhere (dive into the recesses of places like Sumo Forum for more on this). Master recruiter and developer Isegahama’s next student to impact the salaried ranks will be Atamifuji, and this absolute beast should have a much higher ceiling than recent graduates Nishikifuji, Midorifuji or Terutsuyoshi based on his career performance to date.

He won’t even turn 20 until this year’s Aki basho, by which point he could well be cemented in the top division. With a 36-6 career record to date, the stat that stands out the most is that his third most common kimarite is yoritaoshi, a move which signals only dominant performance. Very rarely does one accidentally secure such a manoeuvre and it is representative of how he has steamrolled through the lower tiers. I’ve actually found watching his losses to be more instructive and he does seem to look an awful lot like Mitakeumi at times to these eyes, the way that he’s able to often box out his opponents, but can be exposed by up-and-under grapplers in the style of a Takanosho or Meisei. Still, small sample size caveats apply here, as we simply don’t have much to analyse.

Still, anything less than promotion in this basho would register as a real surprise and we should be looking for him to be #2 in the stable behind the Yokozuna by the start of 2023 as Takarafuji declines.

The Veteran Spoilers of Intrigue

Ms15W Kitaharima – The lightweight yoyo man has been immediately relegated on his last three appearances in the second division over 5 years, and automatically you should be thinking his appearance here discredits everything I’ve said above about stodgy no-hoper vets getting in the way of talented youngsters who may or may not exist. But the limber Yamahibiki dude is 4 sekitori basho short of the requirement for retiring as an elder into the sumo association and if it’s going to happen, one must think it will happen this year: he turns 36 in July. Obviously he won’t be bothering the top division, but sumo has form for late career renaissances from rikishi trying to eke out a future in the sport, and with promotion places at a premium, that could turn up the pressure on his younger opponents in the coming months.

Ms5W Kyokutaisei, Ms3W Jokoryu & Ms1E Kyokushuho – These veterans maybe more than any ranked around them have the ability to disrupt the progress of the young guns, but have been disrupted recently by chronic injury (Kyokutaisei), consistently poor form (Kyokushuho) and age (Jokoryu). All of them qualify for elder status in the Sumo Association by virtue of their career achievements, but it’s unclear whether they have the intention (Kyokutaisei, Jokoryu) or citizenship requirements (Kyokushuho) to do so, and they may need to battle it out a bit longer until their futures become clear… two of them in a stable where Asahisho has already taken a myoseki on loan and another will likely be needed soon for Kaisei.

Ms5E Ryuden – No longer sumo’s most recent bad boy, the former heyagashira of Takadagawa beya has followed in the footsteps of Abi by running roughshod over the third division in his comeback to the dohyo. This basho might be a tougher ask but he should be in position to deny a talented youngster a spot in the salaried ranks.

Others

For sure there are other intriguing names in the makushita-joi and environs, names who should be expected to make their Juryo debuts over the next year (Tochimaru, Kotodaigo, etc), but I don’t rate any of them as having a makuuchi ceiling – at least not one more meaningful than the names mentioned here.

The Makuuchi Premier League

Brighton loses another. Photo by Nicola, crude photoshop work by the author.

In the holiday lull and with no sumo, let’s have some fun.

It’s always fun to compare sumo to other sports. Giant of sumo punditry John Gunning regularly invokes references to the only NFL team worth a damn in his Japan Times columns (as well as numerous other sporting easter eggs), and sumo comparisons to other sports are doubly fun given that much of the world struggles to recognise rikishi as proper athletes until they are giving of their time to actually watch the sport.

By most measures, the goliath of the sports industry is the Premier League, watched in every corner of the planet, consistently breaking revenue records and whose clubs are the not just the cornerstone of their communities but also often the object of sugar daddy billionaires or countries looking to sportswash their reputation. But like many rikishi, while some of them have similar styles they often have their own unique tactics, approaches to the game, or places within the sport’s cultural framework.

If you are a football fan you will disagree with some of my choices (this is what the comments section is for). If you are a sumo fan who doesn’t care about other sports you will say “I don’t care about this content, tell me more about sumo.” That’s ok too. But I don’t have any more news for you, it’s December. So – and with apologies to the highest placed omission Meisei –  let’s have a go at determining who’s who:

Terunofuji – Manchester City

In terms of pure ability, Terunofuji is the class of makuuchi. Now that he has got to grips with his body, he has a fairly defined style of sumo which is very pleasing on the eye, and is often able to simply overpower his opponents. Like the Citizens, Terunofuji had to wait for the decline of other historic champions to begin his championship run, but is rapidly growing his trophy cabinet.

Mitakeumi  – Chelsea

Hailing from one of the most prestigious stables, the Dewanoumi man has every tool in his locker for success, and with multiple yusho and all manner of special prizes has certainly grown his trophy cabinet. But like the billionaire-owned sack-happy London club, he is prone to moments of self-destruction and turbulence often snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Chelsea have achieved great success in the last two decades but like Mitakeumi, who would be an Ozeki or better but for some consistency, you get the feeling the legacy could be greater.

Takakeisho – Liverpool

It’s a weird one for me as a Liverpool supporter myself to write this, as I don’t really have any kind of emotional attachment to Takakeisho or his sumo. But the full-throttle nature of his sumo is very much in tune with Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool. Much like Liverpool has emerged from the shadow of past legacies, Takakeisho was trained initially by a dai-yokozuna from whose shadow he emerged following Takanohana-beya’s closure. Like the Liverpool of recent years, his relentless attacking style was prone to counter-attacks and his ability to rack up wins in his peak has been disrupted by injury. But as he has matured, controlling the chaos has made him a much more potent force, resulting in multiple championships and coasting to huge numbers of wins when he’s on it.

Takayasu – Manchester United

You might think this is a bit of a weird one given that Man Utd have won 20 league championships and Takayasu has won nothing, but hear me out. This is about the league of today, and Takayasu has possibly the best raw ability of any rikishi in the top division not named Terunofuji. But like the star studded Red Devils, it’s a lack of organisation, fitness, potentially mental issues, and an inability to escape the shadow of a (generational, if not all-time) great that has left Takayasu on the outside of an era where he should very much be in play for major honours when you look at what he brings to the table relative to his competition.

Ichinojo – Everton

“The People’s Club.” Ichinojo is a fascinating figure in sumo. But also, he’s just kind of, you know, there. Not unlike Everton, disliked by very few, ever present in the Premier League since its inception but never really in danger of challenging at the top or bottom end of the table. Like Everton, the competent Ichinojo will have his basho where he’ll elevate himself into the top 6 positions of the banzuke, or very bad tournaments where he performs clearly below his level. And like the Toffees, it’s hard to escape that with the tools at his disposal he could be capable of greater success.

Asanoyama – Tottenham Hotspur 

Again, perhaps this feels a bit odd considering Asanoyama has actually won a yusho and Spurs very famously never win anything, but here’s another club which presses the self-destruct button when it seems easier to win. Perhaps Asanoyama actually should be thankful he hadn’t become the 73rd Yokozuna when his scandal broke, otherwise he certainly wouldn’t be in the sport now. Spurs possess perhaps the sport’s best all-around striker, and you’ll do better to find a better yotsu-zumo technician in the top division (probably just Terunofuji). On his day, he can beat anyone. Like Spurs, he has made some seriously questionable off-dohyo decisions in recent years which have set back his progress on it.

Wakatakakage – Wolverhampton Wanderers

Wolves are a bit of an odd club. Located in the West Midlands but very much with a Portuguese backbone and Chinese ownership, they’ve exhibited slow and steady progress over the past few years to leave themselves just on the fringes outside the truly top teams. Wakatakakage similarly has moved gradually and deliberately up the banzuke, occasionally running into a tough tournament but impressively bouncing back and staying true to his style of sumo, working under the tutelage of sumo’s only Chinese oyakata.

Shodai – Arsenal

A proud old club and a proud 30-year old rikishi, a little bit set in their way of doing things despite furious critical analysis from the outside world, with a passionate fanbase and no few accolades. Arsenal’s ownership situation has been scrutinised endlessly, not unlike that of the legendary Tokitsukaze-beya. He’s a powerful rikishi, one that if he can recapture title winning form would be a force to be reckoned with. But, as with the recent basho where he wasn’t even paired up with the Yokozuna, like Arsenal he has a lot of work to do to show he belongs at the top table again. And like Arsenal, he has inbuilt advantages as an Ozeki that should keep him elevated among the division’s elite for a long time.

Takanosho – West Ham United

Takanosho has much in common with David Moyes’ impressively developing side. They’ll get pumped every now and again, but as with Takanosho, they have shown the ability to upset opponents of much higher pedigree, even if you wish the overall product were a little more attractive. One to watch over the next couple of years. Can he do more?

Daieisho – Leicester City

A high tempo rikishi with one surprise championship, Daieisho seems like a good fit for the Foxes. And like them, everyone expected him to push on and really challenge for further honours after the surprise yusho, but results have been a little more hit and miss with the Oitekaze beya man bobbing in and out of san’yaku at a time when Leicester are struggling to impose themselves among the historical big clubs.

Kotonowaka – Newcastle United

A big shout, this. Newcastle are now the richest club in the premier league, as Sadogatake are one of sumo’s deepest and most storied stables. Both arguably had some of their best years of recent decades in the late 90s to early 00s, but the past decade has been a bit barren in terms of talent. Both have had serious questions raised over off-field issues (although granted, there’s no obviously comparing the Kotokantetsu situation or past scandals to Khashoggi!). And putting aside the stable’s reputation in latter years as tsukebito farm, it’s hard to get away from the fact that the perennially relegation-endangered club has much in common with Kotonowaka, a rikishi of enormous talent, bloodline and promise who upon establishing himself in the top division has found himself far too often at the wrong end of the table. All of the tools and infrastructure for his success are there, and like Newcastle, we could see a rapid rise in the coming years.

Endo – Brighton & Hove Albion

Pretty straightforward comparison this – both practise lovely versions of their sport that draw wide praise from the purists, and both are hugely profligate when it comes to putting matches away. As a result, both regularly turn in worse winning records than they can otherwise be expected to do, in spite of admiration from most neutrals.

Ura – Brentford

It feels like Ura’s been around for ages but the recent basho was only his 8th in the top division, which makes him a good fit for these unique newcomers. Like Ura, they are run pretty differently to many top flight clubs off the pitch and tend to conjure up some pretty wacky action on it. And also like Ura, when the new banzuke comes out this week, Brentford have tended to find themselves further up the table this season than fans might be accustomed to seeing a club of their stature.

Kiribayama – Aston Villa

I went back and forth for this one with Hoshoryu, but I find Kiribayama a better fit for the famous old club. Like Villa, who have recently installed a Premier League legend as their manager, Kiribayama has been operating under the personal tutelage of the Yokozuna Kakuryu (a less storied but more direct influence as a coach than his aforementioned compatriot), and appears to have the promise and infrastructure for a measured rise up the banzuke once that coaching is properly instilled and more bite is added to his already considerable technique.

Hoshoryu – Leeds United

This was not easy. I waffled on Hoshoryu for Villa (for the above reasons), for Newcastle (a newly combative attitude towards the rest of the league), and even Watford (general overall contradictions), but Leeds seemed to be the best fit. It’s a club with enormous potential that just hasn’t quite seemed to put it all together since their return to the top division, and I think it’s a good analogy for Hoshoryu’s sumo. Many fans were expecting him to storm the sanyaku ranks given the drop-off in top division quality in recent years. Like Leeds in recent years, Hoshoryu’s ascendance has come under the guidance of a mercurial guru (albeit unofficially in his case), with scrutiny far outpacing his position in the division. And like Leeds, whether you like Hoshoryu or not, sumo would be better for his success.

Abi – Burnley

Pretty straightforward here, although there’s an argument to be made for Takarafuji when discussing a team commonly known for “parking the bus.” It’s not totally accurate, but the overwhelming reputation of Burnley is of a team with solidly one way to play, a “route one” forward and backward style, very physical, and a club that seems like it might have a higher ceiling if only it had the nous to just add one or two more abilities. Does this sound like any rikishi we know?

Chiyomaru – Norwich City

Often seen with accented by the colour green, regularly yo-yos up and down between the first and second division, and is famously well fed (Norwich by way of celebrity chef owner, Chiyomaru by way of… most things).

Hokutofuji – Crystal Palace

You might think you know what Hokutofuji is, but as Bruce has detailed, he has been subtly and impressively evolving his style and tactics over the last couple of years to become a much more well rounded rikishi, under the tutelage of one of the sport’s icons. Not unlike a team from south London, who have followed a similar path in 2021, even if the early results are a bit up and down.

Aoiyama – Watford

Are they a well run club or is it just their constant sense of chaos that makes Watford a top division club? In any case, just like the Bulgarian, they don’t seem to do things quite like anyone else, they don’t look quite like anyone else, and their team is often populated by signings that seem to come from far flung places. And like Aoiyama, Watford are not always great to watch, win, lose, or draw.

Kagayaki – Southampton

A rikishi of solid fundamentals and immense promise, who’s been in the top division for a long time, and who seems to somehow rescue himself most times when careering towards the top division trap door… Kagayaki has quite a bit in common with the Saints. He’s still young and well regarded, but without all of the requisite pieces to really put it all together. Will it take a reset in the second division to come good? I have a feeling both Kagayaki and Southampton would rather not find out, but the former’s fate will be aired soon enough…

Things We Learned That Don’t Really Mean Much

Veterans at the ready. Photo credit @nicolaah

In some ways, Wacky Aki lived up to its name. Not because it was a see-saw title race until the end or because there was some kind of crazy left-field title challenger. Indeed, all of the “dark horses” were more or less known entities, or people that could have been expected to run up a double digit score from their respective ranks.

Maybe you’ll say Myogiryu or Onosho aren’t expected to contend, but they’re not Kotoeko or Tsurugisho, or, dare I say it, Tokushoryu. None of the contenders were strangers to the musubi-no-ichiban. There were a few other talking points from the basho though that might fly under the radar, so I’ve assembled some of them here:

Shodai’s kachikoshi

This may not seem like much, but while the Ozeki was maddeningly inconsistent and underwhelming, this kachikoshi means that Shodai will officially have a longer tenure as Ozeki than either recent Ozeki Tochinoshin or Asanoyama.

Tochinoshin is of course in the decline phase of his career and won’t be returning to the rank, and Asanoyama can make it back to Ozeki in 2024 at the earliest following his suspension and fall down the banzuke. While Terunofuji has taught us not to rule anything out, that ain’t likely (even if it does happen, it will likely take more time).

So, Shodai will soldier on. Among other “recent” (last 25 years or so) Ozeki, he can topple Miyabiyama with another kachikoshi in the next tournament, and if he can hang around for another year at the level he can attempt to surpass the likes of Takayasu and Baruto. This is where it’s worth reminding you: we’re talking about Shodai here. He’s always had the talent, but his top division career – including his Ozeki stint – (apart from that magical 12 month run from November 2019 to November 2020, before which he was a .500 rank and filer) could be best described as mediocre.

Takasago beya

Feast or famine for the beleaguered heya. With the former stable master now gone and Asanoyama in the midst of a suspension that eventually will punt the former Ozeki down to Sandanme, there was yet more bad news in the form of shin-Juryo Asashiyu (moto-Murata)’s debut which went all wrong in the form of a 1-14 record. At least it wasn’t as bad as Shikoroyama’s Oki, in his recent Juryo bow. But it continues a worrying trend for in this particular stable, after Asagyokusei similarly not being able to manage a kachi-koshi in the penultimate division in three attempts, and veteran Asabenkei’s last four attempts at the division all ending in double digit losses. At least if you’re a tsukebito, your servitude may not last particularly long.

We shouldn’t feel too bad though. Asashiyu-Murata’s debut itself was something of a feat. Having reached the edge of heaven at Makushita 1, injuries knocked him all the way back down to Jonokuchi where he was forced to restart his career. Now 27, he’ll need to regroup if he’s going to shift through the gears once more, but you suspect having a top heyagashira with something to actually fight for (as opposed to a suspended heyagashira still miles away from his return) might be helpful for the whole stable.

The stable might have a new heyagashira before long though, and it could be one of Asanoyama’s old tsukebito. The rikishi formerly known as Terasawa will make his sekitori debut in the next basho, and as Takasago beya normally gives its rikishi their morning shikona following Juryo promotion, I’m disappointed he hasn’t got Asanousagi. Having instead curiously taken the name Asanowaka, Terasawa was one of two success stories for Takasago in makushita last tournament. You might remember him as the guy who had his practise mawashi stolen with the remains of his dead rabbit inside.

Finally, that second success story would have been the makushita yusho of Fukai, the former Sandanme Tsukedashi debutant who’s made solid if unsteady progress over the past year and a half. Fukai’s yusho sensationally denied the much vaunted Kitanowaka of an automatic promotion (and it was a nice looking win at that, with one of those very satisfying endings that see everyone crash down the side of the dohyo), and the two will hopefully duke it out again next basho from the makushita joi, where they will both be ranked, presumably with promotion on the line.

Oldies Keep Swinging

While recent generations had their one-offs who performed well into their late 30’s (Terao, Kaio, Kyokutenho), one could be forgiven for thinking that the time would come when the current crop of vets would start to get pumped.

Eight participants in the top division are aged 34 or over (including last week’s birthday man Tochinoshin – happy birthday!). Those eight rikishi combined for a record of 59-61.

For sure, this number is propped up by Myogiryu’s championship challenge, but the only really poor result was Tokushoryu’s 4-11 which isn’t all that unexpected from anyone who’s spent part of the year in Juryo.

That almost-.500 record for the vets is reflective of the current mediocre top division quality and it means their decline – which is certainly evident relative to their younger selves in terms of the eye test – has more of a flatline.

As Andy teases a new “birthday” feature for the site, it will be curious to watch the average age of the top division continue to get ever older. You’d think that subtracting a 36 year old retiring yokozuna might help this, but while Hakuho will remain on the November banzuke if not the dohyo, the top division will likely be joined by a trio of 30+ veterans in Akua (30), Sadanoumi (34), Shohozan (37!!), and the 27 year old Abi.

The youth movement that had threatened to wash away the detritus has so far failed to really materialise. Credit must go to Hoshoryu and Kotonowaka for consolidating their positions in the top division for now, but Kotoshoho and Oho haven’t been able to break through or stay through doing to injury or ability respectively, and Onoe-beya’s once heavily hyped 23-year old Ryuko has just sadly announced his intai after a couple of injury plagued Juryo appearances.

The Kyushu basho will, at least, provide some looks in Juryo for Kotoshoho, Hokuseiho and Hiradoumi to hopefully show that there are youngsters who have got what it takes to keep moving up into the top division and establish themselves.

And this may actually be the more telling thing. We know that the age at which a rikishi can break into and stick in the top division is often an indicator of their ultimate final destination in the sport. That inability recently of many to skip through Juryo also owes much to an aged veteran presence in that division. The Mongolian duo of 33 year old Kyokushuho and 34 year old Azumaryu continue to rack up enough wins to hang around the place, and will be joined by Tokushoryu next tournament as he replaces the tricenarian trio who look likely to head up.

Or, it may not be that telling. These are, after all, things that don’t really mean much.

Hakuho Retires, Becomes Magaki Oyakata

This evening Japan time, the news that we have been anticipating all week was made official: The 69th Yokozuna Hakuho has retired from sumo.

“The Boss” retires with the tremendous career record of 1187 wins and 247 losses as a rikishi, including a top flight record 1093 wins, 45 top division championships (plus 1 from Juryo), 6 special prizes, a kinboshi, and numerous other records. His run of 63 consecutive makuuchi victories in 2010, broken by the future Yokozuna Kisenosato, is bettered only by the legendary Yokozuna Futabayama.

Hakuho was and will remain known for, among other things, his incredible presence and aura in the dohyo, his peerless speed at the tachiai, ability to overwhelm almost any opponent of the several eras of his career with a variety of techniques, his power of motivation to find new records to break and new ways to challenge himself, his dedication to amateur sumo, his community work (especially in the aftermath of the 2011 tsunami), his desire to connect sumo to global audiences, and latterly, the remarkable recruiting of new rikishi which he will bring into his coaching career.

Taking all of this into account, it is even more remarkable that Hakuho famously joined Miyagino-beya in a last ditch effort, after the oyakata took him in as a favour to groundbreaking Mongolian sekitori Kyokushuzan. Having been rejected by every other stable he reached out to, the skinny 16 year old was never regarded as a prospect of any sort, making his ascent to the very pinnacle of the sport’s centuries of history all the more remarkable.

Hakuho embraced modern medicine in a bid to prolong his career to the extent that he did, which often also brought him criticism from some within the sumo community who felt he should have retired earlier rather than taking repeated kyujo. This, combined with some cultural faux-pas which saw him in for disciplinary hearings more often than appropriate for a Yokozuna, often brought him scrutiny from those within the Association, the Yokozuna Deliberation Council, and some within sumo’s wider fanbase.

We will no doubt spill more words over the coming days, weeks and months over the brilliant (and perhaps even some of the less brilliant) moments of Hakuho’s career. But let’s be clear that while he was an imperfect legend, he was a legend, an icon of his sport, and not only in the conversation for the best to ever do what he did, but it is not hyperbole to put him in the conversation for one of the greatest champions in sporting history. As mentioned in a previous post, John Gunning did a wonderful encapsulation of this in The Japan Times, and it is highly recommended as a read.

Magaki-Oyakata

There had been speculation for years over when his retirement would come, and it was accompanied by the usual announcement from the Kyokai (above). We had debated not only when he would go out, and how. Those who are interested in the Sumo Association stock exchange had debated what elder name he might take, or if he would be allowed to continue as the greatest Dai-Yokozuna had, by using the privileged one-generation ichidai toshiyori.

It felt somewhat inevitable over recent weeks and months, given the controversy surrounding Hakuho’s various activities and performances and the aforementioned blots on his copybook, that “Hakuho oyakata” would not be named among the Kyokai’s members. And so it is that Hakuho will take the Magaki name, as had been rumoured earlier in the year. As the intai has been officially recognised after the banzuke committee’s meeting, it is more than likely that he will make his final appearance on the banzuke for the Kyushu 2021 basho at Yokozuna 1 West.

The Magaki kabu has moved around over the years, but largely has belonged to the Tatsunami/Tatsunami-Isegahama/Isegahama ichimon of which Hakuho’s Miyagino-beya is a member. Upon picking up the myoseki, Hakuho moved it back into the ichimon’s possession from Tokitsukaze beya and ichimon where it had spent the last several years. Its most famous occupant until now has probably been Yokozuna Wakanohana II – who as Magaki oyakata himself, recruited the 73rd Yokozuna Terunofuji before the Yokozuna’s move to Isegahama-beya where he developed and remains today.

In terms of what happens next: Hakuho’s stablemaster and boss Miyagino-oyakata will retire next August at the mandatory retirement age of 65. It is likely that at that stage (or at some point before), Hakuho will takeover the heya as the new shisho. He may choose to rename the stable Magaki-beya, or, as has been done recently at other stables such as Tokitsukaze and Takasago, switch kabu with the outgoing shisho and assume the more prestigious Miyagino name for himself at that time. Rumours are already swirling in the press as we have previously detailed that Hakuho is looking at expensive new real estate for a blockbuster new construction project for the heya. That, combined with his prolific efforts at recruiting, will set the stage for a very eventful opening to Hakuho’s career as an elder of the Sumo Association.

Despite the fact that recruiting and prospect development are often somewhat drier subjects within the sumo world, it would appear that as with Hakuho’s career on the dohyo, the next chapter promises to be anything but quiet. Strap in folks, it’s gonna get interesting.

Congratulations to Yokozuna Hakuho, Magaki Oyakata on the most incredible of storied careers on the dohyo.