A Day out at the Ryogoku Kokugikan: The Morning after the Night Before

Flags at Kokugikan - Hatsu Basho 2019

One thing I’ve always loved about sumo it’s that it’s a constant evolution. There are no arbitrary end points. While there are 15 day tournaments, and champions of those tournaments, there are no annual seasons to speak of which playoffs or teams or players who can afford to punt the season. Every match counts relative to the next tournament, and until then? There’s constantly work to be done.

Against this backdrop, it’s fairly remarkable how, when I returned to Kokugikan for Day 6 action, it was business as usual. Just three days before, we witnessed in person the last ever match of one of only 72 men in history to hold the title of Yokozuna, and then a day later the media surrounding the sport swelled with coverage of the news of his retirement. On Friday, you wouldn’t really have known. Sure, Kisenosato was on the kyujo list on the side of the scoreboard – but really, taking into account that I missed Aki last year, Kisenosato was always on the kyujo list on the side of the scoreboard for the last 6 tournaments I’d seen. Hell, I’d been to more basho than he had!

The shops were selling out of Kisenosato merchandise, and the cardboard standees were still up for fans to take photos with the Yokozuna. But there was still a tournament to be won and if he wasn’t going to win it, somebody else was. That’s how sumo works.

New and Old Staples

As I was taking in the basho with a friend who had never been to sumo before, we made a stop at the Kokugikan’s Sumo Museum. It’s a must-visit for any first time (or even multiple time!) visitor to Kokugikan, with loads of artifacts from the past hundreds of years of the sport. There’s a small shop inside that sells a very small selection of official merchandise, manned by former rikishi. I hadn’t been into the Museum actually since Harumafuji retired, so the wall featuring photos (and drawings, from before there were photos) of all of the 72 Yokozuna to date was a really nice stroll down memory lane and a great opportunity to pay tribute to Harumafuji and Kisenosato.

I can imagine that for people who have been coming to Kokugikan for years (and technically I suppose I am in that category on my third Hatsu basho), walking past the long list of greats it’s a fantastic opportunity to share stories of legends they grew up watching, with newer fans.

Apart from that, we passed ex-Satoyama in the hallway as we made another trip into the basement for another delicious bowl of Michinoku-beya’s “Variety Chanko.” Fully loaded up on snacks (including the insanely popular “Sumo Pancake,” which comes with a side of soft serve ice cream), we reached our seats just in time to see Ura claim victory.

Reckoning: Now Underway

Readers of the site will know that Bruce will usually sort the drama of a basho out into three acts. Well, when we talk about The Reckoning that’s now under way, Kisenosato’s retirement may just be the first act of a significant transition, and what we’ve been watching for the past year may just have been the prelude. It became clear when I visited for the second time this week that we will see yet more follow, and soon.

Takekaze: He’s 39 and has had a career remarkable for its longevity, but he’s been on a steep downward decline and this will certainly be his final basho as a sekitori, bar a drastic turnaround in form in the next few days or in March, should he decide to continue. But as a rikishi who has only spent two tournaments outside of the paid ranks, the last of which was sixteen and a half years ago, I fully expect like many others before him that he will retire in the next two weeks once the tournament is finished. He went down too easily to Arawashi on Day 6 and has since lost again on Day 7 and 8 and at 1-7 is now facing an almost impossible climb out of trouble.

Aminishiki: Like Takekaze, Aminishiki is now 1-7. Uncle Sumo recently made a wonderful comeback to the top division, but sadly it appears that is where the party will end as his various backwards pull down tricks are no longer working a treat. Aminishiki hasn’t been out of the top two divisions since 1999, but unlike Takekaze, he at least has the luxury of a cushioned fall should the rest of this basho continue as it has started. I wouldn’t rule out him scraping together 3 or 4 more wins by the time it’s finished, but with the number of solid graduates who have escaped the Makushita-joi recently (including the wily Daishoho, who punished him by the same means he frequently punishes others on Day 6), I question whether he has more than two or three more tournaments left in him. Still, others have bet against him before and come up on the losing end.

Both Takekaze and Aminishiki possess elder stock and would be set for (relatively truncated) coaching careers, rather unlike:

Sokokurai: I know this may seem a bit of a reach as he won the yusho in Makushita last time out, but he looked listless in person against Chiyonoumi and has for much of the basho. Obviously he will be motivated at 35 to pick up a pay packet for as long as possible, but one wonders how much of his time will be spent in the Makushita joi battling for the right to do so, as he is likely headed right back from whence he came after this basho.

Mitakeumi injury

One of the key moments of Day 3’s action was the overwhelming crescendo of support for Kisenosato and the comparison with the overwhelming deflation that followed. Mitakeumi’s match was a similar moment on Day 6. There was no better supported rikishi at Kokugikan that day – as has become the standard with Endo- and Abi-mania fading with their recent form – and there were cheer towels, chants, claps, shouts, screams and general mayhem inspired by 2018’s Nagoya basho winner coming from every corner of sumo’s hallowed home.

Initially I simply felt that him losing his bout to Myogiryu simply sucked the life out of the place, given the manner of the somewhat emphatic oshidashi that ended with Mitakeumi’s ejection from the raised surface in total. But when the Dewanoumi man stayed down, it was clear that the crowd was incredibly worried about the man who has become the poster boy for the potential next era of champions.

Doubly disappointing is that this came in the context of what had fast become his best best basho since Nagoya, as he was fighting with the tenacity and intention to be worthy of championship contention. While there are now whispers that he may yet make a return from an injury that is potentially not as bad as first feared, the absolute upside for him from this tournament is now trying to squeak through a kachi-koshi in the event he can make it back (whether that’s well or ill-advised at this point is anyone’s guess), and it further pushes back the start of any meaningful Ozeki run by yet another basho.

After that, apart from Takakeisho dropping his bout with Tochiozan, there weren’t any major shocks, and the day finished with Hakuho taking care of business as usual, as he steamrolls his way towards his 42nd yusho. How lucky we all are to be able to continue to watch him fight.

Overall, I am of course grateful for the opportunity to have attended a couple days at another basho – and now will sit back and look forward to more great sumo in Week 2, the Hatsu yusho champion and to sharing more stories in a couple months from Osaka!

A Day out at the Ryogoku Kokugikan: Kisenopocalypse Edition

Kisenosato Flag - Hatsu Basho 2019
A flag that soon may never fly again.

In sumo there are no places more hallowed than the Kokugikan, and for me, it’s one of the most special venues in all of sport. Having completed my set of honbasho cities in 2018 and having last taken in the Kyushu basho in Fukuoka, I had been excited to get back to Kokugikan and the home of sumo.

And since I last visited, the NSK has been busy bringing in new features:

But despite the pleas of Sumo Twitter™, this is not why I came and I did not take part. This Friday, I’m back at Kokugikan for Day 6, so perhaps I’ll grab some #content then, if the Cat Cafe is still in business. I did, however, make a stop off at a different novelty, the dohyo mounted by the legends of broadcasting, the NHK Grand Sumo Preview team:

Sumida Information Center Dohyo
Why, yes Hiro, I do have a prediction for this basho.

There’s a Sumida information centre next to the Kokugikan with all kinds of restaurants (including chanko) and tourist info, and this dohyo is located there. The dohyo is roped off with signs clearly stating not to walk on it. As it is not (as far as I know) actively in use, it would be cool if fans could be chaperoned onto this dohyo at some stage. Perhaps one of our readers knows more and can point this out in the comments!

After a quick walk around, I headed into the arena, stopping with several other punters to snap a photo of the Kisenosato flag at the entrance (at the top of the post). Everyone attending the basho knows the end is near, and what was clear throughout the day is that in spite of the farce that has been his record-breaking losing run, Kisenosato’s fans are desperate for him to do well, and desperate for a final good memory.

Normally, I get right to my seat to check out some early, lower division matches, and calibrate myself with the torikumi. However, this alluring photo of Michinoku-oyakata beckoned me underground:

Michinoku Chanko poster
It’s an original blend.

Typically, a different stable will supply the recipe for the chankonabe that is served at the Kokugikan for each honbasho. The last time I was in Tokyo, it was provided by Oguruma-beya, and this time, it’s Michinoku’s “Variety Chanko” on offer. And as you can see above, you can wash it down with a cup of hot, steaming rules.

Michinoku heya Chanko
Everything but the kitchen sink.

The chanko is served in a small styrofoam bowl, and you get a pair of wooden chopsticks. There’s ichimi in the dining hall if you need it, though this had some good spice. I’d call it Kitchen Sink chanko as it had a bit of everything in there. For ¥300 it’s a nice novelty to be able to eat a small bowl of chanko, and the line moved quickly enough that I didn’t mind waiting. If you go later in the afternoon, maybe toward the end of Makushita, there’s usually less of a line.

After a quick stop at noted sumo artisan Daimon Kinoshita‘s stall for some beautiful postcards, and then to the BBM Sumo Card seller to pick up some cards from the new 2019 series, I did a lap around the arena and headed for my seat. Not far away from the Daimon Kinoshita stall at the front of the venue, newly retired ex-Satoyama was doing fan photos, along with NSK mascot Hiyonoyama.

Across from Hiyonoyama, the NSK social media team has launched a photo activation where fans can take photos with a variety of backgrounds to share on social media. Sadly, this seems to have replaced the incredible Purikura box which used to be available at Kokugikan, where fans could take pictures “with” any of the 42 top division rikishi. While the fan experience does tend to continuously improve at Kokugikan, the NSK has got this one wrong and I hope they restore the purikura booth soon (if only so I can continue my long and quite literally decorated history of taking photos with Ichinojo).

Once inside, I decided to stop off and see the newest addition to the Kokugikan rafters:

Takakeisho yusho portrait hanging at Kokukigan
Young man among legends.

Takakeisho’s yusho portrait was a great reminder that while we talk about the achievements and accomplishments of these rikishi as if it’s just part and parcel of the daily business, what we witness every basho is men writing themselves into history (usually the good kind).

Speaking of recent champions, one of them had a very prominent and popular supporter in attendance:

Others will cover the actual content of the days events on the site, so I want to focus the rest of this piece on Kisenosato, whose presence overshadowed almost everything else to take place on the dohyo.

Kisenosato dohyo-iri. Hatsu basho 2019.
“Something I wasn’t sure of, but I was in the middle of”

Kisenosato Dohyo-iri

Kisenosato’s dohyo-iri was greeted with a massive round of applause. It was clear from this moment that while yesterday was reported to have been a tense affair, the crowd was here to celebrate and cheer for the beleaguered Yokozuna.

While his nerves were visibly jangling when watching the ring entrance ceremony yesterday with the benefit of HD TV, today’s dohyo-iri at least appeared to be more authoritative from my viewpoint in the venue. The entire crowd was absolutely behind him and welcomed him into the ring and celebrated what could possibly be the last time we all saw him perform that ritual.

As an aside, I will say it was fantastic to see three Yokozuna dohyo-iri today. The last time I visited a honbasho, in Fukuoka this past November, Kisenosato had already withdrawn by the time I reached the venue, and so I didn’t get a chance to experience one of the more magical moments of live sumo on that occasion. I’m grateful that all three Yokozuna gamberized (or attempted to) for this basho.

Kisenosato vs Tochiozan. Hatsu Basho Day 3. 15 January 2019.
A penultimate stare-down?

Kisenosato vs Tochiozan

The atmosphere before this match was totally charged. This may have as much to do with Kisenosato as it did with the match that preceded it, Hakuho prevailing over Ichinojo in an epic contest.

As Kisenosato mounted the dohyo, what seemed like the entire arena spontaneously broke out in a synchronised clap in support of the Yokozuna. Kisenosato towels were being waved everywhere – absolutely everyone in the venue was behind him and I cannot state that enough. Were he to win, it seemed like the roof would come off the place.

It felt like Tochiozan took absolutely ages to get down and ready for this bout (he’s obviously a very seasoned veteran, just like the Yokozuna, but it’s clearly possible he too had nerves in that kind of abnormal atmosphere). It seemed possible that this may have had the effect of unsettling Kisenosato, who seemed very much ready to go.

By now, you probably know how this ends. Kisenosato lost a match it didn’t seem like he was every really truly in danger of winning, though it was clear he gave it everything he could. After the match, the disappointment of the crowd was immense, and so audible. After all of the energy everyone had put into it, the gasps, sighs, and exhales of the entire arena probably lasted about 5-10 seconds but it seemed like it went on for minutes, and it felt like a cloud had been put over the dohyo. The whole place just felt deflated after having been so charged up.

After that, the last match between Kakuryu and Nishikigi felt like a total non-event – which is sad, really, as it was a very good bout and a career-altering continuation of what has turned into a remarkable storyline for a rank-and-file rikishi. Having been emotionally drained, a lot of people simply walked out of the venue before the musubi-no-ichiban had started, and missed it altogether. Again, I’ll let others supply the match analysis, but it was a frankly bizarre end to the day, as there was a long monoii before Nishikigi’s kinboshi was confirmed. Zabuton had been flying everywhere both before and after the monoii.

With the festivities having finished for the day, and having seen a bow twirling ceremony in my time, I left Kokugikan in very much the same mind as many others, it seemed: thankful for being a part of the final moments of something, but not really totally sure of what to feel.

Hatsu Day 3 Preview

Hatsu Basho Banner

Hello! Bruce is off shopping for supplies for the upcoming Kisenopocalypse San’yakupocalypse, so I’m here with the Day 3 preview. I’m going to be at Kokugikan tomorrow, so the “What We’re Watching” section will be quite literal indeed. I was able to meet some Tachiai readers/listeners at the last basho, so come say “こんいちは” if you can find me.

Kisenosato-watch

There is no escaping the situation with the Yokozuna 1 East right now, so let’s just put the analysis front and centre. All of the NHK coverage here in Japan (both on the English and Japanese feeds) has constantly cut to segments, interviews, shots, highlights, and lowlights of the Yokozuna. It is said to be a somber atmosphere in the Kokugikan, so I am not so much looking forward but rather waiting with anticipation to experience the crowd’s reaction to the country’s (mostly) beloved Yokozuna tomorrow.

NHK rolled Naruto-oyakata (former Kotooshu) out yesterday for his thoughts on the Yokozuna, given that they started their careers at a certain time, and it’s possible tomorrow may see yet more luminaries from the sumo world to give their thoughts. It’s almost as if we’re witnessing the funeral of someone who’s not quite dead yet. Apparently, the atmosphere in the venue has been very tense and quiet for his bouts so far.

As I mentioned in the Juryo post, NHK’s visuals almost make it look like there could be an intai announcement any moment. Raja Pradhan did mention on the English feed today that a fan shouted to Kisenosato to try again tomorrow as if it were the start, and (late breaking news via Herouth), Tagonoura-oyakata has allegedly stated that he commits to continuing in the basho, as it’s “not over yet.” With 23 wins from 50 after his last yusho, including 5 from his last 16 and 0 from his last 7, it’s a tall task, but I will be glad to see him mount the dohyo as Yokozuna one last time.

What We’re Watching on Day 3

Daishoho vs Kotoeko – Having knocked off one yo-yo rikishi in Takanosho yesterday with an injury-inducing kotenage, the Daishoho will have a go at another in Kotoeko. The Sadogatake man will be looking to recover from being steamrolled on Day 2. The lifetime series is 5-3 to the Mongolian.

Chiyonokuni vs Daishomaru – Another series that’s 5-3, and also in favor of the Oitekaze-beya man. Chiyonokuni absolutely leathered Kotoeko on Day 2, so he’ll want to keep the momentum going against a rikishi who’s found similarly troubled results over the last 6 months.

Daiamami vs Chiyoshoma – Here’s a match-up of two guys with really uninspiring sumo. In the second consecutive Oitekaze-Kokonoe battle, Chiyoshoma will enter with the slight 1-0 lifetime edge. Will the pantomime villain deploy a successful henka for a second straight day?

Yago vs Kotoyuki – Yago got a bit of a learning curve thrown at him in top division sumo from Yutakayama, but here’s a gilt edged chance to bounce back and make steps towards a kachi-koshi in his first tournament. There are few rikishi more inconsistent than Kotoyuki, who is kind of like what you’d call a AAAA guy in baseball: too strong for the minor leagues but not quite consistent enough to hang around in the majors, so he bounces up and down. Yago has refreshingly taken to mawashi work of late and if he can land a grip, it could be fun to see how many spectators will get bowled by the Sadogatake man when he lands. The lifetime score is even at 1-1.

Yutakayama vs Meisei – I’m surprised to see Meisei at 0-2, but I don’t know if he’ll get off the board here. Yutakayama may be finding his sumo – and I think generally he’s going to be more bothered from here on out by the more established guys in the division. The lifetime series favors Meisei 2-1, but those wins weren’t recent so I’m still looking for Yutakayama to put it together here.

Sadanoumi vs Ikioi – Sadanoumi has kind of been making up the numbers, but he may be licking his lips and feeling that there’s never been a better time to fight Ikioi. The Isenoumi man’s heavy metal sumo has left him more battered and bloodied than ever before, as his facial explosion on Day 1 ruined a gyoji’s outfit and then his bandage was popped off by Abi on Day 2, exposing his stitches while he apparently in the meantime suffered an entirely different injury. It is painful to watch, but he’s not on the kyujo list for Day 3 and apparently will fight on. These two have split their matches 3-3 but this will probably be the first time I’ve made Sadanoumi the favorite for anything.

Kagayaki vs Abi – As Raja Pradhan noted on Day 2, it’s possible Abi won by virtue of the beaten Ikioi not being able to see him or where he went. But Abi’s raining in of blows was part of that equation as well. It’s tough for me to see Kagayaki, in his current condition, being quite as open of a recipient, and he leads Abi 4 wins to 2. However, interestingly for fans who want to see Abi develop his sumo – he has beaten the tall man before with a throw.

Takarafuji vs Asanoyama – After five straight make-koshi, we are probably witnessing the (very) slow decline of Takarafuji. He hasn’t started particularly well, but since Asanoyama hasn’t either, someone will get off the mark here, and it will be a mawashi battle. It’s the third straight tournament in which they’ve met, and Asanoyama won both of the last two.

Kaisei vs Endo – Here are two guys who have shown up, and are getting the results to show they are fighting a bit below their talent level. Recent results between the two have been a mixed bag, so it’s probably a coin flip, although if we’re looking back over the last year, Kaisei’s been the more consistent when he’s been able to stay away from injury.

Ryuden vs Onosho – Ryuden had a solid win on Day 2 while Onosho had to dance out of danger, but good ring sense is part of the package of an excellent rikishi. I still maintain that Ryuden’s hair is just always a mess at the end of any bout and his tokoyama really needs to have a look at at that situation because it’s unbecoming. The last time these guys met (for the only time in 2018), Onosho raised Ryuden up from the tachiai and then hit him with a fairly instant slap down and honestly I wouldn’t bet against a carbon copy match here.

Chiyotairyu vs Daieisho – Here’s yet another Oitekaze-Kokonoe matchup in the top division. Perhaps whoever wins the best out of three between the heya can buy the other oyakata a box of Ozeki One Cups. Chiyotairyu has yet to get off the mark but he’ll be loving this draw against an opponent he beat in all of their matches last year. Daieisho will feel he was unlucky not to win on Day 2 but you make your own luck and if he can survive Sumo Elvis’s cannonball tachiai then he may feel he can finally find some joy here.

Aoiyama vs Okinoumi – Longtime readers of the site will know I am more of a fan of Aoiyama the man than I am Aoiyama the rikishi. I just don’t like his sumo, but he’s 2-0 and in good shape and while Okinoumi beat him all three times they faced each other last year, Aoiyama is probably the favorite here.

Kotoshogiku vs Yoshikaze – Who’s going to win this Kyushu derby? Yoshikaze has continued to look totally unlike his old self, while Kotoshogiku has shown evidence of rolling back the years, albeit with less gas in the tank and less horsepower in the engine. He does at least appear genki, which I think gives him the slight edge to apply the hug that sees Yoshikaze get chugged.

Shodai vs Shohozan – Neither of these guys have been able to buy a win so far against the same opposition. Takakeisho blew them both away, but perhaps Shohozan was a little less fortunate against Tamawashi whereas I think the Mongolian baker simply bullied Shodai off the dohyo. That probably makes Shohozan the slight favorite on form, but technically I don’t know that his approach is best suited to take advantage of Shodai’s weak tachiai.

Takakeisho vs Tamawashi – I can see a lot of slapping in the future. NHK noted it’s quite early in a basho to see the Sekiwake derby, but my guess (banzuke geniuses please correct me in the comments) that they wanted to get this out of the way so as to save Takakeisho’s big matches for week 2, since we’ll probably be at least one Yokozuna and probably one Ozeki down at that point. I think this could be a tricky test, given that Tamawashi is showing the form that made him a very solid Sekiwake over a good period of time. Takakeisho, who needs 9 more wins to be considered for Ozeki, leads their career series 5-2 however and has to be given the edge on form, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see it go the other way.

Mitakeumi vs Goeido – This is the exact wrong match at the exact wrong time for Goeido. Mitakeumi has been dominant in two wins from two Yokozuna, and with all due respect to Goeido, there’s a reason he’s not on Kakuryu’s level. Goeido needs the better of the tachiai and to be able to execute a game plan here, because Mitakeumi has clearly had a fire lit under him from his demotion and is showing the form of yusho contender.

Takayasu vs Hokutofuji – Hokutofuji has knocked off two ozeki already and is looking to complete his set. The tachiai is going to be absolutely critical here. With Takayasu not being at 100%, if he can weather the shoulder blast and get the positioning he wants on Takayasu with his “handshake” tachiai, he may be able to take advantage of the ozeki’s currently diminished (but improving) condition, given that he’s still getting over the flu (which begs the question of whether Takayasu should really be deploying his signature cough before each of these bouts!).

Myogiryu vs Tochinoshin – The Georgian needs to win, and the order of the joi meat grinder needs to be restored. It’s as simple as that. Myogiryu will make it tough, but with at least one or two Ozeki and two useful Yokozuna yet to come, plus Takakeisho and Mitakeumi, Tochinoshin cannot afford to lose any more matches. We know he’s carrying a knock, but he needs to stem the bleeding by beating the Komusubi here.

Ichinojo vs Hakuho – Ichinojo has looked fantastic in the first two days, and Hakuho really got away with one on Day 2, as evidenced by his trademark cheeky grin after dispatching Tochiozan. This will be a sterner challenge for the Yokozuna, but as he tends to alter his game plan to the opposition, and because he is The Boss, he is in the driver’s seat here. Ichinojo has a better record against him than most, although that’s not saying much: he’s 2-11 against the Dai-Yokozuna.

Kisenosato vs Tochiozan – Each day we wonder who it will be that puts the final nail in the coffin. Putting to one side the question over whether this will be Kisenosato’s final match, there’s the question of the match itself: forget that he’s a Yokozuna, can Kisenosato do Maegashira 1 sumo? The results, the form, the technique and the eye test would all suggest no, and that makes him the underdog for this. Tochiozan nearly took his sixth kinboshi on day 2 in his match against Hakuho and on form, he will be heavily favored to get it here, after taking one from Kisenosato in November.

Kakuryu vs Nishikigi – We live in a world where anything is possible and it’s a new year and a new Nishikigi. When we’re talking about a guy who just went body to body with Tochinoshin and won, so can we really rule him out against Kakuryu? Like most matches this is going to come down to which direction Kakuryu decides to move. If he can move forward, Nishikigi’s not picking up his first kinboshi. While Kakuryu may have already dropped a match, it was to a Mitakeumi who is on another level to most rikishi so far in this tournament, and Big K has the technique and endurance to be able to dismantle Nishikigi. Still, he can dream…

Hatsu Day 2: Juryo Wrap-Up

Hatsu Basho Banner

It’s Day 2, and here’s another wrap up from Juryo. This time we’ll throw in a couple bonus bouts from the Makushita promotion race, which is already shaping up to be a hot one.

Makushita Bonus Action

Akua defeats Chiyonoo – After his disastrous basho in Fukuoka, Chiyonoo doesn’t look like coming back up any time in the near future. Akua gives him the ol’ push and pull and he’s face flat on the dohyo. Woof. Akua looks the more likely to be back up in Juryo the soonest.

Takanofuji defeats Ryuko – Takanofuji nee Takayoshitoshi wins despite not having a solid grip for most of this match. Ryuko, a former Tachiai One to Watch who was surprisingly tipped by John Gunning as a future Ozeki, has got a left hand grip and gives a couple attempts at an uwatenage, but Takanofuji manoeuvres him close to the bales and crushes him down via yoritaoshi.

Juryo Action

Chiyonoumi defeats Daiseido – Daiseido, having lost already, gets a visit to Juryo on day 2 against Chiyonoumi. After a matta, the Kokonoe man uses Daiseido’s inertia against him, steps to the side and thrusts him down to win by tsukiotoshi. Daiseido now has very little room for error with 13 days to go, if he’s going to make it to the penultimate division. Chiyonoumi now 2-0.

Sokokurai defeats Gagamaru – There’s a combined age of 66 on the dohyo with these two. You know that facebook meme going around right now where you’re meant to post your first profile picture from ten years ago and your most recent? Well if you’re feeling bad about how you’ve aged then bear in mind that Gagamaru is 31. Before this match starts, I notice that cool man Tomozuna is in the shimpan crew, which in fairness is a good distraction from some gnarly shiko. There’s another matta, and then Sokokurai pulls a planetary-orbit altering henka that sends the Georgian to the clay. Both men are now 1-1, and Gagamaru is not massively pleased.

Shimanoumi defeats Kyokushuho – Kyokushuho deploys some strong nodowa attempts in front of his stable master, but can’t find the killer move and as Shimanoumi gets him going backward, he pulls and it’s all over. Shimanoumi checks his balance, stays low, and shoves his man out.

Jokoryu defeats Tsurugisho – Jokoryu beats Tsurugisho with one of those throws that feels like it lasts an entire year. Jokoryu lands his left hand inside after the Tachiai, and then the entire rest of this match is him attempting to unload the throw. It looks like it may backfire but eventually he controls Tsurugisho’s momentum and executes a very satisfying shitatenage.

Tobizaru defeats Takekaze – Takekaze had a bad loss on Day 1 and needs to sort himself out if he isn’t going to suffer a potentially career-ending drop out of the professional ranks. This match is a slap-fest in which the veteran is determined to rough up Tobizaru’s face, much to the chagrin of the younger man’s fans. Takekaze unleashes about 13 slap and pull and poke and scratch attempts before Tobizaru is able to keep the wily elder statesman at arms length in order to set up the push and pull for the slap down. Takekaze is now 0-2, and Tobizaru is now 1-1.

Arawashi defeats Kyokutaisei – It’s not Tobizaru’s fault, but I could get behind his Tokyo banana mawashi if Kyokutaisei was still sporting the Hokkaido melon tinted belt. Arawashi’s sumo has been a mess lately but he executes a pretty solid tsuppari into mawashi grip transition and chaperones Kyokutaisei out. The best lead actor of any recent sumo film puts up a decent fight at the edge but there’s nothing he can do, and that’s the kind of match Kyokutaisei should probably be winning against a sekitori in freefall. Both men are now 1-1. Bring back the melon!

NHK cuts the feed at this point over from the broadcast satellite to NHK G and shows Kisenosato entering the Kokugikan, and the footage kind of looks like there’s going to be an intai announcement. But it turns out they’re just announcing that he takes on Ichinojo later.

Hidenoumi defeats Mitoryu – disappointing from Mitoryu as Hidenoumi tries and fails to get a mawashi grip, but doesn’t really need it to get the Mongolian high and escort him out in fairly short order. Disappointing match, and Mitoryu is getting a little inconsistent at this level. Both of these guys are now 1-1 as well.

Azumaryu defeats Enho – Ura had better hurry up, because here’s more incredible sumo involving Enho, who is turning into the can’t miss rikishi. Azumaryu’s ring demeanour is so much calmer and measured than the more frantic Enho. They take a while to get ready at the tachiai, but eventually this bout gets underway, and Enho gets in low. Azumaryu tries repeatedly to simply push him down, slap him down, as the smaller man buries his head into Azumaryu’s stomach. Eventually Enho tries to get a mawashi grip, but this doesn’t work and it looks like the Mongolian has him off balance. But the little guy recovers, tries a throw and can’t pull it off. Then he tries a sotogake leg trip and can’t pull that off, and Azumaryu now has Enho off balance and throws him to the dirt. Enho gets up with a bloodied face and nothing to show for his efforts but his fans. Both men are now 1-1.

Chiyomaru defeats Akiseyama – It’s the battle of the bulbous! Chiyomaru tries to hit a slap down and then the match looks like it’s turning into a yotsu-battle. The two men lock up in the middle of the dohyo and it’s possible one of them is about to fall asleep when Chiyomaru twists the awkward Kise-beya rikishi around and tosses him down with a tsukiotoshi. Chiyomaru heads to 2-0, with Akiseyama now 0-2.

Wakatakakage defeats Hakuyozan – Dominant performance from Wakatakakage. Hakuyozan gets the better of the tachiai, but once the smaller Arashio-beya man lands his grip, Hakuyozan is totally out of control of the match and Wakatakakage deposits him over the edge. Both of these young starlets are now 1-1 as well.

Toyonoshima defeats Tokushoryu – Here’s a match featuring an awful lot of belly. Toyonoshima puts his to good use as he takes control straight from the tachiai and wins with an insanely straightforward yorikiri. Tokushoryu tries to get his arm around the senior sumo citizen’s head and execute some kind of throw or slap down in desperation, but he’s got nothing. Everybody here is now 1-1 as well.

Aminishiki defeats Tomokaze – Old meets young in a generational battle. Uncle Sumo mounts the dohyo in an attempt to get something from the current division’s yusho holder. Tomokaze has his usual nonplussed expression as the two men get down for the tachiai. You’ll never guess what happens next: pusher-thruster Tomokaze has backwards-moving slap-down specialist Aminishiki going backwards. Aminishiki dances around the ring and hits the hikiotoshi as Tomokaze goes flying. It’s a good lesson for the youngster. It’s increasingly likely in 50 years we’ll still be watching them wheel the bones and bandages of Aminishiki onto the dohyo – he can still win at this level. He, like Tomokaze and just about everyone else, is 1-1.

Ishiura defeats Terutsuyoshi – Here’s the battle of salt vs protein. Terutsuyoshi deploys a sodium explosion that’s impressive even by his lofty standards. Ishiura takes charge of this match though – and it’s interesting to watch him when the opponent is also small – it’s a reminder he can do some great sumo when he goes head on. Despite Terutusyoshi being small, Ishiura does manage to get in a bit lower, grabs the Isegahama man, spin him around and throw him out. There may have been some discussion of a matta, but Ishiura’s already on his way back to the locker room to make a shake, with both men’s records now 1-1.

Daishoho defeats Takanosho – Daishoho and Takanosho are so close to makuuchi they can smell it. After some good old fashioned slapping, the Mongolian locks up Takanosho’s arm and the Chiganoura man simply can’t escape. Daishoho unloads a kotenage and it might not be surprisingly that Takanosho is in bad shape after the rough throw. Takanosho needs the help of multiple yobidashi to dismount the dohyo and this will put his attempt to gain promotion back to the top level in deep trouble. Both of these guys are also now 1-1. Despite a kotenage arm lock throw being notoriously harsh on the receiver’s arm and elbow, it seemed the injury was to his leg/thigh area.

Hatsu Day 1: Juryo Wrap-Up

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Hello Tachiai readers! We’ve attempted a live-blog today to celebrate the live broadcast on NHK and the first day of the basho, but since we’re so full of content, here’s a bonus wrap-up of today’s Juryo results.

The Juryo dohyo-iri is pretty sobering. Seeing Takekaze and Arawashi at the start of the Juryo ring entrance shows just how far some of the long time staples of the top division have fallen. Of course, others who we’ve tracked on this site for as long have fallen out of the top two divisions entirely or retired.

Gagamaru defeats Kiribayama – With Daisedo’s loss earlier, Kiribayama has an enormous opportunity to take a step towards a debut appearance as a sekitori. Gagamaru tries a number of pulling manoeuvres and it takes everything for Kiribayama to evade them. On the third slap and pull attempt he loses his balance entirely and ends up slipping and falling on his back in what’s ruled an oshitaoshi. Big first win for Gagamaru and now of course while there’s plenty of time, Kotodaigo is in the promotion driver’s seat.

Chiyonoumi defeats Jokoryu – Chiyonoumi is amped AF to get a piece of ol’ Jokoryu. It’s a fairly good grapple here, and Jokoryu tries a desperation left hand roundhouse but Chiyonoumi has this match under control and dances the veteran 180 degrees around the edge of the dohyo before working him out. Jokoryu desperately wanted the grip he couldn’t land at the beginning but Chiyonoumi kept it an oshi-battle and got his reward. He appears to have aged about 10 years by the end of the bout as he holds the chikara-mizu for Kyokushuho.

Kyokushuho defeats Sokokurai – Sokokurai shows some good resolve after being driven straight back, but Kyokushuho has all the momentum and works him out fairly easily. Quick one.

Tsurugisho defeats Takekaze – Takekaze hasn’t fought a bout below Juryo level in well over 16 years, but after three straight losing tournaments he desperately needs a good start or else he’s going to be in big trouble down at J12. Tsurugisho isn’t so much good in this match as he just avoided being bad. Takekaze launches forward, but can’t land a grip or get much traction with his pushing attack and Tsurugisho just takes advantage of his forward momentum and hits the slap down, sending him one black star closer to the barber’s. These are the matches Takekaze has got to win if he wants any chance of staying up.

Shimanoumi defeats Tobizaru – Tobizaru has got a banana coloured mawashi and it does not give him any luck at all. While he gets the better of the tachiai against Shimanoumi, it gets a bit ugly after that as Shimanoumi doesn’t so much land a grip or a thrusting attack so much as move his man back through sheer force. Tobizaru can’t keep his footwork (which seems to be an issue for a number of rikishi today) and after being spun around, Shimanoumi launches him about 5 rows deep into the box seats.

Mitoryu defeats Arawashi – Mitoryu vs Arawashi is a battle of two Mongolians at vastly different stages of their careers. Arawashi has been on a one-way track toward the sekitori exit door lately, while Mitoryu was making good progress until being hampered by injury. He lands a massive hit at the tachiai and instantly gets a left hand outside grip which he uses to usher the much lighter Arawashi directly out. It’s over in seconds. Fantastic sumo from Mitoryu, although he may not have a more generous opponent this entire basho.

Kyokutaisei defeats Hidenoumi – Hidenoumi is a man whose pink mawashi has luminous qualities. He typically does not have the pizazz of a rikishi who sports a pink mawashi however. This match against Kyokutaisei is much of a muchness until movie star Kyokutaisei grabs his arm and flings him toward the edge. After that, the Hokkaido man just needs a simple push for the win.

Enho defeats Akiseyama – Enho v Akiseyama is one of those unlikely rivalries but even early in Enho’s short career I feel like I’ve seen the little man fight the unwieldy man a million times. In truth this is their fourth matchup, and the previous three all ended pretty roughly for Enho, who has been hanging out at Team Haleo protein events with Ishiura lately. After a matta, an awesome match breaks out, and it’s easily the highlight of the division so far. Enho tries to get in low and ends up with fistfuls of all kinds of unmentionables. If you’ve seen Akiseyama you’ll understand that it’s difficult to get any kind of purchase by landing a grip anywhere on the veteran’s body itself. Akiseyama himself tries to land a grip, but can’t and as Enho breaks his attempt, he manages to get Akiseyama high and pushes him back to the bales, before throwing him down face first with a shitatedashinage. Lovely stuff, and Enho’s first win against the big guy.

Chiyomaru defeats Azumaryu – Chiyomaru wins an epic against Azumaryu, but I’m not sure how much he deserved it. He goes for the throat attack straight from the tachiai but in so doing gives up a strong front grip to Azumaryu who looks to be in control for most of the battle. Chiyomaru manages to spin him around and tries to use his enormous belly to push Azumaryu out, then pulls all the way back across the dohyo and seems to almost too easily escort Azumaryu over the bales. It’s kind of a damp ending to what had been a feisty battle – it just looked like Azumaryu ran out of gas from trying to move Chiyomaru.

Hakuyozan defeats Toyonoshima – Hakuyozan wins this by oshidashi, which is impressive as Toyonoshima, for such a big man, was able to get both arms inside of Hakuyozan’s armpits very quickly straight from the tachiai. Once Hakuyozan locked his arms up however, it was pretty much game over and the handicapped veteran had no choice but to get shoved out at the edge for an oshidashi. The young Hakuyozan looks to have adapted well to this level.

Tokushoryu defeats Wakatakakage – It’s a matta to start the match from Tokushoryu, who looks somewhat embarrassed, although he always kind of has that look in truth. It feels like he takes himself an age to get sorted after the matta but whatever he did to compose himself must have worked as he tosses down Wakatakakage fairly quick after the restart. A workmanlike win, which is followed by a break in the action and a network switch.

As we’re waiting for the restart on NHK G, the feed cuts to a shot of Kisenosato’s yusho portrait hanging from the rafters of Kokugikan. Although I remember those moments well, his back to back championships feel like a lifetime ago.

Tomokaze defeats Ishiura – Ishiura is now rocking a gold mawashi and looks in good shape up against reigning Juryo champion and noted “big bopper” Tomokaze whose facial expressions in the pre-match sort of make him look like a Goeido/Kakuryu love child. But this isn’t that kind of website, so stop thinking about that right now. Ishiura tries, as usual, to get in low at the tachiai but Tomokaze keeps the smaller man at arm’s length throughout the entirety of this match. Tomokaze lands several thrusts to Ishiura’s upper body and there’s just nowhere to go for the Miyagino-beya man but out. This is a solid start to Tomokaze’s yusho defence as he begins his assault for promotion to Makuuchi.

Takanosho defeats Aminishiki – Aminishiki and Takanosho is a matchup of some very expressive eyebrows. Aminishiki tries his patented head-pull-down straight from the tachiai but this invites the younger Takanosho to just land a hand on Uncle Sumo’s chest and shove him right back and out. Takanosho began this tournament as a good bet to return to the top division and this result does him no harm at all.

Takagenji defeats Daishoho – Daishoho gets Takagenji in the final match of the (Juryo) day, and are the top 2 ranked men in the division to go head to head on Day 1 with Terutsuyoshi having been called up to visit Makuuchi to make up the numbers. There are a few notable things here: first of all, Daishoho starts about a million miles behind the shikiri-sen in order to give himself a huge run up at the tachiai. It seems to work, as he drives Takagenji back to the bales and it looks like, despite a bit of argy-bargy as both men try to find grips/land blows, that he may actually make fairly easy work of the match. But then Takagenji spins away at the edge and Daishoho has nowhere to go but out. It’s a good start to the proceedings for Chiganoura-beya.