Tamawashi Wins Hatsu Basho Yusho

Tamawashi Yusho Parade
Photo c/o @sumokyokai

With a final record of 13-2, Sekiwake Tamawashi of Kataonami-beya has won his first yusho in the 2019 Hatsu honbasho at the Kokugikan.

On Senshuraku, needing a win to clinch the cup (and the macaron, and the myriad other prizes) regardless of other results, Tamawashi saw off the challenge of Maegashira 9 Endo, winning by tsukiotoshi to seal the championship. Tamawashi is the fourth first-time winner in the past seven tournaments (following Tochinoshin, Mitakeumi and Takakeisho), and the second-oldest first time winner.

Remarkably, Tamawashi’s wife also gave birth to their second son on the day of his first Yusho, so we congratulate Tamawashi on an incredible day in his career and for his family!

The Hatsu basho championship originally looked to be heading the way of Dai-Yokozuna Hakuho, and despite some hairy moments, at 10-0 it seemed, as Bruce and I speculated on the latest Tachiai podcast, that a procession towards the legend’s 42nd yusho felt all but inevitable. However, in the second week, Hakuho’s injury problems told, and after successive losses, including Hakuho’s first ever loss to Tamawashi, the title race swung in favor of his fellow Mongolian.

Elsewhere, Inside Sport Japan have reported on their Instagram that despite racking up 33 wins over the past 3 basho, Jun-yusho grabbing Sekiwake Takakeisho will not be promoted to Ozeki. Apparently the nature of his final bout loss to Goeido meant that the NSK had not seen enough for him to be ready for sumo’s highest rank at this time.

Day 15’s results also mean that the sansho, or special prizes list has been confirmed as follows (following lksumo’s earlier post):

Shukun-sho – Outstanding Performance Prize
Tamawashi (first win)
Mitakeumi (fourth win)

Kanto-sho – Fighting Spirit Prize
Tamawashi (first win)

Gino-sho – Technique prize
Takakeisho (first win)

Congratulations again to Sekiwake Tamawashi! We now look ahead to a Haru-basho featuring two Ozeki runs, one kadoban Ozeki, and significant banzuke turnover, as spaces will need to be filled following the three intai that have occurred since the last banzuke was written.

Hatsu Day 15 – Senshuraku Preview

Emperor's Cup
All of this can and a macaron can be yours…

Alas, the final day of a historic basho is upon us. We have seen the retirement of a yokozuna, the retirement of a long time fan favorite, some injuries, some more injuries, some further injuries, and also some more injuries. And some injuries as well.

However, we’ve also seen a potentially successful conclusion to an Ozeki run, the potential start of a new Ozeki run, and either another new champion or another yusho portrait on the way for one of sumo’s young stars. Will the Emperor’s Cup return to Chiganoura-beya, or will the Massive Macaron go to a man who probably could make one himself?

What We Are Watching on Day 15

We’ll cover all of the top division matches today – with no competitive sumo for six weeks, there’s no point leaving anyone out:

Takagenji (Juryo) vs Daishomaru – Takagenji had a glorious opportunity to snatch one of the four or five places that will be up for grabs in Makuuchi for the Haru basho in Osaka, yet has, not for the first time, been unable to get over the finish line. You have to be ruthless in these situations and he had a very favorable set of promotion circumstances, with a pair of intai and a pair of M16 make-koshi. Daishomaru (3-11) has looked better in the last few days, and will want to try and grab a final day win to pad his fall into the second division.

Kagayaki vs Yutakayama – a pair of make-koshi guys fighting for pride and against banzuke-gravity on the final day. Kagayaki has probably done about enough to keep himself safe, but both of these guys would want to sign off with a win in otherwise disappointing circumstances.

Yago vs Abi – it’s a party all around, as fan favorite Abi has grabbed 10 wins despite not looking spectacular for most of the tournament, and top division debutant from Hokkaido Yago has grabbed his kachi-koshi after sagging in the second week. Abi probably has more to gain from a win in this (a spot in the joi), whereas Yago needs time and experience to consolidate his top division place, so I’m tipping Abi.

Ikioi vs Asanoyama – Asanoyama is 7-7 and so faces a make or break matchup against a rikishi who, in spite of all of the injuries referenced above, has managed to stay on the dohyo for all 15 days while looking like a toddler’s stuffed toy that’s been mauled by a dog and then patched up haphazardly in a desperate attempt to stem a temper-tantrum. Ikioi is in the better form despite only a slightly better record at 9-5 but Asanoyama will be desperate to grab his 8th after a great second week, and it’s kind of tough to make Ikioi the favorite in his current shape. This will be their fourth match, with Ikioi having won 2.

Sadanoumi vs Daieisho – another party between two, perhaps unlikely, kachi-koshi rikishi. Sadanoumi has displayed some surprisingly good sumo in January in spite of – like Ikioi – a glaring head wound. These two have split their eight previous matches evenly and it’s probably a coin flip on current form.

Ryuden vs Kotoeko – One thing that Ryuden has reminded me of in this basho is that regardless of the outcome, his topknot is always an absolute shambles after a match. According to Wikipedia, Takadagawa-beya’s tokoyama has reached first class status, so this makes it all the more confounding. He does also have a notoriously wobbly head, so it’s possible that that factors into the equation. One day I will figure out whose fault it is, but I am committed to lead the inquisition. We’re talking about this basically because there has been not much good to say about his sumo this tournament. Kotoeko is looking for his first winning record in the top division and, while Ryuden does usually put up a very spirited fight, if Kotoeko can’t win here against an opponent who’s already down, he probably doesn’t deserve a promotion anyway.

Meisei vs Onosho – Meisei is 7-7 and facing a make or break match against an opponent who’s clearly still getting back to his best shape and has just about scraped across the line. Onosho is holding an 8-6 record and will be trying to keep Meisei off the mawashi, although Meisei is more than capable of a thrusting battle himself. Both of these guys finishing 8-7 in this tournament sounds about right given their form, and Meisei has won their previous two encounters, so I’m tipping Meisei.

Chiyotairyu vs Takarafuji – This will be the 14th matchup between these two, with Little Uncle Sumo Takarafuji having a slight edge 7-6. However, Chiyotairyu has won the last three, and despite both men being 8-6 in this basho, I think his sumo has been a little better than Takarafuji’s this tournament so I’m tipping Sumo Elvis to deploy the cannonball tachiai and get the better of the Isegahama man.

Daiamami vs Yoshikaze – If you were being told a Maegashira 16 was getting called up to face a Maegashira 5, you’d probably think, “wow, he must have having a great tournament.” In fact, this may be the last Maegashira 5 that Daiamami faces for a while as he already has posted double-digit losses and will stare into the Juryo abyss in March. And it may be the last time that Yoshikaze is at this rank for a while as well, having had a shockingly poor tournament that has only yielded two wins so far and has been tough to watch. They’ve only met once before, with Yoshikaze the winner, but with neither man displaying good sumo it’s a tough one to call. Against most logic, I’d probably say Daiamami has the slight edge here if he can arrive even a little bit genki.

Kotoshogiku vs Chiyoshoma – Kotoshogiku (5-9) has had a much tougher fixture list than Chiyoshoma (6-8) and his losses have mostly, as usual, come as a result of an inability to get his feet planted and put power to ground in order to drive forward. He will be susceptible to a flying henka which makes this a little tougher to predict than it should be. If it’s a straightforward battle, the former Ozeki should have the edge, but if Chiyoshoma reaches into his bag of black magic, then a ten loss Kotoshogiku could be on his way to a reunion with potentially Makuuchi-bound old pal Toyonoshima sooner than later.

Aoiyama vs Hokutofuji – Hokutofuji has a surprising 5-1 edge in this rivalry and is already kachi-koshi, while the buxom Bulgarian will be desperate to avoid defeat at 7-7. Aoiyama started this tournament strongly but his twin cylinder piston attack hasn’t been working at the top level. Hokutofuji finds himself between the calibre of opponents where Aoiyama’s attack has been effective and ineffective, and he’s a tricky customer to call: despite having 8 wins and 3 against Ozeki in the first three days, two of his wins have come via fusen-sho and he was otherwise on a miserable run until a really nice throw against Nishikigi on Day 14. I think Aoiyama might do this, but I also think it could be ugly.

Shodai vs Ichinojo – It’s a pair of 6-8 guys who never seem to live up to their billing. Ichinojo in particular has been dreadfully disappointing after a 4-1 start that saw him knock out two Yokozuna and two Ozeki. He simply should not be in this position, but has more or less been walking backwards and over the tawara for the past week, and was pushed out in 2 seconds by a one-legged Mitakeumi. He was even thrown by extreme slapper Shohozan. Shodai has looked a little bit better in week two, though this match has the danger of never ending in the event both guys just stand up and stare at each other from the tachiai. Ichinojo leads the series 7-2 but you wouldn’t back him against a brick wall at the moment so I’m going with Shodai to finish 7-8.

Tochiozan vs Shohozan – This battle of two mountain men couldn’t be more even: both are 5-9 heading into the final day, with their career series even at 11 apiece. Shohozan displayed incredible intensity in Fukuoka, but it’s been missing from a lot of his bouts in this tournament. Tochiozan, meanwhile, has been displaying a reliable brand of sumo that works really well at M12-M4 but not much higher. I don’t know if this will be a classic, but with Shohozan winning the last four of their matches I think it might be Tochiozan’s time, especially if he can get an early belt grip.

Nishikigi vs Mitakeumi – These guys more or less have mirror records with Nishikigi putting up 8 losses to Mitakeumi’s 8 wins. Mitakeumi clearly should not be on the dohyo right now as evidenced by the nature of his Day 14 loss to Takayasu. He’s proven his point by solidifying his rank but the only thing he potentially has to gain by fighting another day is that if his 9th win at Komusubi starts a run similar to the one Takekeisho is currently displaying, having also started his Ozeki run off 9 wins. However, Mitakeumi is causing serious harm to an already seriously injured knee with every day he mounts the dohyo at the moment. We keep talking about how Nishikigi has overachieved, given that we all thought he would end up with one of those humiliating 2-13 or 3-12 tournaments when he made his joi debut. But, after grabbing an 8-7 last time, and with the pressure off Mitakeumi this time, a 7-8 at M2 with a kinboshi would be extremely creditable and I’m backing him to pull it off.

Myogiryu vs Okinoumi – Both of these guys are make-koshi and Myogiryu is headed out of san’yaku after the longtime sekiwake had a lovely run of form in 2018 which propelled him all the way up from Juryo to Komusubi. The lifetime series here favors Okinoumi 9 to 8. They’ve had some very watchable matches in the past as well, with Okinoumi’s kotenage win from two years ago being a particularly highlight for me. With not much on the line, let’s hope we see more of the same this time.

Endo vs Tamawashi – The third final bout on Senshuraku is for all the arrows and it might be for all the marbles as well. M9 Endo gets drafted up into possibly one of the most consequential matches of his career to date, with the Yusho on the line – for Tamawashi. I do want to take this moment to remind everyone that on a previous Tachiai podcast (like and subscribe!), Andy predicted a Tamawashi Yusho. Unfortunately, he only predicted it a couple tournaments too early!!!

At the age of 34, Tamawashi is on the verge of completing his ultimate career goal, needing just a win to grab the Emperor’s Cup and start his own Ozeki run. Endo has 10 wins and has been in fairly good form, but can he play spoiler? Tamawashi leads the lifetime series 9-6.

Takayasu vs Kaisei – Takayasu fended off the kadoban threat on Day 14 with an easy win over disabled Mitakeumi, and with Hakuho now out of the picture, we’ll see the Ozeki taking on M8 Kaisei in the penultimate bout of Senshuraku. Their lifetime series is 11-6 favoring Takayasu, and I think this one is very slightly in his favor. The Ozeki deserves great credit for overcoming illness and poor form in Week 1 to have now posted 4 wins from 5. Kaisei has had a wonderful tournament of positive, forward moving sumo, and I don’t think anyone would begrudge him a win here, however unlikely.

Takakeisho vs Goeido – Takakeisho can likely make his Ozeki promotion certain with a 34th win in three tournaments. The rivalry favors Goeido 5-3, but while the Ozeki has got himself out of jail with 5 wins in a row (including a fusen-sho gift from Hakuho), Takekeisho may have a Yusho to fight for if Endo can upset Tamawashi in the earlier match. If that’s the case, a win here would then prompt a playoff. Goeido of course can play the role of spoiler, but he’s only beaten one opponent above M1 in this tournament, and that was against a clearly troubled Takayasu. Whether or not the Yusho is decided by the time these two men mount the dohyo, this match still may signal quite a bit about the future of top level sumo and the Ozeki ranks.

Hatsu Day 13 Preview

Flags at Kokugikan - Hatsu Basho 2019

Well, we have a title race. Having let his Day 12 match get away from him, Hakuho has invited Tamawashi and a host of other characters back into a battle, when it was presumed he would have a smooth, easy ride up to Level 42. Ahem.

So, will the rikishi who loves to bake be able to throw a spatula in the works now that we’ve completed a dozen matches? Let’s look over the ingredients for Day 13:

What We Are Watching Day 13

Tomokaze vs Shimanoumi (Juryo) – Last tournament’s yusho winner Tomokaze is 7-5 and still very much has makuuchi promotion within his sights, and nailing down his kachikoshi here would be a huge step. That being said, Shimanoumi can seal at least a yusho playoff depending on other results with a win here, and will be going buns glazing guns blazing for victory. Tomokaze has won their only previous matchup.

Kotoeko vs Abi – Kotoeko has been trying to establish himself in the top division and has been making a better fist of it this time. He needs two from three but has the big doughnut in his three previous matches against Abi, who already has his kachi-koshi. I give the slight edge to Abi, who’s displayed slightly more consistent, okay sumo this basho.

Takarafuji vs Daishomaru – Takarafuji (aka Little Uncle Sumo) has displayed his usual if declining blend of stable unspectacular sumo this basho. At 7-5 he has a glorious opportunity against the Osaka man with the 1-11 scoreline to get the job done. While Daishomaru is off the mark now, I would be stunned if the Isegahama veteran can’t put the icing on the cake here.

Kaisei vs Ikioi – The Big Brazilian Kaisei has been mowing down the bottom of the banzuke in a manner which throws his earlier loss to Sadanoumi into stark relief. Ikioi needs have his knives sharpened and ready to deploy heavy metal sumo here and keep the heavier man off his mawashi, as he’s probably not going to win a yotsu match against Kaisei in everyone’s current form. The Osaka native is 7-5 and a win away from getting his kachikoshi (and if he has sense, taking two days off). But all of the sudden Kaisei is in a title race, and I think that will just about give him the edge in this match.

Yago vs Onosho – These guys are both 7-5 and have been flagging in week 2, like a loaf that hasn’t had enough time in the proving drawer. Yago has looked listless in the second week, and streaky Onosho will see this first time matchup as a chance to deal the big man a lesson in top division sumo. Only one man can seal his kachikoshi, while the loser will be looking nervously over their shoulder…

Chiyotairyu vs Meisei – Meisei has done well to consolidate his top division status so far, but this is a big trip up the banzuke which sees the M12 taking on M6 Chiyotairyu. Chiyotairyu has done alright just outside the joi, and I would expect him to torch the relative newcomer in this first time matchup. Both men are 6-6.

Kagayaki vs Yoshikaze – This might be unwatchable. Onosho couldn’t get any forward momentum against Kagayaki which makes me wonder what Yoshikaze is going to be able to do, given that he’s only really turned on the ol’ berzerker switch maybe once so far in the basho (his win against Shohozan). Like a couple of hotcakes that haven’t had enough time on the griddle, both of these guys have been awful in my humble opinion and already have make-koshi in the bag – though Kagayaki probably needs another win from somewhere to be absolutely safe from demotion. The lifetime series is split two apiece.

Aoiyama vs Endo – Somehow, Endo is in a yusho race again. Sumo will surprise you. He’s just been quietly good all throughout the tournament and now finds himself with 9 wins and a real chance for more. However, he gets a really tough customer here that he’s only beaten 3 times from 9 previous matchups. Endo has a lot of tricks, but unless he’s able to get a mawashi grip I fear that he may get pummelled.

Asanoyama vs Okinoumi – Having been passed by a number of exciting and more popular upstarts, Asanoyama is in danger of being one of those forgotten guys who’s just kind of always there. A little bit like Okinoumi, these days. They’re both good all-rounders, but without any defining quality that marks them out as best in class, a bit like the last slices of pie in the display case at a humble diner. This should be a good mawashi battle, though, between two 6-6 rikishi. They’ve faced off four times previously and surprisingly Asanoyama has won them all.

Nishikigi vs Shohozan – Here’s a match with contrasting styles between two 5-7 rikishi. Nishikigi got the party back on track with a win yesterday after his 7 bout losing streak, but he needs to win out or else I’m going to have to burn all the Komusubi Nishikigi t-shirts I’ve been waiting to sell. Both of these guys have had a tough run of fixtures and I think it’s going to come down to who’s able to establish their style in this contest as they both look to avoid make-koshi. If it’s a slapfest, Shohozan will break him like a gingersnap.

Tochiozan vs Shodai – Potentially another skippable moment between two rikishi with losing records. Shodai already has make-koshi while Tochiozan will be looking to avoid his here. Tochiozan has been better than his record would suggest and is 2-1 against non-sanyaku rikishi in this tournament (as opposed to Shodai, who has lost one more match overall despite having twice as many rank and file opponents to this point), so if he can win the tachiai, he can probably win this match.

Ichinojo vs Mitakeumi – Ichinojo started with a bang but then has reverted to his habits of giving up at the tawara recently. Bad Ichinojo, bad, bad, bad! You can’t have any ice cream until you get a kachi-koshi, that’s how it is. Mitakeumi, meanwhile, has shocked and henka’d his way back into contention for a kachi-koshi, to the delight of everyone except henka victim Tochiozan. Given that the two practice together, I’m sure he’ll be hearing about that. Pulling a henka here will probably not accomplish anything, so it’s going to come down to whether Mitakeumi has the strength in his leg to use his terrifying forward movement to push the big man back. He’s another guy who needs to get his 8 and get back out. He leads the lifetime series 5-3.

Myogiryu vs Kotoshogiku – Kotoshogiku has just had an awful run of fixtures. His 4-2 start proved he could still do the business against the rank and file types, but he doesn’t have anything left in the piping bag against sanyaku level opponents. When he looks bad, he’s unable to plant his feet in order to execute his famous gaburi-yori and I think Myogiryu – despite possibly being slightly more known as an oshi-zumo rikishi – would actually do well here to embrace a mawashi battle. He has beaten the Bulldozer many times by yorikiri, and if he can unsettle Kotoshogiku’s footwork and possibly even set up a throw, I think he’s got a better chance. But I don’t think he will embrace it and I think Kotoshogiku may break his losing streak here and demote Myogiryu from Komusubi.

Hokutofuji vs Tamawashi – Hokutofuji has suddenly been thrust into a match no one will want him to win. Which is sad, because he’s really rediscovered his sumo well in this tournament, and has a chance to wrap up his kachi-koshi early. Tamawashi has a slender 3-2 edge in this rivalry, but all of the momentum having come through all of the toughest matches he will face already, and certainly should have an easier run-in than Hakuho. But matches are played in the dohyo, not on paper. The Kataonami Baker has pre-heated the oven with his stunning upset of Hakuho on Day 12, and with these guys both being pusher-thruster types it should be a very intense battle.

Takayasu vs Goeido – It’s a Day 13 Ozeki battle where the only thing of consequence is Who’s Not Going to Be Kadoban? It’s possible that neither of them will make it out of this tournament with eight wins, although Takayasu can get the deal done here. Goeido still has to face a Hakuho who now desperately needs wins to fend off bloodthirsty challengers, so he’s less able to afford a slip in this match and is about as hot as kakigori. The lifetime series heavily favors Takayasu (18-9 when ignoring fusen-sho), and the Top Dog of Tagonoura is showing (marginally) the better sumo in this tournament as well, having come through the flu.

Takakeisho vs Hakuho – The two winners of the last two tournaments go head to head in the musubi-no-ichiban, and with rather more subplots than we’d originally anticipated: Takakeisho needs to win 2 of his last 3 matches to be considered for an Ozeki promotion. He’s also now just one win behind in the yusho arasoi, himself. Hakuho, meanwhile, has dropped 2 in a row and has not only left the door ajar but kicked it wide open for his challengers with two losses that could as much be attributed to his opponents to mistakes that he made. Takakeisho has never beaten Hakuho, and no one is ever favored against the Dai-Yokozuna, but the young starlet is fearless and – especially if the other yusho challengers keep up the pressure – this will be the highlight bout of the day.

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.