A Day Out at the Yokozuna Deliberation Committee Soken: Aki 2019 Edition

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The sekitori do their rounds before the Yokozuna Deliberation Committee at the Soken

It’s always rare, and cool, to get a chance to watch an open sumo practise session. While I was denied a visit to the Yokozuna Deliberation Committee’s soken earlier this year, as the event was closed to all non-NSK/YDC/media members, today’s session in advance of the Aki Basho was once again open to the public. And so with that in mind, I headed East across the Sumida River to Ryogoku.

For the uninitiated, the soken is essentially a modified open keiko session in front of a considerable number of oyakata, as well as the esteemed and yet also sometimes puzzling Yokozuna Deliberation Committee. Many members of the sports and mainstream media are also in attendance, and today’s event was filmed by at least six different entities. After the workout, various luminaries will voice their opinions on the state of the sport’s top rankers.

Food is an integral experience of sumo, especially when sitting around for hours. I picked up an onigiri beforehand in the konbini at Ryoguku JR station, as I wasn’t sure what food might be available at Kokugikan. I needn’t have worried, as the venue had two small stalls selling both onigiri and tamago sandwiches.

The event started at 7.20am, and I arrived a shade before 9. Having arrived earlier in the morning on my last visit to the soken in 2018, I was shocked to arrive to see open masu box seats as the various Juryo men took their turns in the moshi-ai (winner stays on, picks next opponent). Unlike the event preceding the 2018 Natsu basho when I was relegated to the upper deck, plenty of lower deck boxes were still available as I entered to watch Sokokurai go on a several bout winning run. Indeed, the attendance peaked with about half of the lower deck being full, but it’s worth bearing in mind that the last time this event was open to the public, it was very much in a period where the public was eager to the see the condition of beleaguered hero and 72nd Yokozuna Kisenosato.

The soken does give a different atmosphere to a day at Kokugikan during the basho. While it is more sparsely attended, it’s almost exclusively attended by die-hard sumo fans, which provides a unique experience. It was a pleasant surprise to see a few foreign faces in the venue as well. I took up a position in front of the various camera crews and next to some veteran connoisseurs of sumo who themselves enjoyed a plethora of snacks and sake throughout the morning.

The soken really isn’t too difficult to follow. As the day progresses from moshi-ai to butsukari and san-ban and back to butsukari etcetera and so on, the announcers do a great job of very quickly announcing who has been selected next to mount the dohyo for various activities. Even without any kind of dedicated torikumi, it is quite an easy event both for new fans as well as those who are very familiar with the sport to understand. 

In terms of the matches themselves, one should bear in mind that these are all training bouts, and it is important not to put too much stock into wins and losses but rather the nature of performance, the apparent health of the rikishi, and any discernible genki factor heading into the upcoming tournament.

Please bear in mind also that these notes from firsthand viewing are simply based on what I saw in the arena with the naked eye, without the benefit of replay or video footage.

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The Kokugikan Shop sold a limited selection of goods during the Soken.

Juryo Notes

It was notable to see most veterans staying on the periphery of the Juryo action. As mentioned above, Sokokurai took a lengthy winning run in the moshi-ai until relative newcomer Irodori finally dealt with him. Kizakiumi and Kyokushuho vied for the chance to get dispatched by the veteran Chinese rikishi, but the latter was very much the exception. Other rikishi with Makuuchi experience such as Kaisei, Chiyoshoma, Kyokutaisei and Yago stayed very much on the periphery of the day’s action, choosing not to even venture near the dohyo for most of the day.

Kiribayama was a popular staple in the moshi-ai mix, a grappler in an age of slappers. He has adjusted well to life in the second division and I have high hopes for him as he enters the upcoming basho in the upper third of the penultimate tier.

We were afforded first proper look at shin-sekitori Kaisho, who was handled pretty easily by Wakatakakage, the Arashio-beya man appearing quite genki. Kaisho did however later give the business to fellow newcomer Asagyokusei, who also looked in good shape.

Recent birthday man Midorifuji of the Makushita division was invited to play with the sekitori and I thought he looked impressive, although he was no match for Kotonowaka. He’s added some heft in the previous few months, and whether or not he achieves his promotion after the upcoming tournament, it is clear he is destined for a good run as a sekitori. As a smaller rikishi, he reminds me far more of the likes of Wakatakakage than Enho or Ishiura.

In the transition between the Juryo and Makuuchi portions of the day’s events, a pair of Ozeki took time to work with Juryo youngsters. Tochinoshin lent his chest to Kaisho, then later Kizakiumi. Takayasu, meanwhile, worked with Kotonowaka. Tochinoshin’s knees appeared taxed by the workout – though it’s very possible that may have been part of the purpose of the activity for him.

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Hakuho gives Takakeisho butsukari…

Makuuchi notes

During the Makuuchi moshi-ai, popular man Endo had a good winning run that was of course very much enjoyed by the crowd. He appears to be someone who trains well, but I didn’t feel there were too many clues with regard to how he may take his second bite at Komusubi in a few days’ time.

Ichinojo looked fairly genki. He had a spirited and victorious battle with Okinoumi, in particular. Of course, ever the inconsistent puzzler, Ichinojo was then bundled out by Nishikigi. It’s worth noting that Okinoumi was picked a few times during the moshi-ai. I think that as a tactically aware and technically capable veteran, he’s a great opponent to train against, especially if you’re a rikishi who may not have access to him all that much.

I felt Mitakeumi looked awful against the lower rankers, but that’s not really a surprise given his reputation of being a poor trainer. He could barely deal with a visibly tired Okinoumi before getting beaten in a yotsu-zumo match by famed slap artist Shohozan of all people – although it should be noted that Shohozan’s mawashi technique has improved notably as he has aged.

There were mixed results for Terutsuyoshi, who looks like he is honing his very compact style of sumo. He seems content to rely more on his strength than the wild trickery of the likes of Enho, Ishiura or Ura.

It was also a mixed bag for Takakeisho, who gambarized and was clearly intent to show his progress in his rehabilitation from recent injury, but he looked well short of match fitness. Video has circulated already of an impressive match of his with Aoiyama, but then the resurgent Yutakayama had Takakeisho all wrapped up and figured out. He largely disappeared after that match until the end of the day.

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… Hakuho leaves a disheveled Takakeisho writhing on the floor and poses for the cameras.

High Rankers

The men at the very top of the banzuke do not participate in the moshi-ai, and simply pick their partners and play with them until they decide they are finished. Unfortunately, like Tochinoshin, Ozeki Takayasu was not fit for bouts, just butsukari. Fellow Ozeki Goeido was rather more active, taking on Shodai for a number of matches. Shodai seems like an odd partner as his tachiai leaves so much to be desired that it’s difficult to tell whether Gōeidō has recovered his trademark speed or he’s just taking advantage of a weak opponent. In any case, he dominated the Maegashira.

Mitakeumi was a rather more robust opponent for Goeido in a matchup of men with rather different training reputations. Surprisingly, this is where Gōeidō came unstuck a bit and simply didn’t have his all-action high-octane offense. But after one win against the Ozeki, Mitakeumi crumbled, his overall performances on the day showing that while he has great ability in one-off matches during tournament play, his stamina for san-ban is rather diminished.

Gōeidō finished the day’s work with some lengthy battles against Daieisho. I felt his choices of opponent were curious. I understand that the three men offer different styles, levels, and are likely the type of opponents he will need to beat to get 8 wins. But I would have wanted to see someone in decent form like Ryuden (last basho’s results aside), Endo or Hokutofuji take him on – as I suspect they would have handled him quite differently, and that might have given more of a clue as to Goeido’s outlook for the basho.

Yokozuna Kakuryū ended up picking Endo off the bat, followed by Mitakeumi for a lengthy battle. The reigning yusho winner was very composed against both. Mitakeumi didn’t offer a whole lot and Kakuryū frequently picked the lock straight from the tachiai against the serial san’yaku challenger.

After a lengthy stretching routine during which a parade of tsukebito and lower rankers offered various greetings, gifts of chikara-mizu, towels, and so on, Hakuhō finally made his first appearance on the dohyo. Rather than taking on multiple challengers, he decided to give the fans a thoroughly entertaining set of matches against fun loving Komusubi Abi.

I felt both the Yokozuna made wise selections in light of their respective issues. Kakuryū, in good form, picked decent all rounders. Hakuho’s choice of Abi gave him a series of matches against a wild pusher-thruster with excellent mobility. He dispatched the Komusubi in a variety of manners, almost using a different technique each time, albeit with several thrust-downs. Hakuho’s main mission here seemed to be to blunt the two hand tsuppari, lock up the Shikoroyama man, and test various finishing manoeuvres against him.

Hakuho, as we know, is the consummate entertainer. I’d pay to watch him against Abi all day, but with the soken being a free event, it was even more of a treat. Abi did not try to use too much yotsu-zumo against the Yokozuna, which would have been intriguing, but facing the Yokozuna may not be the best time to try tricks you haven’t mastered. Abi did defeat Hakuho once, after which he holds his head in his hands looking like he can scarcely believe the level of work it took.

The relentlessness of Hakuho is such that surely when you believe Abi can’t take any more, Hakuho just continues to bring him back. Clearly, there is much to look forward to about Hakuho’s future as a stablemaster. Abi looked absolutely wrecked by the end of the day’s events, although he’ll come off better for it.

The finish to the day was mostly notable for Hakuho giving butsukari to Takakeisho, the only high ranker to the on the receiving end of any kind of brutal training. Takakeisho didn’t look great, although maybe didn’t have the most obliging partner in Hakuho, who would simply pull up and let the ozekiwake fall to the floor if he wasn’t delivering enough to push the Yokozuna across the dohyo. Indeed, most of the time, Takakeisho only had enough power to get the dai-Yokozuna to the shikiri-sen. A Hakuho butsukari session is always an entertaining watch.

As a thoroughly filthy Takakeisho exited the dohyo, that wrapped the day’s proceedings. Next up on the schedule is the dohyo consecration next weekend, and then we’ll be ready to kick off the Aki basho!

Tachiai Interviews Kintamayama, Part 5: “You can’t bleep it out, that’s my name!”

 

Kintamayama / Moti Dichne Live in Concert
After completing our setlist of questions, Kintamayama prepares to play Tachiai off the stage. Photo courtesy of Moti Dichne.

Welcome to the fifth and final part of Tachiai’s conversation with Moti Dichne, aka Kintamayama. Moti is well known in the online sumo community for his tireless coverage of all things sumo through his newsletter, his presence on SumoForum, and of course, his exhaustive YouTube channel.

A big thanks is due to Moti for taking the time to chat with us. We’re pleased to have been able to bring this conversation to our readers, and are thrilled that it has not only been so well received, but created more conversations around sumo – especially including some of the more controversial aspects of our chat!

Click here for Part 1, here for Part 2here for Part 3, and here for part 4 of our conversation. The interview took place during this year’s Natsu basho, and has been edited only for clarity and length. This segment touches on Moti’s shikona, his channel, and perhaps the most controversial move in sumo.

Tachiai: Let’s talk about Kintamayama (金玉山), The Mountain of Testicles.

Moti Dichne (Kintamayama): Everyone had funny names to stand out. That’s the whole point of playing the game.

When I entered, and started following sumo online, I made a list of names, and this just came. It just sounds good, the meaning doesn’t matter 90% of the time. Most people don’t understand it. It sounds cool.

The funniest thing is, Japanese TV interviewed me. It’s on YouTube. During the show, you’re not allowed to say these [kinds of] things. But if that’s my name… that’s my name!

The announcer was having such a great time saying it, and every time he said it, the crowd burst into laughter! “Kintamayama” “Waahhh!!!”

He said it about ten times in two minutes, just so he could say it. Let’s say a Japanese guy would play someone called “C—face.” Can you imagine the announcer? “And this is C—face.” What can I say? You can’t bleep it out, that’s the name!

But I never thought it would become this [big]. I thought, “Kintamayama’s a joke!” Some of the Japanese sumo games would not accept my entry because of my shikona. I said, “that’s a reason to stick with it!”

Some guy wrote me and said, “When you’ve retired, can I get that toshiyori, that second generation name?” I said, “No problem, you take the name when I retire.”

For foreign fans, it just sounds like another name. I thought of “ji-shin,” earthquake. But jishin? that’s nothing. And people die in earthquakes. Testicles, no problem. Konishiki went crazy! He loved saying it. He’d say, “This is my friend, Kintamayama!”

John Gunning told me, “The Kyokai knows your name, they know!”

I have no idea why [the Kyokai] never shut me down, to tell you the truth. I never got any warnings, until the last basho, and I got a warning from Abema. I’ve never used Abema! I can’t watch Abema, I’m not going to use VPN. I understand that because [the channel is] a digest, it falls under the category of fair use.

The Kyokai are very strict, but MLB and NBA are much more strict. There are many, many [sports] digest channels that have not been touched, and I use those. When I don’t have the time or inclination to watch the whole game, I just watch the highlights. But I have no idea why they’ve never touched me. 

Is it because no one else is doing it, even their rights holders?

I have no idea, I’m not going to ask anyone either, to wake up the dead dogs as they say. They know. Just look at the numbers, 12 million views, 26,000 subscribers, that’s a lot for sumo, any way you look at it. It’s a different thing to Jason, he’s incredible, [the way he] does the top bouts and films it. It’s a fantastic philosophy. He’s brought in thousands of fans and it’s very approachable, he’s a cool guy. 

I think for a lot of people, it’s appealing when you don’t know anyone else who’s into sumo to discover someone like Jason on YouTube, and that concept that it’s like watching it with a buddy. You can kind of go “oh, interesting, I don’t have another person who I can talk to about this.”

And it’s not that many bouts, so it shows the top guys.

The cool thing about that is there’s an ecosystem. We’re in this moment where people, specifically English speakers, can’t get enough information. To your earlier point, there are a lot of people from the English speaking world who perhaps don’t understand the Japanese way of thinking, and how that way of thinking informs sumo culture. I think the more information that’s available to those people, the more rich it makes the community. We see comments all the time, such as “why doesn’t this rikishi take a bunch of bashos off” or “why don’t they do this or that,” and you need that background information.

We have to be patient. I get a lot of comments on my videos and I try to answer every one that has a question, and especially every comment that says something that I find totally wrong. And usually, 99% [of people] say “thank you for the information.”

But if it’s, “Why is it like this?” “Why are there no weight classes,” and things like that, that’s like asking why players in baseball wear caps. What kind of question is that?! Let’s say I asked you that kind of question, what would your answer be?

About caps?

Yeah, let’s say you have a baseball site, and I say “why are your players wearing these ridiculous caps?”

That’s how it is, it’s part of the game.

Yes! Exactly! You don’t come into a baseball forum and ask “hey, why are bunts allowed? It seems unfair!” 

Now they have statistics that prove bunts are actually not good.

Bunts are like a henka. Why is henka allowed? Okay: that is always the biggest question. But it always deteriorates and ends with the word “nazi.” When you get to that part, where it’s “you fucking nazi!” … that’s when the discussion is over. The henka lights up everything.

It’s controversial. Whenever you see a henka, at least on the English feed, the commentators will always say “look, it’s a legal move.”

Yeah, “I don’t like it but it’s a legal move.” The Japanese commentators don’t like it.

I think it’s the equivalent in baseball of a curveball.

I think it’s the equivalent in baseball of an intentional walk. And now, from last season, you don’t have to throw the ball for an intentional walk, you just say it.  

The crowd feels cheated. An intentional walk is usually against the biggest hitter, and the crowd says “shit, I paid however many dollars, I want to see him play, not walk!” 

So Terunofuji henkas Kotoshogiku and ends his Ozeki career. People said an Ozeki shouldn’t do that – and then Terunofuji himself had to later attempt to get back to Ozeki. What do we think about that?

It’s crap! At that time, in a big sumo newspaper, I was on the “for henka” side and another guy was against it. Each one of us wrote a gigantic article. I said it doesn’t matter if you’re a Yokozuna or an Ozeki, as long as it’s legal. I don’t like kachiage, but for it to be frowned upon!? It’s part of sumo, it’s not a rule. 

What about the harite?

The harite also. You know, Hakuho, the last few years, without the harite, had a problem. He came back a bit with it [in Osaka], and got the yusho! I don’t care! I love it!! I think the slap and grab is nice.

I think it adds character.

It adds everything – it’s not boring. But, there were guys that used to do glorious henkas, jumping in the air. That’s part of keeping people guessing.

Look at your opponent, don’t look at the floor like Kotoshogiku, who was the number one henka-ee, you know? You’re not animals, just see what you’re opponent’s doing.

There are people who can’t stand it, because they think it’s cheating. You can’t convince everyone about the henka. 

Thanks for taking the time to chat with us, we appreciate it!

Thank you for asking me!

Find out more from Kintamayama and subscribe to his mailing list at dichne.com. And finally, thanks again to Moti for chatting with Tachiai.

Tachiai Interviews Kintamayama, Part 4: “If Hakuho goes, we have no responsible adult.”

Moti Dichne (Kintamayama) and Takanohana
Kintamayama with Takanohana outside of Futagoyama-beya. Photo courtesy of Moti Dichne.

Welcome to Part 4 of Tachiai’s conversation with Moti Dichne, aka Kintamayama. Moti is well known in the online sumo community for his tireless coverage of all things sumo through his newsletter, his presence on SumoForum, and of course, his exhaustive YouTube channel.

Click here for Part 1, here for Part 2, and here for Part 3 of our conversation, if you are catching up. The interview took place during this year’s Natsu basho, and as such predates some current sumo events (such as the retirement of Aminishiki) and has been edited only for clarity and length. This segment touches on the state of some current rikishi and the ongoing transition in the sport.

Tachiai: A lot of people are very interested in debating Takakeisho’s ceiling. What are your thoughts on Takakeisho? What can he be? He’s got one trick, but it’s a weird trick.

Moti Dichne (Kintamayama): Listen, Chiyotaikai was not much better. He had the windmill thing, and it worked for him for 60 bashos! In the meantime, Takakeisho is looking really good, you can’t argue with that. [edited to add: this interview took place before Takakeisho’s injury caused him to at least temporarily lose his ozeki status]

I personally am a belt person, but [yotsu-zumo rikishi] are becoming like dinosaurs. Look at Makuuchi… out of 42, maybe 32 are slappers! You’ve got Tochinoshin, and Hakuho and maybe 3 more [who are yotsu-zumo rikishi]. But Asanoyama was down where all his opponents are slappers and he’s had a difficult time getting the belt.

I [now] think Takakeisho is the real deal for sure, and I didn’t think so. I was happy they didn’t promote him when they didn’t promote him [the first time he met the informal qualification]. I said, “let’s wait a minute and see how he does mentally.”

Kisenosato would be devastated [in that situation], and it would take him 3 bashos to get over it. Takakeisho got over it very quickly. He’s a cool cucumber. He has a mission, and everyone forgets that he’s a young guy.

Personally, Onosho was the guy that I was rooting for. He started off well, but I hope that his whole setback lately comes from an injury and not from that being how good he is. I’m looking for a reason, because he came up and was killing everybody. Even Takakeisho. Even Hakuho [couldn’t deal with him].

That’s an interesting point. One thing that we’ve been talking about the last several years is that sumo is in a transitionary phase.

Oh, yeah.

But I think that when people hear that, what they expect to see is the Kisenosatos of the world retire – and he did, as did Harumafuji, but Harumafuji retired in a freak situation. It wasn’t like, “we’re in a transitionary period, and all the top guys are going,” what we’re actually seeing is the Takekazes of the world and the guys who are the long serving veterans who are starting to work their way out, but I think it’s happening slower than people really expect. Is it because these veterans of that last period… Takekaze, Yoshikaze, Kotoshogiku, Aminishiki – are they that good that they’re able to hang around or is it because this new generation – Onosho for example – hasn’t been good enough to be able to push on?

A little of both. It’s very difficult to know. There’s one thing that foreign fans will never understand: It’s not yaocho when the young guys have respect. When they were five years old, they used to watch [the older guys] on TV. That has to factor in somewhere, on the dohyo, that “I don’t want to hurt the old guy. I don’t want to be the one who caused the old guy to retire.”

I’m not saying that they’re giving them the wins, but I think they are being extra careful. Nobody will tell you that, but I am pretty sure. And I can tell by the bouts, I can see, the younger the guys are more reluctant to go all-out against Aminishiki, against Toyonoshima. That’s my feeling. Toyonoshima a bit less because when you look at him, you don’t see him as that old. Aminishiki on the other hand, you see an old guy. [He’s] like an oyakata having fun.

The Japanese are very rooted in kohai and sempai. It has power when you were 10 years old and you adored [a rikishi], and suddenly you’re fighting him and you’re saying somewhere, “I don’t want to kill this guy, I don’t want to hurt him.”

There’s a totally different thing happening right now. I think for the first time, since I don’t know when… if Hakuho goes, we have no responsible adult. There’s no name. The minute Hakuho goes, we’re doomed. Kakuryu and Mitakeumi?

Always there’s a void. Takanohana came after Chiyonofuji. The Americans came. There were never 4… 5… 7… 8… 10 bashos like that, and if Hakuho goes…

Dominance is good and bad but it’s good for knowing there’s a responsible adult.

It’s also a society that’s dominated by the concept of eras. We’re talking right now at a time when the change to the Reiwa era has just happened. It’s an appropriate time for this discussion. You can bank on Hakuho, even if he’s kyujo 2 times a year, to get up to 50 to 60 wins a year. I think an issue if he leaves is that usually in that vacuum, someone will go, “ok, I’m going to take those 60 wins.” But right now, we’re seeing six guys taking ten of those wins apiece over the course of the year.

That’s what I’m saying! It’s not going to happen. In the NBA, you have your LeBrons and your Michael Jordans. In baseball you have [dominant] guys. Here, suddenly, there’s nobody. Because Kakuryu does anything but show leadership, you don’t know what’s going to happen with him. He has no charisma. 

Do you think the next Hakuho is in the sport now?

I don’t think there’s going to be a “next Hakuho” for quite a while. I’m not sure about Naya either. I have no idea. None from whoever’s in Makuuchi today. Maybe Takakeisho, but I doubt it if he’s going to be one dimensional. Somewhere along the line, but I don’t see anyone right now. I thought Goeido at some point, but he’s getting old. I think he’s going to win another yusho. I have a feeling that this is his basho [Natsu 2019], but we’ll see.

As we speak, Goeido is on his longest run of staying out of kadoban that he’s ever been on in his entire Ozeki career. [edited to add: he’s since gone kadoban again]

See, this is what we’re talking about: an Ozeki who’s 30 years old and been kadoban every 2-3 [basho]. Guys like Hakuho breeze through Ozeki, [not] stuck in Ozeki for 30 bashos. They just walked over Ozeki, except for Musashimaru, who stayed on for a long time.

I made a poll, a hundred years ago on the mailing list: “Who thinks Musashimaru will become Yokozuna?” Out of about 100 responses, three people. Because there was no way. He seemed to be a happy go lucky guy, content with a 9-6. 10-5.

We all were laughing, saying “he’s going to have to learn the dohyo-iri, just for that he won’t be come Yokozuna!” And then suddenly out of nowhere, he made it in. Everyone was healthy, it wasn’t like it was something that he picked up off the floor. And he was a great Yokozuna.

And Musashimaru was in an era where it was difficult to do that, with Takanohana still being in the sport. Whoever does it next may have a free run at it. 

That’s what we’re saying, exactly! It’s going to be easy! That’s why I have a feeling that even though he’s one dimensional, maybe Takakeisho will be able to do it. He just needs two [consecutive] yushos! And in this atmosphere at this moment, who knows. 

It could happen. I think the biggest issue with the current crop is consistency.

Listen, not only could it happen, it has to happen, because there’s going to be a void. 

There was the period in the early 90s before Akebono, where there was nobody for about a year. There were 4 Yokozuna, and then Asahifuji and Hokutoumi retired, having mostly been kyujo just before they retired. I think we may see that again, where there were 4, and then none. 

I missed Chiyonofuji and all of that era! The internet brought me back to sumo. Between ’67 and ’90, that’s 23 years I was totally out of sumo. There was no other way [to see sumo]. I had to go back and study everything and see what happened, for my own information and my own curiosity. 

It’s a weird parallel because you had this period where you had Onokuni, Hokutoumi…

Onokuni was a lousy Yokozuna also! He should keep on making cakes. He’s a baker!

They all kind of flattered to deceive a little bit, and it’s kind of like the current period, where you had Kisenosato with two yusho, injuries, and he’s out… and maybe the end of Hakuho’s career is similar to the end of Chiyonofuji’s career. Maybe there will be a year break with no Yokozuna because nobody can win two in a row, or the equivalent?

I think it’s going to be interesting. Because the fans now, for the first time, are coming in – not for the Yokozuna. I don’t remember that happening since I got interested in sumo.

It was always the Yokozuna, Asashoryu, these guys [who attracted fans]. Any time they were injured, the attendance went down. In those days, the basho wasn’t sold out in advance.

You look around the arena and see what things people hold up and who they are cheering for, and while you do get a lot of fans for Ozeki Tochinoshin now, a lot of people love Mitakeumi, Endo, Enho…

They’re Japanese! Endo, always! Of course it also depends which tournament it is, the local people always [get support]. Mitakeumi is very well liked, and I don’t understand why! Maybe he’s a nice guy. But his sumo…

He has consistency problems.

And he has training problems, which is worse. He trains [poorly], then he loses and everyone is on his case. He’s one of those guys that he comes on during the basho. 

He’s kind of the opposite of Goeido, who trains very hard, but then falters during the basho.

Yeah, exactly. The oyakata are already making jokes about Mitakeumi, that he loses all the time in training, and they’re saying he’s not going all out and that’s why he’ll never amount to anything. That used to be the case with Robocop (Takamisakari). He would never win a single bout in keiko! It was like he was scared. During the basho he had no choice, but in training he used to be scared! 

He was a character that was great for the sport.

Oh, for sure! A character you need. The way they cut Kotoyuki down… what the hell do you care?! Now, Kotoyuki has this new thing going, his helicopter move [before the tachiai]. Nobody cares. Nobody notices, nobody gives a shit, nobody laughs or claps. In his prime, everybody was waiting just for that! Now, you have the Takayasu “Gorilla.” The crowd goes crazy [for that].

I think Kotoshogiku needs to bring his back bend move back. He stopped when he fell out of san’yaku. Do you think if he goes back to san’yaku he’ll bring it back? 

He stopped his back bend and I didn’t even notice! I read somewhere that someone told him it’s not good for his back. Which sounds like total nonsense. Maybe it’s a san’yaku thing, like the change of names where when they drop out of san’yaku and go back to their real name.

Maybe he feels he’s not a top level guy anymore so he hasn’t earned the right to make a big show?

K: Well, knowing Kotoshogiku, that’s very possible.

The rumour on the street is that he wants to renew his rivalry with Toyonoshima. Do you think that’s ever going to happen?

Toyonoshima looks good. He looks like he has a lot of years in him, in contract to Aminishiki who doesn’t [edited to add: and has since retired]. But Aminishiki has been looking that way for the last five years… so what do I know! I’m telling you the factor is the guys are afraid to injure him and they’re not going all out.

Find out more from Kintamayama and subscribe to his mailing list at dichne.com, and keep an eye out for the final part of our conversation, which will run soon on Tachiai.

Tachiai Interviews Kintamayama, Part 3: “Everyone was scared to enter the dohyo!”

Kintamayama (Moti Dichne) with Musashimaru and Konishiki
Kintamayama, pictured overseeing keiko at Musashigawa-beya with the former Musashimaru (Musashigawa-oyakata) and Konishiki. Photo courtesy of Moti Dichne.

Welcome to Part 3 of Tachiai’s conversation with Moti Dichne, aka Kintamayama. Moti is well known in the online sumo community for his tireless coverage of all things sumo through his newsletter, his presence on SumoForum, and of course, his exhaustive YouTube channel.

Click here for Part 1 and click here for Part 2 of our conversation, if you are catching up. The third part of our series incorporates some of Moti’s stories from keiko, thoughts on future stars, and fun with sumo. The interview took place during this year’s Natsu basho and has been edited for clarity and length [edited to add: this post was edited further on August 17 due to a complaint regarding some of the video content]. This segment features some strong opinions, which are of course the subject’s own.

Tachiai: Obviously you use your Japanese language skills to bring us a lot of information. And particularly, you have got some really interesting scoops from the interview room…

Moti Dichne: laughs

Do you have any of those videos coming up? I think there are some people who want to know who else came to Ichinojo’s bar mitzvah….

I always watch all the interviews, and I know which interview can go like that. Most of the interviews lately are very straightforward. I have to be in the zone, you know? It doesn’t happen very easily! I’ll tell you something. I estimate 70% of people think those videos are real. I’ve been having complaints, like “why did Ichinojo jump the line in the supermarket?!”

 

It’s all music, it’s all the sound. There are a lot of words that sound a bit like English. I enjoy it a lot. When people enjoy it, that’s great. I haven’t done it in a long time, I don’t know why.

You seem to have your favourites that you’ll go after. 

 

 

In the old times, they used to show a close-up of the monoii because [the video] was the Kyokai’s feed, not NHK. My best work is the rapport between the shimpan. One time, one of the shimpan, Chiyotaikai’s slipper fell off, and so I have Chiyonofuji saying “see? I told you not to buy cheap shoes! Where did you buy these shoes anyway!?” It looks like he’s saying it! And Chiyotaikai says, “What do you want? it was a sale!”

I can’t do that anymore because I can’t see [the monoii], it’s very far on the NHK feed, and I don’t know what they’re saying. Listen, that humour is part of me. I can’t help it. Sometimes, I have “font day.” I have all kinds of nonsense that annoys people. I don’t give a shit. I love it! It makes it more entertaining.

 

 

 

You have to find the joy in it, right?

Humour is always arguable, but at least I make it my thing. Maybe not all the information is there, but it’s the personal touch. People like to feel part of the running gags. They say, “oh yeah, the guy without the neck!” And people correct me, they go: “there was a tsuppari against the guy without a neck and you didn’t say anything!”

“OK, I’ll file that away for next time.”

The problem is at my age I don’t remember what I filed!

We both obviously love Ikioi, and I discovered you like Abi as well. Is it the guys that have the high energy now, that come to the top division, who you find entertaining?

I don’t know about other people, but I have seen a lot of behind the scenes videos. Abi looks like the perfect prankster. He’s always pranking. That’s it! I don’t care about anything else. It’s not the norm. I like the pranksters!

They’re good characters.

Good characters! And they’re different. Abi looks serious when he’s on the dohyo, but that’s life. He looks like a really light hearted, nice guy. The sumo’s very, very shallow, that [two hand attack] is all he does.

The funny thing is, my daughter called me Abi way before he came up. Because abba in Hebrew is dad. And “Abi” is like “daddy.” Suddenly, this guy called Abi comes up! And he came up with Abiko, so there were two Abis: Abi and Abiko, who’s now Tsurugisho. But that’s why I like Abi, that’s why I like Ikioi. You can tell that it’s more than sumo to them.

It’s true, because I think it can also be a really hard, sometimes joyless, lifestyle.

Exactly! Exactly to the point. These guys can find their five minutes of joy. We know the life. We’re not passing fans, we know what things they go through. I’ve been to keiko.

I saw Asashoryu in 2000. I went to Wakamatsu-beya, and I have never ever seen such a thing, not before and not after. He was head-butting everyone around. Everyone was scared to enter the dohyo! And the Makuuchi guys were whistling and looking around [trying not to be noticed]. They didn’t dare get in! So I asked the oyakata, “please, allow me to take a picture with him.” He says “oh… Makushita.” You know, Makushita, they’re trash. And I said, “But please, I came all the way from Israel, please let me take a picture.”

The oyakata said, “Why?” I said, “Because he’s the next yokozuna.”

And I wrote that on the mailing list, as proof. I said, “I just saw a guy, he was in Makushita, he is the next Yokozuna.” I’ve never seen anything like that. And I have the picture! I spoke with him, and he was very intelligent. He knew everything about Israel and Palestine, and he asked questions. The oyakata allowed me to speak, otherwise I couldn’t. [The Makushita guys] to them, they are nothing, you cannot talk to them.

The funny thing is if you go now to keiko, you might be more likely to end up taking a photo with the guys near the bottom end of the banzuke!

I got Takanohana, I got Wakanohana, I got everybody. I just walked up, it’s the Israeli cheekiness. People say “no, don’t go…” What’s going to happen? They might say, “No, go away.”

During that era, I went to Kokugikan, and I was with Doreen Simmons, who just died, and she knew everybody. I totally respected that she knew everyone. She got me in everywhere – except Futagoyama, which was out in Chiba somewhere. A friend took me there. That was an incredible experience, to see Takanohana and Wakanohana training. No-nonsense training. It’s not like, “I’m the Yokozuna, and I’m going to watch.”

[When] Takanohana came into the room, I swear to God there was an electric shock in the whole room. I felt it, I was thrown back! It was the presence, and he is gigantic. You never know this! I always thought Terao was a small guy. Terao is tall! I met him also.

I got Takanohana in his prime. I walked up right after the keiko and said, “can I take a picture with you?” He said, “you stay here, I’m going to do an interview and then I’m coming back and we’re taking pictures.” There was a huge staff of TV [people]. And he said, “don’t you want to shake my hand?” Takanohana! I was at Futagoyama-beya when it was Takanohana, Wakanohana, and all these [top division] guys. I was sitting there, and it was really cool.

You obviously identified Asashoryu in that moment. Who now, if you’re looking outside the two divisions, are you super excited about?

It’s not such a stretch. Of course, Hoshoryu and Naya. I had a lot of faith in Shoji at Musashigawa-beya. But, something happened along the way. I don’t know if he’s stuck. I’ll see him tomorrow, I’ll talk to him and see what happened. 

He hit the wall really badly, 5 or 6 basho stuck in the same place. He was coming up really, really [well], and he was looking good, I was watching his bouts and I spotted something in him.

Other than that, there’s a guy now coming in, who started from Sandanme who’s supposed to be really, really [good], Shiraishi. Listen, the last two guys who started from Sandanme to come up [to the top division] were Yutakayama and Asanoyama. I think Asanoyama, by the way, is going to have a fantastic basho this basho. (edited to add: this was said by Kintamayama at the very start of the tournament before Asanoyama won his fairly unprecedented, debut yusho)

Yeah? He’s looked pretty good so far.

I have a feeling that he was injured for the last few bashos. He looks much better now, and Yutakayama will be back up for sure. It’s gotta be an injury.

What do you think about Hakuho as a recruiter? He brought along the two small guys – Enho and Ishiura – and they got up to the top division, and now he’s got this enormous guy, Toma.

There’s no question about it, the results speak for themselves. There’s nothing you can argue about. It’s not semantics. We’re not guessing. He’s got two midgets in the first division! Not in Juryo, not in Makushita… in the first division! We’ll have to see how Enho does, because Ishiura was lucky and should have been demoted. It will be interesting to see if Enho can make it – I personally don’t believe he’ll make it. It’s like Takanoyama… I think he’s too small. But, who knows?

That’s the debate: will he be Takanoyama or will he be Mainoumi?

He could have one or two good basho, but the real test will be the third [Makuuchi] basho. When the guys catch on to you and they know what you’re not supposed to do, that’s it.

It also happened with Ishiura.

Yeah, yeah. But still, he’s still around! 

He’s physically pretty decent. With Enho, when you shut down his mobility, you shut him down.

And he’s had an injury which everyone knows about, it’s not a secret. With his shoulder, I think in [the old days] he would have been kyujo.

Listen, there was the kosho system. [That] was really cool, until the Ozeki were very weak. The truth is it’s all Musoyama’s fault, today’s Fujishima-oyakata. He was the one misusing [the system] in a very, very obvious way. Don’t let anyone else tell you anything else because it’s bullshit. He was going 0-3 and suddenly making up an injury and getting out.

They’re going to lose prime wrestlers [because of] this shit! Look at Ura. He also came back too early! 2 seconds later he got injured again.

And also the jungyo. There used to be 7 or 8 jungyo [dates per tour], now they have 25 or 26. There’s no way anyone can recuperate – no way!

The exciting new stars don’t only put butts in seats, but they also sell so much merch. 

[The Association] is killing the chicken that lays the golden egg. Why!? They have got to find a way [to deal with injuries]. I’m pretty sure someone has come up with a way that’s not kosho, something in the middle. It’s crazy. Maybe when [rikishi] go kyujo, don’t drop them [all the way] back, drop them a little less. Don’t treat it as a 0-15, because that’s not fair, it’s an injury. Treat it as a 5-10, 4-11. It’s not that complicated to do that. It’s not rewriting the rules. There are no rules that say it has to be a 0-15. That’s not written anywhere.

Find out more from Kintamayama and subscribe to his mailing list at dichne.com, and keep an eye out for the next parts of our conversation, which will run soon on Tachiai.

[This post has been edited to reflect Kintamayama’s own updates to his comments regarding his meeting with Asashoryu, correcting the year and stable.]