Hatsu Torikumi Released: Kisenosato Will Start

The NSK released the schedule for the opening two days of the upcoming tournament. Among the storylines, the headline is that Kisenosato is scheduled to compete. Out of the gate he will tackle two top tadpoles, Takakeisho and Hokutofuji. In truth, the entire yokozuna triumvirate will have their hands full. In his do-or-die hatsu, Kakuryu starts off with the reverse schedule, Hokutofuji followed by Takakeisho. Meanwhile, Hakuho begins with Onosho and then faces a hopefully resurgent Ichinojo on Day 2.

I’m excited to see Ichinojo back in the joi, starting with his first bout against Goeido. He had a premature taste last tournament from M4 as the depleted sanyaku ranks, with five unable to finish, meant he faced seven top tier opponents including Yokozuna and Ozeki. Without such injuries, M4 would likely face a couple of lower sanyaku opponents. Ichinojo held his own, beating Goeido, Mitakeumi, and Yoshikaze and finishing with 10 wins overall. A similar record this tournament will not only catapult him into san’yaku but could kick off an Ozeki run.

Kotoshogiku, the former ozeki, will prove to be an interesting test for Mitakeumi and Takayasu. Both are coming off injuries and may be ripe for an upset. The senior rikishi from Sadogatake is clearly driven. He wants to be back among the top ranks, even though he’s no longer on anyone’s short list for yusho contention. There were a few bouts in the last tournament where it looked like his sumo was developing beyond the humpity-bumpity. He still finds yorikiri and oshidashi wins, somehow. But if he starts picking up -nage wins, he could arrest his slide down the banzuke. The top ranks are a mix of banged-up geezers and green upstarts. It’s time to use some wiles.

Terunofuji will face Chiyomaru for the first time in four years. After two years in Juryo, Chiyomaru has apparently finally been cast in a recurring role among the lower maegashira and should serve as a decent early test of those knees. Is Terunofuji headed for Juryo or can he recover after a prolonged period of lower-ranked competition? On Day 2 he’ll face the one-time high-flying Kotoyuki, who’s coming off his own recovery in the lower ranks. If Kotoyuki has recovered, he may flip-flop with Kotoshogiku as top at Sadogatake. His tournament will start against Uncle Sumo Aminishiki.

I’m likely alone in my early picks but my Bout of the Day for Day 1 is Goeido v Ichinojo. This early bout should set the tone for both men’s basho. Will Goeido be in contention and will the Monster show up? As an optimist, I’m hoping for “Yes.” My pick for Day 2 is Tamawashi v Yoshikaze. One hopes to start an Ozeki run, the other just always brings it. “There Will Be Blood.”

明けましておめでとうございます!!。 謹賀新年!

Akemashite-omedetou-gozaimasu is the phrase Japanese use to ring in the new year. It’s a mouthful so many of us foreigners just say, “Akeome.” While I just woke up in DC — and am technically about 40 minutes late with this post — it is already 2018 there.

謹賀新年 kinga shin’nen is a more formal, sophisticated phrase for the same thing. 四字熟語 (yoji jyuku-go) are four-character stock phrases and kinga shin’nen means welcome the new year. After 2017, hell yeah. Welcome 2018!

今年宜しくお願い致します。Kotoshi yoroshiku onegaitashimasu. (Roughly: “We will appreciate your support in the New Year.”)

Welcome 2018!

I am welcoming in the year of the dog with this Tosa Ken, The Yokozuna dog. In Kochi, close to the sea shore and a few minutes from the memorial to Sakamoto Ryoma, there’s a little tourist spot where they have a little dog dohyo.

If you check out my Twitter account, my avatar is a cartoon-styled version from a Mos-Burger calendar from a few years back. Another Japanese tradition is to hand out calendars. Just about every company floods you with calendars, and the Japanese Sumo Association is no different. However, it is bitter-sweet to look at last year’s NSK calendar. The year opened with three yokozuna and four ozeki. The pictures reflect the ranks from Aki 2016, so Takayasu was front and center for the picture featuring the east side of the lower sanyaku ranks and upper maegashira, Takanoiwa on the far right of the front row. I haven’t gotten the calendar for 2018, yet.

I especially want to thank Bruce, Herouth, Josh, Leonid, Liam, Thomas and Nicola! In 2017, you all – Team Tachiai – turned this little blog into a real sumo community by engaging hundreds of readers and it’s reflected in the amazing comments. Thank you readers (commenters and lurkers alike)! You keep me engaged in this sport and I really appreciate it. I am excited to see what happens this year!

Thank you!

Tachiai 忘年会チャレンジ

Long ago, in an 英会話 far away, your correspondent was a terrified, socially awkward foreigner in 日吉. I was plopped into a classroom with virtually no training in the middle of October 2003. After a few fits and starts, I was able to grasp the gist of the our school’s methodology: keep the students entertained and help them learn something. There were amazing days and quite a few challenging ones. In this context, when December rolled around I was introduced to the wonderful Japanese custom of the Bonenkai.

Japan has many New Year customs which this blog will highlight with several posts in the coming weeks. Do not worry, their relevance to sumo will be apparent. In this post, I will highlight the Bonenkai. A literal translation of the kanji is “forget the year gathering”. Unlike the many customs, like setsubun, which are family oriented, the Bonenkai is different because it is oriented toward business and friends. This is more similar to “the company Christmas party” in the West. Many businesses will be closed for the first week of the new year so these parties are generally held before that break.

So, for a business person in Japan, December can be a super busy month. Often there will be a Bonenkai with your section or division, then there will be another one with clients, others with friends. This party is generally an alcohol fueled gathering at a local izakaya where colleagues and friends will celebrate the end of the last year. At an izakaya there are no photocopiers, though, so our grand tradition of getting drunk and photocopying our butts is sorely missed. Instead, many izakaya have a karaoke machine which lend themselves to my horrible renditions of 90s grunge classics.

While the name may demonstrate the reason for the party, these gatherings are not dismal affairs. Rather than dwelling on the challenges of the past year, colleagues and friends focus on appreciation for their support and look forward to the new year.

So, with December upon us, I urge Tachiai readers to go out and have your own Bonenkai where we can put this horrible 2017 behind us. Yes, we were blessed with a new Yokozuna and Ozeki only to quickly lose both to the disabled list. We quickly lost two ozeki and our electrifying youngster, Ura, went down to injury. Adding in the fallout from the fight in Tottori, we can see the reasons for our Bonenkai. If you have your own Bonenkai, take pictures and if you share them on Twitter, I’ll retweet and like them.

Rather than dwell on these past challenges, we raise a glass (with a few “Banzai!”) to Hakuho’s 40th, the resurgence of Uncle Sumo (Aminishiki), the continued growth of young talents from Asanoyama to Enho to Wakaichiro, and the comebacks of Endo and Okinoumi. Who will make the next Ozeki run? Takakeisho, Onosho, Tamawashi, Hokutofuji, or other?

It’s Jungyo Time!

Are you ready for Jungyo? The winter jungyo begins tomorrow, 12/3. For the Aki Tour, Herouth provided a great map which you can reference under the features menu. I’ve replicated her map for the winter tour. This 1500-mile journey will cover 10 locations over the next two weeks. The first 8 events will be a 660-mile course of one-day stops in eight different venues on the island of Kyushu. The last two stops will be on two islands in Okinawa with each of those events lasting two days. As the final event will wrap up on December 17, this will give rikishi almost a full month to prepare for the Hatsu Basho starting 1/14.

Two Week Winter Tour

Of particular interest in these events will be the attendance of sekitori. We already know that we are down one yokozuna with the retirement of Harumafuji. I hope he gets to sleep in late tomorrow and enjoys a late afternoon tee-time at a picturesque golf course while the other sekitori prepare to haul their luggage around Kyushu.

Two other yokozuna, Kisenosato and Kakuryu have nagging injuries to worry about. Their health is a priority for the Sumo Kyokai and they are expected to come back to sumo at full force, or join Harumafuji on the links. That leaves us with Hakuho as, likely, the sole yokozuna participating.

Nishiiwa Beya To Open Feb 2018, 5 Wrestlers Promoted to Juryo

Hat-tip to Asashosakari for posting on Reddit that the new Nishiiwa Beya will open in 2018, headed by former Sekiwake Wakanosato. Nikkan Sports reports that this will be the 46th stable, an off-shoot from Taganoura stable where he is currently coaching. Youngsters Wakanoguchi and Wakasatake will make the move with him. Both were Jonidan-ranked wrestlers for the Kyushu tournament, having made their debuts earlier this year. The Japanese Sumo Kyokai’s website has a full list available.

Five wrestlers were promoted to the full-time salaried ranks of Juryo. Mitoryu (6-1) and Akua (5-2) will make their Juryo debuts Hatsubasho. Three others will be returning, Kizenryu, Daishoho, and Makushita yusho winner Tochihiryu.

In other news, nine wrestlers announced their retirement with the headliner obviously being Yokozuna Harumafuji. Kotohayashi from Sandanme, four Jonidan wrestlers (Suekawa, Kasuganami, Hasugeyama, Mutsumi), two Jonokuchi wrestlers (Tomiyama & Masuyama) and unranked Wakainoue also called it quits.

Kyushu Day 8: The March Toward 40

Hakuho continues to make steady, though uncertain, progress toward his 40th yusho. Steady, in that the rest of the old guard and the young tadpoles seem to fall all around him. Uncertain, as we wonder whether his best bouts, and his injuries, are behind him. Resorting to a henka against Hokutofuji leaves us guessing, did Hakuho see this bout as a potential threat? As a sleeper upset? Though Hokutofuji was in the hunt group to start the day, his weak tachiai meant he was not immediately dispatched by the henka but he was unable to regroup for an effective counter-attack as Hakuho backed him over the bales for a yorikiri win.

Kisenosato is not ready for this tournament, but Ichinojo sure is. I’ve seldom seen a yokozuna put away so easily. While Kisenosato tried to find a way to the Mongolian’s belt, Ichinojo just pressed forward. By the time Kise realized he was in trouble and needed to do something, he was already backed up to the tawara and his panicked thrusting was futile. His expression in defeat was one of exhaustion, deflation, disappointment. Was it one of kyujo? Ichinojo doesn’t care, he got his kinboshi and remains in the hunt with one loss.

Takayasu also struggled, but for considerably longer, to find Yoshikaze’s belt. They tussled, paused, and seemed to be gearing up for mutual tsuppari attack when Yoshikaze gave one last charge of his oshi attack…and Takayasu slipped. Goeido 2.0 went full berserker on Chiyonokuni who was likely just happy to stay on his feet as he was powered off the dohyo.

Takakeisho’s win over Mitakeumi was like watching two bubbles in the fizzy drink scene of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. They dart around furiously, bumping into each other with growing urgency as the exhaust fan draws them near. At the last moment, Takakei-bubble bounces free while Mitake-bubble gets drawn into the fan and, “pop”.

Onosho made quick work of Kotoshogiku. Both will likely fall back into maegashira as they each sit on two wins. Onosho’s win was impressive as he went right at Kotoshogiku. This should have been an instance where Kotoshogiku’s trunk would kick in for a hippity-hoppity yorikiri but the youngster got him moving backwards. Then as Kotoshogiku got to the edge and his weight moved forward to #resist, Onosho vanished with only a tap on the mage to remember him by, leaving the former ozeki to flop on the clay.

Okinoumi is making a charge from the bottom of the banzuke. Today he battled Makuuchi newbie Daiamami. The surging youngster may have finally hit a wall. Jason’s favorite from Shimane-ken found a firm grip with his right hand on Daiamami’s mawashi and powered him off the clay and into the crowd.

Endo v Aminishiki was over in a blink. Endo knew a henka was coming, adjusted, and forced Uncle Sumo out. It seemed Aminishiki’s henka attempt may have been a bit too casual and slow? He falls off pace to 6-2.

Arawashi’s henka nearly backfired as Chiyomaru caught it out well. Arawashi’s agility helped him dance around Chiyomaru and pick up the hatakikomi victory as Chiyomaru fell to the dohyo. Arawashi improves to 7-1 and stays one off the lead. However, he’s not going to be able to henka himself to a yusho.

Chiyoshoma Kirikaeshi Attack

Chiyoshoma’s bout against Shohozan was just about the first good bout of the day, certainly the first good belt battle. As Shohozan led with his right foot, Chiyoshoma let his right foot slide backward and wrapped the left around Shohozan’s leg and then twisted their bodies, forcing both to fall. The kirikaeshi victory is a rare kimarite and great tripping technique.

Tamawashi jumped all over Takarafuji for a not-worth-watching Oshidashi win. Tochiozan is having a terrible tournament. His pull backfired as he fell off the dohyo first, right into the shimpan, officially going make-koshi on Day 8. Chiyotairyu picks up his third win and will need to finish strong in week two to get his kachi-koshi. Tochinoshin picked up a worthy win against a listless Shodai. Shodai didn’t seem to have a plan of attack, rather he allowed Tochinoshin to come at him. That’s not a good plan against a guy with the size and strength of the Georgian. Tochinoshin improves to 5-3 while Shodai falls to 3-5, and looks to drop further into the Maegashira.

Aoiyama made use of his long reach to pick up a very important win in his return bout. He held Daishomaru at bay, then as his opponent overcommitted, he slid gingerly to the side while Daishomaru plopped to the dirt. Kagayaki made quick work of Daieisho as the latter tried to pull. Kagayaki stayed with him and forced him out. Ikioi let Kotoyuki’s tsuppari attack bring him close to the edge where he sidestepped and Kotoyuki rolled out.

Myogiryu’s patience paid off today. Both he and Kaisei started off wanting to get a hold of the belt but neither could. Kaisei chased as Myogiryu pulled away. Myogiryu regained position in the center of the ring and started pushing, aided by a forceful nodowa, and picked up the oshidashi win.

Takekaze tried to sidestep Asanoyama but the youngster followed and chased him out. Yutakayama visited from Juryo to dominate Nishikigi. From the tachiai, Yutakayama had a forceful oshi attack, forcing Nishikigi to the outside, rotating as if in orbit, until finally pushed over the edge.

Why I Love Sumo

I want to extend a huge thank you to Nista for finding this gem and posting it in the comments of Herouth’s Day 6 Summary. This bout features the first ever meeting of Kozakura and Yabuoka. Bouts like this are amazing and should be broadcast free internationally to promote sumo. (It’s preferable to watching re-runs of the news and documentaries.) Anyway, I’m not going to offer much in the way of preview or commentary on the bout, but I will offer a little background on the two participants. I hope you enjoy.

Kozakura is a 22-year-old from Ibaraki prefecture, like Kisenosato, and Takayasu. His shikona, 小櫻 means little cherry blossom but he uses an old variant kanji for sakura. Instead of the more commonly used 桜, he uses 櫻. He is a member of the Tatsunami stable, whose top rikishi is the recent Juryo sensation, Meisei. This stable is led by former komusubi Asahiyutaka. While still young, Kozakura’s sumo career began seven years ago and he has been bouncing between Jonokuchi and Jonidan. He reached his highest rank of Jonidan 47W in September of 2015 but has been on a long slide back into Jonokuchi. Despite the great effort, this loss is one of three so far. This 1-3 record so far means he will need to win out in order to get a kachi-koshi. Two more wins, though, may arrest the slide and have a chance at rejoining Jonidan.

Yabuoka, on the other hand, is a 19-year-old whose sumo journey began this year when he joined the Fujishima stable. This stable is lead by former Ozeki legend Dejima, now Onaruto Oyakata. He’s from Osaka, like Goeido, Ikioi, and Daishomaru, and is still fighting under his real name, Yabuoka Kazutaka. Oka means “hill” and is a common kanji used for place names and people’s last names – like Fukuoka. It’s an important one to know for Japanese learners. After a great spring which propelled him into the midst of Jonidan, the youngster has dropped back into Jonokuchi. He’s clearly skilled and has a lot of heart, but at a mere 87kg, he will be trying to gain mass to advance. He is 2-1 so far this tournament. One more win may earn him a spot back in Jonidan, but he’ll surely want to pick up a few more.