Kiribayama Promoted to Ozeki

It’s official. Balance has been restored to the banzuke. Kiribayama will debut as Shin-Ozeki in Nagoya.

*Update* He will also appear on the July banzuke with a new shikona: Kirishima, taken from his oyakata who was a former Ozeki.

The Japanese sumo press has been full of pictures of the new Ozeki as a young boy, and a young man, growing up in Mongolia. Nicola has several pictures of Kiribayama, the sumo wrestler, as he was coming up as a young sekitori and even a few from Makushita. Here, he had just defeated Akiseyama. He only faced Akiseyama four times, winning all of them. Nicola must have been a bit of a good luck charm because she has pictures of him defeating Ichiyamamoto in Makushita, the only time he was able to beat Ichiyamamoto on the dohyo.

I bring this up because with Terunofuji as Yokozuna, he sure needs a lucky charm. Kiribayama is so far winless against the Kaiju. This reminds me of the long, dominant streaks Hakuho had over Kotoshogiku. And if Kiribayama aspires to further promotion, he must figure out a way to defeat Terunofuji. Kotoshogiku had a distinguished career as Ozeki but it was Kisenosato who inspired much more discussion of Yokozuna, partly because he presented a challenge to the Great Hakuho. Maybe Kirishima will have better luck!

Makuuchi fashion: Somenuki

Sumo fans in Tokyo and Nagoya really have access to something special. Starting in May and running through September, Makuuchi wrestlers turn the city streets into a catwalk of sorts. When arriving at the arena, our top-division favorites will stray from the formal kimono we often see and wear customized yukata, called somenuki (so-meh-new-key). The picture here comes from Tachiai reader, Rob Donner. It’s Sadanoumi in a brilliant purple yukata with this amazing, turbulent coastal design.

Sumo wrestler attire is subject to strict guidelines, especially when they’re at official events, like honbasho. We’re more familiar with them wearing hakama and haori, especially in the colder winter months. I was particularly struck by Chiyoshoma’s somenuki in this tweet, so I thought I would share with Tachiai readers. In contrast, Kinbozan is still wearing the hakama and haori that many are probably more familiar with. But at this time of year makuuchi wrestlers have the privilege of cutting loose on their way to work by ditching the standard stuff provided by the heya and wearing these yukata which are often provided by supporters and usually customized with their shikona.

My guess is that Kinbozan is so new to Makuuchi that he might not yet have much in the way of these custom threads. While some are quite simple, with just the shikona, many of them will feature very intricate designs with fantastic animals, landscapes, and other patterns. Endo’s for example, usually features the familiar shibaraku image of his Nagatanien sponsors. Sometimes, the front is simple, as might be the case with Asanoyama’s yukata here…but the back can be a whole different story. Think of the mullet: “business up front, party in the back.” That sentiment applies here sometimes, too. So we really need to get these guys to do their little turn so we can see who the partiers are.

I would love to retweet any of your examples of fantastic somenuki patterns, so @ me on Twitter @tachiai_blog and I will share. Maybe we can get a poll going for the most fashion-forward rikishi. Chiyoshoma is my early entry. Frankly, I love that mint green with the various colors in the mix of numbers. Do you have any others?

Andy’s brain when wrestlers do their little turn on the catwalk.

Tochinoshin Retires

Yesterday afternoon rumors started to spread that Tochinoshin had retired. The only news I was finding at that time were a few social media posts and an article out of his native Georgia but nothing seemed to be official, so I wanted to hold off on the report until I got more concrete word. I fell asleep sometime during Jonidan action but when I woke up, I woke up to images of Tochinoshin in a blue kimono in front of the purple and white Sumo Kyokai press-conference backdrop. It’s official. Former Ozeki, Tochinoshin, has retired.

Perhaps it’s fitting that the end of his career comes on the heels of Ichinojo’s retirement because during their heyday, their bouts were always a highlight bout featuring Tochinoshin’s strength versus Ichinojo’s size. That sky-crane strength catapulted Tochinoshin to a top-division title in 2018 which precipitated his successful Ozeki-tori, which was really the pinnacle of his career.

Injuries had hindered his initial, rapid, rise up the banzuke, forcing him to miss several tournaments in 2013 and fall into Makushita. He came back, though, and barnstormed his way to consecutive Makushita titles, then consecutive Juryo titles, on his way back to the top division and eventually, the sport’s second-highest rank. But he, and the sumo world, knew that he was fighting on borrowed time. He had a short reign as Ozeki and his performance declined during the pandemic years as he slid, agonizingly, into Juryo. Winless in Tokyo, and with demotion from sekitori status a greater possibility, he has called it quits.

Tochinoshin does not have a kabu and will likely return to Georgia. His influence there, along with Gagamaru, will hopefully continue to spark interest in the sport and hopefully a new generation of recruits to compete at the highest levels.

Michinoku-Beya Violence Scandal

The last thing Michinoku-oyakata wants right now is to rock the boat. His star pupil, Kiribayama, is on the cusp of an Ozeki-run with this tournament being the most pivotal. Unfortunately, Herouth comes to us with news on Twitter that Kirinofuji is accused of multiple acts of violence against his heya-mate, Yasunishi. The details are unpleasant to say the least, which included acts of physical as well as verbal abuse in a campaign “intended as education.”

It’s always difficult to parse through these scandals without trying to understand all sides. Why would Michinoku-oyakata and team attempt to minimize the abuse? Is it to avoid scandal and close the matter quickly, or did they genuinely feel the abuse was somehow legitimate or somehow excusable? The assertion that this is how brothers are…when the allegations include shooting with an airgun and being hit with a pan…rings a bit hollow.

It’s good to hear that in this case it seems Yasunishi has been getting some good counsel (and possible support from) an unnamed anideshi. But it’s extremely difficult to see how such behavior will be rooted out of the sport if it is minimized to this degree to where, up until the Kirinofuji intai, it’s basically being passed off as acceptable. Yes, there are horseplay and disagreements…but then there’s abuse. It’s important for the sport that its leaders and management be able to discern the difference and act appropriately, which does not appear to have happened in this case. Thus, the scandal-meter is unfortunately back. (Hint: Pans are for cooking, not attitude adjustment. Airsoft is for the Airsoft venue with appropriate protective equipment, not enforcement of chores or status.)