A Little About Georgia

Welcome to Georgia, shusshin (birthplace) of Tochinoshin, Gagamaru, and wine. Yes, that bacchanalian beverage, perfected in the hills of France, was domesticated in the Caucasus. Georgian wines are a favorite among my Russian and Eastern European friends. I believe that is why it is such a prize for Vladimir Putin (as well as the resorts Crimea). The Russian Olympic venue at Sochi was a stone’s throw from Georgia. A quick visit to the website for the National Tourism Administration shows several pictures of cultural treasures and amazing vistas.

Mtskheta, Georgia

Tochinoshin is from Mtskheta, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The site was put on the List of World Heritage in Danger in 2009 but removed from that list in 2016, noting work done and the commitment by the State Party to the preservation of the site. This month, a UNESCO monitoring mission is headed to Mtskheta to “assess current conditins at the property.” Tachiai will report on findings.

I must admit, the description from the tourism company, VisitGeorgia.GE is enticing: “Situated at the confluence of the Aragvi and Mtkvari rivers, Mtskheta has been a site of human settlement since at least the second millennium BC. The town is named after Mtskhetos, son of Kartlos – the legendary progenitor of the Georgian people. Already a town of some significance in pagan times, it gained importance as the site of the first Christian church in Georgia. Today it is no longer the capital of the country, but it is still the spiritual capital and home to two of Georgia’s greatest churches – Svetitskhoveli and Jvari.

While I was growing up, Georgia was a part of the Soviet Union. When the Communist block dissolved, Georgia declared independence. However, that independence has been fraught with conflict as Russian loyalists, primarily in the regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, continue to try to break away with Russian help. The breakout of heavy fighting and war in 2008 has yielded to an uneasy peace as Western war correspondents have embedded themselves in other Russian proxy battles from Crimea to Syria. It’s difficult to get a sense of the status quo in Tblisi. The most recent article I could find was this from Politico: “Vladimir Putin’s mysterious moving border.”

節分 – The Japanese Setsubun Festival

Setsubun is a Japanese festival to celebrate the coming of Spring. It falls on February 3, which should be easy for Americans to remember as the day after Groundhog Day. For non-Americans among Tachiai readership, let’s just say Groundhog Day is a great movie by Bill Murray and leave it at that.*

The ritual at the center of setsubun is the bean throwing, mamemaki (豆撒き), shown here in this tweet found by Herouth (@SumoFollower).

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Tachiai Instagram

Tachiai has an Instagram account. After a period of neglect and under-utilization from yours truly (I blame the fact that I am in Maryland and not Japan), Nicola has taken over and has been doing an amazing job. I’ll get it integrated into this site but I wanted to let all of the readers know that the Instagram account is there.

https://www.instagram.com/tachiaiblog/

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.”)

謹賀新年!
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!
-Andy

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.