Lower Division Yusho Aki 2022

We’ve still got one undecided lower-division yusho race. But since most of them are already in the books, I wanted to give you all an update.

Juryo

If you despair of the parity in Makuuchi, you may not want to see Juryo. Last night, Tochimusashi clinched the yusho when Hokuseiho lost to Kotokuzan — even though he lost his own bout to Atamifuji. Hokuseiho had been leading the yusho race into Week 2 until he lost three bouts in a row, falling to Kitanowaka, Kagayaki, and Tohakuryu. Tochimusashi’s win comes in his first tournament in the division, a feat Tomokaze accomplished back in Kyushu 2018.

 

Pardon me while I get a little teary-eyed, remembering Tomokaze’s charge up the banzuke, devastating knee-injury, and struggles to make it back to sekitori status. Sadly, he closed out Aki 2-5 from within the Makushita promotion zone. He’ll need to look to 2023.

With the news of Jokoryu’s retirement this week, we get another reminder of how grueling this climb is. Jokoryu began his career with a memorable, pace-setting string of white stars (27 w/ 3 division titles + one playoff loss). And then when Enho made his run, Jokoryu stopped him at 21 wins. Bringing us back full circle, today’s yusho hopeful, Hokuseiho, had his eyes on the streak to start his career but lost his first bouts after returning from Covid kyujo.

Makushita

In the biggest upset of the tournament, Asanoyama did not win the Makushita title. As Leonid covered, the Coyote got caught out by a wily Roadrunner who goes by the shikona, Yuma. Instead, Daiseiryu won, using much the same technique as Asanoyama. I think Yuma just had designs on taking Daiseiryu on head-on, trying for one pulldown — not as intimidated by the journeyman as he was by the former Ozeki. If he’d used his roadrunner tactic, he might have won the yusho.

I am also encouraged by Setonoumi’s strong performance. We’ve seen him come back from serious injury and win lower division yusho. Now, he’s gone 6-1 from his best rank ever at Makushita 56, opposite Asonoyama (not to be confused with Asanoyama, the former Ozeki). He’ll be thrown into the middle of the division in Kyushu so it will be exciting to continue to watch him.

Sandanme

Oshoumi blitzed poor Wakanosho at the snap, capping off his zensho-yusho in Sandanme. That string of wins included bouts against Hakuho recruit Ishii and former Jonokuchi title winner and Oshiogawa recruit, Kazekeno. Kototebakari’s hopes were dashed in an earlier loss to Shosei, who is competing in Makushita. Kototebakari will fight for a 6th win tonight. While he’s likely earned his promotion to Makushita, that 6th win will lock it in and probably a 20-rank difference when the Kyushu banzuke comes out.

Jonidan

The Jonidan title comes down to a senshuraku playoff between Takahashi and Chiyodaigo. I will post an update after that is decided. Takahashi won the Jonokuchi yusho race back in Nagoya, defeating Kazuto in the playoff. Chiyodaigo is a journeyman whose peak rank was in Makushita, so clearly no slouch but he’s had several non-Covid kyujo lately, along with the Kasugano-beya Covid kyujo. Given the way he knocked out Toshunryu, I’d say this kid wants it. Those were some haymakers. They say hatakikomi but that’s one of the most fierce hatakikomi I can remember.

Jonokuchi

In a surprise to absolutely no one, Miyagino-oyakata’s mammoth-thighed recruit, Otani, obliterated all comers in the lowest division to claim the yusho. His dame-oshi (shoves “after the bell,” so-to-speak) will hurt his chances at growing a significant fanbase. Aoiyama comes to mind as someone who fans dislike because of this, while Kaisei gets plaudits for helping his opponents avoid falls. ダメ, pronounced “DAH-MEH,” (not like the title as in, Dame Judi Dench), is a Japanese admonishment which basically translates as, “don’t!” and oshi is from “push,” as in the kimarite oshidashi. If you’ve already won the bout, you’re not supposed to shove your opponent off the dohyo.

Hopefully our regular Jonokuchi division coverage will make its return in Kyushu, but there’s a rather small recruiting class again which might make for another dud of a race. I may double-up by following the Jonidan (or Juryo?) race, as well. But we’ll see.

Learn About Sumo With Konishiki and Naro.tv

Just as we gather ourselves together here to watch the Aki Basho, Konishiki offers up great content in the form of an introductory course on all things sumo, available from Tuesday morning Japan-time, so 7:30pm Eastern on Monday evening. A Tokyo-based startup, Naro, offers these courses on features of Japanese culture and cuisine, provided by experts in their craft. Their debut series this summer was a Tempura course featuring Shuji Niitome.  For the sumo fans among us, Konishiki’s video provides an awesome way to demystify the sport. Tachiai was lucky enough to take a quick look, and the folks at Naro.tv are offering Tachiai readers a special 15% discount code: TACHIAI15.

The two hours of content is like a documentary broken up into individual, digestible chunks. With the help of three former wrestlers to help demonstrate, Konishiki covers a variety of the warm-ups and excercises, from shiko to the teppo pole and suri-ashi. His insight here gave me more of an appreciation for the rhythmic, meditative side to the teppo pole that I wouldn’t have grasped, otherwise. Having had a heavy bag in my room after college, I could see myself taking a few hours to decompress in the corner of the keiko-ba — venting at the teppo pole.

The videos provide a great look at some of the basic moves and techniques, as well as a frank, eye-opening discussion of the heya lifestyle from the lens of an 18-year-old kid who rose to become a Champion. Over the span of the videos, Konishiki opens up about his experiences and the difficult lifestyle that any young man faces in that environment. It should be required watching for any of us romantics who dream (or dreamt) of giving it all up and joining a heya. The reality of it is the grind — endless laundry, cooking, cleaning toilets and floors, helping your senpai shower —  with no breaks, no “weekend”. The Heya Life is lived 24/7, drama or no drama.

While there have definitely been some changes to that lifestyle in the last two decades, so much of it surely remains. His experience will be just as relevant to a recruit today, though the degree of the drama he describes will be less now, than it was then. But any recruit will have to face the fact that they’re going to live in a dorm with a bunch of teenage boys and young men. For those not fluent in Japanese or familiar with the culture, the learning curve will be…parabolic. One requires a singular dedication to not only the sport but a brutal, communal livelihood.

Overall, I found Konishiki’s auto-biographical discussion fascinating. Content-wise, it’s a suitable, engaging introduction to the sport, a “Sumo 101” course. It acknowledges but gets us past the “fat guys in diapers” stereotypes and imparts an understanding and respect for what’s really more than just a sport — an entire way of living. I hope there will be more in the works, perhaps with rikishi from multiple time-periods to see how things have evolved, as well as more specifics on the Shinto traditions and symbolism; or a deeper dive into the various roles from gyoji, yobidashi, and tokoyama to okami to oyakata. Then there’s the organization itself, from riji-cho on down. As for sumo, we’d love more from keiko and honbasho to jungyo and hanazumo, I could go on. Sumo’s a complex topic.

The Long Road to Tomozuna

Kaisei (now Tomozuna) as tachi-mochi; Tomozuna (now Oshima) as shimpan

Monday morning brought the banzuke, and with it, the news that fan favorite Kaisei had officially dropped from Juryo and landed in Makushita. Shortly thereafter the Kyokai announced that he had retired but would stay in the Kakukai (sumo world) as Tomozuna-oyakata in Oshima-beya.

Fans may recognize the name as the elder name former Kyokutenho had been using until he switched to Oshima earlier this year. While Kyokutenho was active he was originally recruited to Oshima stable but when the stablemaster retired, he joined Tomozuna beya becoming a stablemate with Kaisei. When Kyokutenho retired, the Oshima kabu (stock) was available so he claimed it but when Tomozuna’s master retired, Kyokutenho jumped at the chance to lead the stable — so he switched to Tomozuna. Then earlier this year, Kyokutenho reacquired the Oshima kabu, renaming Tomozuna-beya, Oshima-beya.

Now that Kaisei has retired, he has taken the Tomozuna kabu which was the name of the stable he had originally fought under. And all is right with the world. Peace and Order shall now be restored in the land.

Got that? No? The next dashboard I build will have a Gantt chart to explain it. Failing that, I may just take a picture of the little diagram I drew to help me get it squared away.

The crazy thing is, I was going through a bunch of pictures that Nicola had taken to find one of Kaisei during his heyday. It was this wild stroll down memory lane. Kiribayama battling Ichiyamamoto in Makushita. Then, the Makuuchi dohyo-iri: Kotoshogiku was there, Ikioi…the list goes on…and the tears well up. Well, one of the pics is from the Yokozuna dohyo-iri. Hakuho was Yokozuna and Kaisei was his sword-bearer, Ishiura his dew-sweeper. The three ascend the dohyo in unison. Pan out a little bit — and would you look at that? Ex-Kyokutenho (now Oshima, then Tomozuna) is the shimpan, sitting ringside. Wild, no? As I said, all is right in the world.

Over his 16 year career, Kaisei won the Juryo yusho, a couple of Makuuchi jun-yusho (2nd place), and three fighting spirit prizes. I, for one, am happy that he is staying in sumo and am eager to see the talent he helps develop as coach.

August 2022 Degeiko

In just over two weeks the sumo world will be gearing up for Aki and I cannot wait. The banzuke will be out in a few days and we’ll be digesting all of the moves. It will be a unique situation and we’ll probably see some unprecedented “banzuke luck” for wrestlers with several losses and incomplete records at Nagoya, the chief beneficiary being Ozeki Mitakeumi. Mitakeumi also missed out on a portion of the jungyo because of another positive test at Dewanoumi beya.

Takayasu’s situation will be more straightforward since he missed the entire tournament. To get himself primed for action he’s been among the more active wrestlers venturing to other stables for degeiko. In the video here, he’s taking on Yokozuna Terunofuji at Isegahama stable. He’d also visited Tatsunami earlier in the break. We’ve also seen Takasago simultaneously hosting Miyagino, Asakayama, and Naruto.

So, as we’ve seen here and over the past couple of weeks, sumo stables are easing back into pre-pandemic rituals: degeiko, Jungyo, and vacations. This must signal a shift in the Sumo Association’s Covid policies in order to avoid another mass kyujo mess. But Mitakeumi’s kyujo from the last day of Jungyo, after just recently having Covid, would suggest that we’re in for another raft of Covid kyujo. Especially given the sudden openness, however, I wonder if the testing regime won’t be scrapped altogether, or at least significantly altered (if there were already some exceptions to testing for those who had recovered from their infections).

In our kids’ schools last year, there was a weekly testing regimen. Kids who tested positive for Covid were sent home for a period that would follow the latest guidelines. But in a crucial element for us sumo fans — those students were not retested for 90 days because people can still be shedding the virus and testing positive after they’re no longer infectious.

If a similar protocol were put in place for rikishi who tested positive and were kyujo from Nagoya, it’s possible that a large chunk of wrestlers wouldn’t even be tested before Aki…if they still conduct the pre-basho testing, at all. Otherwise, one would think there would have to be a surge in positive cases during pre-basho testing.

Personally, I wouldn’t be surprised if testing will only be required for those who are symptomatic with kyujo for positive tests, and mask wearing (off the dohyo) for those who have been in close contact. Let’s take a look at the four-stable degeiko I mentioned above.

Takasago hosted a good crew of three other stables: Asakayama, Miyagino, and Naruto. Enho had several “smaller” wrestlers to spar with and help coach, from Ishizaki to Asakiryu. Unfortunately, I did not see Ishiura and have not heard any news on that front. If someone else has, please leave it in the comments.

Asakayama coaching Ishizaki

I really want to see the return of happy Asanoyama. Takasago shared some great video of the former Ozeki taking on Oshoma. The last year must have been rough and he’s just starting to claw his way back. From top dog, he’s now 8th in the chanko queue. As for Oshoma, covid kyujo put an early end to the latter wrestler’s sekitori debut. Both wrestlers are certainly eager to put their best foot forward.

It would be unreasonable to demote wrestlers like him who posted more wins than losses but I wonder if he may actually receive a modest promotion out of this. The bigger question, which will be answered in a few days, is how to handle wrestlers with losing records before their exit? Sometimes wrestlers are able to recover in week two but these wrestlers lost that opportunity.

After keiko, though, out came the pick-axes. The keiko-ba was destroyed in that great ritual of renewal. The stable will rebuild the fighting surface and to complete the process, a gyoji will perform a ceremony like a small scale dohyo matsuri, to bless it. The pictures below show the process of destruction.

This will be repeated at all of the stables. As an example, we have Oshiogawa oyakata, proud of the work done by his stable, recreating the dohyo.

Let’s hope there’s no more covid and no more covid kyujo.