Momotaro Wins Juryo Yusho!

Thank you, Bruce and Leonid and all the readers and commenters for another very entertaining tournament. I’m very pleased this one finished so well and it seemed to offer quite a bit of solace and distraction from the news and Covid. During the run-up to the basho, the debate in the Japanese press mentioned how at times of hardship, sumo served to distract/inspire/cheer up the nation.

Sumo is a sport where there’s SO MUCH GOING ON that when you pull on one thread there’s usually an amazing backstory that just pulls you deeper into Japanese culture. Here, we have one such thread (in a literal and figurative sense).

After Tsurugisho’s Juryo yusho last night, the Yamaguchi.shishu Instagram account posted their congratulations with the image of his kesho mawashi. I’m usually asleep during the Juryo dohyo-iri so I had not noticed his kesho mawashi before. I really enjoy their account and I’ve found them not only beautiful but very interesting and I like researching it and the connection to the wrestler — or the dentist. Sometimes it’s a high school symbol or something from their home town…or in Shodai’s case, a random dam in Gunma.

“Is that kid jumping out of a peach? And why is that on a kesho mawashi?”

Me (to my wife)

For this one, though, I really didn’t know where to start so I asked my wife. Her eyes lit up and she started singing, “Mo– motaro-san, Momotaro-san, okoshi ni tsuketa kibidango…” That first bit was even in the Instagram post. Then she told me the story of the kid born from a peach to an elderly couple. He then goes on a Hobbit-type quest and defeats some Oni (demons). During the quest he’s picks up a few friends, who basically hang out with him and help him because his kibi-dango are the bomb.

A Little Tangent

Here’s where I’m going to go off on a little tangent and give some advice about studying Japanese. When you’re learning Japanese, do yourself a favor and pick up some childrens’ books. If you’re learning Persian, you’ll probably want to read Rumi. When I was studying Russian and Spanish back in college, our professors would introduce us to their newspapers and rather fine literature. Even back in High School my Latin teacher had us memorizing Caesar’s “Gallic Wars.”

Frankly, I think that’s a bit of a mistake and it’s probably done because high school and college students probably think they’ve outgrown nursery rhymes. That is definitely not-so with Japanese. You will NOT be able to pick up and read a Japanese business newspaper for the very simple fact that you have to learn all of that kanji first! And frankly, before even that you really need to master hiragana, katakana, and a lot of the basic kanji. That’s where childrens’ books come in.

So, swallow your pride and go to the childrens’ section if you ever find yourself in a Japanese bookstore, like Kinokuniya, (Don’t laugh, I go to the one in NYC all the time and I’m pretty sure there are 5 in California, and 3 in Texas — check that, there are 4 — and several more around the country.) If you’re lucky enough to make it to Japan, there’s usually at least one bookstore in every mall and there’s usually at least one mall attached to (or next to) every major train station.

The benefit of having two kids in Japanese school is that we have got a bunch of their text books and other books around the house. Momotaro is one of the more common stories that feature in their books. There’s a two-volume set that I love, pictured above. These feature 366 tales (one story per day).

Back to Momotaro-san

In the version of the story that’s in this book (July 13, in the red volume which covers July-December), the old woman goes to the river to wash clothes. She finds a nice peach floating down the river. She takes it back to her husband and as they’re going to open it, a cheerful baby jumps out. They are quite happy and name him, “Momotaro.”

He grows up healthy. “すくすく育った.” Japanese is full of these repetitive, onomatopoeic words and the kids books are full of them. They’re a huge stumbling block for me when trying to listen to the spoken language.

When he grows up, he decides to go off on his quest to the demons’ lair. As he sets off, he receives kibidango (dumplings) from the old woman. These dumplings are made from a process similar to the way mochi was made at New Year’s with the mortar and pestle. (Sumo’s ties to the mochi-tsuki run deep!) As he’s traveling, a dog, monkey, and then a pheasant accompany him, drawn by the dumplings which he shares with them as they travel.

When they make it to the demons’ hangout on Onigashima, the animals help attack while the oni were all drinking. They defeat the oni and the demon boss apologizes…with his hands on the ground. (“手をついていいました”! And people wonder how I am able to connect sumo to just about anything.) The merry band then travel back home with their plunder. I wonder if they rented the Takarabune to get back to the mainland….

There are a lot of vocabulary and kanji in these simple stories that really help with shikona and understanding basic Japanese. But the key is, it’s not such an impossible hurdle as trying to read a Japanese book about sumo, which usually has no helpful furigana. And these short stories are such bite-size chunks that it’s actually manageable, even early in your studies.

Even better, the great thing about being an adult, is that we understand metaphors and chuckle at the subtext. Just like many legends and Fairy Tales have a darker or “adult” edge, I wonder what the inside of the peach was referring to? Hold up…Venus was born from a “clam,” Athena sprang forth from Zeus’ “head,” Momotaro came from a peach… Dude, ALL these stories are dirty!

Tsurugisho Momotaro

Before my thoughts sink deeper into the gutter, let’s get back on topic. What is the connection between Tsurugisho and Momotaro? Well, it’s actually his name! We often forget that shikona, wrestlers’ ring names, include the more famous surname — and a first name!

Hakuho is “Hakuho Sho.” Takakeisho is “Takakeisho Mitsunobu” while Tochinoshin is “Tochinoshin Tsuyoshi.” Tsurugisho chose Momotaro. Whether there’s a deeper personal connection between Tsurugisho and the tale of Momotaro, I’m uncertain. If you know more details, please feel free to drop such knowledge in the comments! If you made it this far, thank you.

Hatsu 2021 Day 5 Highlights

At the close of Act One, some of our storylines have already reached their conclusion. There will be no rope for Takakeisho. Shodai and Asanoyama appear strong enough to shed their kadoban. Hakuho is safe, healthy, and has recovered from the Corona virus. Our list of kyujo remains unchanged from Day One.

In their place, we find some fun new threads. Will Akiseyama be the next low-ranker to make a push for the yusho? Where did this giant-killing Daieisho come from? Ichinojo is showing signs that he’s back! Might we see other sanyaku rikishi making moves for Ozeki?

Bout Highlights

Sadanoumi (3-2) defeated Yutakayama (3-2) Yutakayama sure let Sadanoumi have it with both barrels. Sadanoumi sure earned my respect with the way he weathered the storm of thrusts from Yutakayama and escaped whenever it appeared Yutakayama had him dead to rights. Finally, Yutakayama appeared to tire and Sadanoumi wrapped him up with the left and pressed forward, sending the pair off the dohyo and into Isegahama-oyakata. Both fighters spent, it took them a while to muster the resources to get to their feet and climb back to the playing surface to conclude the bout. yorikiri

Hidenoumi defeated Midorifuji (3-2) Hidenoumi, our Juryo visitor, prevented any attempt at an early throw by keeping Midorifuji at arm’s length from the outset. Hidenoumi shook off Midorifuji’s tsuppari from their brief oshi-battle. Once he worked the smaller Midorifuji to the edge, he pounced, seeking out a belt grip. Midorifuji retreated by skirting the edge of the ring but Hidenoumi gave chase, cut off all exit and ushered him out. yorikiri

Akiseyama (5-0) defeated Hoshoryu (0-5) Hoshoryu had the advantage early and backed Akiseyama to the tawara but Akiseyama composed himself and brought the action back to the center. Hoshoryu lashed out with a trip…but Akiseyama wasn’t moving forward. Instead Akiseyama bided his time to reach in underneath. As he pushed forward from below, Hoshoryu had nowhere to run. yorikiri

Kotonowaka (4-1) defeated Terutsuyoshi (2-3) The two tussled for advantage out of the tachiai, with Terutsuyoshi seeking position from below, while Kotonowaka was left with the high ground. Kotonowaka may have not really known what to do because Terutsuyoshi took the initiative and drove forward into the Sadogatake youngster. As they neared the bales, Kotonowaka pivoted on his left and swung Terutsuyoshi out with his right-hand belt-grip. uwatenage

Kotoeko (2-3) defeated Akua (1-4) Kotoeko met Akua’s tachiai with a shoulder blast. As Akua primed Kotoeko’s head placement for some vigorous slapping, Kotoeko launched his top-knot into Akua’s face. The lavender lothario then wrapped up his quarry for a cuddle and started in with some rather asynchronous gaburi-yori hip action to drive Akua back and out over the tawara. yoritaoshi

Ichinojo (4-1) defeated Shimanoumi (2-3) Shimanoumi’s had some good runs lately but when Ichinojo is focused, there’s not a lot one can do. Ichinojo got in a nodowa just after the tachiai and with all that mass behind a nodowa, Shimanoumi just knew he needed to search for a soft place to land. oshidashi

Aoiyama defeated Myogiryu: At the tachiai, Myogiryu pushed Aoiyama, holding him at arm’s length. As Bruce mentioned in his preview, we were expecting a brawl. Just when I thought Aoiyama would start pounding with some tsuppari, he pulled and tried to force Myogiryu down. But Myogiryu maintained his balance. As Myogiryu advanced, Aoiyama circled behind and wrapped up Myogiryu’s arms, looking for a kimedashi. Myogiryu resisted, briefly at the edge and when Aoiyama adjusted his grip, Myogiryu tried to dance on the tawara but Aoiyama pushed him out. yorikiri

Kiribayama defeated Tobizaru: Kiribayama met Tobizaru head-on at the tachiai but as Tobizaru tried to sneak under for a belt grip, Kiribayama shifted to his left and came over Tobizaru to secure a left-handed belt grip back near the knot. Tobizaru’s own right-hand inside grip seemed a bit ineffective as his right arm was more extended – like he was just trying to hang on – while Kiribayama controlled the action and spun around. Tobizaru then let go with the right and tried to wrap up Kiribayama in a head-lock. Kiribayama continued with the spin and wrangled Tobizaru down to the ground. shitatenage

Meisei defeated Tokushoryu: Tokushoryu won the advantage at the tachiai and looked to usher Meisei out but Meisei had a solid left-hand grip and used that leverage to attempt his own throw near the edge. Tokushoryu pivoted and as they jostled to re-engage, Meisei moved forward, forcing Tokushoryu out. yorikiri

Okinoumi defeated Ryuden Like a pair of old mountain goats, Okinoumi and Ryuden locked horns at the tachiai. As they circled, Okinoumi snuck his right hand up behind Ryuden’s head and pushed down, forcing Ryuden to the clay. Evolution may favor the goat who thinks to wrap that front leg up over his opponent. katasukashi

Kagayaki defeated Endo: Kagayaki pushed forward with a strong tachiai, not giving Endo a chance to set his feet or even think of a belt grip. By the time Endo could compose his thoughts, he was already out. oshidashi

Tamawashi defeated Onosho by near decapitation. As Onosho drove forward with his tachiai, Tamawashi grabbed his head like a beachball and shoved back, hard. Onosho’s lower half still drove forward so Tamawashi shifted left and threw Onosho’s head down, to lay on the clay with the rest of his body. Ouch. tsukiotoshi

Daieisho defeated Takayasu. This was a spirited oshi-zumo bout, Izutsu oyakata’s pick for his favorite bout of the day. Takayasu played ball but Daieisho was in control, advancing on Takayasu from the start, eventually tossing the former ozeki out of the ring. oshidashi

Takanosho defeated Mitakeumi: Mitakeumi showed spirit and strength as he forced Takanosho back to the bales with a dominant tachiai. As Takanosho resisted, Mitakeumi appeared to try to shift his right arm. Takanosho used this moment to attack and drove Mitakeumi back across the ring, through the gyoji and over the tawara. yorikiri

Terunofuji defeated Hokutofuji: Hokutofuji certainly brought it to Terunofuji and angered the kaiju with a strong nodowa. He even appeared to catch Terunofuji off-balance early but Big T recovered and wrapped him up in the middle of the ring. Terunofuji rendered Hokutofuji’s left arm virtually useless, flailing in the air with his right arm in Fuji’s armpit, while he sought out a belt grip with the left. Even in this state, Hokutofuji’s continued pressure forced an uneasy stalemate for some time there in the center. Terunofuji’s one good right leg would have to drive forward alone. The left appears to be there for only balance at this point. Hokutofuji started to back Terunofuji up but Terunofuji summoned enough power from his genki-reserves to drive Hokutofuji back again. As Hokutofuji tried to disengage and escape to the side, Terunoufuji pushed him over the bales. oshidashi

Takakeisho defeated Kotoshoho: Takakeisho gets his shonichi at the close of Act 1. Solid tachiai. Takakeisho attempted a nodowa off the bat, rather than moving straight into wave action. Kotoshoho resisted strongly…perhaps too strongly. The nodowa had forced him to stand straight up as he tried to bull his way through. Takakeisho caught him with his weight too far forward, released, and thrust Kotoshoho down as his momentum carried him forward. tsukiotoshi

Asanoyama defeated Tochinoshin: Asanoyama caught out Tochinoshin’s half-hearted henka. Tochinoshin slapped Asanoyama and shifted left, seeking a belt grab but Asanoyama recovered, drove straight into the up-right Tochinoshin, and forced the Georgian out quickly. yorikiri

Shodai defeated Takarafuji: Shodai rose to meet Takarafuji and absorb his tachiai but Takarafuji was not moving forward at a lightning pace, so the tachiai here was rather weak. Shodai reached under Takarafuji’s right arm with his left to try to get a belt grip. When Takarafuji clamped down with his right arm, Shodai pulled backward, pivoting on his right foot, trying to fling Takarafuji toward the tawara. Takarafuji arrested his momentum short of the tachiai but Shodai pivoted again on his right foot, and forced Takarafuji over the bales. Shodai did not seem happy with his sumo after the bout, but the win is a win. Yorikiri

A Yokozuna’s Discontent

After witnessing the night’s action, Asashoryu lamented this weak crop of wrestlers over on Twitter. While this is not a literal translation, he expressed dismay, “They’re all weak. Sorry, folks.” He lays the blame squarely on practice, saying they’re spoiled with this state of easy practice.

For context, I’ve linked below to a video of Asashoryu’s brand of practice. Alan Iverson may have paid more attention under this regime. Here is Asashoryu, beating the crap out of a rising 19-year-old maegashira named Hakuho during a degeiko trip to Miyagino stable. Hakuho appears to win a practice bout, then catches hell in some brutal-looking kawaigari.

We’ll probably flinch at that slap…but an Asashoryu slap in the ring would have been a bit harder than what was dished out here. At the 2-minute mark of the video, Hakuho, with mud still coating his back, thanks Asashoryu for the privilege of having had his butt kicked. He gives him a drink from his water bottle, this time, instead of splashing chikaramizu in his face. But we know how this story ended. After the dragon was banished, our Phoenix then rose from those fires to lay waste to all who opposed him on the dohyo as he reigned supreme for more than 10 years. Now, as the flames of age and injury lap at his back and begin to consume him, we ponder, “Who will rise from the ashes?”

As we recall, an overly-intense practice session between Hakuho’s stablemate, Ishiura, and a lower-ranker blew up as scandal when the fists started flying, nevermind the ladles of power water. Without such a fierce up-bringing, will the Blue Phoenix, who flew in from the North, be as resilient? I cannot imagine many parents signing off on the rough and tumble style of Asashoryu’s tutelage.

Those days are over. And let’s face it, the metal poles and wooden bats mentioned in this article have no place on a dohyo, or in a keikoba. Oyakata are tasked with raising wrestlers, not beating them and certainly not killing them. But with no degeiko at all, not even our 21st Century sanitized version, the quality of sumo and condition of the wrestlers may be subpar.

Still, hopefully, the sumo we see and discuss here will take our minds off the pandemic and problems that our world faces outside the heya’s walls. I’m eager to see who wins this tournament and what challenges that winner will face when all those well-rested Covid-kyujo wrestlers come back in March. The next ten days will be very fun to watch unfold.

Torikumi Bloodbath

The Torikumi is up and it ain’t pretty. Lots of missing names. We need to add Kokonoe and Tomozuna stables to the kyujo list. Hat tip to @Hakkeyoi_Sumo for noticing that while I was looking at the match-ups. The complete list of kyujo is long:

Late breaking news is the sudden intai of a Sadogatake wrestler, Kotokantetsu, an eight-year veteran at the stable in Jonidan. Given the ultimatum of participate or quit, he decided to quit rather than risk getting Covid. He may be thinking he’d be better off at home in Shiga-ken where the number of cases is still rather low. They’ve had a cumulative total of 1424 cases and 14 fatalities in the prefecture.

Meanwhile, the matchups are pairing off favorites vs favorites…who to root for? Takakeisho starts his rope run against Mitakeumi. Shodai faces Hokutofuji. The joi will just about reach Juryo by the end of this thing. Oh boy. Someone needs to go redo the dohyo matsuri a few times. Purify that sucker! I’m afraid to look at my bingo card. It may look like Swiss cheese!

Sumo Kaboom! Kachi-Koshi Bingo Cards Up

I’ve got mixed feelings about this upcoming tournament. We’ve got a rash of kyujo from Covid-19, including the Dai-Yokozuna, Hakuho. Kakuryu is likely in but his body is not and his confidence is low. We may be days away from retirement. I had such hopes for 2021 to start out with an amazing Yokozuna showdown on senshuraku. That will not happen.

Andy’s Kachi-Koshi Bingo Card

At the same time, though, this tournament could raise spirits for those needing something positive. And the Japan Sumo Association is in dire need of positive cash flow. But Covid-19 infections are spiking not just in Japan, but around the world. Having sumo to turn to may help us. The Kyokai has done this safely and with the proper precautions, they can do it again. I hope.

To help me get into this, Sumo Kaboom! has published their Bingo cards. The link is on their Instagram page. I have picked up mine. Right off, I’ve got Hakuho in the top corner square. I’m still very hopeful that a few good wins to start the tournament will bring back Kakuryu’s confidence and that award-winning smile. If so, that line of Kakuryu through Aoiyama may be a winner. However, I think Hoshoryu through Takakeisho will be my best bet. I may actually get a bingo this time around!