Makushita Yusho Race Heats Up

Tonight there are three yusho race elimination matches in Makushita between 3-0 record-holders with kachi-koshi on the line as well as a slot in another to follow. The headliner in tonight’s action is Abi. The former Komusubi will face Shinohara. Shinohara is certainly a young one-to-watch, having won first yusho last year in his debut tournament…the “silent basho” back in Osaka.

That’s right, the same tournament that saw the debut of Nabatame, Hayatefuji, and Taiyo (all of whom he defeated in that first tournament). Others to debut in that same tournament were Kirameki and Takeoka. A solid recruiting class. Thanks to the SumoDB, YouTube, and Twitter, there are several videos of him in action out there but Abi will clearly be his biggest challenge yet. One bout of interest would be this one against former sekitori Takaryu, from Hatsu.

He’s got a complimentary oshi-style so this bout against Abi should be a bit of a slap-fest, if the two get into it. He’s also got a great hatakikomi weapon at his disposal. In a similar move, he got wrapped up here against Hokutoshu but at the tawara tries ottsuke to dislodge Hokutoshu’s arm before deciding to bring him down with Midorifuji’s patented katasukashi.

With his fast, powerful tachiai, Shinohara will be an interesting challenge but should certainly be out of his league against someone who has faced Hakuho four times, including this kinboshi. There were a few videos online but I chose this one because it’s over so quickly so the slow-mo replay is helpful. Some of the other videos made me really miss zabuton-throwing.

Tomorrow, a bit further down the banzuke, Tomokaze is up for his kachi-koshi in another yusho race elimination bout.

It Is Time To End the SNS Ban

In a time when sumo events can no longer be sold out, people are hungry for content.

If you know me by now, you know I don’t like to bury the lede. A couple years ago, after an incident starring notorious trickster and lord of the night Abi, the powers that be within the Sumo Association enacted an instant, enduring, and comprehensive ban on rikishi social media use. I think it’s time to end it.

Sumo has a lot of rules. This itself is not bad, and I am certainly not here as a foreign person to criticise the culture or the structure that has created the somewhat rigid and fascinating world we all follow. I understand why, for instance, rikishi may not be permitted to drive a car.

When the ban was enacted, perhaps the Sumo Association had one too many complaints, one too many episodes of feeling the sport’s name had been dragged through the mud by some joker. In (association) football, you’d call this “bringing the game into disrepute.” Were pranks the only reason this happened? It’s hard to say, but other rikishi came under the microscope or were reprimanded previously for tweets appearing to be sympathetic to controversial political causes or in some cases holocaust denial.

What is uncontested, however, is that this social media ban has left an enormous hole in the online experience for sumo fans. It’s not that rikishi had an awful lot to say before anyway, always giving their thoughts in some kind of expression of their will to gambarize and do their style of sumo, with better results in the upcoming tournament as a gesture for the support of their fans. But it’s the nuances in between which are missed.

These days, as fans we’re reliant on a small but passionate collection of archivists throughout the digital ecosystem to dig up quotes and photos from various newspaper articles and bring them to the world. Fortunately these people exist on YouTube, in places like the Sumo Forum, on Twitter (folks like our own contributor Herouth), and sites like this one.

Without this, for whom would we cheer? For sure, many fans are attracted to a rikishi’s fighting style. Sometimes it’s their physique (or lack of it) that creates a fan. But many folks – especially those of us who have followed the sport at least a fair few years – are inspired by the personalities of these characters. We can’t do sumo, we want to know what it’s like. We’ll never have (and probably don’t want) the lifestyle that comes from living in a heya. That doesn’t mean we don’t have an almost voyeuristic passion about the lifestyle and the desire to at least be able to understand and explore it, if only at arm’s length.

The digital experiences that rikishi are able to create and share with the wider world give us, as fans, the ability to have these feelings realised. When we hear that a rikishi like Tobizaru is learning English so that he can communicate with sumo fans around the world, we know that he has everything to do so at his disposal… except permission. And as the pandemic edges ever onward, and as cities like Osaka are robbed yet again of the live event, there’s an enormous part of the sumo experience missing right now. Some stables have stepped up a (somewhat) curated view into their day-to-day activities in the meantime – occasionally in highly entertaining fashion – but this is both limited in scope, and, as with many things in sumo, often lacking individuality. While other industries and sports have done all in their power to transition live experiences to the digital space, sumo’s given us a livestream of keiko every couple months.

I’m not complaining about that (I would, however, like to see one of these newly built stables go full 1999 and put a webcam in an upper corner of the keiko-ba, but that’s a matter for another day). But there’s more that can be done to engage people during this time who live in Japan and can’t go to sumo, or who would be visiting Japan at the peak of the country’s decade long tourism drive and would be experiencing sumo. Let’s be clear, this ban happened because at times rikishi can be the worst ambassadors of the sport. But they are also always the best ambassadors. That will never be a big yellow mascot, and it will never be a group of recently retired oyakata.

At this point, years on, we have to ask how long should this ban really last. Are there risks to ending it? Absolutely. There will always be risks. Maybe because of those risks, and the behaviour of a handful of jokers, the ban lasts forever. That would be the whole sumo community’s loss: let’s not even consider it.

Aki Day 15 Highlights

Day 15 was an absolutely fantastic day of sumo. In contrast to some previous tournaments, no one really phoned it in today. It seems that everyone found they had a bit of energy left in the tank, and they threw it all into their final match. It was possibly the best day of sumo, all around, of the tournament.

First and foremost, my congratulations to Shodai. I know readers of this blog think I dislike this fellow, but my complaints were always technical. His sumo was sloppy, and his tachiai was ineffective. But following his 3-12 record last Aki, he changed. These kinds of changes are never on accident, they are the result of hard, relentless effort. Yokozuna Kakuryu’s influence can now clearly be seen in Shodai’s sumo with one critical difference – Shodai does not yet suffer the chronic injuries that will soon usher Kakuryu into his post competition life. My compliments to Kakuryu for finding a proper student, and nothing but praise to Shodai for taking this knowledge and making it his own through relentless work, and I would guess toughening up some degree. Word has come that he will be minted Ozeki in the days to come, and I think if he can stay healthy, he will make a formidable Ozeki for years to come.

Several of today’s matches had the sad overtones of a goodbye. We may have seen final matches from Kotoshogiku and Shohozan. I continue to wonder how much longer Ikioi is going to endure as well. These mainstays of sumo have given their all to the sport, but it seems their bodies are telling their unquenchable fighting spirit that it is time to move on.

While the focus is (rightly) on celebrating Shodai’s yusho, and his elevation to Ozeki, it’s worth noting the Ozeki yusho drought continues. Both Asanoyama and Takakeisho finished with fine scores (10-5, 12-3) worthy of an Ozeki. But both must have considered this no-kazuna basho to be their best chance at starting the promotion process by taking the cup. For Asanoyama, the pre-basho pressure was huge, and I think it disrupted his focus, and cost him important early matches. I also cannot stress enough that the lack of degeiko, and frankly jungyo, with its mass joint training sessions among top division rikishi has degraded the fighting capabilities of the top ranks. This may be especially true for Asanoyama, whose Takasago stable does not have another Makuuchi ranked rikishi to spar against. Shodai has Yutakayama, and Takakeisho has Takanosho, and yes, I think it did make a difference.

Highlight Matches

Ichinojo defeats Chiyonoo – Ichinojo’s sumo returns for this final match of Aki, and it was good to see. I would think he could have dispatched Chiyonoo at the tachiai, but the match went to extra time after Ichinojo got his left hand outside grip and decided to let Chiyonoo try to out muscle him. Credit to Chiyonoo, he rallied twice, and survived holding up the boulder longer than I thought he could. Ichinojo gets his 8th win, and will remain in the top division for November.

Shohozan defeats Ikioi – Shohozan has been struggling the entire tournament, but today he threw everything he had left into this fight against Ikioi (their 15th match). Both are heavily make-koshi, and I would expect at least one of them to consider intai following Aki. Shohozan will be ranked in Juryo for November, and Ikioi is just too hurt to really compete. But just for a moment, it was 2014 again, and these two were genki and beating the tar out of each other. Thanks guys.

Hoshoryu defeats Sadanoumi – I am happy that Hoshoryu was able to secure his kachi-koshi in his first top division basho. But the fact he was relegated to a Darwin match when ranked at Maegashira 16 shows that he still has work to do. I think because of his family connection to Asashoryu, people put a lot of pressure on this talented young guy, and just maybe it impacts his sumo at time. With luck he will shake that off one day, and we will see what he is capable of in his own right.

Wakatakakage defeats Shimanoumi – Absolutely brilliant tournament from Wakatakakage, and I am a bit surprised they did not award him a special prize. He will be riding a big wave toward the top of the banzuke, and I hope he can endure the intensity of the competition. To many it looked like Shimanoumi won this match at first glance, but Shimanoumi had clearly stepped out even before his throw attempt had completed rotation. An 11-4 final score for the leading Onami brother.

Tokushoryu defeats Onosho – Outstanding 10-5 final for Onosho, and we should see him back in the joi-jin for November. It was a bit troublesome that he dropped his last 2 matches. He ended up tucked in against Tokushoryu’s enormous belly, and from that position, it’s tough to do much. With the belly in control, even the remainder of Tokushoryu was forced to go where the belly demanded, and that was putting Onosho out of the ring.

Ishiura defeats Ryuden – By all rights, Ishiura should be trying to mend that ankle, but he not only showed up, we saw Ishiura’s quality sumo today. I was really impressed that he could shut down Ryuden’s forward power, and hold him checked at the center of the dohyo while he set up that throw. Ishiura finishes Aki 4-11. With any luck, lksumo may give us a hint on if that may be enough to keep him in the top division.

Kagayaki defeats Kaisei – The second “Darwin” match had a tough to describe kimarite. Really maximum effort from Kagayaki to keep Kaisei from establishing his desired hold, and preventing the Brazilian from overwhelming him. That attempt to finish the match fell apart in spectacular fashion, with each man counter-rotating and falling back to back.

Takayasu defeats Meisei – Takayasu controlled the center of the dohyo, and kept Meisei reacting to his sumo. Unable to really maintain his footing, Meisei found himself drive out of the ring. Both finish with respectable kachi-koshi, and we will see Takayasu in the joi-jin for November.

Kotoeko defeats Takarafuji – Holy smokes, what a battle! The third “Darwin” match was a long running chest to chest contest between Takarafuji’s defend and extend sumo, and Kotoeko’s overwhelming drive to beat him no matter what. Takarafuji eventually had to settle for a left hand outside grip, but could not overcome Kotoeko’s defense. Excellent sumo from these two.

Terutsuyoshi defeats Kotoshogiku – This might have been the final for Kotoshogiku. My thanks to Terutsuyoshi for not employing some punk move or henka against the former Ozeki, and let him go out fighting.

Enho defeats Myogiryu – It gave me a smile to see Enho finish out with a solid match like this. Myogiryu went in with a solid plan, but if Enho is dialed into his sumo, you are sometimes just along for the ride. Both finish with 6-9.

Kotoshoho defeats Tamawashi – Tamawashi is another who seems to have lost about 30% of his power, and I have to wonder how long he will be able to keep up with the younger crop of rikishi who seem to be showing up in the top division, and coming into their own. Tamawashi had a big opening nodowa, but Kotoshoho just kept working forward, and overcame. A 10-5 finish for Kotoshoho – great stuff!

Hokutofuji defeats Tochinoshin – Tochinoshin drove to get his left hand toward Hokutofuji’s mawashi, but could never connect. If you are Tochinoshin, and your main weapon gets shut down, what do you do? Why you pull of course! Hokutofuji is primed for that, puts the left hand death grip on Tochinoshin’s throat and moves him over the tawara.

Takanosho defeats Aoiyama – Impressed that Takanosho was able to resist Aoiyama’s initial attack. But I guess that if you share practice with Takakeisho every morning, you are used to getting a hundred or so kilograms of force applied to your face and shoulders. Takanosho focused center-mass and pushed forward for the win. Another solid 10-5 finish, and I am curious where that lands him in the san’yaku for November.

Daieisho defeats Okinoumi – Both end the tournament with more than 10 losses, and will be dropping out of the san’yaku. This match was dominated by Daieisho’s pulling effort at the close, which saw him galloping in reverse while tugging on Okinoumi’s head. Ok…

Kiribayama defeats Mitakeumi – Ah, Mitakeumi, the eternal Sekiwake. That last increment to Ozeki is outside of your grasp yet again. Mitakeumi was in reaction mode from the start today, and he let Kiribayama dominate the match. I am sure Kiribayama is delighted to return from kyujo and end the tournament with 9 wins, I just hope he did not permanently damage that left shoulder in the process.

Shodai defeats Tobizaru – A win here was all Shodai needed to finish his yusho run, and it was a great match. I have to compliment Tobizaru who contested strongly for the yusho in his first ever top division tournament. The opening gambit nearly overpower Shodai, and put Shodai’s heels on the tawara. Shodai rallied and bodily tossed Tobizaru nearly across the ring. Tobizaru grabbed an arm and reverse Shodai to the bales again, but an inspired pivot at the edge dropped Tobizaru as he lunged forward to finish Shodai. I would remind readers that, in my opinion, this is an early form of Shodai’s sumo, and a year from now, all of this stuff that looks rough and improvised may become polished and amazing to watch. I hope the Aki yusho winner and shin-Ozeki can stay healthy and compete with strength for many years to come.

Takakeisho defeats Asanoyama – Some might assume that with the yusho decided just minutes before, that this match would be anti-climatic. But to me it was quite informative in that Asanoyama, at the fundamental level, is a stronger and more versatile rikishi than Takakeisho. This was all about mental focus and stamina, and it seems, a bit to my surprise, that Takakeisho had more to bring to the dohyo today. I have not seen Asanoyama have to generate that much forward force in a long time, and it really distracted him from getting an effective hand hold, which is crucial to his sumo technique. With his offense disrupted, Asanoyama worked to break contact and re-engage. While that is solid sumo tactics, it merely set up Takakeisho’s penultimate attack. With all of that power now focused in Asanoyama’s chest through Takakeisho’s hands, Asanoyama found himself powerless to stop the fast run over the edge. Asanoyama has nothing to feel down about following this Aki basho, but I suspect he will assess his performance as falling short of expectations. Tip from an old man who has had wonderful successes in a few areas of life. Put the expectations aside, and enjoy what you are good at. When you can find a path to that, you will unlock your potential. You are an Ozeki, and the sumo fandom adores you. Have fun with it, like you did in your early days at the bottom of Makuuchi. The rest will take care of itself.

To our dear readers, thank you for spending the Aki basho with us. It’s been a blast covering this wide-open nokazuna tournament, and Team Tachiai appreciates you taking time to read and contribute.

Aki Day 13 Preview

lksumo already created a sterling post that details the storylines going into the final weekend of the Aki basho. There are a handful of high-interest matches for Friday, day 13 that I just wanted to comment on. Apologies if your favorite match is not listed here. So here we go!

What We Are Watching Day 13

Hoshoryu vs Ishiura – A first time match between smaller rikish, and Hoshoryu has make-koshi on the line. The best he can home for now is a day 15 Darwin match, which would be a fascinating shame. Ishiura is injured, so he may be an easy mark.

Enho vs Meisei – Enho’s sumo battery is reading 20%, and it’s been part of why I have found the third act of Aki a bit of a bummer. Some rikishi I really love to watch are on fumes, and not fighting at all well. On the positive side, a Meisei win would be kachi-koshi for him.

Tokushoryu vs Chiyotairyu – Loser is make-koshi. They both have matching 5-7 records, and a career record of 5-7 – with a 2 match advantage for Chiyotairyu.

Kotoeko vs Aoiyama – A win today is kachi-koshi for Aoiyama, he won their only prior encounter, and given that Kotoeko is not fighting well right now, it could be short and brutal. A loss today by Kotoeko is make-koshi for him.

Onosho vs Takarafuji – Their 10 prior bouts are split 5-5, and I am keen to see what a genki Onosho can do with Takarafuji’s defense today.

Kagayaki vs Tochinoshin – Part of me wants to see Kagayaki hand Tochinoshin his make-koshi, as he has been less than awesome this tournament. But Kagayaki is not genki himself, so lord knows how this one is going go. Their last match was in Osaka, when Tochinoshin slapped Kagayaki down.

Myogiryu vs Tamawashi – Loser make-koshi. Work it out guys!

Tobizaru vs Takanosho – Tobizaru has not beaten Takanosho in 5 attempts, but I think this is Tobizaru’s best sumo ever. Takanosho can do his stable make Takakeisho a huge favor and take the flying monkey down for a loss, knocking him out of the leader group. This one will be quite intense, I predict.

Terunofuji vs Wakatakakage – Both are already kachi-koshi, so they are fighting to determine promotion velocity. For Terunofuji, its about where he may end up in San’yaku, for Wakatakakage, I hope he does not end up over-promoted.

Shodai vs Takakeisho – Time to open the good stuff. A top of the banzuke show down between two co-leaders in the yusho arasoi. They have 11 prior matches, with Takakeisho holding a 7-4 lead. But worth noting – Shodai has won the last two (Hatsu and Osaka). Its going to come down to the first step, and I expect that Takakeisho is going to drive inside hard, perhaps too hard. If he can get a solid connection to Shodai’s chest, he can control the match. But I expect Shodai is ready for that, and I think we may see deflection from him and an attempt to use his superior balance and size to control the defensive aspect of the match. The winner of this match is going to be the yusho favorite, at least until tomorrow.

Asanoyama vs Mitakeumi – Not to be sold short, this match has a lot at stake. Mitakeumi needs to “win out” if he wants to reach double digits and keep any hope of his 4th or 5th Ozeki attempt alive. A win today by Asanoyama would give him a narrow but workable chance to challenge for the cup in the final days. Great end to day 13 with two solid, high stakes battles.