Heya Power Rankings: Aki-Kyushu 18

hakuho-yusho-41

With the Kyushu basho just around the corner, it’s time to check in with the latest soon-to-be-obsolete-somewhat-abridged edition of the Tachiai Heya Power Rankings. If you’re a keen follower of this series, apologies for the tardiness: I had some trouble in the calculations until I worked out that (like many others it sometimes seems!) I had failed to adequately credit Goeido with the points he deserved for his Jun-Yusho in the previous tournament!

I debated how to handle the current iteration of these rankings, as it is the last edition of the rankings to feature the now-defunct Takanohana-beya. As the Kyushu honbasho will be the first grand sumo tournament where Takakeisho, Takanoiwa and Takagenji compete under the Chiganoura flag, I decided to keep Takanohana on the charts for one last run. This means that the end-year ranks that we will publish following the basho will – depending on performance – provide a boost to a stable which had previously only counted Takanosho as a recent sekitori.

And with that preamble out of the way, let’s crack on with the list:

Heya Power Rankings: Aki-Kyushu 18

… and here’s that chart organised into Top 20 format:

  1. (+7) Miyagino. 104 points (+64)
  2. (+1) Sakaigawa. 85 points (+27)
  3. (-1) Tagonoura. 80 points (+15)
  4. (+1) Kasugano. 56 points (+11)
  5. (+5) Izutsu. 45 points (+10)
  6. (+-) Oitekaze. 43 points (-1)
  7. (+-) Kokonoe. 41 points (-1)
  8. (+1) Takanohana. 35 points (-2)
  9. (**) Kise. 28 points (+19)
  10. (-9) Dewanoumi. 25 points (-70)
  11. (+1) Minato. 25 points (even)
  12. (+4) Hakkaku. 23 points (+3)
  13. (+1) Takadagawa. 22 points (+2)
  14. (-1) Isenoumi. 20 points (-3)
  15. (-4) Tomozuna. 17 points (-11)
  16. (+3) Oguruma. 17 points (+1)
  17. (-13) Tokitsukaze. 15 points (-43)
  18. (-3) Kataonami. 15 points (-5)
  19. (**) Sadogatake. 15 points (even)
  20. (-2) Isegahama. 14 points (-4)

(legend: ** = new entry, +- = no movement, tiebreaker 1: higher position in the previous chart, tiebreaker 2: highest ranked rikishi on the banzuke)

Analysis

First of all, there were very few wild moves on this edition of the chart. This is because no sansho (special prizes) were awarded, which generally give non-yusho winning rikishi (and subsequently their stables) a big boost up our chart. So in the absence of that, and due to the fact that finally all of the Ozeki and Yokozuna participated fully last time out, all of the “big” stables made modest gains.

Miyagino replaces Dewanoumi at the top owing to Hakuho’s return to dominance, and Mitakeumi scratching across a kachi-koshi instead of turning in the kind of performance that would have sealed an Ozeki promotion and granted him some additional prizes along the way. Sakaigawa mounts their best ever tally on these charts owing to resurgent Goeido’s Jun-Yusho.

Further down the ranking, Takanohana-beya will make its last ever placing on this chart at #8 with a solid effort from its sekitori, before certainly being replaced on the listing by non-charting Chiganoura-beya next time out. That stable should immediately find itself firmly in or around the top 10 should Takakeisho, Takanoiwa and Takanosho continue their good form. Kise-beya, meanwhile, joins the top 10 this time out off the back of Tokushoryu’s unlikely Juryo-yusho, but will need to show more consistency and better performances from their myriad of sekitori at Kyushu, as the last couple of basho have otherwise been disappointing for comeback star Ura’s stable.

The bottom of the chart is much of a muchness, the only other two notable positions being Tokitsukaze’s precipitous fall owing to Yutakayama’s previous Jun-Yusho turning into a 3 win thrashing in the Joi-Jin. The stable might see a little bit of a bounce next time, should Yutakayama return to form at a lower rank and returning vet Toyonoshima give some youngin’s the business down in Juryo. And at the very bottom, somehow clinging on to the ranks, is former powerhouse stable Isegahama.

Next time out, Oguruma‘s Tomokaze may well add to that stable’s total, as he makes his professional bow next week in Fukuoka and I have hotly tipped him for a kachi-koshi. And there will certainly be change at the top: Hakuho’s kyujo announcement earlier today means that some other stable will claim the Tachiai crown next time out. Who will it be?

Legends of the Dohyo #10: “If I Were Japanese”

Konishiki Yasokichi aka Dump Truck

Part One

In 1987,  American-Samoan Saleva’a Fuauli Atisano’e made history when he became sumo’s first foreign Ozeki. Now one of the sports most elite athletes, Atisano’e, better known as Konishiki Yashokichi, was the closest any gaijin had ever come to attaining one of Japans most hallowed titles: Yokozuna. But the road between Konishiki and the white rope would prove to be a long and difficult one.

Konishiki was on top of the world in July ’87. The Hawaiian born Ozeki had etched his name in sumo’s long storied history, and his supporters believed it wouldn’t be long until he took his place amongst the sports grandest of champions. Despite this optimism, Konishiki followed this achievement with one of the most mediocre periods of his career. With the exception of a fifth career Jun-Yusho, the American rikishi spent most of the next three years doing just enough to retain his spot at the top of the Banzuke. This mediocracy was primarily due to a vicious cycle of knee issues and weight gain that threatened to cut short Konishiki’s career just as it was taking off. Still feeling the lingering effects of a knee injury he suffered prior to his Ozeki run, the big man couldn’t train with the same intensity he had earlier in his career. As a result, the American rikishi had gained twenty-two kilograms and now tipped the scales at 252 kg (555 lb). In turn, this extra weight put even more stress on Konishiki’s ailing knees. Konishiki had begun the most important battle of his career, and if he couldn’t get his weight under control he would lose everything he had worked for. While the Ozeki’s success on the dohyo may have tapered off, so too had the criticism he faced from the Japanese public. Now wiser and more cognizant of his public reputation, the big man had learned to stick to the Kyokai’s script, for the time being at least. This new tune, coupled with the incredible gaman*  he showed in battling back from his devastating knee injury, had earned Konishiki the respect of Japanese fans. But this was only the calm before the storm. The “Black Ship” was on a course towards turbulent waters.

Konishiki 3

Konishiki made headlines again at the 1989 Kyushu Basho when he captured the Yusho, making him the first gaijin to lift the Emperors Cup since Takamiyama in 1972. After getting his weight down, the Ozeki dominated his competition once more and finished one win ahead of fan favourite Yokozuna Chiyonofuji. Having won the Yusho, Konishiki was on the precipice of doing something many of the sports staunchest traditionalists thought was unthinkable and become sumo’s first foreign Yokozuna. His first chance at promotion came at the 1990 Hatsu Basho, but a five-day losing streak dashed any hopes of promotion. finishing with a 10-5 record, Konishiki had missed his chance at grasping that white rope, but the big man had bounced back from his shin-Ozeki slump and was about to enter the best years of his career. Talk of a Yokozuna run was reignited at the 1992 Kyushu Basho when Konishiki claimed his second Yusho. For the first time in sixty years, sumo was without a Yokozuna after Hokutoumi’s retirement in May, and many believed Konishiki’s accession to the top of the banzuke was more a matter of when than if. Just as before, Konishiki came up short at the following Hatsu Basho. However, this time he’d secured a much better 12-3 record, and while not a Jun-Yusho, just maybe he could salvage his chances of promotion as long as he took the championship in March. Konishiki did take the Yusho in March, and the many speculated if he had done enough to get the call that would see an American become the face of the sumo.

Dewanoumi Oyakata
NSK Chairman Dewanoumi

But the call never came. On paper, Konishiki’s record of two Yusho and thirty-eight wins over three tournaments was better than both Hokutoumi and Asahifuji prior to their Yokozuna promotions. However, sumo is about more than just numbers, and without that Jun-Yusho Konishiki did not receive the support of the Yokozuna Deliberation Council or the NSK. In addition to his unsatisfactory record, the NSK also sited Konishiki’s “ugly”, “undignified” sumo and his excessive weight, which had ballooned up to 264 kg, as reasons for not promoting him. furthermore, NSK Chairman Dewanoumi publically insinuated that based on his past, Konishiki lacked the hinkaku or noble character of a Yokozuna, and was not worthy of the rank. But perhaps the most severe criticism came from the Yokozuna Deliberation Council, specifically longtime member Noboru Kojima. In an article written by Kojima titled “We don’t need a Gaijin Yokozuna”, the author stated that “What makes sumo different is its own particular characteristics of civility, which is the basis of Japanese morals and values. I cannot agree with a school of thought that would make a gaijin Yokozuna.” In effect, Kojima had made a statement equivalent to sportswriters of the 40’s denying black baseball players a place in the majors because they lacked the character of white athletes. These sentimentss were not unheard of in a country as ethnocentric as Japan, and were made worse by the deteriorating Japanese-American relations at the time of Konishiki’s Yokozuna run. This political tension, the result of trade disputes, caused the Japanese to cast the United States and Americans as arrogant interlopers trying to dictate Japan’s culture and future. Once again, Konishiki was viewed as an invader. The criticism from the NSK, combined with Kojima’s racist statements and the ridicule of the Japanese public, had pushed Konishiki to his limit.

Besieged on all sides and denied a promotion by all rights he felt he’d earned, things only got worse for Konishiki when the New York Times published an article about his struggles in April of 1992. The article featured an apparent interview with the American Sumotori, who accused the NSK of racism and stated that if he were Japanese he would be Yokozuna already. The article caused an uproar in the NSK, who demanded an apology. Konishiki publically apologized for the article and claimed that unbeknownst to him one of his tsubiko had impersonated him during the call. Whether or not Konishiki made the statement is still a matter of debate (Konishiki’s tsubiko Eric Gasper has reportedly claimed to have imitated his sempai during the call) the New Your Times article still had a tremendous impact on sumo. In an attempt to quell the accusations of racism, the NSK decided to put Konishiki’s fate in his own hands, and if the American could win the upcoming Natsu Basho he would be promoted. For the first time, concrete requirements for an automatic promotion to Yokozuna had been laid out: back to back Yusho would seal the deal. But much like before, Konishiki buckled under the pressure and failed to take the Emperors Cup, in what would be his final chance at earning the white rope.

Konishiki 5
Musashimaru, Konishiki, and Akebono in Honalulu. To these two Yokozuna, Konishiki was “da man” and a major source of support throughout thier careers.

Following the 1992 Natsu Basho, Konishiki’s career gradually wound down until the sports first foreign Ozeki, now at the bottom of the makuuchi division, announced his retirement in 1997. While Konishiki may have been the victim of a system that persecuted him because of ethnic origin, the enormous impact he left on Japan’s traditional sport was felt not even one year after his failed Yokozuna run. In 1993, following the path blazed by Konishiki, fellow Hawaiian Akebono Taro secured his second consecutive Yusho, meeting the requirements to become sumo’s first gaijin Yokozuna. There is a saying that goes: Takamiyama cleared the ground, Konishiki built the stairs, and Akebono climbed them. Konishiki Yasokichi fought the good fight and forced the NSK to create a system where merit outweighed ethnicity, ultimately paving the way for men like Akebono, Musashimaru, and every other gaijin to do what Konishiki could not, and reach sumo’s most prestigious title.


Chiyonofuji (left) vs. Konishiki (right), Kyushu Basho, 1989.


*Enduring hardship with dignity.

Kyushu Banzuke Forecast Postmortem

As Bruce already noted, the Kyushu banzuke has been posted. I have to say that this time I am proud of my forecast. Despite the difficulties created by the lopsided performances at Aki, I correctly predicted the exact rank and side for 30 of the 42 Makuuchi slots, including all 10 named ranks and 20 of the 32 maegashira ranks, which are much less predictable. Of my 12 misses, 6 resulted from exchanges of rikishi pairs in adjacent banzuke positions: Hokutofuji and Tochiozan at M1w and M2e, Tamawashi and Nishikigi at M2w and M3e, and Kagayaki and Abi at M6w and M7e. Two additional misses were also by half a rank: Yoshikaze at M5e instead of M4w, and Yago at M16w instead of the top rank in Juryo. I also switched Ikioi and Daieisho at M8e and M9w. The other miss, by 3 whole ranks, resulted from the obligatory head-scratcher by the banzuke committee. It seems like every banzuke includes one decision that’s impossible to predict, understand, or defend. This time around, it’s the wildly disparate treatment of Ryuden and Takanoiwa. The two were ranked at M13e and M13w for Aki, and put up identical 10-5 performances that should have resulted in similar banzuke positions. Instead, Ryuden is ranked at M3, as predicted, while Takanoiwa ended up all the way down at M6 and has every reason to feel aggrieved.

Aside from the easy named ranks, my predictions were especially accurate in the lower portion of the banzuke. From M10 down, my only error was demoting Chiyomaru in favor of Yago.

Unfortunately, all my close misses line up in such a way as to earn me exactly zero points in Guess the Banzuke, which awards two points for exact matches, a point for correct rank but wrong side (e.g. 6e vs. 6w), but, frustratingly, no points for other adjacent rank misses (e.g. 6w vs. 7e). Nevertheless, I tied my highest previous point total, achieved exactly a year ago. Apparently, Kyushu for me is what Aki is for Goeido 😉 On to the basho!

Legends of the Dohyo #9: The Black Ship

Konishiki 2

In today’s modernized sumo, foreign rikishi have become as much a part of the sport as mawashi, stables, and salt throwing. Wrestlers from across the globe now compete in every level of sumo, following a trail blazed for them by the American born Jessie Kuhaulua, better known as Takamiyama Daigoro. Having broken the Gaijin barrier, Takamiyama opened the minds of the Japanese to the idea of foreign rikishi competing in their national sport. Yet his influence on sumo only went so far. While the notion of non-Japanese wrestlers was becoming more welcome in Japan, the idea that one of them could reach the lofty heights of Ozeki, or more importantly Yokozuna, was still preposterous. But this belief only served to light a fire under the young Samoan-American Saleva’a Fuauli Atisano’e, who was determined to pick up where Takamiyama left off and show Japan that a foreigner could be every bit as worthy of sumo’s most prestigious ranks.

Takamiyama-Konishiki
Konishiki & Takamiyama

Born in the breezy paradise of Oahu, Hawaii in 1963 to Samoan parents, Saleva’a Fuauli Atisano’e never dreamed of becoming a sumo wrestler. In fact, he knew nothing about the sport save for one thing: that a Hawaiian named Jessie Kuhaulua had made it big in sumo, and even won their trophy. Little did he know that a chance meeting in 1982 with that very same Hawaiian, now going by Takamiyama, would have a profound impact on his life. Upon meeting Atisano’e, Takamiyama saw great potential in the hulking eighteen-year-old, whose six foot tall four hundred pound frame meant he was already bigger than some of the sports top stars. Despite not knowing a thing about sumo, the young Atisano’e jumped at the offer to journey to Japan to seek the same fame and fortune that Takamiyama had achieved. Joining Takasago Beya, Atisano’e quickly impressed his Oyakata, who saw the same natural talent in the young American that Takamiya had seen. To encourage him to live up to his potential, Takasago Oyakata gave Atisano’e the shikona of Konishiki Yashokichi, the very same shikona used by the sports 17th Yokozuna.

Making his professional debut at the 1982 Nagoya Basho, Konishiki used his impressive size and strength to overwhelm all who faced him on the dohyo, and he entered his third Basho not only undefeated but with two lower division Yusho under his belt. Konishiki’s rise up the Banzuke was remarkably quick, and he reached the Juryo division by November of 1983, having only suffered seven losses along the way. Much like before, the American rikishi dominated his competition, and after winning back to back Juryo Yusho, Konishiki entered the Makuuchi Division at the 1984 Nagoya Basho, just two years after entering sumo. Konishiki made major waves at the ’84 Aki Basho and finished in second place for the Yusho with a 13-2 record, which included kinboshi wins over Yokozuna Takanosato and Chiyonofuji. This remarkable performance earned Konishiki a massive promotion to Sekiwake for Kyushu. An injury, however, compelled the young American to pull out on Day 11, costing him his spot in the San’yaku. Over the next two years, Konishiki would claim the Jun-Yusho and earn promotion to Sekiwake on three separate occasions, but injuries would curtail any hopes of an Ozeki run each time.

young_KonishikiWhile Konishiki was finding tremendous success on the dohyo, cultivating a positive reputation outside the ring proved to be far more challenging. The big American was extremely bright, and his early dominance served made him confident and unafraid to challenge the Kyokai status quo. This attitude lead many to typecast Konishiki as arrogant. Coupled with the way he used his might to “bully” his opponents out of the ring, many Japanese, non-sumo fans included, believed Konishiki was invading their traditional sport. As such, they began to refer to him as “the black ship,” drawing comparisons between the American-Samoan rikishi and the ships used by the American navy to force Japan to open its borders in the 19th century. Konishiki did little to help dissuade this reputation, often coming off as brash and ignorant of sumo customs in interviews. In one such case, the American rikishi was asked if he would defeat the yokozuna in the upcoming basho. Rather than the standard response of “I will do my best” he brazenly responded with “bring it on.” In another interview, when asked what sumo meant to him, Konishiki impatiently responded with the phrase “kenka, ja nai”: it’s a fight, isn’t it? While Konishiki may have been trying to describe the combative nature of the sport, his use of the word kenka, typically associated with street fights, served to only sour impressions of him. Konishiki had strayed from the accepted script, and as a result, his reputation had suffered.

Although opinions of Konishiki may have been at a low, his continued strong performances meant nobody could ignore him. After returning from injury for the third time at the 1986 Aki Basho, Konishiki began a remarkable run that saw him secure five consecutive double-digit records and two more Jun-Yusho. But most importantly, after three hard-fought years in Makuuchi, Konishiki’s efforts had finally secured his promotion to sumo’s second-highest rank, cementing his place in history as the first foreign Ozeki. If his rise to Ozeki had surprised sumo traditionalists, his 1989 November Yusho shocked them. For the first time in sumo’s thousand-year history, a gaijin was knocking on the door of Yokozuna-ship.

End of Part One


Konishiki (left) vs. Takanosato (right), Aki Basho, 1984.