You can’t count on good fortune, but today sumo fans got a gift. In defeating Yokozuna Kakuryu, Tochinoshin opened up the yusho race once more. But who could imagine that all of the other leaders would lose as well? With just 3 matches left, a loss tomorrow against Kaisei puts the yusho up for grabs. While that would be very exciting, there is almost no chance that this will come to pass. Kakuryu made a huge mistake in going chest to chest with Tochinoshin, and the Hatsu yusho winner made him pay. I am going to guess the Yokozuna will not be so cavalier on Friday.
One item of note for sumo conspiracy theorists, Chiyotairyu has won 2 of his last 3 matches, after a disastrous start to Haru. Look closely at his image on the NHK video, and we can all see why he is returning to genki status. That’s right! He is regrowing his sideburns. We heartily welcome the return of Sumo Elvis, and hope that he will never remove his sideburns again.
Ishiura vs Daiamami – Apologies to the purists, but I am very frustrated with Ishura and his continuous henka deployment. The winner of this match gets kachi-koshi, and I think I am rooting for anyone but Ishiura at this point. He won their only prior match.
Aoiyama vs Yutakayama – Battle of the Yama’s, this one is big against bigger. Both are already kachi-koshi, so this is mostly for rank velocity. I would guess Aoiyama wants to repair his pride following his day 12 match with Ishiura.
Ikioi vs Chiyonokuni – Do you think Ikioi is going to slow down now that he is kachi-koshi? Hell no! Chiyonokuni needs 2 more wins, and I am going to guess he is going to need to look elsewhere. I wish this version of Ikioi came to every basho, he’s pretty nifty.
Okinoumi vs Asanoyama – Asanoyama has been fighting well against his own cohort lower down the banzuke, but today he’s going a bit higher against Okinoumi. Jason’s favorite rikishi (from Shimane-ken) has been lukewarm this tournament, but he can still get his 8 wins if he presses ahead.
Kotoshogiku vs Daieisho – Daieisho looking to get his kachi-koshi against an already make-koshi remnant of Ozeki Kotoshogiku. Daieisho is doing surprisingly well at Maegashira 8 this time, but Kotoshogiku is ranked Maegashira 3, and is quite dangerous if you let him go chest to chest.
Yoshikaze vs Tamawashi – As a true-green Yoshikaze fan, I can only watch with increasing sadness as the Berserker struggles daily with his torikumi. Tamawashi is likely to pick up his kachi-koshi today, and move to return to a san’yaku rank for May.
Endo vs Chiyomaru – Chiyomaru shocked Ozeki Takayasu on day 12, and now he is going to try his sumo against Endo. Endo dearly wants to make a bit for san’yaku himself, and needs to keep winning. Time will tell if Chiyomaru is having a good basho, of if this is a step change in the power of his sumo.
Abi vs Chiyotairyu – Sure, let’s put a Maegashira 7 up against a Komusubi. Someone slender Abi goes against the massive dreadnaught class Chiyotairyu. Both of them are going to unleash oshi-war on each other, but Abi is out massed, and likely out-gunned. But this is going to be an interesting match! Oh, and Abi still needs 1 more win to secure promotion.
Ichinojo vs Shohozan – Big mass vs big guns, here we go! Their career record is 3-3, so I am expecting a battle here. It’s unlikely that Shohozan is going to be able to push Ichinojo around much, so his one hope is to grab a handful of fabric and maybe a roll of flesh, and push.
Shodai vs Tochinoshin – Somehow, it seems that Shodai was able to find his sumo, and make friends with it ocne more. But the chances of Shodai being able to take down the Hatsu yusho winner is, at least in my guess, very slim. Quick belt grab by Tochinoshin off the tachiai, and a few quick steps to the tawara.
Mitakeumi vs Hokutofuji – Of the Yoshikaze situation were not enough for me to swear off having favorites, it’s these two guys. Both of them have huge potential. Both of them seem to be completely out of sorts, run amok, possibly hurt and in no condition to strive for higher rank.
Takayasu vs Goeido – Ozeki fight! I think Takayasu has this one by a wide margin unless we get a Goeido henka, which is actually not very far fetched. I did like that Chiyomaru leveraged Takayasu’s cannonball tachiai on day 12. Serves him right. Serves him again if he deploys it against Goeido and he makes him eat it.
Kakuryu vs Kaisei – The big match of the day. If Kakuryu loses this, is a barnyard brawl for the hardware. But I am going to suggest that Kaisei won’t represent an impossible challenge for the Yokozuna, who has never managed to beat Kakuryu in any prior match.
For the third time (at least) this Haru basho, sumo fans are roiled by discussions over a controversial call from the shimpan. This time it was Tochinoshin seeming to defeat Takayasu, but it was ruled that his heel had stepped out several seconds before he tossed Takayasu to the clay. For myself, after looking at multiple sources, it was inconclusive, and quite impossible for me to decide what I think happened.
By sealing his 11th win, Yokozuna Kakuryu is looking very good indeed now. Even if he should re-injure himself and withdraw, all but the harshest critics would admit he had done his duty as a Yokozuna well. It’s clear, though, that such an outcome is the last thing on his mind. He wants to win, and win as big as he can. He stated prior to the basho when it was known he was injured and in pain, that it was his goal to win a basho as Yokozuna 1E, and he is only a few more wins from making that real.
Day 12 has a fantastic set of matches, with the challenges for the Yokozuna and Ozeki ramping up in difficulty. The drama is playing out further down the torikumi, as the schedule continues to grind on, sorting rikishi into the defeated and the survivors. As with the end of most recent basho, we are seeing matches between rikishi of widely different ranks now, and some of the matches are interesting, while some are likely comical.
Ishiura vs Aoiyama – Ishiura is very fond of his henkas, and I do hope that Aoiyama knows not to rush headlong into him. Ishiura has yet to win a match over Aoiyama, so I am going to guess we get a tachiai where Aoiyama stands up and starts round-house blasting Ishiura on his head and neck.
Sokokurai vs Ryuden – Ryuden is getting dangerously close to make-koshi, and he’s going up against Sokokurai who had a rough start, but has won 3 of his last 4.
Kagayaki vs Nishikigi – If Nishikigi loses, he is make-koshi, and is a candidate for return to Juryo. He has been trying everything he can for the last 3 basho to avoid that outcome, and it may finally be time to face the music.
Asanoyama vs Daieisho – Asanoyama could pick up kachi-koshi, but he faces a much higher ranked Daieisho. Daieisho is not looking as genki as his fellow Oitekaze stable mates, but he is ranked well above Asanoyama.
Abi vs Yutakayama – Abi has yet to ever beat Yutakayama, and at 6-5, Abi needs every win he can get. But his sumo has become repetitive, and everyone is predicting his next move correctly. The man has talent, but he needs to broaden his approach. Yutakayama is already kachi-koshi, but I expect he is pushing for 10.
Daiamami vs Hokutofuji – The big crazy spread of the day, Daiamami (M16) takes on Hokutofuji (M6), whom he has fought twice but never beaten. A win here would not only be a surprise, but would give Daiamami a well earned kachi-koshi.
Endo vs Kaisei – Big match of the day. Endo can remove Kaisei from contention if he wins, and move a step closer in his bid to finally make it to san’yaku. Kaisei wants to maintain his pace just behind Kakuryu, but Endo holds a 6-4 career edge. Both men are looking their best right now, so I expect some solid sumo from this match.
Takarafuji vs Tamawashi – Takarafuji will end make-koshi, which belies the fact that he put up a strong match each day, win or lose. Tamawashi is on a campaign to return to san’yaku, and it’s still well within reach. Takarafuji holds a 11-7 career advantage.
Shohozan vs Chiyotairyu – Historically, Shohozan’s brute-oshi style has struggled to beat Chiyotairyu (2-5), and both men are fighting well this tournament. Chiyotairyu already has 9 losses, so this is for pride, and to soften his landing.
Mitakeumi vs Shodai – Mitakeumi is fading like a 1980’s poster in a shop window, and for some reason, I think Shodai is going to give him a good fight today. Many fans still have hope that some day Shodai can elevate his sumo, and be a contender in the uppermost ranks.
Takayasu vs Chiyomaru – A battle of big round men who are fond or blasting off the line with overwhelming force. Takayasu won their only prior meeting, and I expect he will win this one unless Chiyomaru gets a lucky hit at the tachiai.
Ichinojo vs Goeido – I think I speak for many sumo fans when I say I am praying there is not another Goeido henka. I think he can take Ichinojo, and I want to see him try it in direct battle. They are tied 6-6 over their career matches, so it could actually be a good bout.
Kakuryu vs Tochinoshin – Tochinoshin has had a rough ride this basho. A number of tough calls went against him, and he has struggled to repeat his outstanding performance at Hatsu. I expect Kakuryu to stay mobile, and keep Tochinoshin from landing a mawashi grip. Out of their 22 prior matches, Tochinoshin has only won one.
The devastation across the yusho race was amazing on day 10, as all but four men out of nine dropped from contention. Thus ends act 2, and the goal of the torikumi is revealed. The good have been separated from the great, and the yusho race is formed.
Act 3 is to find which of these four rikishi will take home the hardware, and barring any injuries, it’s looking very good for Yokozuna Kakuryu. The goal over the next 5 days is for someone to get dirt on Big K, and right now he is looking very genki given his known injuries.
Daiamami vs Kyokutaisei – Daiamami pushing for kachi-koshi in a very even match all around.
Daishomaru vs Hidenoumi – Another Oitekaze deshi going for kachi-koshi on day 11, they have done exceptionally well this basho, but the next two tournaments will tell if they just had a good basho, or if this is a step-change in their sumo.
Kotoyuki vs Yutakayama – Kotoyuki has yet to win one, so Yutakayama’s kachi-koshi looks pretty safe for today. If he continues to push he could be in range for a special prize.
Aoiyama vs Chiyonokuni – A rough and rowdy match today here, we are going to get speed and tenacity against reach and power. I am going to guess it will be a pretty good match, in spite of Chiyonokuni’s 8-3 career advantage.
Kagayaki vs Ikioi – Ikioi tries for his 8, after an unfortunate hair pulling incident on day 10. Like Kakuryu, Ikioi has persevered in the face of injuries and pain. The home town crowd loves him, and he is gamberizing.
Ryuden vs Yoshikaze – The loser of this match receives a make-koshi, and I fear it’ll be Yoshikaze. This is their first ever match, and it is a sad one to watch.
Shohozan vs Hokutofuji – both men have rallied in the last several days after difficult losing streaks. Shohozan is still a street brawler against the diligent and earnest Hokutofuji. I give the advantage to Shohozan.
Kaisei vs Takakeisho – Fans and readers may wonder what happened to Takakeisho, I can’t cite the news posting, but it seems he pulled his groin muscle on day 8 or 9. So he’s limping to the end of the basho for the most part. It’s his first ever match with Kaisei, who is likely going to keep jun-yusho in his sights.
Endo vs Takarafuji – Endo is still at .500, and needs to get that kachi-koshi for his first ever san’yaku posting. He has faded quite a bit since his opening week sprint. The flagging Takarafuji should be a solid match for him, and has beat Endo in 5 of their last 6 matches.
Mitakeumi vs Chiyomaru – Mitakeumi was fading into the second week, even before he managed to get himself hurt. Now he has to face to bulbous Chiyomaru in their first ever head-to-head meet up.
Shodai vs Goeido – Many people were very unhappy with Goeido’s mighty henka on day 10. I thought it was keeping in character for Goeido, who clearly encountered a bad driver and could not do real sumo today. Shodai has rallied, and is not as pathetic as he appeared in the first week.
Takayasu vs Tochinoshin – The schedule ends strong, with these two powerhouses up in the second-to-last match of the day. Tochinoshin is still smarting for swallowing Goeido’s henka with such vigor. Takayasu sometimes eases up once he gets his kachi-koshi, but I think he wants to keep chasing the Yokozuna.
Kakuryu vs Ichinojo – This is a dangerous match for the lone surviving Yokozuna. First and foremost is that Ichinojo could injure him if they are not both very careful. Secondly, Ichinojo could actually defeat Kakuryu. A loss on day 11 would open the yusho race to a mad scramble, with several worthy contenders suddenly within striking range. Nothing would please the lords of sumo more.
We come to the end of act 2 with nearly complete success from the team that puts together the torikumi – the daily fight schedule. Their job in act 2, the middle five days of the tournament, was to narrow down the leaderboard, and to sort the rikishi into three groups: the contenders, the defeated and the survivors. Sumo fans can look across the standings at the end of today, and clearly see each of the three groups taking shape across the top division.
The ultimate score would be to get dirt on either or both of the leaders on the final day of Act 2. This would suddenly make the contender group far more viable, and launch us into act 3. In all basho, act 3 is focused on finding the yusho winner. In general, you want as many of your rikishi who made it into the “Contender” group to be fighting it out every day for their chance to take home the cup, while the rest of the crowd work to avoid being cast into the “defeated” group. We certainly have the crew on deck for this kind of act 3, but our leaders are 2 wins ahead of everyone else, and that makes it quite tough to open the yusho race to a fierce multi-way barnyard brawl. [Especially since one of them is Kakuryu. As the sole Yokozuna in the tournament, his schedule is largely fixed by tradition – he can be expected to fight almost all of the San’yaku in the final five days. The torikumi committee have little desire to change this. –PinkMawashi]
That leads us into day 10, which has some fantastic sumo action, and a number of bouts with “highlight reel” potential.
Aoiyama vs Takekaze – Takakaze is up checking out his return to Makuuchi for Natsu, facing off against a seemingly unstoppable wrecking machine in the form of Aoiyama. I am sorry, but I must beat this drum again. Had it not been for the shoddy call on day 5, he would be the sole man at 8-1. A big advantage for Aoiyama in this match.
Tochiozan vs Daiamami – First-time match between an injured and failing Tochiozan, and a rather genki Daiamami. Daiamami is still hanging tough only 2 losses back from the leaders, and his sumo is looking very solid this basho.
Ikioi vs Yutakayama – Ikioi has really been putting on a show for his hometown fans, and they are legion. In spite of his injuries and daily discomfort, this man puts on some solid sumo. Granted he’s down at Maegashira 14 right now and has an easier than normal fight card. But fans new to sumo may be getting a taste of why Ikioi is a big draw for many sumo followers.
Kagayaki vs Daishomaru – Kagayaki is in real danger of being sorted into the “Defeated” group, and he’s up against another of the surging Oitekaze heya team. Historically, it’s 6-2 in Kagayaki’s favor, but Daishomaru is on a roll right now.
Hokutofuji vs Takakeisho – I am going to be watching closely, as I suspect Takakeisho has injured his right thigh or pulled his groin muscle. Either way, he is not moving well and seems to be working to endure his matches. Hokutofuji desperately needs to regroup, and I wonder if the upcoming jungyo tour might actually help him, as he would be sparring daily with a larger variety of rikishi.
Kotoshogiku vs Takarafuji – This has the potential to be a solid bit of sumo, even though Takarafuji, sadly, has just one win. Takarafuji has been putting out a great effort each and every day, just not enough to earn white stars. We saw some great classic Kotoshogiku form on day 9, and if he can muster that again, we could be in for a real battle.
Ichinojo vs Kaisei – Quite possibly the match of the day here, can Kaisei overpower the Boulder? I think it’s mechanically possible, but how it plays out is going to be awesome to watch. Ichinojo still doing quite well and is part of the group 2 behind the leaders.
Mitakeumi vs Shohozan – Both men suffered greatly during act 2, and now both of them are struggling to stay above a 50% win mark. With double digits wins almost mathematically impossible now for Mitakeumi, it will mark another basho where his fans wonder what it will take for him to rise to the next level.
Takayasu vs Shodai – Oh good lord. Unless Shodai “Goes Hulk”, which he does sometimes, this is going to be a question of how long Takayasu wants to play with him before winning.
Tochinoshin vs Goeido – Another option for the match of the day. Goeido lost day 9 due to a poorly timed move. It’s time to see if he puts that aside or if it worries him into another loss. Goeido has a habit of letting one mistake throw off his sumo, and fans are all hoping he can keep steady. Tochinoshin’s sumo just seems to be stronger with each passing match, so this one has much potential with the Hatsu Yusho winner facing down Osaka’s hometown champ.
Kakuryu vs Chiyomaru – The biggest risk here, in my opinion, is an injury to the Yokozuna. Chiyomaru tends to start with a giant blast but rapidly lose stamina. With Kakuryu’s reactive sumo, I am looking for him to blunt Chiyomaru’s opening salvo and work to get him off balance and once again rolling westward. Look out Hiroshima, he’s coming through!
A few quick bites of the day 9 action – apologies to fans if their favorite rikishi is skipped due to lack of time. Act 2 is working its magic, as the leaderboard is being shredded by the bout schedule. Kakuryu and Kaisei are still undefeated. At the end of day 9, there are no 1-loss rikishi remaining, and a decent group have fallen out of the 2-loss crowd as well.
With the nearest competitors now 2 losses behind, the next task is to see if Kaisei and Kakuryu can go the distance. At this point, both men would need to pick up 2 losses to re-open the yusho race. While that would be great for fan excitement and TV ratings, it’s a tall order. Kakuryu seems to still be healthy, wily, fast and strong. Kaisei is plain enormous and is no easy man to move, even when he is not ultra-genki. [Kakuryu is matched up against Chiyomaru tomorrow. Since there are five days of basho left after that, and five san’yaku opponents still for Kakuryu to face, it is unlikely we will see Kakuryu vs. Kaisei unless the yusho goes to a playoff or someone goes kyujo. –PinkMawashi]
Aminishiki defeats Hidenoumi – Aminishiki picks up a much-needed win, but he sure does look rough. Uncle Sumo is clearly banged up all the time now, but I admire his drive.
Aoiyama defeats Sokokurai – Sokokurai really provided no significant challenge for the Bulgarian Man-Mountain. Aoiyama’s 7-2 (8-1?)
Asanoyama defeats Daiamami – The happy sumotori drops the sole remaining man with one loss. It’s now two wins that separate the leaders from everyone else.
Daishomaru defeats Myogiryu – Daishomaru is not going to give up, he wins on day 9 to keep rooted in the 2 loss group.
Ikioi defeats Kotoyuki – A fight so nice, they did it twice. The shimpan called for a rematch after both men touched down in tandem, and Ikioi blasted Mr 5×5 over and out. Yep, Ikioi is part of that 2 loss crowd!
Yoshikaze defeats Chiyonokuni – Good to see Yoshikaze pick up a win. I would consider Chiyonokuni a possible heir to Yoshikaze’s berserker form in time, and he gave Yoshikaze a solid fight today. Double bonus points today for camera work. As Chiyonokuni drops to the clay, Yoshikaze has a grip on his mawashi knot, and it comes undone. With a palpable sense of urgency, the camera pans to the ceiling before Chiyonokuni can rise from the dohyo.
Abi defeats Okinoumi – Abi showed better form today, he kept his weight from getting too far forward and powered through Okinoumi’s defenses.
Kaisei defeats Ryuden – Again on day 9, there seems to be no stopping Kaisei. He faces Ichinojo on day 10, so it’s time to see how genki the Brazilian actually is.
Arawashi defeats Takarafuji – Arawashi finally gets his first win. Sadly it’s at the expense of Takarafuji picking up his make-koshi.
Tamawashi defeats Endo – Endo needs to come up with a few new battle plans. This match was far too similar to prior bouts with Tamawashi, and it was all Tamawashi.
Ichinojo defeats Takakeisho – Takakeisho looked hurt yesterday and looked more hurt today. Something about the right leg, or perhaps a groin pull. Ichinojo was surprisingly gentle with him once he won.
Tochinoshin defeats Shohozan – Wow, Tochinoshin looks really solid today. Shohozan is struggling now, after a fantastic start.
Kotoshogiku defeats Mitakeumi – Old school Kotoshogiku came from the shadows, with most of his strength but all of his skill today against Mitakeumi, and it was great to see. Mitakeumi is once again fading hard. What will it take for this guy to get double digits in san’yaku?
Chiyomaru defeats Goeido – Big surprise today, and it was the Ozeki who stepped out first by a wide margin in this “fling fest”. Goeido did not look bad today, he just had a mistimed step.
Takayasu defeats Chiyotairyu – Takayasu delivers a mini-henka and rolls Chiyotairyu down. The surprise is that the spherical Chiyotairyu can actually stop before reaching Nagasaki.
Kakuryu defeats Shodai – This bout is one part Kakuryu’s reactive sumo in spades, one part “Dancing with the Stars”. As expected, Shodai is high at the tachiai, and Kakuryu plays with him for a few moments before evading Shodai’s charge.
Act 2 is running on overdrive and rikishi are being shunted away from the yusho hunt, but our leaders – the undefeated Kaisei and Yokozuna Kakuryu – have yet to show any inclination to lose a single match. At this point, the main group of contenders are two wins behind, and we would need to see both men lose not just one, but two of their next six matches. Mathematically possible, but it could be a tall order.
The easier mark is, of course, Maegashira 6 Kaisei. But don’t be fooled, Kaisei is huge, powerful and seems to be quite determined to keep pushing forward. He is, in fact, a serious contender. Given that Kaisei has in the past served and even had a winning record in San’yaku, he is not a total stranger to the pinnacle of sumo competition.
But this entire yusho race pivots on Yokozuna Kakuryu. Once again we head into the second week with him as the lone Yokozuna, and undefeated. At Hatsu, he struggled in the second week because he sustained an injury to his ankle which robbed him of the ability to create any forward pressure. If we see him looking hesitant, or not moving strongly forward, let’s all do ourselves a favor and assume he’s hurt, rather than that he lacks the fiber, courage or endurance to be a Yokozuna. Frankly, in the back half of this year and into 2019, he may be the only Yokozuna that survives.
Day 9’s matches continue to act 2’s theme – the scheduling team are creating increasingly interesting pairings, working to create three distinct groups, the contenders, the defeated and the survivors.
(Abbreviated due to a shortage of time – apologies if I miss your favorite rikishi)
Aminishiki vs Hidenoumi – Uncle Sumo continues to suffer in Juryo. Now at 2-6, he is nursing a worsening of his injured knee. Likely a Hidenoumi pick-up.
Sokokurai vs Aoiyama – I am going to come out and say it. Aoiyama has only 2 losses. Had he not been robbed in the first week, he would be 7-1 and the second man in the chase group. No going back, but this would be the second time in 12 months that he would have been a contender. As it is, this match is strongly in favor of the Bulgarian.
Daiamami vs Asanoyama – The lone man with 7 wins steps off against Asanoyama. They are evenly matched at 3-3 over their career, but Daiamami is having a good basho, so I expect him to come in genki and strong.
Ikioi vs Kotoyuki – Mr 5×5 has been unable to produce any offense this tournament. I expect Ikioi to dispatch him with a wince and grimace of pain.
Abi vs Okinoumi – First meeting between these two, but it seems to have potential. Abi looked very good on day 8, but he will need to think fast as Okinoumi has a deep library of sumo knowledge and experience to draw upon.
Kaisei vs Ryuden – Odd fact that Kaisei has never beaten Ryuden, they have had two prior matches. But Kaisei is looking very genki, and this is almost a kind of cupcake for him, I would think.
Endo vs Tamawashi – This has the potential to be a great match. Endo’s ablative sumo on day 8 really caught my attention – he took a huge blast to land the grip he wanted, and he made his opponent pay. Tamawashi also likes to open big and open strong. They have had 12 prior matches, and they are split evenly 6-6.
Ichinojo vs Takakeisho – You can see the frustration on Takakeisho’s face now. His oshi attack will face a significant uphill struggle against the Boulder. Takakeisho has beaten him 3 times out of 4, so I think he has a plan, and it’s time to see which version of Ichinojo shows up day 9: The one that beat Takakeisho in January, or the one that lost in November.
Shohozan vs Tochinoshin – Power and speed are in ample supply when these two are fighting. Shohozan will stay mobile and try to keep the Hatsu Yusho Winner away from his mawashi. Tochinoshin holds a career advantage, but Shohozan is looking to uproot Tochinoshin from the hunt group and return him to the survivor pool.
Mitakeumi vs Kotoshogiku – Mitakeumi is firmly in the survivor pool now, and it’s somewhat frustrating as I think Mitakeumi is going to contend for higher rank at some point, but he just can’t seem to muster any bold forward drive. Kotoshogiku has the aura or make-koshi hanging over him already, but Mitakeumi seems like he may have been hurt day 8.
Chiyomaru vs Goeido – Actually the first time these two have matched, I am going to give the nod to Goeido, as he seems to have a stable build of GoeiDOS 1.5.1 running right now.
Takayasu vs Chiyotairyu – Both of these giant men like to open with a huge overpowering tachiai. If Chiyotairyu were a little lighter, I would suspect a henka, as it would be an easy way to beat Takayasu if you can pull it off.
Kakuryu vs Shodai – Kakuryu loves to exploit mistakes of his opponents. We can assume Shodai will be high off the shikiri-sen and Big K will take over and put him down.
Reader and commenter Chankoman was kind enough to translate an interview with Aoiyama and post it in the comments section. But it’s a great interview, and it really sheds a lot of light on a rikishi who appears to be headed strongly up the banzuke once more. It was just too valuable to not share, so here is:
Reader Chankoman –
This is an interview with Aoiyama in may 2015 in his small hometown back in Bulgaria. A town, 20 minutes driving from my own hometown. Many things have changed, of course, he was asked if he considers marriage, where he is almost convinced that this does not seem to happen anytime soon. It turns out that he meets his wife shortly after this interview happens. There might be something new that you can learn.
R: Hello, Mr. Ivanov, welcome back home! A: Good to be back. R: How do they call you in Japan? By given name (Daniel), Aoiyama or …? A: Aoiyama. R: Aoiyama, even the common people in the society (not associated with Sumo)? A: Yes, they call me with my Japanese name. R: Let us remind our viewers, how did you end up in Japan, you actually started with wrestling, what happened that you ended up doing sumo? A: I started doing wrestling while I was 11 years old, I started in Elhovo (his hometown), I trained for year and half and at the age of 13 I joined Sport Club CSKA. There, I continued wrestling for 6 years. During that time, in 2004, I took part in one Sumo World Championship for Juniors.It was then when I got very interested in sumo. After this Junior World Championship, I wanted to join the Sumo team, but there were too many people and I continued doing wrestling because I still wanted to do wrestling too. This continued to the year of 2006, when I enrolled the National Sport Academy’s sumo program. There I started preparing myself for World and European Championships. And so on, I think it was in 2007 when Kaloyan Mahlyanov (Kotooshu) came back in Bulgaria and people told me to meet him. He liked me as a wrestler. R: So it was him (Kotooshu) who gave you a hand to enter sumo? A: Yes, it was him and my sumo trainer back then in the National Sport Academy. We talked with him (Kotooshu), he told me “You can come and see what it’s like, and try.”. At first, I was scared because you go to such a different country, you don’t know what it’s like, and I know it has been hard for him too, far away from relatives, from everything. But time passed and in the year of 2009, I decided to go to Japan, it was April I think. And until now, 6 years and half, I am there. R: Do you remember your first bout there? A: Yes, I do remember. R: What did you feel – fear, confidence …? A: I was very determined to win. My first bout was with a Mongolian and I won. In my very first tournament, I had to do 3 bouts and I won them all. After that, they put us in the lowest divisions. After that, the amount of wins we have it determines how fast we rank up. I did it for 11 tournaments; a year and 10 months. R: You were among the Rikishi who climbed up very fast in the ranks. A: Yes, they told me I am the seventh fastest person to reach Komusubi from the beginning. This took me 18 tournaments. Kaloyan Mahlyanov (Kotooshu) reached Ozeki
or 18 tournaments, the second highest rank in sumo. R: Which is the highest rank you ever reached? A: The highest rank I reached was Sekiwake, the 3rd rank. It was 3 tournaments ago while I was still Sekiwake, I think. And because a small injury, my rank dropped. But this last tournament now in May, I have 9 wins and 6 losses so I will be in “okay” position. I hope to have more wins in the next tournament too. R: What was the price for you to reach all this? Determination, confidence, working hard? A: Yes, certainly. I had to forget about many things. This is how it is – you join a school (heya) and they tell you “From now on, you will be here.”. So I started living with these people, I do not speak Japanese, I do not know how people live there, I do not know how life goes on – what people eat, how do they train. And we start learning, like a young child. R: The regime was very strict in the beginning? A: It still is, but we get used. R: But as you get a higher rank, you have more privileges? A: Yes, you do not get to do some things anymore: no more cleaning, cooking, laundry. They clean, cook and do my laundry now. R: How many helpers do you have now? A: Four. R: Every person does something specific, or they do it all together? A: Usually, they have to do specific things, but whoever among the helpers have a higher rank he “supervises” them. R: What do they help you with besides making your haircut? A: About the haircut, we have a special hairdresser. We have 3 in our school (heya). 3 for 30 people. One haircut takes about 15 to 20 minutes. R: What is different in the haircuts? A: Well, the first haircut, which is an “everyday haircut” which they do after training is called “Chonmage”. The other one is called “Oicho”. Oicho symbolizes the Sun, they make it look like the Sun. This one takes about 40 minutes to make. And this is for every bout. One bout takes about 5 seconds. R: It takes more time to have a haircut than a bout? A: Yes. R: Which was your longest bout? A: My longest bout was with one Brazilian, his name is Kaisei. It took about 2 minutes. R: This is a lot in sumo! A: Yes, a lot. It was very exciting and I won. Luckily! R: And the shortest? 5 seconds? A: The shortest was 2 seconds, I think. We hit each other in the beginning and I pushed him out. R: Do you have a favorite technique in sumo? A: Well, when you look up my profile, it says which techniques I use the most. The first one is called Oshidashi, with both hands you push the opponent out of the dohyo. R: Tell us something interesting about the Japanese culture, what impressed you the most there? A: What impressed me the most … they are very compact. Everything is under the clock. When something has to happen, it happens in the exact time, everything is under control. There is nothing that can go wrong. That is how they do it. Everything, the lifestyle, the food, the training, everything is in the specific hour. R: Not just the people who do sports? A: No! Everything is like this. R: Did you get used to their food? A: Yes, I got used to the food. The lifestyle – so-so. While I was still in the school (heya) it was not comfortable because I had to live with 25 other men, mostly in one room. But since 6 months, I live alone, in a rent. Whenever I have to train – I go there, when I’m done – I go back home. R: What do you tell to your teammates about Bulgaria? A: Only good things. I am telling them how beautiful Bulgaria is. Now there are many Japanese who come here for tourism. When I go out (in Japan), I meet people who are telling me “I was in Bulgaria!”. So I ask them, “Did you like it?” and they all say “Yes!”. “Delicious food, beautiful nature, very welcoming people!”, that is what they tell me. We Bulgarian people are welcoming indeed, while the Japanese … not that much. R: They are colder. A: Not just colder, a lot colder in this regard. R: Let us go back to the competition again. What is to happen next? A: This year, we still have 3 tournaments remaining. My next tournament starts in July 12, in the city of Nagoya. September – in Tokyo and the last tournament for the year, in November in Fukuoka. R: How long does one tournament last? A: 15 days. R: What do you need to achieve in order to rank up? A: Out of 15 bouts, you need to win at least 8, a positive result. More wins, more ranking up. More the losses, the more you go down. R: The best Rikishi in Japan, Hakuho. You have met him several times. A: Yes. This is one of my dreams that I want to achieve and I will give my best to do it until the end of the year. R: You will meet him in the next tournament? A: Yes, we will have a bout next tournament, hopefully, if we are healthy. R: Tell us about Kotooshu, about your friendship. He is not an active rikishi anymore, only a trainer. A: Yes, he is co-trainer in his old school (heya) where he was as a competitor. He teaches the younglings to do better in sumo, and not only. He teaches them to be better people. R: Can you change your school (heya)? A: No. You start in one and you finish there. However, there are small exceptions like in my case. My first heya’s trainer (oyakata) passed away and the heya was abandoned. When this happens, the trainer’s wife decides which heya will all rikishi enter now. So it happened, I got transferred to the heya I am in right now. R: Only in such cases, a transfer can happen? A: Yes, only in such cases. Or if the trainer retires and the heya is abandoned if there is no other trainer who can continue taking care of the heya. R: Do you still meet Kaloyan (Kotooshu)? A: Yes! Now we meet a lot more, he has a bit more free time, I am not living in the heya. I have more time for myself, for friends. R: How do you like to spend your free time, after the tournaments? A: Usually we train all the time. After every tournament, (and they are 6 in total, every 2 months) we have one week vacation. What can you do for one week … You meet friends, you try to take a small break from sumo, from work. To refresh, like now I am in Bulgaria. For one week. It is a small amount of time, but I hope this will refresh me and give me some strength so I can perform better in the next tournament. R: You met some young wrestlers here in our school. The same school where you started with wrestling. What did you tell them, what is important in sport? A: Well, they are still young. They still take it as a game, I was just the same. One thing that improves the person is the will. The will to succeed. Everyone can say “I can’t do this.” and it is all over. When you can’t you have to start looking for a way to do it. This, by the way, I learned in Japan. When you can’t do it, start thinking for a way that will make it work. You should not be saying “I can’t do this”. This is the easiest escape. What is hard is to succeed. R: What are your plans for far in the future, do you want to become a trainer? A: Right now I am considering this, I was proposed to do it. Usually, few years before retirement a rikishi is asked if he wants to do it, to remain as a coach. They ask if I intend to do something else if I intend to go back to my home country … But to become a trainer (oyakata), I have to renounce my Bulgarian Citizenship. I must become Japanese. This is why I am still considering it. I don’t know what will happen … It’s a hard question. R: How many years usually a rikishi competes? A: Well, here is the thing, most people ask this question but the real answer is – until one feels fit. There is no age limitation. The more one can compete … I want to compete for many more years, God willing. R: You feel fit? A: Yes. I feel good. R: You still have many peaks to conquer? A: Yes, exactly. There are still more steps in the ladder. R: Do you do anything before a bout, like a ritual? A: Usually, whenever I win, for example, I remember what food I ate and the next day I eat the same food. If I win again, the same thing – I eat the same food. I do not really do it on purpose, this is just how my brain wants me to think – “If you do not eat this again you will lose!”. Or calling my parents – I call my parents and I win. If I do not call my parents – I lose. Something like this. R: You have to call them every time! A: Yes, I have to! R: Now here in Bulgaria, as a Christian, do you believe in God, is there any force that helps you? A: Yes, I do usually pray for the most important – not to have injuries, the tournament to end up with a good result and I pray for good health for my parents. If everyone is feeling well, doing well, this gives me strength. R: How about your personal life, have you considered marriage, children … A: Hm … they ask me all the time, but … I think I haven’t met the right person yet. One to stand beside me. I don’t know … When the right time comes. R: How do you say in Japanese “Thank you for this interview.”? A: Kono interviu wa arigato gozaimasu. R: I will not be able to repeat it! Thank you, in Bulgarian! A: Thank you too! R: We hope you will keep up representing Bulgaria in the sumo! A: Thank you, certainly!