The Makushita Intrigue: Haru Edition

One of my favourite things about a tournament and the few days after is the battle to cross the “heaven and hell” line dividing Juryo and Makushita. It’s often some of the most entertaining sumo, and Bruce doesn’t even have to stay up late on Senshuraku with his special “Yamazaki: The Darwin” whiskey bottle (don’t worry Bruce, I’ll have one made for you) to enjoy it because this high stakes sumo happens every day of the basho.

Let’s take a look at who’s in the promotion zone this time, plus a few other guys further down who might be worth putting a flier on in your fantasy sumo game of choice to do some damage this time out.

Ms1e Tsukahara – I remember when I used to write a regular “Ones to Watch” feature, someone in the comments would always say “what about my guy Tsukahara?” For some reason he was always a bit of a non-prospect to me and it looked like he properly hit the Makushita wall. He’s been in the division for 26 straight basho, now finding himself in the ultimate position. Probably a good bet for the 4-3 he needs to punch his ticket.

Ms1w Terutsuyoshi – He’ll be hoping he’s reached the end of his annus horribilus (ask an older British person, or your parents if they’re into history). The Samurai Blue superfan has had 12 months to forget, going 22-53 over the previous five tournaments and without winning a majority of his matches on the dohyo in a basho since July of 2021. #yikes. He’s had notable health issues, but that’s the kind of form that gets you turfed out of the salaried ranks, and here we are. He has the ability to take a majority of wins from matches against those around him, but the form book says he’s just as likely to notch a 2-5 or go kyujo.

Ms2e Fujiseiun – While Fuijshima oyakata coached a number of sekitori he inherited from the old Musashigawa beya at the start of his career, this is arguably the brightest period of his tenure as shisho, with a handful of intriguing products in the heya. Fujiseiun (a recent member of the 21 Club: rikishi with 3 straight zensho to open their competitive career) has stuttered a bit when the lights have been brightest, but finished strongly last basho. I’d tip him for a 4-3 here given that he’s likely to get at least one crossover match against a Juryo opponent.

Ms2w Chiyosakae – I wouldn’t bet against him “riding the elevator” a few times between Juryo and Makushita like his stablemate Chiyonoumi (and more recently/previously, Chiyoarashi). As far as the eye test is concerned, I didn’t feel like I saw anything notable in his four basho stint in Juryo and this may be a basho that determines whether or not he’s clogging up the banzuke ahead of the more vaunted prospects coming in behind.

Ms3e Tokihayate – Another guy who just feels like he’s been in the division absolutely ages, although he is only 26 and should be in his career prime. He’s fighting for the second time here at his career high rank, but with only two kachikoshi in seven career attempts ranked Makushita 10 and higher, even if he does make the breakthrough it’s tough to bet on him sticking.

Ms3w Kawazoe – It feels totally weird to say this, but could it be that a prospect as hyped as Kawazoe has had his star dimmed a little, just because of the excitement in his own heya? Former Yokozuna Hakuho gets his first top division product as shisho this basho with ponderous giant Hokuseiho entering Makuuchi, while Ochiai obliterated the competition last basho to reach sekitori after only one tournament. Off the back of 3 kachikoshi, the former Makushita tsukedashi entrant Kawazoe will make his debut inside the “promotion zone” with as good a chance as anyone to nail down a third straight 5-2 that would probably see him clinch promotion. I think he’ll do it. And if all this wasn’t terrifying enough to the rest of the sumo world, behind another top prospect in Mukainakano, there is absolute monster Otani making his debut at the bottom of Makushita in this basho. It’s far too soon to call it a Miyagino dynasty, but if Daiki Nakamura rocks up…

Ms4e Mineyaiba – Beleaguered popular oyakata Shikoroyama (former Terao) could always use some good news, and I think Mineyaiba will provide it, although he may need to wait another basho. I’ve long thought the lanky prospect has looked like a sekitori-in-waiting since back when he was going by his family name of Ito (now being used by his brother down in Jonidan). It’s not hard to see how an oyakata known for being a tall guy with a long reach, producer of recent yusho snaffler Abi, would also have additional success with another rikishi of similar (not the same) build. I do rate Mineyaiba, now 23, as more likely to stick in the sekitori ranks however than previous heya products Oki and Itadori.

Ms4w Kaisho – I’m really disappointed to see Kaisho back down here, but six straight makekoshi is not the making of a good run at any level. I felt pretty confident after his fantastic 11 win tournament at Nagoya 2021 that he would make short work of the penultimate division on his second try, but he’s had a fairly horrendous run in Juryo since then, despite showing glimpses of his promise. I think he’s a technically very capable rikishi, although I also do wonder if he’s let down a bit in his development by the lack of suitable training partners in his heya. At 28 he should be in his career prime, but legendary former Ozeki Kaio has not been a prolific recruiter of talent. One wonders if Kaisho should be spending as much time as he can get on degeiko with some of those terrifying monsters in the ichimon over at Hakuho’s place.

Ms5e Chiyonoumi – Veteran of 14 basho in Juryo, his form has been pretty indifferent since his return to Makushita and it seems unlikely he’ll find the 6 wins he likely needs to gain promotion from this tournament.

Ms5w Tochikamiyama – It feels like there are a lot of Kasugano guys in this part of the banzuke. Veteran Tochimaru wasn’t able to make it stick in Juryo, but Tochimusashi probably has a bright future (despite a tough Hatsu), Tsukahara we’ve covered, and Tochikamiyama at 22 looks like he’s positioned well to knock on the door for the next couple of tournaments. To have already been in Makushita for 21 basho at that age is some considerable experience at the level. He stumbled badly last time, losing a potential exchange bout (although it didn’t transpire that way) against Juryo man Hakuyozan, followed by a Darwin shootout against Tomokaze, who ended up himself getting promoted. 4-3 or 5-2 feels like the right outcome here this time.

Vets who could go 7-0 but probably won’t: Shiden (6e) hasn’t been back to Juryo since his scandal suspension wiped out his sekitori debut, and still hasn’t fought at the level. Chiyoarashi (7e) and Tochimaru (9e) were overmatched in Juryo and haven’t shown much in Makushita since coming back. Yago (8w) has zensho’d at this level before and has the ability but has been dismantled by injury. Akiseyama (10e) was on one of the best runs of his career before injury sent him out of Makuuchi and tumbling down two levels, but he’s unlikely to mount a storied promotion.

Prospects who could go 7-0 but probably won’t, but it would be cool if they did: Hayatefuji (6w) is yet another exciting one on the Isegahama production line at just 21, but his progress over the last couple years has been slow and steady. Takasago guy Ishizaki (7w) wants his Asa prefix, but had a rough makekoshi last time out. Mukainakano (8e) is possibly the likeliest of the big prospects to zensho – what price a playoff against Kawazoe, with both going up? Former Sandanme tsukedashi Hatsuyama (11w) and Kanzaki (15e) have to be in the reckoning and will hope to give their respective former Ozeki stablemasters another sekitori before long. Youngster Kiryuko (13w) and Miyagi (14w) have been on decent runs, and Oitekaze’s Hitoshi (14e) has zensho’d three times in his seven lower-division basho so far. Finally, Ukrainian Shishi will make his bow for the new Ikazuchi-beya under the tutelage of former Kakizoe.

Bruce’s Banzuke Commentary

Hello dear readers, we had the Haru banzuke show up a few hours ago, as it is now early Monday AM in Tokyo, and there are clusters of lower division rikishi shuffling to and from the Kokugikan with bundles of printed ranking sheets. I am sure our resident ace prognosticator lksumo will post is reaction shortly, but in the mean time, here is mine.

Sumo in the current era is all about chaos and struggle. There have been a handful of top ranked rikishi who are hoping one day to put together three consecutive 10+ win tournaments, but none of them have the consistency right now to make it work. To that end, the three men at Sekiwake: Wakatakakage, Hoshoryu and Kiribayama, represent that group. Only Kiribayama hit double digits, at 11 wins, in January, picking up the jun-yusho and the gino-sho in the process. Wakatakakage managed 9-6, and an injured Hoshoryu finished 8-7. While Kiribayama might be able to make the case with double digit wins in Osaka and Natsu, the rest of them are starting from scratch.

There are 4 men at Komusubi, and my favorite is Daieisho, who forced a slot with a 10-5 finish from Maegashira 1W. But I think the ice breaker may have been Tobizaru getting a 8-7 from Maegashira 1E, but he ends up at K2W because two of the prior Komusubi were able to hold rank. Talk about a train wreck.

Shodai is at Maegashira 1W, which when I compare it to Mitakeumi’s identical 8-9 result in Kyushu put him at Maegashira 2E. Well, it’s just a half rank, but again we see Shodai’s banzuke luck in action. There are a lot of good rikishi from there down, but I am going to focus on two specific to my interests:

Hokuseiho: Maegashira 15E – Hakuho’s monster-truck deshi shows up a couple rungs above the bottom of the banzuke. I am eager to see what he is going to do down there, as most of the troops in the bottom third are hit or miss. I think he may play better wtih “ozan” twins at Maegashira 14.

Asanoyama: Juryo 1E – I don’t blame the NSK for making it hard on Asanoyama. His COVID era screw up was bad enough, but not coming clean when caught is a big deal. But in my book they should have put him in the top division just to add some interest in the fan base. I can’t speak for the fans in Japan, but I know the global audience wants to see him in action again, and I think he’s a good shot for the next man to be promoted to Ozeki.

Let me know what caught your eye in the banzuke in the comments below.

Aki Banzuke Sunday

It’s the magical time on the sumo calendar again, we are anticipating the release of the banzuke for the upcoming Aki basho in about 6 hours from now. The sumo world is waiting to see how they sorted the mess of COVID kyujo out, and where yusho winner Ichinojo ends up. While we are waiting, feel free to take a look at some forecasting from Team Tachiai’s resident master forecaster, lksumo.

Kitchen Sink Banzuke

The banzuke is a crucial element of any basho. It’s the ranking list for each tournament. While it’s formally decided a few days after the end of the previous tournament, it’s not printed out and provided to the public until two weeks before the tournament. One downside is, it’s static. It is not updated during a tournament with results and it shows a wrestler’s current position and not their history or trajectory. The illustrated banzuke is a way to put a face to a name (or a back-side to a name, depending on which illustrated version you’re looking at).

I’ve tried to address that here by taking the basic banzuke and adding more data on each wrestler’s career as well as their record. Their names are colored by whether they were kachi-koshi or make-koshi. It’s not clean and finished yet but I think it’s time for a public beta release. I’ve played around with it enough on my own so it would be nice to hear from others.

The important thing to keep in mind is that I am targeting every sumo fan with these dashboards, regardless of your love for data and technology. I joke about the Kyokai and their fax machines, yes. But I know a lot of technology freaks people out. That’s not what I’m here for. I’m here to use appropriate innovations to provide additional access to more information. In this case, the ability to mouse over a name on the banzuke gives more information about the wrestler. I’ve also put three dropdown filters to allow users to select a banzuke, a division, and/or a stable.

The Filters

As I mentioned above, I have three dropdown filters under the title: banzuke, division, and stable. The default banzuke here is the most recent Nagoya basho while the other two are set to “All”. I don’t encourage setting the Division filter to all, unless you have selected a particular heya. When looking at a stable, it’s nice to view all their members in one screen. Please feel free to cycle through the multiple tournaments. I’ve got the banzuke from 1958 to present because that’s the start of the 6 basho era. I need to put a massive caveat there, that the data for wrestlers’ careers starts there, 1958. So if a wrestler was active beforehand, well, I don’t have that. I know that will be a bummer for folks interested in the careers of past Yokozuna.

The Flyout

If you mouseover the name of a rikishi, you’ll get a flyover screen with additional details about the wrestler, like their stable and hometown, as well as the length of their career. But for me, the part that I find the most useful is the line graph which tracks the wrestler’s path up, and down, the banzuke. I’ve had this visual on other dashboards before. What I’ve been able to add is the kyujo tournaments (in red) and yusho (the golden kanji character for YU).

Screenshot, with Tamawashi Selected

We can see here that Ironman Tamawashi has not had a tournament kyujo. (He’s actually never had a day kyujo until this past tournament and the Covid kyujo.) He’s also won three yusho: in Makushita, Juryo, and the Makuuchi top division. I’m still working on getting kinboshi and special prize data but this is already pretty busy. If I get that data, I may just list it above the chart. Unfortunately, it’s a bit busy as it is.

I’ve called it the Kitchen Sink because I feel like I’ve throwing all the data into this, and I’ve got more to come. For active wrestlers, I have the height and weight data from the Kyokai as well as style preferences.

The Feedback

I am very interested in getting feedback for this visualization and any others. I’m thinking about hosting a Twitter Space or Zoom or something to help walk people through the dashboard as well as to talk about the data. At work, I use Teams and walk people through with the help of PowerPoint and screen shares. I don’t think PowerPoint would go over well here. I find sharing pdf and pptx files on the internet highly sus, anyway. So I’m not going to do that. If I post a video, it’s not very interactive and I can’t answer your questions, live. We record sessions at work but those aren’t as effective as live-learning. A Twitter Space would just be audio, I think, so that may not be the best option. But sometimes it’s nice to have a quick chat about data.

Well, until I figure out a better option, feel free to leave feedback in the comments. If you experience any problems, notice any bugs, let me know.