USA Sumo has announced that tickets are now available for the 19th Annual USA Sumo Open, which will be held on Saturday March 23, in Long Beach, CA.
The event, which coincides this year with the Haru honbasho in Osaka, consists of several weight categories (for both men and women), as well as a more traditional “Openweight” championship. This latter category is more in line with the type of competition of which most sumo enthusiasts will be familiar, with competitors of any size able to take the crown.
The event has been increasing in popularity, with NHK’s Hiro Morita having been dispatched to the States to cover the event last year for the Japanese broadcaster. Many sumo fans (and some Tachiai readers!) were able to meet one of the voices of Grand Sumo on that occasion – though it is unclear whether NHK will again have a presence, or how much of a presence they will have – given that the event falls in 2019 during one of the six main basho.
If you have not been able to make it to Japan for a tournament however, and have been looking for an opportunity to see live sumo – check out the tickets on offer at USA Sumo’s website. While the level of competition is obviously much different to the professional sumo that we cover here on the site, tickets start at a more affordable $25 (although ringside seats do approach the prices at Kokugikan).
The current men’s openweight champion is Russia’s Konstantin Abdula-Zade, and the reigning female openweight champion is the local favorite Mariah Holmes of California. USA Sumo has produced the following video of highlights from last year’s competition (although if I had to choose, I’d probably pick Abema TV’s choice of AK-69’s “Guess Who’s Back” as the better hype music):
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.
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.
While 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.
The story broke out a few days after the beginning of the Hatsu basho. NHK found out that Osunaarashi has rear-ended a car while visiting the Nagano prefecture with his wife, on January 3rd. There were no bodily injuries, and Osunaarashi apparently compensated the other car’s owner.
However, the Egyptian wrestler failed to inform either the NSK or his stablemaster of this incident. Admitting to this failure to report, he was put on punitive kyujo for the rest of the basho.
The problems were only beginning for the young former Maegashira. The first problem was that driving is strictly forbidden to all active rikishi. This is not an obscure sub-item in some rule book nobody pays attention to. All rikishi know this and this is the reason why you see many rikishi in public transport or riding bicycles (motor bikes are also forbidden).
There are precedents for rikishi breaking this regulation. Famously, Kyokutenho (currently Tomozuna oyakata) has rear-ended a car waiting at a traffic light back in 2007 and caused its driver a minor injury. Besides his legal proceedings, he was punished by the NSK with a suspension for one basho and 30% were docked from his salary for three months.
If Osunaarashi had reported the incident and admitted to driving that car, he would have probably fared no worse, especially given that there were no injuries. However, he made a serious error of judgement, and gave various conflicting statements to both the police and the NSK. He claimed that he had an international driving license. It was found that the license was not valid. An International driving license is valid in Japan for only one year from entering the country. After that, you have to acquire a Japanese driving license. So he was driving without a license.
The exact order of the statements is not entirely clear, but apparently at this point his wife claimed that she was driving the car. However, evidence including footage from a surveillance camera showed Osunaarashi in the driver’s seat. he then admitted to the police that he was driving the car.
It was at this point that the story was revealed to the NSK. However, in his hearing by the NSK crisis committee, though he admitted to not reporting the incident, he and his lawyer continued to claim that his wife was the one driving the car. His explanation was that his wife was pregnant, and that because she only had an Egyptian license, not an International one, he had switched seats with her to protect her, because he believed his International license was good.
This put him in a position in which he was lying either to the police or to the NSK. The NSK called him in for questioning several times more, and the details of the story kept changing, according to Kagamiyama oyakata.
Since then, the Nagano police found out that he has been driving not just on the occasion that ended in the accident, but also twice before. Once in Nakano city on January 1st, and then twice in the town of Yamanouchi. Of course, they were only investigating within their own jurisdiction. The police then filed charges with the Nagano prosecution.
Today, the Nagano prosecutor decided on a summary indictment for three counts of driving without a valid license. Within the same day, he was fined ¥500,000. (It is perhaps noteworthy that this is the same sum Harumafuji was fined for injuring Takanoiwa. This suggests that cooperation with police makes a world of difference). He also paid the fine within the day.
However, this still leaves him to face the NSK, and this is where it is probably going to get a lot more serious for the popular Egyptian. The NSK board is going to hold a regular meeting on March 9th, and the subject of Osunaarashi’s punishment is on the agenda. They intend to listen to him and his lawyer again before making their judgement. However, the prospects do not look good. In addition to breaking the NSK regulation, he broke the law, and he was dishonest. The press expects a severe punishment, not ruling out a dismissal.
Dismissal is the heaviest weapon the NSK has. Below it there is a “recommendation to retire”. The recommendation becomes mandatory if the rikishi doesn’t hand in his resignation. There is a subtle difference between the two punishments, but both of them mean that Osunaarashi will not be mounting the dohyo again. Of course, there is still a possibility that they will decide on a long suspension and additional fine. Osunaarashi is already heading for Makushita following his forced kyujo, so there is no possibility to dock his salary, as he won’t have one.
Also expect his stablemaster to be punished. In the case of Kyokutenho, his stablemaster’s salary was also docked. Otake oyakata has already apologized several times for this unfortunate incident. Although Osunaarashi did not report to him, the NSK usually takes stablemasters to task for the scandals caused by their deshi, viewing it as lack of proper guidance.
Tachiai will keep you updated on the final decision.
It is an article about two new foreign born elders starting their own heyas, former Ozeki Kotooshu and former Sekiwake Kyokutenho. Just to note, both are have won yusho and I’m sure that’s significant in the decision to let them run stables. **Updated to reflect the point made by Asashosakari: Kotooshu is starting his own stable while Kyokutenho is inheriting the Tomozuna stable.** In this headline there are two shikona so we’ll start there, Kotooshu (琴欧洲) and Kyokutenho (旭天鵬). Immediately preceding both shikona is the kanji for “former,” 元 .
To knock out a few more of the easy terms and sumo-specific terms we will go back to the beginning, “Foreign born sumo elders.” The first two kanji, GaiKoku is the Japanese word for foreign. Shusshin is place where you’re from. You hear this word every time the announcer at sumo tournaments introduces the wrestlers. If they’re Japanese he says what prefecture they’re from and if they’re foreign he says what country they’re from. You hear a lot of “Mongolia shusshin.” Lastly we get to the term for “elders.” Kotooshu and Kyokutenho are running their own stables and thus “oyakata.” The first kanji is parent and the second is the honorific, formal word, for person.
These new heya are setting sail, being launched. It’s actually pretty exciting. I’m happy for both new oyakata. Please visit Mainichi’s site. They have a nice picture of Naruto-oyakata in front of his stable with three of his wrestlers. The base seems to be in Tokyo so it could be interesting to check out. We’ll see about the other heya, as well. We’ll be tracking their performance and hope that they register on our new power rankings in the coming years.
That character for new should be old hat by now. A new thing (mono) is being done here. We’re starting to get foreign elders. Recently Musashimaru started his stable and we’re eagerly following the exploits of our Young Texan, pun intended, Wakaichiro. Now it’s Kotooshu and Kyokutenho. Others will follow. This is certainly a welcome development if sumo is ever to become an Olympic sport. Maybe foreign expansion? Asashoryu heads up wrestling in Mongolia. What if there was an officially santioned sumo offshoot? Think American O-sumo in the vein of NFL Europe. Okay, maybe that’s not a good example. Maybe like how the NBA is quickly taking over? Spain, Italy, China…Professional King of the Hill goes global?
Who doesn’t love Hakuho, Osunaarashi, Gagamaru? These rikishi (力士) are loved (愛される). Clearly, rikishi is a sumo word you’ll want to know. Some of you may be familiar with the Nakashima Mika song, “Aishiteru,” or “I love you.” Well, if you use this “saseru” form of the word, it becomes the passive. The wrestlers are loved. So there we have it, “Foreign Born Elders Set Off, ex-Kotooshu ‘A New Thing is Being Done’ / Kyokutenho ‘These Wrestlers are Loved’.” Clunky, but the best I could do after a couple glasses of an amazing Reisling.
When we turn to the translation engines, this one is a doozie. First let’s look at Google: “Foreign born master’s ship Origen Kinpuzuzu “New things” / former Asahi Tenpen “To be loved wrestlers”.” Wow. I am officially changing my name to Origen Kinpuzuzu. This is my new shikona. You all can just call me King Puzuzu. This Google brand word sausage is the greatest tripe available. I swear, I can’t read this without laughing because there’s no discernable reason for this translation. It is now, utterly unrecognizable pork “product.” Maybe there’s some horse in there?
Yahoo! seems to actually know some shikona. It didn’t pick up Kotooshu but it got Kyokutenho. “The sailing former koto Europe ‘new thing’ of the boss from foreign country to / former Kyokutenho ‘loved sumo wrestler’”
Excite also did a terrible job. “Sail of a chief from the foreign country For the sumo wrestler by whom motokonousu “of something new”/a former Asahi heaven legendary gigantic bird “is loved.”
It should be clear now that the translation engines are good to take words you don’t recognize but for whole sentences in Japanese, especially in a sumo context, they’re pretty poor. But “Origen Kinpuzuzu” takes the cake. I’m still smiling because it’s just that…WTF.
King Puzuzu of Tachiai-quetzel-kukamunga