Hatsu Story 3 – Harumafuji’s Long Shadow


Harumafuji

With the new year’s basho about to begin, many sumo fans may feel the controversy around former Yokozuna Harumafuji is in the distant past. (In case there is one fan out there who does not know, Harumafuji was at the center of a controversy stemming from a night out with other rikishi in which he repeatedly struck Takanoiwa with his fists and a karaoke machine remote. The reaction to this regrettable incident included Harumafuji’s resignation from the sumo world.)

As the first five days of the basho unfold, we will see a new dynamic at play, as Harumafuji previously played a large role in shaping each tournament’s pace and outcome. True, he was usually good for a handful of kinboshi, but Harumafuji was a relentless competitor who delivered massive offense each time he mounted the dohyo. Without his participation in this tournament, we may see several differences even in the early days.

  • Increased Tadpole Dominance: So far, the league of up-and-coming rikishi has been storming the gates of the old guard. While four healthy Yokozuna would make life very hard for the younger Rikishi, many fans think that we may only get Hakuho for the full 15 days of Hatsu, and possibly not even that. This means that we may once again see the youngsters turn in solid, double-digit records from high Maegashira or San’yaku ranks. In the past, Harumafuji would tough it out and cull the next generation as much as he was able.
  • Increased Pressure on Hakuho: As noted in the earlier commentary, Kakuryu and Kisenosato are “on the bubble”. While both of them have put forth a mighty effort to be ready for Hatsu, there is a real threat that either or both of them are simply too hurt to continue. This could possibly leave Hakuho as the only Yokozuna for this tournament, or the only Yokozuna period. This would have the effect of motivating “The Boss” to continue to compete in spite of injuries that in the past would have put him to kyujo, knowing that Harumafuji would carry on. If that should happen, it might hasten the end of Hakuho.
  • The Battle For The Next Ozeki: The fight for the next Ozeki slot is already underway, with Tamawashi and Mitakeumi clear front-runners. But with the Yokozuna ranks thinned and possibly thinning more, Takakeisho and Onosho are primed to step up their sumo. Both Goeido and Takayasu have stabilized their performance somewhat, but neither of them are clear favorites to begin a campaign for the tsuna.

Harumafuji Retirement – Early English Media Coverage


harumafuji

Following Bruce’s post earlier today, it has been confirmed that the 70th Yokozuna Harumafuji has submitted his resignation, which has been announced by Isegahama-oyakata and the Yokozuna himself, in a press conference at 2pm Japan time today. While undoubtedly more coverage and analysis will follow here at Tachiai, the news has already received worldwide coverage, and so here is a quick round up of English-language media announcing the end of the 9-time yusho winner’s storied career:

NHK World has been running a one minute segment every hour as part of their NHK World Newsline coverage. This segment was online but has since disappeared from their general online statement, which can be viewed here. NHK World also covered the Press Conference with live translation for 15 minutes of the 2pm hour of Newsline and we can expect that coverage to repeat in edited pieces throughout the coming hours (Edited to add – the 15 minute segment is now viewable by clicking here).

NHK World added a second press hit within the last hour linking the news to the past abdications of Asashoryu and Futahaguro. Additionally they have coverage of the timing of the retirement as well as a chronology of the incident.

The Japan Times have also updated their article announcing the retirement, within the last few hours, which is running on their front page.

The Guardian (UK) is running a piece, quoting from Isegahama-oyakata’s announcement that Harumafuji has “caused great trouble” to the NSK and the sport. Fox Sports, Reuters, Deutsche Welle and more are also running coverage, largely syndicated across Associated Press outlets.

Yokozuna Harumafuji To Announce Retirement


Harumafuji

It has been reported in the Japanese press that embattled Yokozuna Harumafuji will hold a press conference Wednesday, and it is assumed that he will be announcing his intention to retire from sumo. While his fans all hoped that he would find a way to weather the controversy around his drunken beating of Takanoiwa, it was clear following yesterdays meeting of the YDC that he was not going to be given any quarter.

Should he retire, as is now expected, it will resolve the Sumo Kyokai’s involvement in the matter. His intai represents a significant loss for the sumo world, as Yokozuna are rare, and Harumafuji has been willing to do whatever it takes to support sumo and uphold his rank on the dohyo.

Check back with Tachiai, as we will bring you further details as they develop.

Sumo’s Coming Changes


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What’s below is Bruce’s post-Kyushu commentary on the state of sumo. Readers, please feel free to chime in with your own views on how our beloved sport will overcome the challenges before it.

With Kyushu now behind us, sumo inches closer to a reckoning. The basho ended in a somewhat predictable style, with a few compelling story arcs that kept fans satisfied – for now. But in this blogger’s opinion, long overdue changes are continuing to unfold, and will possibly pick up speed into 2018.

The first signal of change will be the resolution (or not) of the Araujo incident.  As we suspected when news broke on day 4 of the basho, there was a complexity to the story that did not fit the template initially forwarded by the media. In fact, we suspect there is a multi-party agenda at work, and Harumafuji’s drunken actions at the bar in Tottori were simply the spark that may burn through the Sumo Association.

Let’s look at what kind of changes might be loaded and ready:

Takanohana – The oyakata of the eponymous heya seems to be using the Harumafuji incident as a vector to change or influence the Kyokai.  He has said in the past that it is his goal to reform sumo, and make it a 21st century sport. Of course, this was not a welcome opinion from the sumo traditionalists, and since then there has been a back-channel low grade struggle on whose vision of the future will eventually prevail. There have been reports that his position as head of the Jungyo PR tour will be forfeit because of his role in airing a normally private matter of rikishi discipline in public, but many think his position in the Kyokai is unassailable.

Jungyo – As discussed in the past on the pages of Tachiai, the Jungyo has grown to proportions where it is negatively impacting rikishi training, discipline and overall athlete longevity. This rests squarely on Takanohana’s shoulders, and John Gunning’s timely article for the Japan Times served to bring to light the toll it was taking on the rikishi. I continue to predict that Jungyo will undergo changes, probably slowly at first, to reduce schedule and intensity, and perhaps total rikishi roster. Rather than “Everyone all the time” there may be a rotating roster of who has “Jungyo Duty” for each period.

Kadoban Rikishi – The name brands of sumo are changing, but the ranks are yet to reflect that.  Since the start of 2017, with Kisenosato’s elevation to Yokozuna, the winds of change have been blowing in the face of the great and the famous. With each basho, the participation of sumo’s top men has been in decline. We have lost 2 Ozeki due to promotion, and as of today, the majority of the Yokozuna are absent in most tournaments. By the numbers:

  • Hatsu 2017 – Harumafuji & Kakuryu kyujo
  • Osaka 2017 – Hakuho kyujo
  • Natsu 2017 – Kisenosato & Kakuryu kyujo
  • Nagoya 2017 – Kisenosato & Kakuryu kyujo
  • Aki 2017 – Hakuho, Kisenosato & Kakuryu kyujo
  • Kyushu 2017 – Harumafuji, Kisenosato & Kakuryu kyujo

Much as everyone loves these guys, the Kyokai has a slate of grand champions that are perpetually too banged up to compete. Personally, I would love to see them all healthy and bashing the daylights out of the tadpoles, but that’s not going to happen, is it?

Kisenosato – Tore his pectoral muscle, and lord knows what else since. Had he gone for surgery right away, and stayed kyujo until now, we might be getting ready to see him back for Hatsu. Instead that damaged muscle is possibly little more than scar tissue now. Furthermore, by limping along he has de-conditioned the rest of his body to the extent that he struggles to win against mid-Maegashira opponents.

Kakuryu – Chronic back problems that cannot be corrected to the extent to ever make him competitive again.  When the guy can manage his pain and injuries, he’s a fantastic sumotori. As frequently stated on these pages, his approach to sumo is somewhat unique and can dismantle any rikishi, including Hakuho.

Harumafuji – We have frequently mused that they would have to drag him out of sumo, in a body bag.  But sadly, there is now a threat that he may not be able to overcome. I expect the Kyokai to move to resolve their involvement in the matter within a few weeks, as they want to put this in the past. Even if he can survive this incident, he is a walking bundle of pain and injury, and we believe he completed Aki by sheer force of will alone.

Hakuho – Sumo fans around the globe revel in “The Boss”, and the reality that he seems strong, fit and committed to a few more years of sumo.  But he is one big injury away from pain and suffering. Everyone hopes we never see the day when the greatest Yokozuna of our age is wheeled away from the dohyo in agony, but we worry that with inter-basho time almost completely consumed by Jungyo, it’s just a matter of time before de-conditioning sets in, and the risk is realized.

I am sure the Sumo Kyokai realize all of this to be true, and they also know that over the next several months they will need to clean up their roster. Sadly, this will likely include Yokozuna intai sooner rather than later. Sumo needs a quorum of the top men each tournament, and if those men can’t fulfill that schedule, we will likely see new top men.

Sumo fans stay sharp, changes are coming soon. While it may be sad to say goodbye to long serving favorites, we have seen first hand that the next generation is strong, ready and already taking their place in the top ranks.

Yokozuna Harmuafuji Incident Heads To A Prosecutor


Harumafuji-Questioned

In an article in today’s Japan Times, it is reported that police have decided to refer Takanoiwa’s assault by Yokozuna Harumafuji to a prosecutor for adjudication. This does not mean that Haruamfuji will be charged with a crime, simply that police think there is sufficient evidence to allow a lawyer for the state to decide if he should be charged with assault.

During police questioning, Harumafuji did admit to hitting Takanoiwa with his open hands, his fists and the remote to a karaoke machine during an attempt to discipline Takanoiwa for poor manners. It should be noted that both rikishi were intoxicated at the time. The incident happened in front of a sizable contingent of sumotori during an overnight stop on sumo’s fall jungyo promotional tour.

It has been reported that both Harumafuji and Takanoiwa are cooperating with police. The same cannot be said for the Sumo Kyokai’s investigation, where Takanoiwa and Takanoiwa’s Oyakata, the former Yokozuna Takanohana, are impeding progress. Takanohana’s behavior in the matter, and in the events leading up to the scandal breaking during the Kyushu basho, have been difficult to understand. Reports in the past week have suggested that Takanohana, who leads the jungyo promotional tour segment of the Sumo Kyokai, will be suspended for not maintaining proper order and discipline.

For fans wondering what action the Sumo Kyokai will take, I suggest that we will have no word until the final day of the Kyushu basho on Sunday the 26th. Typically the Yokozuna Deliberation Council meets following each tournament, and there will likely be a good deal of commentary from that body.

Kyushu Day 8 Highlights


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Some of you said: did Bruce get eaten by snakes? No indeed, but when you have someone doing excellent work the way Herouth has been doing with daily highlight posts, you get out of their way and enjoy. But now, back to the land of poorly worded, poorly proof-read [working on it. — PinkMawashi] ramblings from a crazed sumo fan in Texas.

For those of you wanting to know what on earth is going on with Harumafuji, the story keeps getting more twisted and opaque. Frankly, don’t expect too much until the YDC meeting following Kyushu, but it increasingly looks less cut and dried than it did the day the story broke. There could be discipline for several people involved, and frankly, the whole thing is a distraction from sumo.

From today’s outcome, it is clear that Kisenosato was too eager to return to the dohyo, by at least one tournament.  While it’s clear he has improved, it’s also clear that he is not yet fighting at even San’yaku levels. Can he, will he go kyujo? That’s the big question. It’s pretty much down to finding a doctor that can declare him injured or unable to do sumo.

Highlight Matches

Yutakayama defeats Nishikigi – Nishikigi is once again struggling. With his rank at Maegashira 15, a make-koshi is another trip back to Juryo, so he is well motivated to make this work. But on day 8 it was all Yutakayama, who took control of the match early and danced Nishikigi out.

Okinoumi defeats Daiamami – Notable because Okinoumi remains one behind the leader, and seems to (at last) be having a good tournament. He is just one win away from his kachi-koshi.

Asanoyama defeats Takekaze – The happy rikishi easily handles Takekaze, who seems to be a half step slower, and unable to tap his encyclopedic roster of judo powered kimarite.

Myogiryu defeats Kaisei – Myogiryu looked strong and sure in his bout with Kaisei. To be honest, Kaisei is probably still about 20kg too heavy for his skeleton, but he is greatly improved from earlier this year. Myogiryu is making a strong case to rise to mid-Maegashira for Hatsu. He has been much higher ranked in the past, and we can only hope this signals his health issues are resolved.

Endo defeats Aminishiki – Uncle Sumo has been using more or less the same move for the entire basho. I am very happy that Endo had a plan of action for Aminishiki’s pulling attack, and used the elder’s backward motion to accelerate his defeat. I am trying not to get my hopes up, but I would dearly love to see Endo genki and back in the joi.

Aoiyama defeats Daishomaru – Daishomaru is having a terrible basho, and Aoiyama (returning from kyujo due to an ankle injury) made quick work of him today. Aoiyama needs every win he can muster because at Maegashira 11, a full sit-out of Kyushu might leave him demoted to upper Juryo in January.

Arawashi defeats Chiyomaru – Arawashi deploys a henka, but Chiyomaru stays in the ring, but Arawashi gets the Kokonoe meatball to chase him around the dohyo. Arawashi deftly uses this momentum to drive Chiyomaru out. Arawashi stays one behind Hakuho with just a single loss thus far.

Chiyoshoma defeats Shohozan – Notable as the match ends with Chiyoshoma employing a tripping throw (kirikaeshi) to bring Shohozan to the clay. Nicely set up, well executed and worth re-watching at least once.

Chiyotairyu defeats Tochiozan – Tochiozan has ZERO WINS for Kyushu, and secured his make-koshi today. Truly puzzling given his recent excellent performance. We have to assume that some unannounced injury is at work.

Onosho defeats Kotoshogiku – Onosho finally picks up his second win, and in doing so reinforces my opinion that Kotoshogiku is back to having knee trouble, and can no longer push with enough traction to provide much resistance chest to chest, or mobility to keep himself fighting in an oshi battle.

Takakeisho defeats Mitakeumi – Mitakeumi is facing his own undercarriage problems, but he puts up a stiff struggle to Takakeisho’s relentless pushing attacks. At this point, Mitakeumi needs 3 wins over the remaining 7 days to hold on to his Sekiwake slot. Takakeisho looking very genki.

Goeido defeats Chiyonokuni – Back to Goeido 2.0 mode. He comes in low, fast and hard. Chiyonokuni has no chance to generate any offense and was backward and out before he could do anything.

Yoshikaze defeats Takayasu – The Ozeki kept working to get inside and land a mawashi grip, but Yoshikaze defended brilliantly. As long as Takayasu was reacting to Yoshikaze’s attacks, he could not focus on offense, which let to Takayasu over-reaching and being slapped down. Great effort from Yoshikaze. Takayasu still needs 3 out of the next 7 to clear kadoban.

Ichinojo defeats Kisenosato – He made it look easy! Clearly, Kisenosato is not at full power, and he is now at real risk of a losing record. The Yokozuna started high, stayed high and really never planted his feet for a solid defense. Ichinojo just kept moving forward and casually defeated Kisenosato.

Hakuho defeats Hokutofuji – But Hokutofuji really made him work for it. In fact, this is the strongest challenge that Hakuho has faced yet this basho, and it underscores the effort that Hokutofuji puts into his matches when he’s healthy. Style points subtracted for Hakuho’s late push (dame-oshi) once the match was over. I note with some amusement that the NHK decided to show the dame-oshi in slow-motion (individually) as part of the replay package. Maybe a bit of a notification for the matta proceeding the match. Hakuho is first to kachi-koshi.

Kyushu Midpoint – Comments And Thoughts


It Was The Dog

As frequent readers will have noticed, several of our newer contributors are continuing to post amazing content to the site, and I am enjoying it so much, I have stepped back a bit and let them run. Though the Harumafuji scandal personally makes me rather sad, it turned into absolute blockbuster readership for Tachiai, and I would like to extend my thanks and welcome to all new readers.

We are now at the half way point of Kyushu, and a handful of rikishi are worthy of discussion. Let’s start at the top.

Hakuho – Clearly he is primed for yusho #40, and it’s now his to lose. True, he has his toughest opponents ahead, but right now he is dominating each and every match with his typical polished ease.

Kisenosato – As we guessed, he is back at least one basho too early. He has not really had a lot of sparring practice, and he is seriously at risk of going make-koshi at this time. The NSK did admonish him to wait and return only when he was ready to deliver Yokozuna grade sumo. Right now he is closer to upper Maegashira. I would rate him at only 70% of pre-injury Kisenosato, but I think he can get closer to 90% by Hatsu. It all comes down to returning to a maniacal training regimen with Takayasu, who is also in need.

Harumafuji – The story is becoming more convoluted as time marches on. Our earlier predictions that it might in fact be less sinister than original reports now look like they could pan out, and there is going to be a large amount of splatter that hits many parties involved in this. While things are not active (aside from the investigation moving forward), be aware that unless it’s a dire emergency, the NSK will leave further action until after the Kyushu basho is complete.

Kakuryu – One has to wonder if his involvement in the Takanoiwa incident may have played a role in his decision to sit out Kyushu.

Goeido – He continues to struggle with his identity. When he attacks with vigor, he wins; when he lets the other rikishi set the tone and tempo of the bout, he most likely loses. This is the gap that Goeido must cross if he would ever wish to stake a claim to his own tsuna. Until then, his fans have to hope that he stays true to his 2.0 self and remembers to attack and drive forward.

Takayasu – He’s going to clear kadoban, it’s fairly certain, but he’s only about 85% of his pre-injury self. So my prescription for him is to get cozy with his water bag, battle Kisenosato daily post-basho, and to sleep against his favorite, most comfortable teppo pole until new-years. I am sure your deshi will bring you KFC at Christmas (If not, let me know and I will fly over and get it for you), so revert to your gym-rat ways and go crazy again.

Mitakeumi – That toe is clearly giving him fits, and he may go kyujo once he gets his 8. Not really too much awesome from him this time, we just need him to heal up and come back at Hatsu like the future Ozeki he is.

Yoshikaze – Hot or cold with the Berserker. Thus far more cold than hot, and we have to hope he can cobble together his 8 before next Sunday.

Kotoshogiku – Komusubi is a tough rank, you get to give a lot of wins to the upper San’yaku, and Kotoshogiku is living that now. He stays in good cheer, and gives it his all each day, but his all is now painful and stiff, and possibly covered with ben-gay.

Onosho – Hey, don’t sweat this basho, kid. Komusubi is ancient Yayoi for “punching bag with legs”, it’s part of the welcome to being a serious sumotori, so have some fun with it. Consider using the Ishiura defense as chicks dig the loose mawashi, and play up the fact you look like a hippy-hop ball, possibly by commissioning your own line of plush figures. Also, try to get your weight centered over your feet, everyone knows you lean in hard, and they are now dialed into the fact you are not a weeble (as in, you do fall down).

Tamawashi – he wants back in san’yaku in a big way. He’s going to take your chanko and make you watch him eat it. Only possible defense might be to chase him away with a beer bottle. (Too soon?) [Yes. –PinkMawashi]

Takakeisho – This tadpole is having a great basho, if he can stay healthy he is going to be part of what pressures some of the old guys to hit intai. He’s shown surprising strength and fighting form against rikishi that intimidate his peers. He seems to not pay much mind to any of it, and just focuses on winning.

Hokutofuji – After a weak showing at Aki (most likely due to injuries), Kaio’s doppleganger is hell on wheels so far in Kyushu. He is showing fantastic sumo, and a fearless will to always drive forward. Should he manage to become more consistent and more efficient in his sumo, he could become a San’yaku mainstay.

Ichinojo – He is large, and I always say that being enormous is not an actual sumo strategy.  But when you are his size, if you get genki and can bring some actual sumo chops to a match, there is little that can stop you. Too early to say that he’s turned a corner, but it’s great to not cringe when you see him mount the dohyo.

Arawashi – While it’s not widely discussed, Arawashi was secretly upgraded by Elon Musk, and is now completely Tesla powered. This makes him not only a foreign born rikishi, but the first cyborg rikishi as well. Please be aware the NSK wants only one controversy at a time, so for the duration no one is talking about it (except your plucky crew at Tachiai).

Okinoumi – This guy has a persistent abdominal injury that can’t be healed, it can only be surgically repaired. When they do, his sumo career is probably over. So he muddles on and does the best he can, usually in varying degrees of pain ranging from “dear god, why?” to “kill me now”. So when you see him 6-1 after the first week, you have to feel happy for the man.

Aminishiki – Why not close out the list with Uncle Sumo? What a triumphant return to Makuuchi for a man who does not give up until he wants to. This guy is showing us sumo that is borderline magical in its efficiency and simplicity. Thank you for holding on to your dream sir, we should all consider following your example.