Before the opening of another tournament, let’s check in with the latest Heya power rankings. This time out we’ve seen some wild variance in the results of a few stables, while many stables following a period of much change have consolidated amongst some more consistent performance. Are you ready for some charts? Me too:
There are a few major stories from the various stables’ performance last time out as we identify areas of improvement ahead of Haru, but let’s look at this in “Billboard” style Top 20 chart form:
(+3) Tagonoura. 95 points (+30)
(+12) Kasugano. 94 points (+71)
(+3) Sakaigawa. 60 points (+19)
(+3) Kokonoe. 49 points (+9)
(+4) Oitekaze. 46 points (+8)
(-5) Miyagino. 45 points (-56)
(+3) Izutsu. 45 points (+15)
(**) Takadagawa. 30 points (+20)
(+4) Dewanoumi. 25 points (even)
(**) Shikoroyama. 24 points (+18)
(+5) Tomozuna. 23 points (+3)
(-9) Isegahama. 21 points (-62)
(-11) Hakkaku. 20 points (-75)
(-6) Kataonami. 20 points (-20)
(+3) Tokitsukaze. 20 points (+2)
(-11) Takanohana. 19 points (-35)
(-6) Oguruma. 19 points (-9)
(-6) Sadogatake. 19 points (-8)
(+-) Isenoumi. 18 points (even)
(**) Kise. 16 points (+5)
Takadagawa and Shikoroyama rejoin the ranks with decent scores due to good debuts and special prizes for Ryuden and Abi respectively.
It’s all change, however, at the top with Tagonoura regaining top position basically off the back of Takayasu’s jun-yusho. While this may seem unfair in light of the fact that he’s the only Tagonoura rikishi to have finished the tournament, the heya scores points for having a competing Yokozuna – if Kisenosato doesn’t show up and goes full-kyujo for Haru, it’ll be tough for them to maintain this position short of a Takayasu yusho.
Of course, there’s no surprise in seeing the enormous gain for Kasugano-beya, off the back of Maegashira 3 Tochinoshin’s incredible yusho and double special prize winning performance. While that wasn’t quite enough to vault the stable to the top of the chart, given that they have a few rikishi in the banzuke who could be primed for good tournaments next time out, they should still remain in the top 10 even if they don’t score an unlikely consecutive yusho. And in a “No-kozuna” scenario, Tochinoshin should still be a good bet to perform well as a Sekiwake.
Miyagino falls here owing to the loss of its usual yusho threat Hakuho to kyujo status. Should he show in Haru, the stable could be due a nice rebound with Enho joining the sekitori ranks, especially if Ishiura can turn up genki enough to threaten a kachi-koshi.
Of the three other big stables to tumble, Hakkaku takes a drop due to Hokutofuji and Okinoumi’s inability to register even a winning record following their dual jun-yusho/special prize winning Kyushu. Takanohana, meanwhile, should be a decent rebound candidate if Takakeisho can get back to winning ways and Takanoiwa can return to action as he should be a real yusho threat in Juryo, but that remains unclear.
Finally, there’s no glossing over the incredible fall from grace for Isegahama-beya on our rankings. This is the first tournament where they’ve not featured a Yokozuna even for part of the tournament since we’ve put the Power Rankings together, and of course Terunofuji continues to tumble down the banzuke, Aminishiki was partially kyujo and Terutsuyoshi had dropped from the professional ranks in Hatsu. While it would have seemed improbable not long ago, over half of the stable’s points were registered by Takarafuji and, with most of their rikishi now in Juryo, it may be up to him to arrest a further slide. Let’s take a look at all this in visual form:
Incredibly, the recent high performance water mark for Isegahama was just three tournaments ago as Harumafuji won Aki, showing just how severe the slide has been. Obviously our metrics for performance measurement have not been the end-all-be-all, but this does at least give some reflection of the stable’s banzuke presence and on-dohyo performance in the last year, relative to itself.
With the New Years basho having concluded this past weekend with a wonderful and unexpected result, it’s now time to take a look down the banzuke and check on the overall performances of this tournament’s Tachiai Ones to Watch™. Last time out, we posted a 17-3 kachi-koshi record and collected 2 yusho from the 4 lower divisions.
Ms6 Enho (Miyagino) – One of our dear favorites locked in his kachi-koshi at the last chance, posting a 4-3 record. We are unabashed fans of Enho, he is exciting and amazing to watch. However, that he was even in the promotion conversation with this record at this rank is a testament to the mess at the bottom of Juryo. He has now been receiving (semi) daily stern tests against rikishi of similar pedigree and veterans who have seen the promised land and do not appreciate being exiled from it. On the face of it, the trip to Juryo may be extremely challenging to him so let’s hope he can gain some good pounds in the right places.
Ms6 Wakamotoharu, Ms17 Wakatakakage, Ms34 Wakatakamoto (Arashio) – The Arashio bros combined for a 15-6 record driven largely by Wakatakakage’s impressive zensho yusho, which should place him at or near the top of the division for Haru. Like Enho, Wakamotoharu found it tough in the insanely congested top of the Makushita division, falling to a 3-4 record, and should find himself near enough to Wakatakamoto whose 5 win basho should propel him near enough the top quarter of the division. Should those two post similar records next time out it might make things interesting for the schedulers! If we’re going to look at areas of improvement, Wakamotoharu may need the opposite plan as Enho going forward as he handled the veterans nicely but tended to struggle against the up and coming rikishi.
Ms8 Murata (Takasago) – Murata, who debuted at the same time with Wakatakakage and who had largely matched his progress, will fall back behind his rival having suffered the narrowest of make-koshi. In fairness, having come through a horrendous start, he recovered nicely in the last couple of matches to ensure his demotion will not be too extreme. If we’re going to look for a highlight, his second bout match against the triple lower division yusho winner and Kokonoe up-and-comer Chiyonoumi might provide a key for future success – he’s able to stand his ground against a composed opponent and use his mass and pushing/thrusting to keep moving forward and move him out (hat tip to One and Only for the video coverage):
Ms21 Ichiyamamoto (Nishonoseki) – It’s another solid kachi-koshi at 5-2 for Nishonoseki’s university man, who just continues to progress. Ichiyamamoto is an extreme pusher-thruster and it will be interesting to watch his results as he starts now to come up against rikishi with a better plan at the tachiai. Gochozan’s revenge win against him in this tournament was a case of a match that started as a pushing festival and ended up with Ichiyamamoto’s arms getting locked up and not really having much of a plan B. If someone’s going to lock up his arms he may struggle, but if he can establish his pushing attack he’s a difficult rikishi to beat at this level.
Ms23 Nishikifuji (Isegahama) – Owing to the flu circulating Isegahama-beya, we’re going to have to give Nishikifuji a pass on an awful 1-5-1 tournament that blighted an otherwise brilliant start to his career. The banzuke makers of course will not be so kind, but the last time that a 1 win tournament at his rank wasn’t enough to keep a rikishi in this division was 1948. He put up 6 wins at Ms52 last time out and that’s probably about where we’ll see him next time and will expect him to restart his progress.
Ms30 Ryuko (Onoe) – Another solid tournament for Ryuko who makes it three consecutive 5-2s to follow the three consecutive 6-1s to open his career. Intriguingly, he used a greater variety of winning techniques here than some of his contemporaries higher up on this post. While he certainly gets his share of oshi- wins, over the last two tournaments he has started mixing in throws. Only one of them seems to have been particularly well executed (in Kyushu against Ikeru) but that also may come down to the quality of opponent. It’s going to be interesting to see how he mixes and matches and whether his strategy will continue to develop as he reaches the higher levels.
Ms31 Tomokaze (Oguruma) – It’s another really solid start to Tomokaze’s career, and after 4 basho he should find himself placed solidly in the upper part of the division after putting up 5 more wins here. Had he not run into Wakatakamoto in the middle of the tournament, it would have been interesting to see if he could challenge for yet another yusho, but as it stands the Oguruma man (who dealt with Ryuko for the first time in the early stages of Hatsu) will be pleased with his progress as he develops into a large and physical rikishi. What happens to his mobility as his size increases will be an interesting watch.
Ms49 Musashikuni (Musashigawa) – I had picked Musashikuni almost more as a “draft and follow” kind of guy than an immediate one to watch. I thought he had a good chance this time out at handling the opposition at this rank, but it never really came together until the end of a 3-4 tournament that will leave him as very much an edge case for remaining in the division for Osaka. This is more of a long term choice and we’re going to stick with him next time out and, like his stablemate Wakaichiro, continue to bet on his potential.
Ms55 Tanabe (Kise) – Tanabe had absolutely coasted through the bottom 3 divisions and even started here with 2 wins from 3 but in truth I could tell after seeing him in person on Day 2 that this was not going to be his basho, and from the midway point he completely unraveled with 4 straight losses (to end 2-5), the lowlight of which was a shocking ashitori from Amanoshima on Day 11. He has “bouncebackability” to be sure, but he’s going to need some serious keiko to right the ship and prepare for another assault on promotion back to Makushita.
Sd2 Fukuyama (Fujishima) – Fukuyama pulls out a last ditch kachi-koshi which will secure his promotion up to Makushita. While he started his career strong with 3 straight 6 win tournaments, his progress has slowed and it will be interesting to see if he can better the results of his rival Tanabe, who he has never beaten, in his debut at the next level.
Sd21 Shoji (Musashigawa) – We doubted Shoji’s ability to pull off the third consecutive yusho on his Sandanme debut and that hesitation proved to be well-founded as he finished with his first career make-koshi at 3-4. That all being said, he improved in the latter half of the basho and won’t fall so far down that a good tournament next time won’t propel him forward, so the Musashigawa man will hope this is a minor setback. This is the first tournament where it could be argued Shoji didn’t face anyone of a similar pedigree or level of progression (and that may continue to be the case) so how he deals with more of a mixed bag of veteran opponents will determine his future.
Sd47 Kotokumazoe (Sadogatake) – Kotokumazoe’s hot comeback run was stopped dead in its tracks with 3 straight losses, but the Sadogatake man did well over the last week to finish 3-1 and end with a narrow make-koshi at what was his highest career posting to date. His thrust-heavy attack didn’t look especially inspired in either of the matches for which there is video footage but his persistence in his day 15 win against Tochikasuga at least gives some reason for optimism.
Sd83 Torakio (Naruto) – A tournament to forget for Torakio who started strong and ended injured. We thought he’d fare better than Shoji this time out, and he started strong at 2-0 but dropped 4 straight before going kyujo, the final two of which culminated in injury-inspiring and frankly very painful looking throws. However before this, what was clear from all 4 losses was that despite how strong we have seen Torakio to be, he suffered from a very weak tachiai which was beginning to be exploited even at the bottom of Sandanme. After his make-koshi clinching under-arm throw inflicted by Ryuki on day 12, he remained on the floor for a very long time. Obviously we wish the strong Torakio the best of health, and hope he can make a comeback in the upper reaches of Jonidan next time out.
Jd23 Wakaichiro (Musashigawa) – As has been covered extensively already on the site, Wakaichiro had a fantastic return to form at 5-2 (winning his first four) and one that will see him almost certainly repromoted to Sandanme for his second crack at the division in Osaka. The last time this record at this rank wasn’t good enough for a promotion was 1958, so it’s as close to a banker as you can get.
Jd41 Amatsu (Onomatsu) – The Amatsu comeback story continues as his 5-2 record keeps him on pace to return to the higher divisions after his years long layoff!
Jd42 Hayashi (Fujishima) – “Mike” Hayashi opened his Jonidan account with 4 straight wins, looking to grab the yusho that eluded him at the first time of asking on his banzuke debut at Kyushu. Despite nursing a heavily bandaged right knee, Hayashi looked pretty composed most of the time here en route to a 5-2 result that will place him alongside Amatsu in the top 10 ranks of Jonidan in Osaka as they continue their unlikely rivalry which Hayashi leads 2-0.
Jk18 Yoshoyama (Tokitsukaze) – The pre-tournament projections of the hyped Yoshoyama and his mae-zumo results made him feel like a bona-fide yusho challenger to us but we whiffed on that as he had to rally to secure a 4-3 kachi-koshi in which he did not particularly impress.
Jk19 Kototebakari (Sadogatake) – As noted in our mid-basho roundup, the Sadogatake debutant was winning with little effort owing to his size and strength differential. He ran into some trouble when pulled up to Jonidan for a match and ended up losing the playoff to finish with the jun-yusho, but it’s an encouraging start and one which should portend decent results in the bottom half of Jonidan next time out.
As for Hattorizakura… as Herouth noted he did show some improvement and some fight early on in the tournament before returning to his usual ways. The match he really should have won was his (actually quite lengthy) Day 8 match against the tiny Takita, whose two career victories to date both came against Hattorizakura. If he can at least be less afraid of the tachiai, he might be able to sneak one or two. We shall cheer for a victory in Osaka!
Today, the elections for the NSK board members – directors and vice-directors – took place.
The board is renewed every two years after Hatsu basho. If the number of candidates matches the number of seats (ten directors plus three vice directors), then elections are not held and the candidates automatically become directors or vice directors respectively.
This is, in fact, how the board selection process worked for many years. There were five ichimon. Each presented two candidates, and they became directors. In 2010, Takanohana Kōji disrupted the system by declaring an unauthorized candidacy, a move that ended in him splitting from his ichimon and forming his own together with his supporters. With six ichimon, the number of candidates was almost certain to exceed the number of seats, resulting in the five most recent occasions ending up in elections.
Takanohana succeeded in winning enough votes in the previous four elections, although he was unable to then get enough support inside the board to become its chairman. But today’s elections were different.
When the Takanohana ichimon convened to decide on their candidate, together with the three rogue toshiyori who seceded from Tokitsukaze ichimon recently, the members of the ichimon wanted their candidate to be Onomatsu oyakata (Onosho’s stablemaster), rather than Takanohana. In fact, they could not agree on a candidacy in their first meeting, and eventually, after meeting again, the ichimon announced both Onomatsu and Takanohana would be running.
Today, after the votes were counted, these were the results:
So the result is that other than his own vote, Takanohana has just one single supporter. For the first time in 8 years, he is not elected to the board, let alone able to progress to chairman.
Elections were held for the vice-director seats as well, as four presented candidacies for three seats. The results were:
Shikoroyama has seceded from Tokitsukaze Ichimon with two other toshiyori in December 2017, and declared themselves “Unaffiliated”, although, as already mentioned, they participated in the Takanohana ichimon’s election discussions. Shikoroyama is Izutsu oyakata’s younger brother.
(This part is my own personal opinion)
Takanohana is extremely popular, owing to his Yokozuna days. He is considered by many to have been the ideal Yokozuna. He has a reputation for being strictly anti-yaocho. When he became an NSK member he spoke much about reform, transparency, modernization and so on, and got himself followers both inside and outside the organization.
However, his behavior in the Harumafuji scandal seems to have left a bitter taste even in the mouths of his supporters within the NSK.
His refusal to cooperate with the internal investigation and the unusual way in which he hid Takanoiwa.
Communicating with the press only through written manifestos, some of them incomprehensible even to native Japanese readers.
Taking up a war with Hakuho with some wild accusations that were not supported by the police investigation.
Having been criticized by the Chairman of the Board of Trustees as “disrespectful”, his true believers followed up with derision against her, causing her to declare that she will not be speaking to the press again.
Reports (based on court statements in unrelated litigation) that there were unchecked and unreported incidents of violence within Takanohana-beya itself.
All of this was causing Grand Sumo to stand out in the news, all in negative contexts, which is something that the Japanese do not like. There is a common saying in Japan, “出る釘は打たれる” – “The nail that sticks out gets hammered down”. It appears Takanohana was hammered down by his own supporters. The Takanohana ichimon probably decided that reform can be achieved through diplomacy better than it can through constant conflict.
Although there was some speculation before the elections that the Takanohana ichimon actually intends to get both of its candidates in by putting on a show of conflict trying to draw in voters from other ichimon, the conflict was more than a show. Even the worst predictions gave him 5 votes. Two votes is a clear signal of lack of confidence, and the former Dai-Yokozuna should take a reality check.
As for Shikoroyama, he apparently secured the support of the Takanohana ichimon and his own “Unaffiliated” three votes, plus a couple of others. But due to the smaller number of vice-director seats, for vice-director, you actually need to secure a lot more support than for a director seat – more than a single ichimon for sure (except the Dewanoumi ichimon, which has 30 voters according to Asashosakari’s reckoning on the Sumo Forum). For Shikoroyama, no support was coming from the other ichimon, certainly not the one he came from originally, Tokitsukaze. Again, the act of secession seems to be taken as “standing out”, and the affiliation with the Takanohana ichimon, as well as competing with his own brother, were not helping either.
Let’s hope that the stream of scandals will die down now that politics are no longer an incentive to start fires. The new makeup of the board includes three new faces:
Takashima from Isegahama ichimon, replacing Isegahama himself, who didn’t run [Isegahama retired as a director after the Harumafuji incident –PinkMawashi]. He is the only director who is not a stablemaster
Shibatayama from Nishonoseki ichimon, who replaces Nishonoseki himself, who is still recovering from his head injury and the prolonged loss of consciousness that followed it
Onomatsu, the new face representing the faction of reform and modernization for the Takanohana ichimon.
Let’s hope they can bring some fresh air to the NSK, though I would advise against expecting any big changes any time soon. Many veteran stablemasters will have to retire before the new generation gets enough power for change.
Soon after each basho, the NSK holds the banzuke meeting. Although the full banzuke will be published only days before the next basho, the names of promotees to Juryo are announced immediately. This is done in order to allow new promotees and their heya to get ready with the necessary equipment for a sekitori: A silk mawashi (also known as a shime-komi), with stiffened sagari, a kesho-mawashi and an akeni (luggage box), as well as a tsuke-bito (manservant), a private room, and so on.
The list of juryo promotees includes Tachiai favorite Enho.
Enho has achieved sekitori status within the minimum required six basho (mae-zumo, followed by one each in Jonokuchi, Jonidan, Sandanme, then two in Makushita), and is only the fourth rikishi in modern history to do so.
“I couldn’t believe it”, said the shin-Juryo. “A result of 4-3 at Makushita #6 is not usually enough for promotion, though I had a tiny hope and my heart was throbbing. Today as I came out of the bath I was told I made it. ”
Enho has been appearing in zanbara, untied hair, throughout his career and has only achieved a young chon-mage for Miyagino’s senshuraku party. Now he will need more time yet to grow his hair for an appropriate oicho-mage.
Another new promotee to Juryo is the “elder” Taka Twin, Takayoshitoshi:
His advance to sekitori status marks the first time in history in which there is a pair of active sekitori who are twins.
Hint: to tell Takayoshitoshi from Takagenji, look for the mole on Takayoshitoshi’s right lip. If they smile an open smile, Takagenji will display a gap in his front teeth.
The other promotees to Juryo are all former sekitori. They include Yago (Oguruma beya), Terutsuyoshi my main man (Isegahama beya), Shimanoumi (Kise beya), Tobizaru the flying monkey (Oitekaze beya), and Akiseyama (Kise beya).
There has not been such a large group of Juryo promotees (7 in total this time) since the great purges of 2011 when nine rikishi were promoted to Juryo.
Following the Hatsu basho, the Yokozuna Deliberation Council head a regularly scheduled meeting to discuss the state of the sumo world. In prior meetings, the council has rendered opinions on a variety of subjects including Hakuho’s controversial tachiai habits. Some notable elements (thanks to Herouth):
Kakuryu has passed his “compete or else” challenge satisfactorily. Council members were concerned about his week 2 fade. They urged him to rest up, heal up and return ready for Osaka.
Kisenosato was once again admonished not to return to the dohyo until he is fit and capable of Yokozuna-grade sumo. Kisenosato can’t keep dropping mid-basho. Next time he does that, the YDC will “make a decision” (choose one of its available tools such as reprimand or recommendation to retire).
Hakuho is encouraged to heal up and return for Osaka. While public sentiment has turned negative on the dai-Yokozuna, the fact is he is still the strongest and most capable rikishi in any tournament he enters, and the NSK needs him to continue competing if he is at all able. They cautioned him to restrain from using his habitual harizashi+violent kachiage for future matches. As we have seen, this recommended change in his fighting style left Hakuho off tempo and unfocused.
In other news, Hakuho’s toes are improving, and he is practicing shiko (leg stomps) at the stable.
Please note that there is no jungyo promotional tour until after the March basho in Osaka, so rikishi are focusing on training, and participating in a handful of promotional events around Tokyo and Osaka.
What a great basho with an unexpected champion. Below, I will go through the various tiers of Makuuchi (and upper Juryo) and assess the performances, as well as what they likely mean for the Haru banzuke reshuffle (as usual, a full “banzuke crystal ball” post will follow once I’ve had a chance to more carefully digest the results).
At Haru, we should see Kakuryu atop the banzuke, followed by Hakuho and Kisenosato. Although he faded with 4 straight losses after a 10-0 start before recovering to beat Goeido on senshuraku, Kakuryu did enough to justify his rank. I would give him a solid B. Hakuho (re)injured his toes, and gets an Incomplete. Kisenosato had to pull out due to underperformance rather than injury after racking up 4 losses in 5 days and handing out 3 kinboshi. It’s not clear what the way forward is for him. A generous D–.
The two Ozeki will swap sides in Osaka, with Takayasu fighting from the more prestigious East side. His 12-3 record is by far his most impressive in 4 tournaments as Ozeki, although he has to wonder what might have been in this wide-open basho. Any tsuna talk is highly premature, but if he can build on this performance, we may hear it in the near future. A–
The other Ozeki, Goeido, looked strong out of the gate but then went 4-7 over the last 11 days, ending with a minimal kachi-koshi. He avoided going kadoban by the narrowest of margins. A gentleman’s C.
The Old Lower Sanyaku
This highly touted group did not exactly distinguish itself, only managing 23 wins among the four of them. As a result, we should see almost complete turnover in the Sekiwake/Komusubi ranks. The one holdover is Sekiwake Mitakeumi, who started 7-0 but then went 1-7 the rest of the way to maintain his rank by the narrowest of margins. Some of this can be chalked up to tougher second-week opposition, but it’s hard to excuse losses to Arawashi, Shodai, and Okinoumi. This is Mitakeumi’s 6th consecutive tournament in Sanyaku, all of them alternating 9-6 and 8-7 records. He will have to find another gear before the often-mentioned Ozeki run can materialize. Still, he stays at Sekiwake. B–
The rest of the group put up disastrous performances. Instead of starting his own Ozeki run, Sekiwake Tamawashi went 6-9 and will drop out of Sanyaku. It’s not clear what was wrong with his sumo, as he looked like his own formidable self on some days, and went meekly on others. The good news is that he should only drop to M1, and will have a chance to fight his way back up with a solid record in Osaka. C–
Shin-Komusubi Takakeisho had a typical shin-Komusubi rough tournament, going 5-10. He should stay in the joi in Osaka, falling to around M3. C– His friend and fellow Komusubi Onosho faired even worse in his second go-round at the rank, picking up only 4 wins before withdrawing with an injury. No miracle kachi-koshi finish this time. He should drop to around M5. D+
The New Lower Sanyaku
Joining Mitakeumi at Sekiwake will be the yusho winner, Tochinoshin. While there are many reasons to doubt he can replicate his amazing performance going forward, I’ll go out on a limb and say that if he accumulates 11-12 wins in each of the next two tournaments, we’ll see him at Ozeki. A+ Also rejoining the named ranks with a bang at Komusubi is Ichinojo, who really turned things around in the last two tournaments. If he can continue to bring convincing sumo to the dohyo, his size and skill could also see him at Ozeki before too long, although of course this is what was said about him after his amazing Makuuchi debut in 2014. A
Who gets the other Komusubi slot? The man who probably gained the most on senshuraku, sumo Elvis, Chiyotairyu. The big guy needed to win on the last day and have both Kotoshogiku and Endo lose, and this is exactly how things played out. The last and only time Chiyotairyu was ranked this high was also in 2014, and he’s spent most of the intervening time among the lower maegashira ranks, with 3 Juryo stints, so it’s good to see him climb the mountain again. A
The upper maegashira ranks in Osaka will see more permutation than turnover. Based on the thinness and health issues of the Sanyaku, I’m going to generously extend the joi boundary down to M5. These ranks should look something like this:
In addition to the aforementioned fallen Sanyaku rikishi, we have Kotoshogiku and Shodai treading water with their minimal make-koshi records and a pair of C‘s. Endo (A–) and Arawashi (B+) move up within these ranks. Takarafuji (B+) moves up from just below the joi, while Shohozan (A–) and Chiyomaru (A–) make some of the biggest moves up the board.
Dropping out of these ranks are Hokutofuji and Yoshikaze, who both had disastrous 4-11 tournaments, good for a pair of D‘s, along with Okinoumi (C–).
Makuuchi Promotions and Demotions
As has already been mentioned, the 8 lowest-ranked rikishi all earned winning records. For Ishiura, Asanoyama, Nishikigi, and Daiamami, this saved them from demotion to Juryo, but without much of a cushion for Haru. Daieisho, Yutakayama, and the newcomers Abi and Ryuden should move up into solid mid-maegashira territory. Yutakayama in particular is to be commended for turning things around in his third Makuuchi tournament by going 9-6, after his previous two appearances each ended in 4-11 records and quick returns to Juryo.
Dropping down into the M13-M17 ranks and fighting for survival in Osaka will be Ikioi and Sokokurai, who narrowly staved off demotion.
As a result of the solid performances at the bottom of the banzuke, not a lot of slots will be open for promotion. Dropping down to Juryo are Terunofuji, who desperately needs to take a page from Tochinoshin’s book, and Aminishiki. Also joining them will be Takekaze, the only rikishi among those who desperately needed a senshuraku win to not get it. Their slots should be taken by Myogiryu, Hidenoumi, and most likely Aoiyama, with Kyokutaisei just missing out on making his Makuuchi debut despite doing enough for promotion in most tournaments.
During the Hatsu honbasho we had the chance to catch up with John Gunning – whose work many Tachiai readers and others throughout the sumo world thoroughly enjoy in places like NHK World, The Japan Times and Inside Sport Japan. As it’s quite an exciting time in sumo, we had a number of topics we wanted to discuss with John, and Tachiai readers also responded to our call and came forward with an incredible list of questions.
Owing to limited time we were not able to get to all of our readers’ questions, but we are thrilled to have John as a friend of the site and are looking forward to connecting with him and others in the community in future. Over the course of 45 minutes we covered a lot of ground, and so we will run the interview over three parts. It has been edited only in places for clarity, and we hope you enjoy what will hopefully be the first of many similar features!
Tachiai: Most of our readers come from outside of Japan. As someone who is an immigrant to Japan, what brought you into the world of sumo?
John Gunning: Well, originally, when I moved here, a long time ago, it was pre-broadband internet, pre-good internet and I was basically like most people: your entertainment came from television. I didn’t speak Japanese when I came to Japan, and the only thing I could understand on TV was sumo. Basically, you know, the rest of it was people running around, shouting at each other. I had no idea what was going on. And, like a lot of people, you see sumo at first, and you realise “hey, there is more to it than I thought, this is not just fat guys in diapers shoving each other around!”
And, so, yeah, I had an interest in it – a casual interest in it as a fan. And then, I guess like a lot of people, I went to a live tournament and was just hooked: the smell of the binzuke, and the rikishi walking in, this was just unlike any other sport I’ve ever been involved in. And then I became a bigger fan, and through various connections I got to see keiko and stuff like that, and built up some more connections. At that time, I was living in Osaka, and when I moved to Tokyo I’d been playing soccer. I was 60 kilos when I came to Japan, and my soccer career was coming to an end, I was looking for something to replace it, and I was thinking “sumo looks easy” – the insanity of that! I took it up, I moved to Ryogoku, I got in with a lot of the rikishi and stable-masters. I used to visit keiko every day because I lived right there, I’d see all the guys in the supermarket and stuff like that, so that became my world, the sumo world.
I have a background in media anyway, so it was kind of inevitable that I’d eventually start doing sumo stuff in the media. So, that’s it!
Tachiai: How did you transition into the media work that you do today?
JG: In Japan, who you know is very important. Introductions are very, very important. You know, “he’s a friend of ours, a friend of mine,” like you see in those mafia movies. Generally speaking, in the media world, they don’t advertise positions or openings in Japan, you get introduced through somebody else. I knew some people in the media world here, through my own background, and I’d done bits online, stuff like what Tachiai is doing, and various pieces for a French magazine. The Daily Yomiuri, as it was then, had a columnist that was leaving and he recommended me. They asked me, “can you write something for tomorrow morning?” It was a preview for a tournament.
JG: Yeah. It was a Friday, and they wanted it for the Saturday paper. They contacted me at noon and said “can you get this to us for 6pm?” A whole story, with quotes from rikishi! So, it was kind of a test I guess, but I have everyone on the phone so I just called up a lot of rikishi and said “give me comments! I’m writing a piece.”
And then I got them and I wrote it, and I guess they were really impressed that I could get original content. That’s a big thing for Yomiuri: they want original content, they want quotes. And I wrote for them for a few years and had a column and stuff like that. [With] NHK, same thing. They had someone leaving, and somebody there said they liked what I was doing, and they contacted me and asked me if I would come work for them.
I’ve never actually sent a resume, or applied for a job. Somebody knows you, and then there’s that first meeting, which is what I call the “psychopath barrier,” and before you get offered anything, you meet for coffees so they can see if they can actually work with you. That’s the thing in Japan. And then with a lot of companies in Japan, there’s no contracts, right? They say “do you want to come and work for us?” And you see the paycheck then and you go, “oh, ok!” (laughs)
And that’s the way it kind of works in Japan, in the media world. I did a podcast, and someone was asking me “how do you break into the media world in Japan?” I said, “whatever your thing is, whether it’s sumo or some other sport or anime or something like that, come here, and get involved in the world and build relationships and build connections. And you create work, good work. And if your work is good quality, you eventually get it.” It’s all about networking, and building relationships with people. If you can do good stuff, and you have the connections, you’ll get in. You can’t just send a résumé – it’s everything in Japan: getting introduced through somebody else, essentially.
Tachiai: A lot of Tachiai readers first became aware of your work through seeing you on NHK World’s Grand Sumo Previews – what does it mean to you to get to share what’s going on in sumo with fans all around the world? For a lot of people, your work, and things like that preview are the only things in the English speaking world that they see that describes what’s going on, on TV.
JG: The flippant answer is you get paid to give people your opinion, which is great (laughs). It’s the dream job! But, yeah it’s a good point, I hadn’t really thought about it before.
There’s a lot of misinformation, urban myths, there’s also people writing about sumo who don’t know anything about it – journalists and so on. Also, that mystique about Japan and Asia, there’s a lot of that surrounding sumo. A lot of people romanticise the view of what sumo is. So, getting a chance to correct those factual errors and give people a sense of what sumo is – especially young rikishi and people who want to join sumo – I obviously can’t reveal everything that’s going on inside the sumo world, but to give people a truer sense of what it is, that’s an invaluable thing.
Tachiai: For sure. With the increase in the popularity of the sport – obviously the last couple of months have been interesting – but if you look at the last couple of years, tournaments have been selling out, and it’s exciting. Do you think we’ll be able to see an expansion of coverage like that to the English language community?
JG: I can’t say what – but there are plans in place among certain media organisations in Japan to expand – greatly – the coverage of sumo in English.
For a long time, people in the media world in Japan didn’t realise the depth or breadth of sumo fandom across the world. They thought, “there’s a few fans.” But nowadays it’s easy to get the audience feedback and to see who and where and why and what age groups [are paying attention]. It’s much easier to see who your audience is nowadays than it was even 10 years ago. Analytics obviously is a huge thing, but they’re starting to realise how big their audience is, and I think for a lot of organisations, that’s a surprise. Even for those organisations that I work for, the people at the top have been stunned how popular the stuff they’ve been putting out is, and the fact that they do a story, or do a feature on sumo, and it’s the top rated thing on their entire channel or newspaper for that month. So, yeah – there’s going to be a lot more stuff.
Tachiai: Cool. Along those lines, recently you started Inside Sport Japan. Is there anything that you can tell us about that new venture?
JG: OK, so, I work in the media world, and it’s better than it was, but for a long, long time, there have been so many great stories that I wanted to tell, but there has been no outlet to tell them. Either they didn’t fit into a daily newspaper, or there wasn’t an outlet for the feature or the behind the scenes stories, so I’ve always felt that there have been a lot of really great stories that haven’t been told. And I wanted an outlet to tell these stories. So, I created a company basically, to do that. Obviously I want that company to be successful and to be the ESPN of Japan… obviously not a bankrupt ESPN, but a successful ESPN! A place where people can get information.
Sumo is kind of a niche sport, but sumo has a lot of people doing good work, people like yourselves. There’s a lot of people putting out content on sumo, same as baseball and soccer. But there are a lot of great stories. So, we focus on sports particularly that wouldn’t get a lot of English language coverage. Women’s sports, blind soccer. We try to shine a light on great athletes and sports that don’t get a lot of attention. That’s one thing.
There are a couple of streams with Inside Sport Japan. [Another] is that there are a lot of people who are doing good work in Japan who are not getting any attention. Like I said, the media world is kind of closed here. Your site has been really successful and has exploded in growth, but there are some people toiling away for 15-20 years putting out great stuff on baseball or futsal, different sports, but they have tiny audiences. They don’t market themselves, or they don’t know how to market themselves, they’re more just about creating content, and putting it out there. They’re missing that whole “selling” side of themselves. So to be an umbrella organisation for a lot of them was another thing: here’s the content. Then, we give it the audience. That was the second stream.
And the third reason for starting the company was to give people an “in” to the media, and to find new talent – new writers and photographers. That’s been a mixed kind of thing – we’ve got some really great people. Great photographers, people who have no connection to sport or the media world. We’ve trained them up or brought them in and shown them how to do it. I’m willing to give anyone a chance that wants to try it, because other people helped me when I was starting out. And it’s kind of like paying it back, you know? You get a lot of help when you’re young, so you want to help young talent come through.
Tachiai: We have a reader question from Devon P: Is there any conversation within the Kyokai about making sumo more accessible to fans outside the country, and to make it possible for those fans to benefit sumo financially? Such as: merchandise or offering paid streaming services outside Japan?
JG: Not really, no. You’ve got to realise that, even though I said there was a large audience outside of Japan, it’s still minute compared to what’s actually in Japan. The Sumo Association’s remit is to popularise sumo and to keep it popular inside of Japan. That’s the actual remit of the organisation. Their whole raison d’être is to keep sumo alive inside of Japan. So, if they do stuff for foreign fans like jungyo or putting stuff in English, it’s extra, it’s ancillary to what they do. It’s not their purpose.
The unfortunate side effect of sumo being so popular in Japan, is there’s no need of a foreign audience. So, a lot of the stuff that maybe 5 or 10 years ago was put in place, like when they started selling burgers and hot dogs and pizza and stuff in the Kokugikan, because of this “Westerners, that’s what they like,” image – a very cliched image… a lot of that stuff was put in place when sumo was at a low level of popularity, because in those days, foreigners buying tickets made up another audience. It didn’t take much to cater to that, and put stuff in English.
The Kyokai itself is not the monolithic entity that a lot of people think it is. It’s very split up and there’s a lot of individuals. People tend to think of the Kyokai as a solid entity that decides this and that… and it’s not like that. It all depends who has the power and there’s all kinds of schools of thought and people with their own agendas, so a lot of stuff doesn’t happen, because it’s not really organized like that. And there are a lot of people inside the Kyokai who would rather do less for foreigners, because tourists can be troublesome. You know, showing up without tickets, losing their tickets and showing up at the gate and demanding to be let in… that’s a thing that happens in Japan a lot. It may be an outdated model of thinking, but whenever anything bad happens, or anything happens with foreign tourists, it reinforces the mindset that people have. You know, “it’s just too much effort to deal with foreigners.” So, there’s also that kind of thinking.
Stay tuned for parts 2 and 3 of our chat, where we discuss rikishi, injuries and more!
It was a satisfying end to a really tremendous basho. Over the course of the last 15 days, we have all enjoyed some really tremendous sumo in a tournament that once again featured only a single Yokozuna. Since the start of the Asashoryu era, much of each basho revolved around the absolute dominance of a pair of dai-Yokozuna. Tournament coverage was almost bifurcated along who the dai-Yokozuna would crush today, and then the battle for the remaining scraps.
For the past year or so, we have seen the emphasis shift. We continue to see an evolution, a “changing of the guard” in some sense, within the ranks of sumo. Rikishi who have been mainstays of Makuuchi for years or decades are making way for cohorts of healthy, strong and eager sekitori, ready for their time in the spotlight. While we are going to miss our long-time favorites, this basho helped us come to realize that the future of sumo is bright, and the next generation is going to continue to impress.
Look for 2018 to continue this trend, with at least one more Yokozuna headed for intai, and at least one more rikishi taking up the Ozeki rank.
As always, Tachiai will be along for the ride. We can’t help ourselves – we love sumo.
Highlights From Day 15
Daiamami defeats Aoiyama – Fairly straightforward oshi battle, with Daiamami picking up his 8th win, and keeping himself in Makuuchi for March. Aoiyama did not look amazing, but then he really did not need to pour it on for this match.
Nishikigi defeats Kyokutaisei – Nishikigi never gave up, stuck with it and managed to get kachi-koshi. That being said, he’s probably going to find himself down in Juryo soon if he cannot bring his performance up at least one notch. Nishikigi was slow at the tachiai, and let Kyokutaisei dominate the match right up until the final moments when Nishikigi rallied and forced Kyokutaisei out.
Asanoyama defeats Takekaze – I have been wondering what is wrong with the Oguruma team. I would guess they are suffering from the flu. All of them have been limping through this basho, and look to be in poor health. Hopefully by the time March rolls around, their health will return. Asanoyama stood Takekaze up at the tachiai, rolled left and guided the veteran to the clay. There is some discussion on if Takekaze will remain in Makuuchi, but I would think he will.
Ishiura defeats Kotoyuki – A pair of matta as each tried to smoke the other out on their tachiai plans. Yes, it was a raging henka fest that Ishiura got the better of. Kind of an uninspiring win, but a win nevertheless. Kotoyuki is make-koshi, but safe in Makuuchi for now. Ishiura will get promoted, but I am not sure his sumo will support his remaining at higher ranks. Train-train-train little muscle man!
Abi defeats Shohozan – Matta from Shohozan prior to the start, but the actual tachiai resulted in a slap-fest similar to day 14’s Tochinoshin match. Abi switched to double arm thrusts and started moving Shohozan back, and managed to turn him around and get behind. From here Shohozan is in serious trouble, and now struggling to recover while Abi continues to press the attack. Shohozan recovered for just a moment, but then it was all Abi. Nice win from the new Maegashira. I look for some wonderful sumo from him for the rest of the year.
Kagayaki defeats Shodai – This should have been a “gimme” for Shodai, but once again his weak tachiai cost him the match. Kagayaki moved forward aggressively from the line, and came in solidly underneath Shodai, lifting him under the arms. Though Shodai was able to counter and thrust Kagayaki back, Shodai’s feet were crooked, his hips high, and his lower body off balance. Kagayaki grappleds and marched Shodai out. This kind of match helps me think that Kagayaki has tremendous potential. His instincts are solid, and he does not hesitate to exploit even the smallest opening. Shodai needs more work.
Tochinoshin defeats Endo – This match was really all about Endo. Tochinoshin already had the yusho, but Endo needed to “win up” to stake a solid claim for the last remaining san’yaku slot. But Tochinoshin is genki enough for an entire heya, and although Endo gave him a good match, there was no stopping Tochinoshin. Endo has a great tachiai, coming in low and under Tochinoshin, who immediately grabs a hold of Endo’s arms and marches forward. Endo stops the charge at the tawara and nearly rolls Tochinoshin into a throw. Try as he might, Tochinoshin cannot land a solid grip on Endo, whose impressive flexibility and agility stymie the yusho winner time and again. Tochinoshin takes Endo to the edge again, and again Endo loads a throw that Tochinoshin backs away from. That final move puts Endo off balance, and sees him shoved out. Fantastic match from both men, very good sumo.
Chiyotairyu defeats Daieisho – Chiyotairyu gets his 8th win, against a much lower ranked opponent. This was a standard oshi match that was all Chiyotairyu (as it should have been). We will see Chiyotairyu at the top of the Maegashira ranks in March.
Takarafuji defeats Kotoshogiku – The day’s Darwin match. Winner advances, loser declines. This was actually a really solid match, with great sumo from both men. I had kind of wanted to see Kotoshogiku pick up kachi-koshi, but it seems the old Kyushu bulldozer is still on his way out to pasture. Takarafuji got a solid left hand inside grip early and kept Kotoshogiku bottled up. His first attempt to yorikiri Kotoshogiku was solidly beaten back, much to everyone’s delight. From there Kotoshogiku attempted to start the hug-n-chug assault, but sadly he can no longer generate the forward pressure due to his failing knees. Takarafuji turned him around at the tawara and took the win.
Ichinojo defeats Kaisei – If you want jumbo sized sumo, this match really packed the pounds. There was close to 1,000 pounds (yes, half a ton!) of rikishi fighting it out for one little shiroboshi. The fight was all Ichinojo: he got Kaisei sideways early and escorted him out. Huge, unbelievable turn around in Ichinojo the last two tournaments. This massive Mongolian has the potential to be a force within the san’yaku as long as he can stay healthy.
Arawashi defeats Takakeisho – Two real stories here, Arawashi was able to pick up kachi-koshi in spite of his debilitating knee injuries, and the mighty tadpole Takakeisho had a dud of a tournament. Takakeisho – he will be back, more fierce and determined than ever. This young rikishi is not ever going to settle for defeat, and I predict he will be invigorated by this deep make-koshi and the resulting demotion. Arawashi’s problems will probably require medical intervention, but as we have seen, the Kyokai and the Heyas don’t seem inclined to perform medical maintenance on their kanban rikishi. Kind of sick when I put it that way.
Takayasu defeats Mitakeumi – Takayasu storms into a strong jun-yusho closer. This match is worth a watch in slow motion. Takayasu starts with the now habitual shoulder blast that leaves him on one foot and high. Mitakeumi is braced on his left foot and marching forward. Suddenly the Ozeki has had the tables turned, and his wild bull tachiai has left him open and vulnerable. Mitakeumi is thrusting strongly against the Ozeki’s chest, and it’s moving him backward. Takayasu tries to pull but fails. They go chest to chest, and Mitakeumi channels the kami of Kotoshogiku’s mawashi and starts gaburi-yori. Takayasu is moving backward, and in real trouble. At the tawara, he suddenly remembers his “real” sumo, and switches modes into the Takayasu of 2016 – right hand outside grip, he lowers his hips and marches. Mitakeumi is now moving backward, and in deep trouble. Watch the Ozeki’s feet as he attacks. Low to the ground, each step just grazing the surface of the Sotho, his hips down, his shoulders forward. THIS is Takayasu sumo. Thank you, oh Great Sumo Cat of the Kokugikan, for bringing him back, even for a moment. Mitakeumi stops the surge for just a moment by planting his left foot. Takayasu, now back in his old, amazing mode, senses the weight shift and helps Mitakeumi follow through by rolling him to his left and down to the clay. Wonderful, wonderful match.
Kakuryu defeats Goeido – Please note that Kakuryu created almost no forward pressure in this win, and instead used Goeido’s reliable cannon-ball tachiai to power his exit. I continue to maintain that Kakuryu re-injured himself, and that is why we had a sudden cold snap from the sole remaining Yokozuna. Hopefully, with this senshuraku win, Kakuryu can keep the critics quiet for a few months. Way to survive, Big-K.
That’s it for Hatsu – what a great tournament it’s been. Thank you, dear readers, for spending your time with us. We dearly appreciate all of you and hope you will be with us in the lead up to March’s Osaka tournament.
During the morning of Hatsu day 15, Wakaichiro faced his toughest opponent yet, former Sandanme 5 rikishi Kotoseigo. Although he put up a valiant fight, Wakaichiro was pushed out of the ring for a loss. Winning move for Kotoseigo is oshitaoshi.
This brings Wakaichiro’s record for Hatsu to a respectable 5-2, an excellent recovery from the brutal 1-6 record in Kyushu. Some of his other fans across the internet have been trying to speculate if he will return to Sandanme for March, but right now it’s tough to make anything other than a wild guess. Given his first basho in Sandanme, the level of competition there is a clear step higher.
We are certain that whatever the outcome, his fans are rightfully pleased with his progress, and look forward to more sumo by the Texas Sumotori in Osaka.
We come to it at last, the final day on a thoroughly enjoyable sumo tournament. One of the better ones in the last few months, and a real delight to watch over the past two weeks. Some of my favorite rikishi have been doing poorly, but the overall Makuuchi crew has been competing with skill, vigor, and flashes of brilliance.
While none of the crew here at Tachiai (nor anyone I know of) predicted Tochinoshin would dominate this basho, his performance continues to follow the arc we believe will continue. That starting with Kotoshogiku’s yusho in 2016, the age of the Mongolian stranglehold on sumo is ending. This gives us great hope, as this is not the sumo of 20 years ago. The sport continues to have an ever-increasing international appeal, to the puzzlement of Japan.
For now, let’s enjoy the images and video that will flow from today, and know that we continue to see the glorious evolution of a great and ancient sport.
What We Are Watching Day 15
What, you thought because it’s senshuraku there’s nothing going on? Ha! But it does seem like a few folks were brought up from Juryo to try on their Makuuchi moves in preparation for March in Osaka.
Daiamami vs Aoiyama – For Daiamami to pick up his 8th win, and stay in the top division, he must overcome the man-mountain Aoiyama, and his enormous man-boobs. No easy accomplishment. I beg NHK to not show any slow-motion replays.
Kyokutaisei vs Nishikigi – Another likely Juryo promotee for March, he squares off against Nishikigi who also needs his 8th win. The good news for the man who never gives up, he holds a 6-1 career lead over Kyokutaisei.
Kotoyuki vs Ishiura – Someone call the henka police! Kotoyuki is also looking for #8 against the somewhat inconsistent Ishiura. I am sure that Kotoyuki is ready for Ishiura’s submarine tachiai.
Shohozan vs Abi – I am guessing the winner secures a special prize, both are 9-5, both are fighting well. Abi has had a great debut tournament, and I predict he is going to do great things for the next year or so.
Shodai vs Kagayaki – Shodai looking for win #8, and a small but interesting move higher in the Maegashira ranks for March. Shodai may in fact still be salvageable as a good san’yaku rikishi. Much of it will depend on him fixing some of the mechanical problems he has. His spirit and dedication are first rates. Kagayaki survived a somewhat rocky Hatsu, and comes out with a winning record. I look for him to be mid-Maegashira in Osaka.
Endo vs Tochinoshin – Sure, Tochinoshin has the yusho, and Endo is kachi-koshi, but this one is very interesting to me. Endo was at one time the “Great hope”, but injuries have hampered him. Surgery last year brought him back to some level of health, and he has been working hard to recover as a contender. I am fairly sure Tochinoshin will take this one, but Endo has shown some fantastic sumo this January. Perhaps he has one more surprise left for us.
Chiyotairyu vs Daieisho – Super-sized Chiyotairyu looks for a kachi-koshi and elevation to one of the top 4 slots of the Maegashira ranks for March. Chiyotairyu holds a 5-1 career advantage over Daieisho, and Chiyotairyu recently has been adding a sprinkle of neutron-star matter to his chanko, which has given him a steep gravity well.
Takarafuji vs Kotoshogiku – Ugly Darwin match. Winner kachi / loser make kochi. Not sure who I would rather have win. Takarafuji had a pretty tough card this basho but kept up the fight. But it’s tough to see Kotoshogiku fade away. Either way, Kotoshogiku holds a 12-6 career advantage.
Yoshikaze vs Ikioi – The saddest match of the whole basho, which could only be topped if Aminishiki and Terunofuji battled in wheelchairs with IV bottles hanging on them. Both of these great rikishi are in broken states, and I just hope they face each other on the dohyo, shrug and walk off to find a bar.
Kaisei vs Ichinojo – “Why don’t you go pick on someone your own size?” In response, I present you a battle of the gas giants. Both are kachi-koshi at this point, so this is just to see what happens when two massive objects collide. Hopefully, LIGO is tuned up and running.
Hokutofuji vs Aminishiki – Ok, I give up. Why is this happening?
Takakeisho vs Arawashi – Takakeisho wants a win to keep his banzuke drop as restrained as possible. Arawashi’s knees won’t give him too much support as he tries to resist Takakeisho’s powerful thrusting attack. This is actually the first time the two of these rikishi have faced off.
Mitakeumi vs Takayasu – Current Ozeki vs Future Ozeki. Good match here. If Mitakeumi can keep himself in touch with his sumo, and stay calm and strong, he can take this one from Takayasu. But I predict that Takayasu is going to go for his cannonball tachiai. Maybe Mitakeumi will give him a bit of a Harumafuji mini-henka, and send the fuzzy Ozeki launching into the shimpan gallery.
Kakuryu vs Goeido – Happy to see Goeido booted up in 2.0 mode on day 14. Kakuryu back to injured, so this one is all Goeido, I predict. Big K has no power to ground, possibly due to strain and pain once again in his lower back. I call 10-5 a worthy return, and he should get that back adjusted before it’s chronic again.
The final day of the Hatsu Basho, and Texas Sumotori Wakaichiro returns to the dohyo for his final match of the tournament. Early Sunday, he faces off against Sadogatake rikishi Kotoseigo. Kotoseigo is in fact from the same stable as Kotoshogiku (and a swarm of others). He is 23 years old and is both taller and heavier than Wakaichiro. Kotoseigo reached as high as Sandanme 5 before injury dropped him down the banzuke. A second injury left his sumo career on the rocks, and then a third injury has forced him to more or less start over from the bottom.
So this final match of Hatsu will be against a highly skilled, strong and fast rikishi. It will be a tough test for Wakaichiro, but it will be a great test to see how far his sumo has progressed, and how ready he might be for a possible return to the Sandanme division in March.
As always, we will bring you details of his matches as soon as they are posted.
Tochinoshin won!!! Takayasu will claim the jun-yusho all by himself with a win; if he loses, Kakuryu and Ryuden will have opportunities to join him with victories on senshuraku.
With Goeido’s victory today, neither Ozeki will be kadoban in Osaka.
Tamawashi’s loss means three sanyaku slots will be open. The first two belong to Tochinoshin and Ichinojo. Endo is in the lead for the second Komusubi slot, but he faces Tochinoshin tomorrow. Should Endo lose, either Kotoshogiku or Chiyotairyu can claim the slot with a win on senshuraku.
The Promotion/Demotion Line
Dropping to Juryo: Terunofuji and Aminishiki. Taking over their slots: most likely Myogiryu and Hidenoumi. Aoiyama has also done enough for promotion, and Kyokutaisei is either there or close. But there may not be room for all four, as Sokokurai has done almost enough to be safe, and faces what’s left of Terunofuji tomorrow. Also, both Takekaze and Daiamami can reach safety by winning on the final day. Daiamami vs. Aoiyama may be a de facto exchange bout, while Takekaze needs a win against Asanoyama to stay in Makuuchi. Victories today have assured Ikioi, Asanoyama, and Nishikigi of top division places in Osaka.
Tachiai congratulates Georgian born Levan Gorgadze better known in the sumo world as Tochinoshin. Tachiai writer Givemechanko wrote an excellent profile on him in October of 2017, and I encourage fans to take a look and learn more about the man who accomplished something quite rare: Winning the Emperor’s Cup from the rank and file Maegashira ranks. The last time this happened was 2012 when Kyokutenho, who is now Tomozuna stable master, claimed the Emperors cup during May 2012.
Tochinoshin entered Hatsu ranked at Maegashira 3 West, a member of the ultra-competitive upper joi-jin, comprised of sumo’s champions, grand champions, named ranks and top rank and file rikishi. He proceeded to defeat all challengers except Yokozuna Kakuryu in a stunning march to the championship. Tochinoshin’s primary weapon is an almost inhuman strength. He is known to lift 400+ pound men completely off their feet and carry them over the edge of the ring. Time and time again, he would endure whatever tsuppari or oshi attack an opponent might hurl at him off the line, pressing always to land his massive hands on their mawashi, and thereby beginning to out-muscle them.
Many fans are whispering that his outstanding performance portends his future at higher ranks, including wishful discussion of his starting a campaign to take up an Ozeki rank later this year. To those enthusiasts, I would ask them to temper their hopes with the knowledge that Tochinoshin is 30, which is on the older side for a rikishi. He is also only as good as the health of his damaged knee, which he keeps massively bandaged. His prior middling performances in previous tournaments can be largely attributed to his damaged knee, and the pain it must generate nearly every day. His recent tournament history includes him completely withdrawing from last year’s Hatsu basho on day 6, after failing to win a single match.
We wish Tochinoshin a glorious celebration, and a reunion with his family in Georgia soon, to celebrate the recent birth of his daughter and his monumental accomplishment of battling back from horrific injuries to claim the Emperor’s Cup.
We have ourselves a yusho winner. The first from Georgia. The first Maegashira to win the title since Kyokutenho in in Natsu 2012. The first Kasugano yusho winner in 46 years (Tochiazuma Tomoyori, Hatsu 1972 – also Maegashira at the time). No wonder the Kasugano support club wanted to see a fish and to see it now:
Down at Jonokuchi, I’m glad to inform you that Yoshoyama managed to scrape his kachi-koshi today, facing the hapless Osumifuji.
His heya mates brought him flowers to the hana-michi.
In Makushita, Wakamotoharu lost his final bout and is make-koshi. No video at this time.
Up in Juryo, Meisei goes against Takagenji:
Takagenji still doesn’t have kachi-koshi. Both he and Meisei will need a win tomorrow. Takagenji will face the strong Hidenoumi who wants the Yusho.
On to the top division we go:
Sokokurai and Daiamami engage in a lengthy hidari-yotsu, with Sokokurai burying his head in Daiamami’s chest. Eventually Sokokurai tries a throw, but it doesn’t quite work and Daiamami uses it to yori-kiri him.
Kotoyuki and Daieisho go on a tsuppari battle, that ends up with Kotoyuki spread across the dohyo. Hikiotoshi. Kotoyuki’s last chance of a kachi-koshi is tomorrow.
Yutakayama pushes Daishomaru mightily to the edge. Daishomaru tries a side step. Yutakayama slams to the ground – but Daishomaru is also out. Gunbai says Yutakayama, a monoii is called – but Daishomaru’s foot was out first, and it is indeed Yutakayama’s win – and kachi-koshi.
Aminishiki tries to be as genki as he can and bumps into Nishikigi. Gives a harite and tries to get a mawashi grip. This doesn’t quite work, and Nishikigi drives him to the edge. Then hovers around with a worried face to see that he didn’t damage the old man. On the Isegahama web site, Aminishiki writes “Tomorrow is the last match, so I want to win”. Somehow it sounds to me that he means that it’s the ultimate last match. He may not want to go down to Juryo again.
And… Ishiura does a henka against Chiyomaru. Ishiura kachi-koshi. So we’ll see more of his henka in Haru. Sigh.
Ryuden takes on Kaisei and gets in a quick morozashi. Kaisei has the weight advantage and good mobility on his side, and he shifts and turns and gets one of Ryuden’s hands out. Then tries to pull an uwatenage, but he ends up on the floor first, and it’s declared Ryuden’s shitatenage. Ryuden hits the double digits on his debut – which is impressive because he was never a double digits man.
Chiyoshoma gets a fast hold on Asanoyama and they go on a raging battle, but Chiyoshoma loses his hold, and once Asanoyama has his grip, he pushes the Mongolian out with a defiant head nod. Chiyoshoma make-koshi, Asanoyama kachi-koshi again. It’s funny to hear people in the crowd cheering for him using his real name (Ishibashi).
The Ghost of Terunofuji vs. Ikioi. Move along. Nothing to see here. It’s a yoritaoshi despite Ikioi both hurting and trying to be gentle. Terunofuji says that he wants to win at least tomorrow’s bout. Fat chance.
Takekaze comes in strong at the tachiai and gets his left hand inside… but that’s about all he can manage. Okinoumi brushes him out as if he was a fly.
Kagayaki starts an oshi battle vs. Endo, but after a couple of clashes, falls pray to slippiotoshi, Endo swiftly moving aside to let him “split the dohyo” as the Japanese expression goes.
The camera has been following Tochinoshinthrough the previous two bouts. A few obligatory shots of Shohozan as well, but he is not the story here. When those two finally get at it, you can cut the tension with a knife. Shohozan starts a tsuppari barrage which Tochinoshin can only fend off. This goes on for some time, then Shohozan tries to sidestep. This nearly gets Tochinoshin, and the spectators let out a big “whoa”. But he quickly turns around, and when he does, he also gets a good grip on Shohozan, and from there it’s a couple of yori followed by a yori-kiri. The man from Georgia gets his first yusho. The crowd bursts into applause. It’s party time… but there are still bouts to go.
Yoshikaze and Chiyotairyu are apparently graduates of the same university. So they are sempai and kohai. But Chiyotairyu doesn’t give Yoshikaze any precedence, and quickly pulls at him for a hatakikomi. Yoshikaze looked for a moment like he was going for an outstanding performance prize, but that moment passed several bouts ago.
In yet another battle of opposite ends, Abi draws former Ozeki Kotoshogiku in a battle of the up-and-coming vs. the down-and-going. However, Kotoshogiku is not going anywhere without a fight. Abi tries to pull Kotoshogiku down quickly, but Kotoshogiku not falling for that. Abi then sticks his head in Kotoshogiku’s chest and grabs at his armpits. But a yori battle will favor the Chrisanthemum. Abi’s pelvis is about the height of Kotoshogiku’s chest, so Kotoshogiku refrains from pumping his hips, but he does know how to push, and yori-kiris Abi right out. In Yiddish we call this “rebe-gelt” – “tuition”, what you pay when you learn a lesson.
Chiyonokuni doesn’t give Hokutofuji even two seconds before slapping him down. Hatakikomi, and the Kokonoe man slowly reduces the damage of his make-koshi, while Hokutofuji is 4-10 and will drop way down the banzuke at Haru.
Now, I hate it when the torikumi guys pit two guys I like against each other, but oh well, I can always be happy for the winner. This time Takarafuji was trying to get his kachi-koshi from Ichinojo. And Ichinojo is not in the business of letting his rivals win this basho. If they want to, they have to work for it. Ichinojo unbelievably tries for a nodowa on his left and momentarily allows Takarafuji to get his hand in on his right. Nodowa? The boulder quickly realizes his mistake, abandons the nonexistent throat, and changes his grip on the right. Now it’s migi-yotsu, which favors Ichinojo. But there is no extended leaning battle this time, as Ichinojo grabs Takarafuji’s mawashi tightly and throws him outside for a shitatedashinage, no ifs, ands and buts.
Today it was the old Shodai vs. the old Takakeisho. Shodai stands up at the tachiai. Doesn’t get anything done. Takakeisho bumps him a couple of time. No kachi-koshi for Shodai as yet.
In the match of the Eagles, Arawashi with his bad knees gets a better tachiai. I would even call this one a matta. But Tamawashi regroups and goes into a tsuppari attack. Arawashi sidesteps, and Tamawashi flies over the edge. Arawashi still has a chance for a kachi-koshi tomorrow.
Goeido avoids kadoban and gets Mitakeumi all the way to the tawara in a blink of an eye. Correct bootup today, apparently.
Musubi no ichiban. Takayasu drives hard and gets Kakuryu to the edge. But Kakuryu is looking better today, circles and regroups. Tries to get a grip on Takayasu, but Takayasu turns him around. The Yokozuna quickly turns right back and lunges at Takayasu. And then…. he… pulls… again…. Oshidashi, yet another loss for the Yokozuna. And Takayasu has the jun-yusho (though theoretically he can lose tomorrow and Ryuden or Kakuryu win).
So the yusho goes to Tochinoshin. Both the Georgian prime minister and president tweet their congratulations.
The jun-yusho, with high probability, goes to Takayasu. My assumption is that he will do his best to win tomorrow, to make it a decent 12-3 jun-yusho, which may allow him to lay claim to a rope should he win the yusho in Haru. One of my twitter followers says that not having been in the yusho picture, this wouldn’t count for Takayasu, but I think that if he does happen to win Haru, given that he has the all-important Japanese birth certificate, the NSK and the YDC may avoid nitpicking.
What’s left tomorrow is to see if the Yokozuna can pull at least the win from Goeido. To see who gets the various sansho (Abi still has a shot, Ryuden certainly has, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Ichinojo gets one). And then we will get to see Tochinoshin lifting cup after cup, and being driven around in the NSK’s spiffy new Mercedes-Benz.
Let the trumpets blow, and the banners fly! We are entering the final weekend of what has been a fantastic basho. Should mighty Tochinoshin manage one more wins sumo fans will be treated to the rare event of a rank-and-file rikishi winning the Emperor’s cup. The only path for this not to happen would be for Tochinoshin to lose his last two matches, and for either Takayasu or Kakuryu to win both of their last two. This would force a day 15 playoff. The odds of this are very very slim.
As I mentioned in comments on Herouth’s fantastic day 13 summary, I believe the Yokozuna Kakuryu has re-injured himself, possibly his lower back. He is no longer generating much in the way of forward pressure. If this were a normal basho, he would probably consider withdrawing at this point, as he has a healthy 10 wins. But a combination of him being the lone surviving Yokozuna, and the mandate from the YDC that he finishes his next basho keeps him on the torikumi, even though it seems pretty clear that he is no longer fit to fight.
Takayasu, on the other hand, is fit to fight. He has picked up some unhealthy habits in the past 9 months but seems strong, stable and unhurt. Because he faces Yokozuna Kakuryu on day 14, the winner of this match will likely pick up the Jun-Yusho for Hatsu 2018. If that honor falls to Takayasu, it would be his second. If it’s Kakuryu, it would be his 7th.
For the second day in a row, the scheduling team has created huge moves across the banzuke, with upper and lower rikishi facing off. Many have kachi/make-koshi on the line.
Hatsu Leader Board
Its all down to Tochinoshin – one more win and he’s in.
Leader – Tochinoshin Hunter Group – Takayasu, Kakuryu
2 Matches Remain
What We Are Watching Day 14
*Abbreviated again as your humble associate editor continues to nurse the flu.
Kotoyuki vs Daieisho – Kotoyuki looking for win #8, and Daieisho may not put up too much of a fight. Kotoyuki holds a 3-1 career advantage.
Yutakayama vs Daishomaru – Yutakayama also trying to pick up #8, but he has never taken a match from Daishomaru, who needs 2 wins to secure a winning record.
Ishiura vs Chiyomaru – One of the big gap matches, Ishiura (M15) goes up against the bulbous Chiyomaru (M9). Ishiura is still one win away from a kachi-koshi to hold on to his position as a Makuuchi rikishi. Chiyomaru already kachi-koshi. Chiyomaru will look to keep Ishiura from getting too low and grabbing the mawashi to set up a throw. Given Chiyomaru’s enormous girth, that grip could be hard to achieve.
Ryuden vs Kaisei – Both men are kachi-koshi, but Ryuden is pushing for 10 wins and a possible sansho to start the year. Ryuden (M16) has actually beaten Kaisei (M8) the only time they matched, during Kaisei’s Juryo furlough.
Chiyoshoma vs Asanoyama – The happy rikishi Asanoyama (M16) has his first time meeting with Chiyoshoma (M7). This is a real Darwin match as Chiyoshoma needs both wins to secure a winning record, and Asanoyama needs one more to avoid being returned to Juryo for March.
Kagayaki vs Endo – Our very own buxom rikishi Kagayaki (M12) will try his sumo against the surprisingly agile and balanced Endo (M5) who had a fantastic match against Kotoshogiku on day 13. Both are kachi-koshi, so this is more of a “test match” than anything. Kagayaki has a surprising 4-1 career advantage over Endo.
Shohozan vs Tochinoshin – This one is for all the hardware. Shohozan is never a pushover and will fight hard to slap the presumptive Yusho winner away from his belt at every chance. He can rest assured that once Tochinoshin lands his grip, he’s going to take Shohozan out for a loss.
Abi vs Kotoshogiku – The biggest banzuke gap match of the day pits Abi (M14) against former Ozeki Kotoshokigu (M2). Kotoshogiku wants to pick up at least one more win, and Abi wants to qualify for one of the magical sansho special prizes he has coveted. This is their first ever match.
Takarafuji vs Ichinojo – Calm and competent Takarafuji needs one more win in the last two days to secure a winning record. While we get to see if Ichinojo got hurt in Friday’s match, or if he returns ready to swat the smaller rikishi around like bugs once more. Ichinojo holds a 9-2 career advantage.
Takakeisho vs Shodai – Takakeisho’s record is a lost cause for Hatsu, but against all odds, Shodai could still walk out of this one with kachi-koshi. Takakeisho is looking slightly rough, and I am not sure if it’s because he has gotten a right good beating this basho, or if he is nursing some nagging mechanical injury.
Arawashi vs Tamawashi – Battle of the Eagles sets Arawashi of the damaged legs against Tamawashi the smiter of men. Tamawashi holds a 6-3 career advantage, and I am expecting Arawashi to end up make-koshi after this bout.
Goeido vs Mitakeumi – Mitakeumi seems to have remembered his sumo on day 13, and we are all glad for it. Now if whatever happened to him can be uploaded to GoeidOS 0.5 beta 3 before the unit is declared defective and stamped “kadoban” once again, the sumo world will rejoice.
Kakuryu vs Takayasu – My guess is Takayasu blasts Kakuryu out in a hurry, and Big K offers little resistance. Not because he does not care or does not want to win, I will state again I am pretty sure he is injured. If I am wrong, this could be a really first-class battle as Kakuryu has a 12-5 career advantage over Takayasu, and when healthy can generally cause all kind of havoc with a rikishi (even an Ozeki) that is chaotic and sloppy as Takayasu has become.