A Sumo Fan Decides Which Stable to Join – Part 1

One of the most important but least seen aspects of sumo life is, well… your day to day life. It has been said that the daily activity, the keiko, the act of being a rikishi is what sumo is all about. The tournaments we see on television, on the internet or in person are simply the culmination of all of the processes, traditions and daily activities one must endure.

There can be a number of reasons why a new recruit joins a particular stable. Perhaps the stable master has a strong scouting network in his hometown, or there are links with the stable’s supporters group. Perhaps he was invited to spend time in the heya and loved it, went to the same school as the shisho, or simply idolised the stable master or had mutual friends with someone connected to the heya. Perhaps, as with Hokuseiho, the recruit had a chance meeting with the stable’s superstar rikishi in an airport. 

Let’s assume we have none of these personal connections, and decide to join a stable. Which one to join? In light of recent announcements heralding the future branch-outs of new stables from relatively recent top division names like Kisenosato and Takekaze, there’s much to be excited about in terms of the shifting landscape of sumo stables. Both of those guys have shared new ideas for their evolution of the place for which sumo’s lifestyle revolves – joining other recently minted oyakata such as former Kotooshu in attempting to push the sport forward. Of course, plenty of other stable masters have experienced incredible success with age old coaching methods or just good old-fashioned man management.

Our rikishi will be for all intents and purposes of average build and good (better than average but perhaps not superstar) ability. We can say they will be a little more technique driven than simply a pure pusher-thruster who relies on blunt strength and physicality. It will be someone for whom development will be required rather than being able to simply bulldoze the bottom four divisions and brute force their way to sekitori-hood. Like the author, this rikishi will be very handsome and surely will attract some of Endo’s brand sponsors should they ever make the top division. This is of course my analysis and these are my opinions, and yours may differ, and that’s okay. But if there were no subjectivity in sports, they probably would not be as interesting and we’d all have the same favourite teams.

With that preamble out of the way, we’ll start today with the smallest ichimon, Takasago, and work our way through the other four over the next few weeks before doing a deeper dive and settling on a final decision. Come with me on my journey!

Part 1 – Takasago Ichimon

Hakkaku: This stable is enormous (growing yet larger with the import of Azumazeki’s crew) and has quite a bit of upwardly mobile young talent. The influential and inspiring stable master – the current chairman of the kyokai – was a yokozuna, the coaching staff now includes the exciting former “Robocop” Takamisakari**, and in a few years, you probably report to Okinoumi, one of the more underrated technicians of the current time. While you’re probably starting your career scrapping for sleeping space with a large number of lower-rankers, the location of the stable in Ryogoku is also really good, about as good as it’s possible to get without waking up to the sounds of the JR line. There are no long commutes to Kokugikan from here. Verdict: On the shortlist.

Kokonoe: Chiyotaikai took over from an all-time legend in Chiyonofuji about five years ago, and has done well to develop many rikishi he inherited into mid-level sekitori. Additionally, various rehabilitative efforts have kept that impressive number of sekitori on the dohyo, or returned them to the salaried ranks after they’ve dropped out. Kokonoe-oyakata is a visible presence within the kyokai, but for all of the recruits he’s brought in, he hasn’t added a ton of quality since he took over a few years back. So when you see a stable of this size, you wonder whether the recruitment efforts are in service of a tsukebito factory. Verdict: This shikona won’t be joining the thousand generations of “Chiyos” – it’s going to have to be a pass.

Nishikido: An apparently dying stable with plenty of scandal in its history. It’s a hard pass.

Takasago: There’s some degree of uncertainty, following the retirement (and re-employement as consultant) of the former high-achieving shisho, who apparently still lives in the heya. The roster is a bit bottom heavy, but contains some inspiring talent to practise with (the soon to depart Ozeki, plus names like Murata, Asagyokusei and Terasawa), and the recent recruiting (Fukai, Osanai, Ishizaki) has been interesting. But it’s tough to go where you’re not sure what the future holds, especially with some degree of punishment awaiting the new oyakata for the Asanoyama scandal. Verdict: A reluctant pass.

** Azumazeki-beya would have been an intriguing option due to the legacy and heritage, but Robocop, lacking the support needed to run a heya, decided to move over to Hakkaku’s place and recently shut it down.

Sumo Fan Survey!

Our friends over at GSB have created a survey (link here and in the embedded Tweet below) to learn more about rikishi popularity. We all know Ikioi is the greatest but NOW is when you fill it in to a survey and see it actually reflected in data. As people may be aware with the Tableau dashboards around the website, Leonid’s prognostication and the encyclopedic knowledge of Bruce, Herouth, and Josh, we love data. Metrics are good. Sometimes it’s just because they make pretty pictures but often there are interesting things to learn. Mostly, I just like pretty graphs that move when I click and I expect the numbers will shift quite a bit next year when Terunofuji returns to Juryo…and hopefully Makuuchi soon after!

Seriously, though, who wouldn’t love a stats-based approach to running a heya? Even if it is just my armchair heya? I’m particularly interested in the heya popularity data.

The Empire Strikes Back is always the best Star Wars movie, and Terunofuji is Lord Vader. When he beat Kisenosato…or perhaps when he beat Kotoshogiku…and knelt to accept his kenshokin, was anyone else struck by how his oicho-mage evoked Vader’s kabuto-inspired mask? Or maybe it was the evil of the victory…I dunno. He’ll always be Vader to me and now he’s back! Dun, dun, dun…

Wow. Post-basho delirium is in full swing. (Send help.) Thank God for that amateur tournament in a few days.

Kaishu Rintaro

Lower division sumo bouts are perfect prime-time viewing for those of us sumo fans living in exile in the Eastern US. Obviously, we miss out on most of the stars unless we take a nap through makushita and wake up at 3 to 4am for makuuchi. In the lower ranks, many of the wrestlers have yet to pack on the skills and girth necessary to climb up the ranks but there are some fantastic bouts with great finishing moves. This izori from Kaishu was one of my favorite bouts from the whole tournament.

Kaishu is a Musashigawa beya stablemate of Musashikuni and Wakaichiro. All of the coaches’ and wrestlers’ profiles are available on the Musashigawa homepage. He joined back in 2016 at the age of 18. Ladies, his blood type is B. https://musashigawa.com/rikishi-urakata/rikishi_kaisyu

He has three years of championship-caliber judo training in high school. If I’m getting my time frames right his High School, Shutoku, won the national judo title while he was there. With that experience under his belt, he’s come in with a strong grappling background. This was his first izori victory at Natsu 2019 but he’s already got a rather impressive slate of kimarite, including two ashitori wins and the zubuneri seen below, when he was fighting under the name Kobayashi. He’s young — but those guns, dude.

Now, for a statistic that blew me away when I saw it. For all of the 1107 wrestlers featured in the Tachiai Kimarite dashboard, which includes all active wrestlers plus those who retired after 2013, the median wrestler has won with 16 kimarite. Kaishu has already won by using 24 distinct kimarite. That puts him near the 90th percentile and he’s only been in sumo for 3 years. Granted, Aminishiki has nearly doubled that tally. But that’s Aminishiki. By the way, the data in the dashboard has been updated with data from Natsu 2019.

Median wrestler has won with 16 kimarite. Kaishu has 24. Mr 47 is Aminishiki.

For those fans with an interest in Japanese history, his current shikona, 海舟, is a nod to Katsu Kaishu. He also changed the character used for his first name, from 倫太郎 to 麟太郎, which was a name used by Katsu Kaishu, father of the Japanese Navy. When the West pressured Japan to open themselves to commerce in the 1850s, Kaishu pushed to establish a strong navy and to staff it with people based on capability rather than lineage. He commanded the ship which brought the first Japanese delegation to the US before playing a pivotal role in the Meiji Restoration.

He also likes mangoes. OK, I admit, that’s non sequitur. I just had to throw that in there because I had an amazing mango yesterday and his profile actually does say his favorite food is mango. In more Musashigawa fun facts, the stable will be participating in a beach clean up this Saturday at Enoshima’s Benten Bridge. If you’re in Japan, and in the area of Enoshima, this may be a great reason to go to the beach! There’s a great little train, too, the Enoden that you can take down there from Kamakura.

Kaishu Rintaro

Unfortunately, he’s been on a bit of a slide after peaking near the top of Sandanme. He had a winless hatsu and will be back in Jonidan in Nagoya because he finished with a 3-4 makekoshi record. One of those pivotal losses, though, came at the hands of Shiraishi who won the Sandanme yusho in his debut tournament from below Sandanme 100. He skipped Go — mae-zumo, jonokuchi, and Jonidan — based on his amateur pedigree from Toyo University. Without that tough match up, one wonders if he’d have been able to secure his kachi-koshi.