Sumo News Update: April Fool’s Edition

Haru basho is over, Juryo promotions have been announced, so we’re going to have a quiet, slow news day while we get ready for Natsu, right? WRONG. Let’s give Andy time to think up some great fake headline about Will Smith deciding to tie on a mawashi and turn pro, seeking a one-time age exemption from the Kyokai. Nope. Not going to happen. Instead, we get real news. The Kyokai announced a few scheduling items of interest for the summer.

  1. Tickets for the Nagoya tournament will be made available for a 100% capacity of 7,448 people. It will be the first tournament since Hatsu 2020 to be fought with no restrictions on crowd capacity. At this point I’ve not seen news on relaxing other restrictions, such as limits on cheering, mandatory mask-wearing, etc. I’ll keep my eyes peeled for any further updates.
  2. Jungyo will return after the Nagoya basho! So this means that infamous promotional tour will wind its way from Nagoya to Tokyo in August. Again, I’ll post updates when the dates are announced.
  3. The Sandanme division is being reduced from 100 ranks to 90, with a possible further reduction to 80. Wrestlers who turn pro and earn the privilege of starting in Sandanme will begin their careers ranked Sandanme 90.
  4. Finally, the Sumo Kyokai has updated their Japanese website. It is an upgrade on the mobile responsiveness and the overall design appears to be more modern. To compare with the former look-and-feel, visit the English site. There are also a few more features on the new site, my favorite part is the horoscope page. Apparently, April 1 is going to be great if you’re an Aries, Leo, or Sagittarius. I’m going to have a rather “meh” day and am not as active because I’m stressed. And I need a lucky UV mask. I wonder…what’s a UV mask?

I am going to have some fun with these horoscopes. The lucky colors are the most fascinating to me because the colors are wild. Aside from my rather hum-drum “gold” lucky color, some of these others have very interesting names, like Usukobai which appears to be a light pink. If we could accumulate a database of shimekomi colors using this, that would be a dream come true. Getting the story behind the names and any secret connections to sumo would be cool.

2022: Year of the Tiger

明けましておめでとうございます。

Happy New Year! It’s that time of year again for mochi-tsuki (making mochi). Here we’ve got Miyagino-beya and in that third video we see Enho’s lightning fast work pounding the mochi there… Kiwotsuke, ne.

Miyagino mochi-tsuki

This year I wanted to offer sumo fans a peek into some of the other New Years’ customs in Japan. These are the same customs that our favorite wrestlers adhere to, so this will provide a bit of context to some of the social media content that the heya share this time of year.

During my old English teaching days, this was a very quiet time of year when most shops were closed and Japanese spent time with family and visited temples and shrines. After getting married, we celebrated with my wife’s family at her aunt’s house…and I ate way too much. The atmosphere reminded me of Thanksgiving – without the Lions’ or Cowboys’ games on TV. Since there are specific dishes for specific days, I’ll break this down by New Years’ Eve and New Years’ Day.

New Years’ Eve

Osouji

New Years’ Eve is usually spent cleaning. Think of大掃除 (Osouji) as “spring cleaning,” but done on New Years’ Eve to get the new year off on the right foot. We know that sumo wrestlers, particularly the lower rankers, regularly clean the stable. Osouji focuses on the periodic, difficult tasks rather than just the weekly or monthly routine. For example, we’ve got a chandelier in our living room which is a bear to clean and this is when we move the biggest, heaviest furniture to get underneath. The kids always laugh when we find beans that were thrown the previous February. Here, we see Asakayama-beya’s deep cleaning.

Companies also perform their osouji in preparation for the new year and do their annual deep cleaning. In the old days, the head of the company was thrown in the air (douage), similar to how the gyoji is tossed at the end of a tournament. This was to shake off the bad spirits and start off fresh. According to this article, in the sumo world oyakata were tossed but they switched to using lighter gyoji.

Toshikoshi soba

Andy’s Toshikoshi Udon

年越しそば (toshikoshi soba) is a special version of soba noodles eaten on New Years’ eve. The term itself uses the same “koshi” from the terms makekoshi and kachikoshi we are familiar with as sumo fans. As we see here from the pictures of Naruto-beya, it features tempura shrimp and kakiage. Kakiage, itself, is a mix of ingredients like vegetables, shrimp, scallops, etc., all mixed together with tempura batter and deep fried. As I mentioned on Twitter, our household swapped out the soba since we prefer udon. Toshikoshi udon may be a bit non-canon, or 邪道 (jyado), but it’s better in my humble opinion.

For a look at the soba version, here’s what Naruto-beya ate. It looks like their kakiage had broccoli, shrimp, carrots and onions.

Naruto Toshikoshi Soba

New Years’ Day

Ozouni

Ozouni is a traditional soup eaten on New Years’ Day. Its main focus is generally the inclusion of mochi, Shodai’s daikon, carrots and chicken but there’s quite a bit of regional variation in the ingredients. In the Kanto region of Tokyo, you’re generally using a rectangular block of mochi and a soy-sauce base. In the Kansai region around Osaka, they usually use a round ball of mochi and include a white miso base to the soup. Jason (of Jason’s Sumo Channel), may be more familiar with a red-bean version in the Izumo region and Bruce may have come across oysters in his ozouni in western Japan. My wife is from Kanto, so we had a soy-base with a rectangular block of mochi, with no daikon because I’m not a big fan of its rather weak tachiai. I’m eager to try the miso version, to be honest.

Osechi

Osechi is the biggest culinary tradition of this Oshogatsu New Year festival. It’s usually served in a three-tiered lacquer-ware set. While you may do fried turkey with sweet potato casserole and pecan (PEE-CAN) pie or cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie, your Thanksgiving mix will vary. Osechi is similar in Japan where there are some very common ingredients but each family will often have their own variations.

Sushi, shrimp and other seafood is a central theme with various vegetables, pickles, nimono along side. We usually have a lot of the same components every year, like fish cake (kamaboko), black beans, grilled chicken with carrots, shiitake, and gobo. This year, though, instead of our usual sampling of shrimp and sushi, we had chirashi-zushi with octopus.

Toyonoshima’s delicious-looking osechi is pictured on the right.

*A little-known fact is that Andy’s middle name is Jado.

Birthday Boys

Birthday Calendar Screenshot

Followers of the Tachiai Twitter account, and followers of the Sumo Kyokai’s own official account, may have noticed that Monday was Enho’s birthday and Tuesday was Endo’s birthday. Well, very soon you will be able to track rikishi birthdays dynamically on the site because I plan to release a Birthday Calendar. I’m teasing the information now because I want to gauge interest in the visualization before putting it out there for the public to use.

I’ve been working on several data visualizations and this is one that I believe will be most helpful to experts AND new sumo fans, alike. Rather than focus on the well-known sekitori, this calendar has data on ALL wrestlers from the July tournament so we hopefully become a bit more familiar with some of those from the lower divisions, as well.

October 17 was the birthday of Takadagawa-beya’s chanko-cho, Sakura (pictured). Sakura has been a long-time rikishi, debuting under the shikona Maeamami in 2003. He spent most of the first three years of his career in Jonokuchi but has mostly been in Jonidan since. His top rank so far has been Jonidan 5 in 2013.

On the 18th, along with Enho and fellow sekitori Kyokutaisei, Hirose from Arashio-beya celebrated another orbit around the sun. On the 19th, Chiyohokkai and Miyakojima partied with individualized Strawberry Shortcakes.

Tomorrow, Tsugunohana will be the only active Birthday Boy. Onomatsu beya The tweet below shows him carrying a zabuton. Is the shikona on that cushion “Terutsuyoshi?” Onomatsu is way out in Chiba. That’s a long commute to downtown Tokyo for tsukebito duties at Isegahama-beya. He was promoted to Sandanme for the first time this past summer but will likely fall back into Jonidan for Kyushu.

These workhorses of the heya life are rarely noticed by the media so this will help us superfans dive a bit deeper into the sumo world. I am very interested in feedback from users but I’ve still got a little work to do before it’s ready for prime time. I’m enticingly close, though, so that’s why I’m teasing it out a wee bit early.

51st Annual Junior High School Sumo Championships

The 51st Annual Junior High School Championships took place in Tachikawa. It is really two tournaments in one, an individual (個人-kojin) tournament and a team (団体-dantai) competition.

Kumamoto Wrestlers Performed Well on Saturday

The team tournament came down to Kiso, Nagano (left) against Uta City’s Kakujo (right). In the team competition, it’s a best-of-three format. On the Kakujo team, Kuraoka and Ito (#2 and #3 from the right) were undefeated through the team tournament. The link above should be cued to just before the finals bouts. The whole tournament is available on the Sumo Federation’s YouTube site. Meet the team in their Yusho Interview. I’m glad they were able to do their brand of sumo!

For the individual tournament, I have cued things up to the Finals. Ino and Nishide win their bouts and move on to the Final where Nishide easily overpowers the smaller Ino. If you’re wondering how Ino got to the Final giving up such a size disadvantage, check out the semi-final bout! Ino has skill. He gave up a considerable height and weight advantage to Sameshima. (Is his first name Kagayaki?) Judging from the tape on his shoulder/neck, it takes a lot out of you to throw these big dudes. Below, we meet Nishide Daiki in his Yusho Interview.

Tachiai looks forward to seeing these young guys advance in their careers. We may see some of them at the University or even Pro levels in the future.

The individual finalists are here with Jr High Yokozuna Nishide Daiki.

And here are the team photos for the semi-final teams. Top-left are the squad from Uta-City in Kumamoto. Congratulations to all of the winners.

Shikoroyama-beya is looking for some recruits!