Makuuchi fashion: Somenuki

Sumo fans in Tokyo and Nagoya really have access to something special. Starting in May and running through September, Makuuchi wrestlers turn the city streets into a catwalk of sorts. When arriving at the arena, our top-division favorites will stray from the formal kimono we often see and wear customized yukata, called somenuki (so-meh-new-key). The picture here comes from Tachiai reader, Rob Donner. It’s Sadanoumi in a brilliant purple yukata with this amazing, turbulent coastal design.

Sumo wrestler attire is subject to strict guidelines, especially when they’re at official events, like honbasho. We’re more familiar with them wearing hakama and haori, especially in the colder winter months. I was particularly struck by Chiyoshoma’s somenuki in this tweet, so I thought I would share with Tachiai readers. In contrast, Kinbozan is still wearing the hakama and haori that many are probably more familiar with. But at this time of year makuuchi wrestlers have the privilege of cutting loose on their way to work by ditching the standard stuff provided by the heya and wearing these yukata which are often provided by supporters and usually customized with their shikona.

My guess is that Kinbozan is so new to Makuuchi that he might not yet have much in the way of these custom threads. While some are quite simple, with just the shikona, many of them will feature very intricate designs with fantastic animals, landscapes, and other patterns. Endo’s for example, usually features the familiar shibaraku image of his Nagatanien sponsors. Sometimes, the front is simple, as might be the case with Asanoyama’s yukata here…but the back can be a whole different story. Think of the mullet: “business up front, party in the back.” That sentiment applies here sometimes, too. So we really need to get these guys to do their little turn so we can see who the partiers are.

I would love to retweet any of your examples of fantastic somenuki patterns, so @ me on Twitter @tachiai_blog and I will share. Maybe we can get a poll going for the most fashion-forward rikishi. Chiyoshoma is my early entry. Frankly, I love that mint green with the various colors in the mix of numbers. Do you have any others?

Andy’s brain when wrestlers do their little turn on the catwalk.

Learn About Sumo With Konishiki and

Just as we gather ourselves together here to watch the Aki Basho, Konishiki offers up great content in the form of an introductory course on all things sumo, available from Tuesday morning Japan-time, so 7:30pm Eastern on Monday evening. A Tokyo-based startup, Naro, offers these courses on features of Japanese culture and cuisine, provided by experts in their craft. Their debut series this summer was a Tempura course featuring Shuji Niitome.  For the sumo fans among us, Konishiki’s video provides an awesome way to demystify the sport. Tachiai was lucky enough to take a quick look, and the folks at are offering Tachiai readers a special 15% discount code: TACHIAI15.

The two hours of content is like a documentary broken up into individual, digestible chunks. With the help of three former wrestlers to help demonstrate, Konishiki covers a variety of the warm-ups and excercises, from shiko to the teppo pole and suri-ashi. His insight here gave me more of an appreciation for the rhythmic, meditative side to the teppo pole that I wouldn’t have grasped, otherwise. Having had a heavy bag in my room after college, I could see myself taking a few hours to decompress in the corner of the keiko-ba — venting at the teppo pole.

The videos provide a great look at some of the basic moves and techniques, as well as a frank, eye-opening discussion of the heya lifestyle from the lens of an 18-year-old kid who rose to become a Champion. Over the span of the videos, Konishiki opens up about his experiences and the difficult lifestyle that any young man faces in that environment. It should be required watching for any of us romantics who dream (or dreamt) of giving it all up and joining a heya. The reality of it is the grind — endless laundry, cooking, cleaning toilets and floors, helping your senpai shower —  with no breaks, no “weekend”. The Heya Life is lived 24/7, drama or no drama.

While there have definitely been some changes to that lifestyle in the last two decades, so much of it surely remains. His experience will be just as relevant to a recruit today, though the degree of the drama he describes will be less now, than it was then. But any recruit will have to face the fact that they’re going to live in a dorm with a bunch of teenage boys and young men. For those not fluent in Japanese or familiar with the culture, the learning curve will be…parabolic. One requires a singular dedication to not only the sport but a brutal, communal livelihood.

Overall, I found Konishiki’s auto-biographical discussion fascinating. Content-wise, it’s a suitable, engaging introduction to the sport, a “Sumo 101” course. It acknowledges but gets us past the “fat guys in diapers” stereotypes and imparts an understanding and respect for what’s really more than just a sport — an entire way of living. I hope there will be more in the works, perhaps with rikishi from multiple time-periods to see how things have evolved, as well as more specifics on the Shinto traditions and symbolism; or a deeper dive into the various roles from gyoji, yobidashi, and tokoyama to okami to oyakata. Then there’s the organization itself, from riji-cho on down. As for sumo, we’d love more from keiko and honbasho to jungyo and hanazumo, I could go on. Sumo’s a complex topic.

The Sumo World Remembers The Wolf (七回忌)

Today, Sumo Twitter was festooned with pictures and remembrances of Yokozuna Chiyonofuji. The Wolf, as he was known, was arguably the Greatest Wrestler of the generation and frequently tops lists for greatest of all time as his rein may have been the sport’s Golden Age. (No, in Japan he’s not known as おおかみ, the Japanese word for wolf, but ウルフ the katakana pronunciation of the English word.) He died at the very young age of 61, exactly six years ago (7/31/2016), when he was head of Kokonoe-beya.

The former Kokonoe beya

The Buddhist tradition in Japan pays respect to past ancestors at a number of auspicious dates, called nenki, and the observances are nenkihoyo. For Chiyonofuji, this year’s observance is 七回忌; as far as pronunciation goes, I’ve seen both nanakaiki and shichikaiki. I’m going to use nanakaiki because it’s easier for me to say in my head. Because the numbers three and seven are important numbers in Buddhism, many of these special anniversaries have three or seven in the numbers.

In the days after one’s death, there are several ceremonies and occasions where family, friends, and well-wishers gather to pay their respects, as well as to comfort the family. Shonanoka (one week after) and shijukunichi (7 weeks after), are just two of the more commonly observed occasions. Again, you’ll notice the particular importance of sevens.

If you’re not getting why the sixth anniversary is the nanakaiki, try to think of it this way. The Japanese term doesn’t use the character for year. It uses the character kai, for revolution, or turn. When Chiyonofuji died, that was the first time we all got together, so to speak, to honor him after his death. The second “time” would be the first anniversary of his death, and so on. So while this is the sixth anniversary, it’s the seventh occasion, thus nanakaiki.

Paying Respects to the Wolf

Your humble correspondent was in Tokyo when Chiyonofuji died and paid tribute to the Wolf at the memorial set up outside of Kokonoe’s old digs in Sumida ward (now they’re closer to Koiwa-Shinkoiwa). The Tachiai blog was still a toddler back then, just about two years old, and our family had just gotten back from Nagoya, where we had watched Harumafuji take the yusho. Back then we were excited to see a promising young Ozeki named Terunofuji who rode with the champion in the “open car” parade.

So Chiyonofuji’s sudden death, just one week after Nagoya and four years before he should have retired, was quite the shock in and around Kokugikan and was a prominent news feature for several days. He’s still the Wolf, a legend and source of inspiration for many; he will remain so for years and decades to come.

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.