Nihon Daigaku (Nichidai: 日大) presented Oitekaze stablemates, Daieisho and Tsurugisho, with some brand spanking new kesho mawashi. Tsurugisho graduated from Nichidai before entering Grand Sumo but Daieisho entered a graduate program there last April. (I’m always glad when athletes are making plans for their post-athletics careers. So props to Daieisho.)
As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, Tsurugisho is already the owner of an awesome Momotaro kesho mawashi. Well, his new one doesn’t feature the eponymous folk hero who was birthed from a peach. [Pause here while Andy recovers from a giggle fit.] “I swear all those old stories are dirty.“
Instead, it features Daikokuten, one of the Seven Gods of Fortune which I have written about in the past. Remember the boat (Takarabune)? Daikokuten is generally shown with his hammer (uchide no kozuchi 打ち出の小槌). In Daieisho’s old kesho mawashi, which, coincidentally, is the one I wrote about with the beautiful sakura and Takarabune, Daikokuten is the one at the very front of the boat. The playful portrait here — this time on Momotaro’s apron — is in keeping with Tsurugisho’s jovial personality. Meanwhile, Daieisho’s new kit features an amazing image of a distant Mount Fuji framed by sakura (cherry blossoms). I look forward to seeing both of these new mawashi on the dohyo in May.
The designer of these kesho mawashi is Tanaka Yuko, vice-chairman of the Female Sumo Federation in Japan and was presented to the pair by her and her husband, Tanaka Hidetoshi, chairman of Nichidai, vice-president of the Japanese Olympic Committee among other key positions in the amateur sumo and sports-world.
Speaking of Oitekaze, what have they been putting in the power water over there? Of the 20-odd wrestlers, six are sekitori, five of them in makuuchi! And Endo isn’t even heyagashira! Daieisho’s yusho, Tsurugisho’s juryo yusho…kensho and special prizes galore!
Thank you, Bruce and Leonid and all the readers and commenters for another very entertaining tournament. I’m very pleased this one finished so well and it seemed to offer quite a bit of solace and distraction from the news and Covid. During the run-up to the basho, the debate in the Japanese press mentioned how at times of hardship, sumo served to distract/inspire/cheer up the nation.
Sumo is a sport where there’s SO MUCH GOING ON that when you pull on one thread there’s usually an amazing backstory that just pulls you deeper into Japanese culture. Here, we have one such thread (in a literal and figurative sense).
After Tsurugisho’s Juryo yusho last night, the Yamaguchi.shishu Instagram account posted their congratulations with the image of his kesho mawashi. I’m usually asleep during the Juryo dohyo-iri so I had not noticed his kesho mawashi before. I really enjoy their account and I’ve found them not only beautiful but very interesting and I like researching it and the connection to the wrestler — or the dentist. Sometimes it’s a high school symbol or something from their home town…or in Shodai’s case, a random dam in Gunma.
“Is that kid jumping out of a peach? And why is that on a kesho mawashi?”
Me (to my wife)
For this one, though, I really didn’t know where to start so I asked my wife. Her eyes lit up and she started singing, “Mo– motaro-san, Momotaro-san, okoshi ni tsuketa kibidango…” That first bit was even in the Instagram post. Then she told me the story of the kid born from a peach to an elderly couple. He then goes on a Hobbit-type quest and defeats some Oni (demons). During the quest he’s picks up a few friends, who basically hang out with him and help him because his kibi-dango are the bomb.
A Little Tangent
Here’s where I’m going to go off on a little tangent and give some advice about studying Japanese. When you’re learning Japanese, do yourself a favor and pick up some childrens’ books. If you’re learning Persian, you’ll probably want to read Rumi. When I was studying Russian and Spanish back in college, our professors would introduce us to their newspapers and rather fine literature. Even back in High School my Latin teacher had us memorizing Caesar’s “Gallic Wars.”
Frankly, I think that’s a bit of a mistake and it’s probably done because high school and college students probably think they’ve outgrown nursery rhymes. That is definitely not-so with Japanese. You will NOT be able to pick up and read a Japanese business newspaper for the very simple fact that you have to learn all of that kanji first! And frankly, before even that you really need to master hiragana, katakana, and a lot of the basic kanji. That’s where childrens’ books come in.
So, swallow your pride and go to the childrens’ section if you ever find yourself in a Japanese bookstore, like Kinokuniya, (Don’t laugh, I go to the one in NYC all the time and I’m pretty sure there are 5 in California, and 3 in Texas — check that, there are 4 — and several more around the country.) If you’re lucky enough to make it to Japan, there’s usually at least one bookstore in every mall and there’s usually at least one mall attached to (or next to) every major train station.
The benefit of having two kids in Japanese school is that we have got a bunch of their text books and other books around the house. Momotaro is one of the more common stories that feature in their books. There’s a two-volume set that I love, pictured above. These feature 366 tales (one story per day).
Back to Momotaro-san
In the version of the story that’s in this book (July 13, in the red volume which covers July-December), the old woman goes to the river to wash clothes. She finds a nice peach floating down the river. She takes it back to her husband and as they’re going to open it, a cheerful baby jumps out. They are quite happy and name him, “Momotaro.”
He grows up healthy. “すくすく育った.” Japanese is full of these repetitive, onomatopoeic words and the kids books are full of them. They’re a huge stumbling block for me when trying to listen to the spoken language.
When he grows up, he decides to go off on his quest to the demons’ lair. As he sets off, he receives kibidango (dumplings) from the old woman. These dumplings are made from a process similar to the way mochi was made at New Year’s with the mortar and pestle. (Sumo’s ties to the mochi-tsuki run deep!) As he’s traveling, a dog, monkey, and then a pheasant accompany him, drawn by the dumplings which he shares with them as they travel.
When they make it to the demons’ hangout on Onigashima, the animals help attack while the oni were all drinking. They defeat the oni and the demon boss apologizes…with his hands on the ground. (“手をついていいました”! And people wonder how I am able to connect sumo to just about anything.) The merry band then travel back home with their plunder. I wonder if they rented the Takarabune to get back to the mainland….
There are a lot of vocabulary and kanji in these simple stories that really help with shikona and understanding basic Japanese. But the key is, it’s not such an impossible hurdle as trying to read a Japanese book about sumo, which usually has no helpful furigana. And these short stories are such bite-size chunks that it’s actually manageable, even early in your studies.
Even better, the great thing about being an adult, is that we understand metaphors and chuckle at the subtext. Just like many legends and Fairy Tales have a darker or “adult” edge, I wonder what the inside of the peach was referring to? Hold up…Venus was born from a “clam,” Athena sprang forth from Zeus’ “head,” Momotaro came from a peach… Dude, ALL these stories are dirty!
Before my thoughts sink deeper into the gutter, let’s get back on topic. What is the connection between Tsurugisho and Momotaro? Well, it’s actually his name! We often forget that shikona, wrestlers’ ring names, include the more famous surname — and a first name!
Hakuho is “Hakuho Sho.” Takakeisho is “Takakeisho Mitsunobu” while Tochinoshin is “Tochinoshin Tsuyoshi.” Tsurugisho chose Momotaro. Whether there’s a deeper personal connection between Tsurugisho and the tale of Momotaro, I’m uncertain. If you know more details, please feel free to drop such knowledge in the comments! If you made it this far, thank you.
Obviously, and punctuated by today’s news, there will not be a clean break between this year and last. Whether Hatsu Basho even happens is now more in doubt today than yesterday. But at least we seem to be more optimistic about what the new year brings us. We wish Wakatakakage, his family, and stable mates the best and hope he recovers soon. If hatsubasho needs to be delayed, perhaps that will be for the better? Time will tell. Regardless,
If your Japanese studies only get as far as hiragana, you’ll be able to read that sentence above. “Akemashite omedeto gozaimasu” (spaces to make it a bit easier), is what Japanese say to others when greeting each other in the new year. The lone kanji is one of the fundamental ones, used in many sumo words and shikona. If you’ve not gotten that far, “ake ome” seemed to be an acceptable variant for those of us still struggling with the basics. But, as always, I would encourage all sumo fans to take their language learning further. Your appreciation of the sport will only deepen.
As an example, I will point to Daieisho’s new kesho mawashi. The maker posted it to their Instagram account for New Years. The beautiful artwork is undeniable. The sakura tree is a familiar symbol, easy to recognize for any of us watching. But what’s with the old blokes in the boat? The seven fortunes, 七福神 (shichi fukujin), sailing a boat called the “Takarabune” (as in Takarafuji — or Uncle Trapezius).
If you travel to Japan around New Years you will see the Takarabune and the shichifukujin as you walk around. The picture below is from a shopping arcade in Kochi, just after hours. At the time, I was struck by the vibrant colors and I had seen the boat in other places. My wife and her friend, Yumeka, told me about the shichifukujin but I love that it popped up in a kesho mawashi.
The kesho mawashi, however, misses some of the other symbolism which is often found with the Takarabune, and that we can see in this banner. These additional symbols actually have links to sumo, and that’s why I’ll point them out. First, note the fish on the left. The “omedetai” is the Tai fish that we see hoisted by a yusho winner, or freshly promoted Ozeki. We also see Mt. Fuji in the background, used in so many shikona.
I’m not sure if Harumafuji would count toward the jinx or not. Nine titles during the reign of the GOAT? That’s nothing to sniff at, despite his career ending in a scandal that dragged down so many, including the Unryu Takanohana.
Japan is full of traditions and the sumo world certainly has its own for New Years. This is when sumo wrestlers generally get together with their supporters and make mochi. Mochitsuki, as it’s called, is the process of pounding steamed* rice into the sticky mochi form for eating. COVID restrictions robbed stables of this “fansa” event so Naruto decided to bring it to the world via Twitter livestream. Huge thanks to Herouth for tipping us off so we could join the 100 or so others watching live. The video is no longer available but here are some pictures from the event that they posted on Twitter.
They put a block of special mochi rice in the bowl that looks like a hollowed-out log. That log-bowl mortar is called an “usu” (臼). The long wooden hammer is called a “kine” (杵). My wife remembers her neighbors gathering around in the park and a sumo wrestler pounding mochi every year when she was a little girl. Granted, my wife grew up a stones’ throw from Kokugikan, so this may be atypical of other Japanese communities.
Traditional accompaniments are ground daikon radish oroshi in karami mochi, anko (red bean paste), or kinako (another thing made from beans). My wife was absolutely scandalized by the idea of kimchi mochi but I think that looks good. While I don’t have an usu & kine set to make our own mochi, I’m drying out some blocks of mochi to fry in a few days. Hopefully I’ll post some pics of that again.
*Hat tip to Herouth for the correction. I swear I read that in the fascinating article linked to in my kimchi mochi reference but did not do another proofread before posting. Lesson: Proof read again before publishing, Andy! Geez. Maybe he’ll get out of Journalism 101 in 2021. But that article is fascinating.
I chose to revisit Kochi last time because of Toyonoshima and his retirement. This time, I chose Toyama prefecture for news of Asanoyama’s promotion to Ozeki. While there are several top rikishi from neighboring Ishikawa, Toyama has had very few. Asanoyama, who shall be known as Baiyaku-zeki (売薬関), is the first Ozeki from Toyama in more than 100 years. While I loved Kochi and hope to visit again on my next trip to Japan, I think Toyama will be first.
The top ranks of makuuchi, (Yokozuna & Ozeki) have been getting beaten up lately, as we discussed in our latest podcast. Perhaps it’s appropriate that a rikishi from Toyama would come knocking with his first aid kit to save the day! The area, particularly the region of Ecchu, is known for its pharmaceutical industry. It did not get famous this way because it sounds like someone sneezed. “Ecchu!” (I’m here all day, folks.) Traveling salesmen from Ecchu (gesundheit) would roam Japan selling their kusuri-bako (薬箱), lit., “medicine boxes.” These salesmen were known as baiyaku. There’s a great history written (in Japanese) at the Toyama prefectural government website.
Early in the Edo period, the Toyama domain had come under financial strain and its daimyo, Maeda Masatoshi, turned to traditional medicines as a novel way to boost local output. The area is still known for it today, though the kusuri-bako now look much more like the common first aid kits we know today.
Sometimes, I wonder if the universe is somehow reading my mind. While drafting this article, a #SumoTwitter account that I follow posted this, featuring the firefly squid of Toyama prefecture. She also mentions a friend from Toyama prefecture who claims residents and fishermen are able to catch them with buckets.
As the kids say these days, “I’m shook.” The harvesting of firefly squid from Toyama bay is a huge annual event that is featured in the first episode of this amazing series called, “Prime Japan.” It is included with Amazon Prime but worth a watch even if you don’t have it. During the plague-era we’ve been catching up on our movie-viewing. We were inadequately prepared for such full-on food porn so my wife had to grab fresh sushi for us for lunch from our local Japanese market. That only fanned the flames, however.
The firefly squid is bio-luminescent and these massive schools come close to the surface in Toyama-wan to spawn at the same time each year. The documentary showed what the friend of @OneLoveLulit described: massive shoals of squid and fishermen catching them en masse. Later in the episode, the host got to try some at an awesome looking sushi restaurant in the Nishiazabu area of Tokyo. This particular establishment featured a unique aged sushi. Personally, I love squid but I have never tried firefly squid. It is on my list for next time we’re there. Despite Asanoyama’s bio-luminescent personality, I do not think hotaru-iku is a catchy nickname.
Sites to go see in Toyama prefecture include the Toyama Glass Art Museum. This is beckoning me, personally, because I have been learning how to make stained glass and fused glass artwork. After this heap of broken glass pictured above gets put in the kiln, it will be the first annual Tachiai Award, which I hope to present to the winner sometime after we’re allowed out.
There is somewhat of a sumo connection to glass art and glass-making that I plan to explore in a future post. As you know, I usually only need some tangential relationship to sumo to post about something. In and around the Sumida-ward home of Ryogoku and the Kokugikan are many Edo-kiriko workshops. The Edo-Kiriko Co-operative Association is in close-by Kameido. The tweet below shows a great example of an Edo-kiriko glass….that sure makes my attempt look amateurish. Wow, I have got work to do.
Back to Toyama prefecture…Another site of interest is the Toyama Prefectural Museum of Art and Design. The building and grounds themselves are worthy of a visit but many of these exhibitions look fascinating. I take it as my life’s mission to be “seriously unserious.” Or is that funnily unfunny? Probably just unfunny.
When Asanoyama, aka 売薬関, debuted in early 2016, there were only three other wrestlers from Toyama prefecture in Ozumo. One, Kazunofuji from Isegahama-beya joined at the same time but did not last the year and did not get out of Jonokuchi. So, until 2018 it was Asanoyama and two sandanme grinders from Arashio stable, Hidano and Tsunekawa. Because Asanoyama began his career with a privileged spot in Sandanme, he actually began his career as the top-ranked Toyama wrestler of the time.
Sakabayashi joined in 2018. After a streak of five successful kachi-koshi tournaments to start his career, he seemed to hit a wall in Sandanme and fell back to Jonidan. He has recently climbed back into the Sandanme. Tomiyutaka joined Tokitsukaze-beya in 2019 and also reached Sandanme but was kyujo from the silent basho in Osaka and will be in Jonidan if he (and sumo) come back for the next tournament. Lastly, Kirinohana made his maezumo debut during the Silent Basho for Michinoku-beya. Now is a much less than ideal time to begin a career in sumo so I hope these young men (Kirinohana is 15) do not become disheartened and leave the sport. We will be keeping an eye on their progress.