Get To Know a Shusshin: Toyama Prefecture

Toyama in orange; Previous sites in green

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.

Industries

Pharmaceuticals

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.

First Aid Kit-styled soba set

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.

Granted, this article is more than 20 years old but the packaging of this Toyama soba noodle maker hearkens back to the wares of those traveling baiyaku. The description in the article gives a bit of the historical context and describes the soba. Surprise, surprise! Maruzen soba still exists and they still sell this Kusushi Soba set, in the kusuri-bako packaging. According to a blog post from the middle of last month, they’ve reopened a part of their restaurant to try to meet demand from their customers that they reopen. They had been doing only take-out because of the SARSv2 outbreak.

Fishing

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

Handmade Work In Progress

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.

Wrestlers

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.

Get To Know a Shusshin: Kochi-ken

For the second installment of this G2KS series (catchy acronym), I cast about far and wide, from Hokkaido to Mongolia to Bulgaria, and even next door in Yamaguchi and Tottori. I am hesitant to do two in a row so close to each other so I really wanted to hop to a different region without hitting any of the big name locations* or any which I’ve previously written about just yet. However, the clincher was the recent news of Toyonoshima’s retirement so I have decided, yet again, to visit Kochi.

* 都道府県- Not all of the locations are “prefectures”. Tokyo is a “TO”, Hokkaido is a “DOU”, Kyoto and Osaka are “FU”, and the rest are “KEN”. So, we get Tokyo-to (東京都), Hokkaido (北海道), Osaka-fu (大阪府) and today’s topic, Kochi-ken (高知県). This doesn’t count foreign wrestlers whose shusshin are announced as the name of the country.

I have written about Kochi before because I have visited there and loved it. The people we met there were warm and hospitable and the scenery was beautiful. Since my wife and I were traveling with our son we didn’t have a chance to check out the nightlife but they had great restaurants, markets, and several attractions. Kochi was supposed to host an Amateur Sumo Tournament in March but it was cancelled due to the evolving SARS-CoV-2 (d.b.a. Coronavirus) situation. See the linked article for a rundown of all the Amazumo cancellations so far.

Geography

Heading south of our original stop in Shimane prefecture, we cross over the Inland Sea to the island of Shikoku. Kochi prefecture covers the southern portion of the island, is mountainous, and draped in forests. It is a narrow prefecture with a large coastline bounding Tosa Bay.

Sites

Prior to the Meiji Restoration around 1870, the province was home to the Tosa Domain. Though Commodore Perry’s black ships arrived off the coast of far off Shimoda, the event sent shock waves throughout Japan’s politics…kinda like how the Coronavirus is today. Debate raged around the nation and threatened to split it apart as loyalties for the Emperor in Kyoto and Shogun Tokugawa in Tokyo divided families. Many people wanted to keep the foreigners out while others saw no choice but engagement. The Shogun’s regime was referred to as the bakufu (幕府). Many of you kanji learners will recognize “幕” as the same character for “maku” as in makuuchi (幕内) and makushita (幕下), sumo’s top division and third division…and “fu” from our above discussion of “Osaka-fu.”

Many heroes of the period were from the area, most famously the pistol-packing ronin, Sakamoto Ryoma. There are several statues of him around Kochi city, the capital, including this big monument down along the shore, looking out at the sea. While he died a hero in Kyoto, assassinated at the Omiya Inn, others have less savory reputations and are remembered as brigands. In Kochi, aside from the monument there are a couple of great museums which explores his life, his role in the Meiji Restoration, and his legacy — which includes founding the first corporation in Japan, the Kaientai, which would become part of Mitsubishi which itself was founded by another famous man from Tosa, Iwasaki Yataro.

Andy and his son stroll along the Shimantogawa

Another key figure of the time, and as we will see someone with more relevance to sumo, was the head (or 大名 – lit. “great name”) of the Tosa Domain, Yamauchi Toyoshige (山内豊信). You will recognize the first character of Toyoshige (豊) from many shikona, including Toyonoshima and his former Tokitsukaze stablemate, Toyoshimizu. The characters for “Tosa” (土佐) also feature prominently in shikona for men from Kochi.

An interesting boat in the Shimantogawa

With all of this history rooted in Kochi, there are several museums to go visit, as well as statues. The monument to Ryoma, shown above, is at the Katsurahama beach south of downtown. Kochi Castle is considered one of the finest in the country. Nearby markets provide amazing fresh local fruit, vegetables, and fish since agriculture and fishing are two of the prefectures’ largest industries. Shishito, okra, and citrus fruits like yuzu are among the crops grown. I love yuzu. I eat it, I drink it… If I could take a bath in yuzu, I would….oh, wait, that’s a thing!!

Shimantogawa, or Shimanto river, is a brilliant blue river that snakes through Kochi’s forest-shrouded mountains. The river is the source of local shrimp, crabs, and other freshwater seafood while Tosa Bay and the surrounding ocean are a rich fishery. Kochi is famous for Katsuo tataki which is a seared bonito. The tataki method of cooking supposedly originated in Kochi. Okinoshima Suizan corporation on the island of Okinoshima offers what looks like amazing examples of katsuo tataki seafood.

Wrestlers

Newly retired Toyonoshima and his Tokitsukaze stablemate, Toyoshimizu, are from Kochi. Both are from the southern tip of the prefecture. Toyonoshima is from Sukumo while Toyoshimizu is from Tosashimizu. I wonder where they got their shikona from? Tosayutaka is another former makuuchi wrestler from Tokitsukaze. And, for a brief period in 2011, Tokitsukaze-beya had another Kochi native, Takanoumi.

Tochiozan is currently Kochi’s highest-ranking wrestler. He debuted in 2005 and blazed a trail through the lower divisions, not registering a make-koshi record until he reached the rank of Maegashira 4 in 2007. For much of his career Tochiozan had another Kochi-born stablemate with him at Kasugano named Tochinohama, until 2018. Both are listed as from Aki city in eastern Kochi-ken.

Takasago-beya features another collection of Kochi-born wrestlers: Asaazuma, Asanojo, and Asanotosa. Asanotosa is from the city of Tosa and Asaazuma is from Susaki, both near the center of the prefecture, close to the capital, Kochi city. Asanojo, on the other hand, is from Aki in the eastern portion of the prefecture. The kanji for Aki is 安芸.

Onomatsu-beya has another trifecta of Kochi prefecture wrestlers, Tosamidori, Tosaeizan, and Genki. Herouth has a great set of videos from Tosamidori’s Jonokuchi yusho. He had fallen to Ura in his last bout meaning 6-1 and three-way play-off, which he won. He’s been climbing through Jonidan so far this year with solid kachi-koshi records. Tosaeizan made his return to Sandanme during fan-less Haru, and after his own 4-3 kachi-koshi will climb a few ranks when the banzuke is released this weekend. Genki, on the other hand, hit the Makushita joi wall hard and is sliding back down into the meat of the division.

Chiyonoumi is Kochi’s young gun. The Kokonoe stable stud began his career with yusho in the first three divisions before an injury setback…right after I wrote this article. Have I found the first victim of the Andy-hype curse? I am glad to see he is back on track and he should be a regular in the salaried ranks. Nankairiki, from Kise stable, had a great Haru going 7-0 in Sandanme, only losing in the playoff…to Ura. Lastly, Wakakaneko is a new recruit from Kochi city for Nishiiwa stable. At 15 years old and 95 kg, it will be interesting to see where he is seeded this weekend.

There will be a lot of banzuke drama in Kochi this weekend. Tochiozan faces certain demotion into Juryo and Chiyonoumi may fall out of the salaried ranks altogether but will likely just hang on to the bottom rung. Will Wakakaneko be ranked near Hattorizakura?

Get To Know A Shusshin: Shimane-ken

Shimane Prefecture (orange) in Japan

In this new feature we will travel virtually around Japan (and abroad) to get to know where our favorite wrestlers are from. Since the impetus for this series of articles was a Twitter conversation with Jason Harris about his favorite wrestler (Harumafuji) and his local fave (Okinoumi), let’s begin with his home Shimane Prefecture (島根県). [As is my wont, I was going to make a snarky, self-deprecating joke about how I wouldn’t even be able to point to Shimane on a map — but instead decided to learn where it is.]

Peaceful video of Sunset from the Capital, Matsue

Geography (地理学)

The prefecture is located in Western Japan along the Sea of Japan, opposite Hiroshima-ken which lies on the other side of the Chugoku mountains, along the Inland Sea, and in between Yamaguchi at the Western tip of Honshu and Tottori. Yamaguchi, Shimane, and Tottori form the San’in Region of Japan. Tottori is the least populous prefecture in Japan while Shimane is the second-least. Since Shimane is quite a bit bigger, however, it is very sparsely populated next to my beloved Kochi toward the bottom of the population density league table…above only Hokkaido, Iwate, and Akita. However, because of the mountains, there is not much agricultural production from Shimane.

The Kankou Shimane website has helpful information about the Oki Islands, and this stunning view of the Kuniga Coastline

The Oki Islands, or Okishoto (隠岐諸島), are a cluster of Islands off the coast which are home to several current and former rikishi. The islands are due north from the northern end of the prefecture. The Sea of Japan is famous for its fishing and natural resources…and thus occasional disputes between Japan, North and South Korea. The islands themselves have amazing views and coastlines. There’s a great blog post about the Kuniga Coast Walking Trail.

Off the beaten path, literally in the nearby Sea of Japan, is the Oki islands, home to sumo wrestler Okinoumi, and worth a visit if you have a day to spare. It’s a 2-hour ferry ride from the port near a Matsue city to get to the islands, but well worth the trip. The nature and views and wild roaming horses are magnificent and the local people are super friendly and so grateful to tourists that visit their islands. They have bull fighting and scuba diving and hiking and lots of good seafood.

– Jason Harris

Sites

In Japan, and across the world, we’re basically stuck in our living rooms, traveling vicariously by watching travel shows or online. I’m not doing this series to be cruel, I’m doing this to hopefully point out many sumo-related sites to visit when these restrictions are finally lifted. Believe me, when these restrictions are lifted, these “off-the-beaten-path” places will be STARVING FOR SOME LOVE.

Izumo-Hinomisaki Lighthouse

Coming back inland from the Oki Islands which I mentioned up in the Geography section, we get to Jason’s top pick, the Izumo Taisha Shrine (出雲大社). The famous shrine itself has a sumo connection as it hosts wanpaku sumo events (kids’ sumo). According to Japan’s Tourism Bureau, Izumo soba is a famous variety of fresh soba noodle that is served in round lacquer-ware instead of square because in the early 20th Century, the police department banned the rectangles as the corners were too difficult to clean. The shrine and temples of Izumo Taisha are close by Jason’s second pick, the Hinomisaki Lighthouse (日御碕灯台).

Also in the Northeast, near the capital of Matsue is the Adachi Museum of Art which has several gardens along with its collection and current art exhibitions. Another really cool feature of the art museum, and keeping with the theme of virtual tourism, is this Live webcam. You can enjoy the garden from your living room…or desk…or phone while sitting in your own garden.

Matsue itself has some amazing scenery. The video at the top of the post of the sunset from Matsue features Nakaumi — a big lake which forms part of the border between Shimane and Matsue. Shijiko (宍道湖) is another large lake to the West of the city. In August, the city hosts a fireworks or hanabi celebration.

In Western Shimane, there are also several cultural events of interest. Tsuwano is at the far southwestern end near Yamaguchi. Jason points out the Horseback Archery which occurs on the second Sunday of April each year. Then in late July, Tsuwano has its Sagimai (heron dancing) Ritual.

Central Shimane is home to the Iwame Ginzan silver mine, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The video above describes why the site is important but in summary, the site was one of the largest and most advanced silver mines in the 1500s. It’s particularly known for using the “cupellation method” where silver is smelted with lead. The lead is then absorbed into the ash leaving high quality silver.

Wrestlers (力士)

Hakkaku-beya seems to have recruited heavily from the Oki Island (隠岐郡) district of Shimane. Until last year, six wrestlers from Shimane-ken called Hakkaku-beya home and all of them were from the Oki Islands. The retirements of Amanishiki (not Aminishiki) and Okinoiwa in 2019 have left four Shimane wrestlers active at the heya, the most senior being Okinoumi. All of their shikona incorporate elements from their hometown.

The largest of the Oki Islands is called Dogo, and is the home of Okinoumi (隠岐の海), Okinofuji (隠岐の富士), and Okinohama (隠岐の浜). Okinoiwa (隠岐の岩) comes from the small island of Nishinoshima. Current Makushita 40 Amanoshima (海士の島) and ex-Amanishiki (海士錦) come from the island of — you guessed it! — Ama (海士).

If I ever post a pop quiz about this kanji (隠岐) you’ll get it, right? Yes. That’s what I thought. If you’re still confused, though, about how on Earth 海士 yields Ama…you’re forgiven. Ama will always be written 安馬 in my book.

Okinoumi may be the most senior of the Oki Island rikishi but Amanoshima posted an excellent 6-1 record during March’s Silent Basho so he should leap up to a career high around Makushita 14-15. That puts him within sight of Sekitori status! More good news from Okinohama who may be close to Makushita promotion. He and Okinofuji posted excellent 5-2 records. Okinoumi’s 8-7 meant all the Oki Island boys had a kachi-koshi in Osaka — too bad there were no Senshuraku parties, eh? I wonder if that clique performs better when they all are doing well. Let’s keep the momentum going!

Naruto-beya has been picking up where Hakkaku-beya left off, recruiting from Shimane-ken. However, Naruto oyakata appears to be sticking to the mainland, specifically the northern area around the capital, instead of casting his eyes to Oki. He picked up a couple of teenagers last year who both had their maezumo debuts at Natsu 2019, Mishima (then 18) and Yamane (15!). Both wrestlers are still fighting under their family names and have yet to pick up a shikona. Will more Shimane talent follow?

New Year’s Chanko

Tachiai Chanko Ingredients

明けましておめでとうございます。良いお年を。

For our New Year’s Eve dinner this year, my wife made chanko! Chanko is the core of sumo cuisine. However, there’s not one stock recipe. Ours featured shrimp, sausages, chicken meatballs, shiitake and shimeji mushrooms, and assorted vegetables on maroni- noodles, served in a seafood broth. In a special move, she also included mochi kinchaku (purse).

The mochi purse version of chanko

Shiitake mushrooms are probably the most famous variety of Japanese mushroom, a giant container of which is usually presented to the yusho winner. Fitting, then, that it was the first mushroom I ever ate…in my 20s. I had been afraid of those button mushrooms one finds in salads and on pizzas, as if all had been irradiated in Chernobyl. They just seem so, plain. I became much more open to trying new things when I lived in Japan, perhaps because every time anything was prepared, it was done to the best of the cook’s ability.

So, when I tried my first shiitake (the mushrooms with dark, broad tops) I was surprised that it tasted good. I wouldn’t say “great” but certainly edible. That opened me to at least trying more types of mushrooms. I don’t like enoki. They’re little, thin, white mushrooms with tiny tops, and usually doused in butter. They’re certainly thinner than these shimeji mushrooms, which I found to be the best part of this chanko – even better than the yummy sausages and meatballs.

This was the first time I ever ate a purse. I did not know this was a thing until now. The outside is agedofu, that horrible stuff that they sometimes fill with sushi rice at rather disreputable establishments. Here, it was filled with sticky mochi…and not much better. Maybe since it had been boiled, the texture wasn’t as revolting as when it’s filled with too-hard and too-sour sushi rice. The mochi inside was quite good…but not as good as agemochi…which I suddenly need right now. Overall, tonight’s chanko was a fantastic warm-up for tomorrow’s osechi which I will bring to you tomorrow.

Have a Happy New Year!