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.

Tanabata Wishes

This post originates in quote-retweets I made of the relevant NSK tweets. Josh suggested I collate them into a post. So for the benefit of those who don’t follow my Twitter account, here is the collation:

tanabata

Tanabata is an ancient Japanese festival, celebrated on the seventh day of the seventh month. Nowadays, it’s mostly celebrated on July 7th.

The main Tanabata custom is to write one’s wishes on a small piece of paper called “tanzaku”, hang the wishes from a bamboo – sometimes with other decorations – and then float the bamboo, wishes and all down a river or burn it around midnight or the next day.

This year Tanabata falls on Saturday, July 7th – the day before the Nagoya basho.

A couple of days ago, a rikishi-kai took place. “Rikishi-kai” is both the name of the meeting of sekitori taking place before each basho, and the body of sekitori itself. As a worker’s association, it’s pretty useless. But they have a fun meeting before each basho, sometimes raising money for charity, and sometimes just giving fans an opportunity to meet their idols and get photos.

Given the date Tanabata falls on, it’s no wonder that sekitori attending the rikishi-kai were handed tanzaku, and asked to write their wishes on them. Their wishes will be hung at the Dolphins Arena (the location of the basho) during Tanabata. Here is what they came up with:

Sokokurai: “I wish my injury to heal”. Ouch.

Yago (in an Oguruma yukata): “Promotion to Makuuchi”.

Seiro: “To aim for the top!!”. So, you wish to aim for the top or you wish to get to the top?

Hidenoumi: “Establish myself at Makuuchi”. No moro yo-yo for Mr. Magenta Mawashi, please.

Daishoho (in a Kakuryu yukata): “Promotion to Makuuchi”. Well, if a cute duck-face can get you there…

Takanosho: “Promotion to Makuuchi”. I hate to tell you this, but the gods can only arrange for a small number of promotions each basho. 😁

Takagenji and Shohozan kept their wishes a secret (they are showing the side with their names):

Daiamami (in a Fuji TV yukata? wow): “I want brand new kneecaps”. Ouch.

Up to Makuuchi, Hokutofuji wishes to advance to san-yaku:

Ishiura: “I want to make another child”. Heh, give your wife a little rest, will you? She just had a baby. Or is this just code for “I want to get some”?

Asanoyama (in the ever-popular Chiyoshoma yukata): “Double digit wins”

Nishikigi-mama: “Health above all”. Nishikigi for chairman of the board! Who’s with me?

Kyokutaisei (in a Hakuho yukata): “Have savings!!”. Let me guess, the guy is recently married. 😆

Chiyotairyu: “I need money”. Somebody please give the Kokonoe koen-kai a call. Help a poor rikishi, will ya?

Endo: “Get through the group stage”. Bruce claims this is about the Tachiai Sumo World Cup. I have a hunch he was talking about Team Japan in the FIFA World Cup. And he got his wish, though I wish those last 10 minutes would be erased from history.

(Yeah, yeah, derailed here).

Abi worrying what he should wish for. Yes, that’s his worried face.

Chiyonokuni (in the new designer Kokonoe yukata) wants to advance to sanyaku:

Shodai: “I want a watch”. I’m sure he’s not addressing the gods… You want Japanese make or Swiss make? I’ll bet many of his sashi-ire (gifts to rikishi… or prisoners…) in the coming weeks are going to be ticking.

Mitakeumi: “I want to become handsome”. Well, he is using the word “ikemen” which is a manly man kind of handsome. There has been an argument about this on Twitter, in which some of the ladies claim that he already has his wish, whereas I claim that despite his obvious sumo prowess and good nature, he looks like a carp in a mawashi.

Tochinoshin: “I want the yusho”. Well, duh!

Hakuho: “Win #1000”. He is referring to number of wins in Makuuchi – he wants to pass 1000. He won’t make it this basho, though, as he is still 17 or so short, and I’m sure he doesn’t want the gods to extend the basho to 17 days.

Finally, we end with the leader of the banzuke, the surprisingly genki yokozuna Kakuryu: “I wish not to be injured”. I’ll add my voice to that, Amen. Chuckle for coming up with a wish that requires no kanji (“kega” is written in hiragana or katakana more frequently than in kanji).