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.
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.
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.