I’ve got a new book about sumo, specifically sumo terms in Japanese, and I’ve been loving it. One new term for me is “Aikuchi ga warui” (or, conversely, Aikuchi ga ii). In Japanese it looks like this: 合い口が悪い. The term is used for a difficult opponent, one whom at your level you should be able to beat more frequently but you just can’t do it. In English, I think I’d equate it to someone who’s “got my number.” As an example, Kotoeko appears to have Wakatakakage’s number, as we can see in these tweets below:
Their rivalry is pretty young, having faced each other 7 times with Kotoeko winning 5 of their bouts. When I started drafting this article a few months ago, Wakatakakage was down 5-to-1. Wakatakakage actually claimed victory this July. And wouldn’t you know it, he also beat the other example I was going to use, Mitakeumi. Until July, he had gone 0-4. Even with this terrible July, he somehow figured out a way to beat Mitakeumi and Kotoeko, two rikishi he’d had difficulty with previously.
So, what’s another example? Let’s take a look at Shodai. He has beaten Takarafuji 14 times in 17 bouts. But Kaisei, of all people, has his number. Shodai has never beaten Kaisei, not counting fusen. The first visualization that I’m releasing here is the heatmap. The size of the box indicates the number of bouts they’ve faced each other, with the most going from top-left to the least at the bottom right, with a minimum of three bouts. That minimum kicks out a lot of the young guns and low rankers. More red means a worse win/loss ratio (aikuchi warui). Darker blue means a better ratio (aikuchi ga ii). I’m still working on ways to visualize trend or other “rivalry” metrics to see who’s been winning lately, that kind of thing. To prevent having this load every time someone visits the site, continue reading below to see…
The NHK has a great video (#43) about shikona in its “Sumopedia” but I thought I’d dive a bit into the statistics on the usage of various characters. Why? Because I’m always trying to improve my Japanese and the kanji is the most impenetrable part for me.
The Japanese Language is one of the biggest hurdles facing any sumo fan. If you’re just trying to catch up on news, few media outlets outside of Japan cover the sport on a regular basis and the Japanese Sumo Association often offers its press releases only in Japanese. There’s a whole other world to sumo fandom if you can learn the language. However, we don’t need to learn THE WHOLE LANGUAGE. We need to learn SUMO Japanese. It’s still a difficult prospect but it seems the best place to begin is with the shikona and just a handful of shikona can take us a long way.
First of all, a brief detour. The word Shikona is 四股名. Shiko, the “sumo stomp” excercise is the first two characters, with the character for name at the end. Memorize that last character if you hope to learn Japanese. You’ll see 名前 (na-mae) everywhere for “name.”
Back to the topic of characters used in shikona. This is a list of the Ten most frequently used characters, counting by the number of rikishi. Koto, for example, is used by Kotoshogiku (aka Kotokikutsuki) twice but I only count him as 1 distinct rikishi. One little side note is that characters used in Shikona include a few hiragana and katakana, not just kanji. Hiragana and Katakana are kind of inescapable and are crucial to anyone learning Japanese.
# of Uses
# of Rikishi
The good news is, there’s only 223 or so kanji that are used in 25 or more shikona since the 1950s. The bad news is, there are 1028 characters used 24 times or fewer. This includes the 隠 (O) from 隠岐の海 (Okinoumi).
Yama, the character for “mountain,” is a wildly popular character not just because of all of the Asanoyama’s and Tochiozan’s, but also many Japanese surnames like Yamaguchi and Yamada — the latter which combines our Top 2. Yamadayama goes even further by surrounding the rice field with two mountains. Yamamotoyama, who even made an appearance in John Wick 2, bookends a book with two mountains.
But mountain it’s not the most popular for rikishi from all prefectures. It’s in 3rd place after 土 and 佐 for rikishi from Kochi and fifth place after 安, 芸, and two versions of the possessive “no” (ノ and 乃) while the hiragana “no” is just after yama. This is because of the historical domain of Tosa (土佐) in Kochi and many location names within Hiroshima, including Aki (安芸). If you click on Shizuoka prefecture, the characters for Fuji (富士) bubble up to the top.
There’s another interesting, but predictable, aspect to kanji pairs like Tosa, Aki, Fuji, and Chiyo (千代). Shikona which use those characters are longer, on average, so the bars are orange to red while greener colored characters are used in shorter shikona (on average).
It’s also just interesting to see where wrestlers are coming from. Along with Tokyo, Osaka, Aichi, and Fukuoka (sites of the big tournaments) many wrestlers come from Hokkaido, including several yokozuna like Taiho, Chiyonofuji, Hokutoumi, Kitanoumi. Neighboring Aomori, home of Wakanohana I & II is also up there, along with Hyogo (next to Osaka and Kyoto), and Kagoshima have been hotbeds of sumo talent and the geography offers clues to the origins of many of their shikona.
In the past, I’ve had articles which tried to help decipher Japanese headlines, short articles, and tweets to try to help readers (and me) gather just a bit more information about sumo. Let’s face it, Shikona and sumo jargon (and medical/injury terms) are where Google Translate breaks down into word salad. If you can pick out the shikona and place names from headlines and articles, we can start diving deeper into the articles and tweets. This visualization and some of the others I’m working on will try to break down the hard part and help sumo fans focus on Sumo Japanese.
Tachiai.org is a growing community of sumo fans, united with the common interest of promoting the sport and we look forward to another exciting year of sumo action! We almost hit 900,000 views last year and I’m shooting for 1,000,000 this year. I started the site as a place to share my love of the sport and to dispel rather derisive and dismissive stereotypes. It is inherently subjective in nature, where the opinions of its contributors and visitors are vital to the site, as with any other blog.
As the site has grown with the fantastic content of its contributors, Bruce, Herouth, Josh, Leonid, Nicola, Liam, Timothée, all of our commenters and readers, many have naturally begun to turn Tachiai for sumo news, holding us to a standard of journalism which should not apply to a blog.
Therefore, I’ve decided that early in 2020 I will release a new site, TachiaiTimes.com, as a distinct sumo news site committed to upholding the core values journalists should espouse: namely that journalists should only follow sumo, 24/7, and none of the other nonsense. “I kid, I kid.” But seriously, only sumo news at the new site and none of my infamous humor.
Web 2.0 applications feature, and thrive upon, a constant feedback loop. Tachai.org will always be the kind of community that supports and promotes sumo with a focus on 大相撲, or “Grand Sumo,” but I do want to promote the international and amateur sumo community as well so count on me following those a bit more closely. In that regard, it seems March has a little tournament in Kochi that I am looking forward to.
Following sumo and the “heya life” (admittedly from quite a distance) it strikes me as a fascinating social program that I wish were available to all people: dedicate yourself fully to a pursuit without having to worry about making ends meet since your needs are covered by the heya. But it’s no utopia. In return for lodging, food, clothes, health care, etc., a wrestler leads a strict lifestyle. And in reality, not all heya are the same; not every circumstance is ideal. Crucially, it’s not mandatory and many drop out…but there’s no going back. To me, that’s an extremely interesting conversation, perfect for Tachiai.org but one which I understand many may not want, in preference for hard, one-way news about the sport and wrestlers they follow. And that’s why TachiaiTimes is needed.
Journalism has always been a passion of mine…but I’ve had a few stumbles while trying to pursue it as a career, including a few rejection letters back when I wanted to go to graduate school. At the day job, I work closely with our public affairs office and members of the media as they mine our (at times incomprehensible) data and conduct research, so the passion remains strong and this is my way forward. This seems like a critical time in journalism and I’ll carve out a little sumo-related respite for those interested. I look forward to another year of great conversations, and hopefully the retirement of our scandal meter.
Raise your hands if you wish you had a chance to try sumo! Hiroshima University’s sumo club is putting on sumo events that Tachiai readers may be interested in. On October 16, they are holding a tournament for international students and then on the 29th they are holding one open to everyone. So often, we just read about sumo. Here’s your chance to DO IT.
There will be separate male and female sections. Bring a shirt, shorts and a towel! There will be prizes for top wrestlers. If you don’t want to wrestle and just want to watch, it sounds like this will be a great opportunity to see the next generation of university competitors!
If you do go, and you’re interested in writing up your experience for a guest post on Tachiai, let me know. If you have more questions about the event, reach out to the Hiroshima Daigaku Sumo Bu ＠hirodaisumou as in the Tweets above. I wish we had this opportunity 15 years ago in Tokyo! I think this is nearer Bruce’s old stomping grounds but I would have thumbed a ride from Tokyo to give it a try. Good luck!