The Sumo World Remembers The Wolf (七回忌)

Today, Sumo Twitter was festooned with pictures and remembrances of Yokozuna Chiyonofuji. The Wolf, as he was known, was arguably the Greatest Wrestler of the generation and frequently tops lists for greatest of all time as his rein may have been the sport’s Golden Age. (No, in Japan he’s not known as おおかみ, the Japanese word for wolf, but ウルフ the katakana pronunciation of the English word.) He died at the very young age of 61, exactly six years ago (7/31/2016), when he was head of Kokonoe-beya.

The former Kokonoe beya

The Buddhist tradition in Japan pays respect to past ancestors at a number of auspicious dates, called nenki, and the observances are nenkihoyo. For Chiyonofuji, this year’s observance is 七回忌; as far as pronunciation goes, I’ve seen both nanakaiki and shichikaiki. I’m going to use nanakaiki because it’s easier for me to say in my head. Because the numbers three and seven are important numbers in Buddhism, many of these special anniversaries have three or seven in the numbers.

In the days after one’s death, there are several ceremonies and occasions where family, friends, and well-wishers gather to pay their respects, as well as to comfort the family. Shonanoka (one week after) and shijukunichi (7 weeks after), are just two of the more commonly observed occasions. Again, you’ll notice the particular importance of sevens.

If you’re not getting why the sixth anniversary is the nanakaiki, try to think of it this way. The Japanese term doesn’t use the character for year. It uses the character kai, for revolution, or turn. When Chiyonofuji died, that was the first time we all got together, so to speak, to honor him after his death. The second “time” would be the first anniversary of his death, and so on. So while this is the sixth anniversary, it’s the seventh occasion, thus nanakaiki.

Paying Respects to the Wolf

Your humble correspondent was in Tokyo when Chiyonofuji died and paid tribute to the Wolf at the memorial set up outside of Kokonoe’s old digs in Sumida ward (now they’re closer to Koiwa-Shinkoiwa). The Tachiai blog was still a toddler back then, just about two years old, and our family had just gotten back from Nagoya, where we had watched Harumafuji take the yusho. Back then we were excited to see a promising young Ozeki named Terunofuji who rode with the champion in the “open car” parade.

So Chiyonofuji’s sudden death, just one week after Nagoya and four years before he should have retired, was quite the shock in and around Kokugikan and was a prominent news feature for several days. He’s still the Wolf, a legend and source of inspiration for many; he will remain so for years and decades to come.

The Pride of Yokozuna: A Proper Review

Sorry for the short notice and the brief little write-up about the documentary a few minutes ago. Casa Andy has a flurry of unanticipated (and unwanted) activity this Saturday morning. Anyway, there will be several other opportunities to watch the documentary. There are multiple broadcast times. Hopefully they will make it available as a video-on-demand. If they do not, it will be rebroadcast on Sunday and Monday. But it is difficult to write more than a cursory write-up when I hadn’t seen it. Now that I have seen it, I have one opinion: watch it. It’s a great documentary.

https://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/en/tv/documentary/20211219/4001407/

The interview provides insight into his mindset at pivotal times, not just for his own career but at multiple critical points in the history of the sport. The rise of Kisenosato, the yaocho scandal, the baseball gambling scandal, etc. And they make a nice effort to tie so many moments and pivotal bouts to Nagoya throughout the years.

It was interesting to hear other former Yokozuna, Kitanofuji and Kisenosato, struggle to define “Hinkaku,” that quality of the Yokozuna that is never defined but somehow they must live up to.

He definitely puts paid to my theory about that infamous penultimate bout against Shodai. Herouth had already reported this but he lined up at the tawara due to his lack of confidence in his knee. Since we frequently give Shodai a bit of gruff about his upright tachiai, my romantic ideals had created this rebuke which clearly did not exist. Out of concern for his knee and his own doubts about beating Shodai, he opted to totally avoid the tachiai.

But the most poignant parts were the interviews with the man himself, and with his trainer. His trainer had kept detailed notes on Hakuho’s mindset and things that he had said. Key among those things are the importance of the fans’ sentiment. At so many points the fans were with him, cheering him on. But sometimes, they hope for others to rise. Is it a betrayal to the fans to win, if the fans want him to lose? He beat Kisenosato and Terunofuji when they clearly would have loved to see his opponent win. It seems the documentary really dives into how he lives to serve the fans. His achievement, therefore, would serve to disappoint them.

“What is sumo? What is a Yokozuna?”

What is Hinkaku?

Regardless of the answers we may have, Hakuho makes it clear that his answer is, “winning.” (Not in the Charlie Sheen sense of the term.) His recruits will surely do quite a bit of winning from now on but he will certainly serve as a great booster for the sport of sumo in his new role with the Association.

How did you get into sumo? (Testing Twitter Spaces)

I think I’ve mentioned before how I found sumo. Late at night during the Akebono, Taka/Waka days, ESPN used to broadcast highlight shows of tournaments. The sport caught my eye back then and I remember actually showing my cousins and doing a few bouts with them in the living room. It struck me as a pure sport for a sportsman. No need for balls or goals and it’s about skill more than pure force. You’re not trying to pound the opponent to a pulp, just tip them over or push them out of a ring.

But enough about me. I started this blog because I get to talk about sumo to people, fan to fan. I realized the other day that Twitter has this Spaces feature and I’m curious about whether anyone wants to chat about sumo. I am usually on conference calls all day when I’m not trying to build dashboards, develop risk models, or update the website, so I’m not hoping for another conference call where I’m lecturing or the only one talking but I know it can’t be a free-for-all. So I figure if we keep this on point: “How did you get into sumo?” it will work. If we keep it limited to that and maybe shared our first live experiences at a basho, it won’t turn into conference call hell and can be a fun dialog.

I’m going to schedule one for 6pm Eastern on Thursday, 8/12. I’m eager to hear your stories. If this goes off well, I’d like to host them more often. Especially as things open up and when we get to go over to Japan again, I think Tachiai readers will like to hear about what it’s like and what to do from fellow fans.

https://twitter.com/i/spaces/1mrGmwyLbWLxy

Terunofuji Granted Japanese Citizenship

I miss the crowds (photo: NicolaAnn08)

The good news continues for Terunofuji. Yokozuna promotion last week, Japanese citizenship this week. This clears the way for him to become oyakata upon retirement. Isegahama-oyakata will is building an incredible legacy, with beloved disciples in Ajigawa-oyakata and some day, Terunofuji-oyakata. After watching the Kakuryu citizenship drama drag on, this must present a bit of a relief.

After some of the news stories and drama over the past week, this really presents a great surprise. While we hope his reign at Yokozuna is a long and successful one, today’s announcement means we can also look forward to his second career, molding the next generation of young Kaiju. He came through the storied sumo program at Tottori Johoku High School and might use that connection to usher more champions through that dohyo. But I do wonder if he will look to a certificate or other program at Waseda when his active career draws to a close. Either way, I’m eager to see him guide young deshi. This week, we saw Araiso-beya open and Hakuho is already leveraging his GOAT-status to bring in talent and wonder whether Terunofuji will start bringing his own class through Isegahama.

Sometimes events come around that make you look forward to the future, you know?