Takasago beya, despite its legacy of big named stars, has fallen on hard times. To start 2017, the stable which produced Asashoryu and the American ozeki Konishiki had no active sekitori. According to the article, this was the first time since the 11th year of the Meiji era (1868) that Takasago beya did not have an active sekitori. Asanoyama’s promotion for the March tournament brought the stable back into the elite divisions. He will climb quickly into makuuchi on the back of his 10-5 record, just missing out on the Juryo yusho, losing a three-way playoff which included Osunaarashi and yusho-winner, Toyohibiki. Continue reading →
Now that Haru is in the books, I thought it might be fun to dig back into the maths and introduce an equation to work out which of the Heya, or sumo stables, are the real power players at the top end of the game. If it looks like we’re on to something, then perhaps it’s something we can revisit after future tournaments as well. As this is our first post on the subject, let’s tackle the methodology and then we can get into the rankings for Haru and analysis. So, whose chanko nabe tastes the best?
In order to work this out, I built a points system which can be loosely based around these Three R’s: Ranking, Results, Rewards. Very simply put, a heya should get points for the level at which their rikishi perform, the results they achieve, and the rewards which bring them glory. All good positive stuff.
Points are awarded for fighting at the following ranks:
Maegashira 1-5: 10
Maegashira 6-10: 8
Maegashira 11+: 5
Juryo 1-7: 2
Juryo 8+: 1
I separated Maegashira and Juryo into separate points categories as rikishi at the various ends of these ranks tend to have vastly different schedules. Fighting at a Maegashira 2 rank and having to face the likes of Hakuho is a bigger accomplishment than fighting at Maegashira 14. And being Hakuho is an even bigger accomplishment. So the points should be awarded accordingly. This obviously could be scaled up to accommodate even lower ranks, but it makes sense to start awarding points based on the world of professional sumo.
I added 5 points for scoring a kachi-koshi in makuuchi, and 3 points for achieving a kachi-koshi in Juryo. I did not subtract points for scoring a make-koshi. Again, the rationale here is that fighting at a particular rank is the achievement. Achieving success at that rank should be recognised. Achieving failure at that rank will be reflected by the lower rank the rikishi will receive in the next banzuke, and therefore the lower score that the heya will receive in these next rankings. So, theoretically, it takes care of itself.
Additionally, if you follow the above logic, it stands to reason that a rikishi competing at the top end of Juryo and achieving kachi-koshi and on the cusp of promotion (2+3 points) is fighting at a similar level to a rikishi at the bottom end of Maegashira rank who gets a make-koshi and is in danger of demotion (5+0).
Here’s where we will create variance from month to month, with points being awarded for the following achievements:
Yusho (Makuuchi): 50
Jun-Yusho (Makuuchi): 25
Makuuchi Special Prizes: 10
Yusho (Juryo): 15
At the end of the day it’s really all about winning the big prizes, and these represent prestige. These are the people who have been the focal point of the two weeks that have passed, either because they have outperformed their level, they have challenged for the yusho, actually won it, won a big promotion up to the next level, or all of the above.
Haru-basho Power Rankings & Analysis
What we’ve got above is a bar chart of January’s ranks vs. March, so that we can see for this first edition which stable is at the summit of the sport, who’s improved their standing, and also how the Haru basho might have negatively impacted stables. Here’s our inaugural top 20 chart, with their score in brackets:
The headliner for the second consecutive basho is the Tagonoura-beya, headlined by Shin-Yokozuna Kisenosato‘s heroic yusho, and another prize-winning outing by san’yaku fixture Takayasu. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the dominant Isegahama is not far behind, off the back of several prominent rikishi towards the top end of the banzuke and a just-nearly performance by Terunofuji. We can probably expect to see these two stables in or near the top two for some time to come, especially if Takayasu is successful in his Ozeki run.
Taking the bronze medal this time, it’s Sakaigawa: a stable with a number of makuuchi wrestlers and featuring the Juryo yusho winner Toyohibiki, who we’ll see back in the top flight for Natsu. While it’s not impossible, Sakaigawa will have a challenge to hold onto a position in the top 3 in May. Goeido will need to chase a kachi-koshi to retain his Ozeki status, but they may lose 2 rikishi from makuuchi to Juryo with demotions, and the next best heya Miyagino will hope for a healthier outing from Hakuho and better returns from Ishiura as he tries to cement his place in makuuchi.
Looking at whose stock plummeted the most this month, you can’t look further than the first name on the list. With only one rikishi in the top 2 divisions, Arashio‘s prestige is wholly dependent at the moment on the performances of Sokokurai, whose gino-sho winning Hatsu was followed up with an 11 loss outing this time around. Solid but unspectacularly performing heya with a diversity of competitors (e.g. Kokonoe) are better able to insulate themselves from this kind of performance, and Arashio doesn’t have anyone else near the top divisions at the moment.
On the whole, this exercise has shown that out of all of the places that rikishi live and train, about a dozen are real players at the top end of the game, and another dozen are developing middling talent trying to gain a foothold in the professional ranks. The rest are in limbo, either unable to produce top level talent at the moment or simply in a transitional period where their top level participants have recently retired or been demoted while they try and bring through a new generation of rikishi with the ability to compete at the highest level.
Looking ahead to Natsu, I don’t think we should expect much change in the top 5. A few stables under the radar who might make moves one way or the other in the near future:
Oitekaze: Endo will move up, and may face a tougher schedule given that many of the rikishi in front of him this time out are staring at demotion. Meanwhile, Daieisho‘s due a promotion and Oitekaze’s quintet could be joined soon in the professional ranks by Iwasaki, who picked up a kachi-koshi at Makushita 3, and Daishoho, who made his brief Juryo debut in November and just put up 5 wins at Makushita 7.
Takanohana: As Andy noted earlier in the week, Takagenji is set for his Juryo debut at Natsu, and while Takanohana isn’t teeming with the sheer volume of rikishi that you might see at other stables, there are actually a couple more young wrestlers not far behind. Star man Takanoiwa‘s results have been volatile, but he has made a step forward in the past year which is that he’s now more able to cope with what the schedule throws at him at the lower end of makuuchi. Likewise, Takakeisho seems to be settling in well as a rank-and-filer and will move up the banzuke next time out.
Sadogatake: It’s tough to call a heya with such a rich history at the top level “under the radar,” but they’ll take a hit if Kotoshogiku does retire or show diminished performance following a soul-crushing nearly-basho in March, and it would be charitable to say that Kotoyuki hasn’t been at his best recently. He looked overpowered and out of sorts more often than not at Haru. Realistically the next wave of talent here is at least a couple of years away – there are a handful of journeyman rikishi at Makushita level already, but the next youngster showing serious promise looks to be 19 year old Kotokamatani who just finished up a 5 win basho at Sandanme 3 and is primed for already his second spell at Makushita having only made his tournament debut last January.
To illustrate the importance of basic Japanese ability for sumo fans, I point my dear readers to the Japan Sumo Association’s website. The English site has two news items with today’s date: the Sumo Museum Calendar and the Dohyo Matsuri information for the May tournament. Fascinating stuff, but the Japanese site includes those and two more: a list of retirements from March and the list of wrestlers promoted to Juryo. Takagenji and Meisei will be promoted to Juryo. For those of us hoping to construct well-informed banzuke, that would be particularly important information, especially if there were makuuchi wrestlers listed among the retirements (there are not). The most senior retirement was Ryouounami in Makushita.
So, appropriately, today’s news headline addresses the Juryo debut of Takagenji. Again, from Nikkei:
As suggested in our preview of day 11, Kakuryu defeated Takayasu to narrow the yusho race to on very large, powerful rikishi for now – Shin-Yokozuna Kisenosato, who remains undefeated and alone in the lead for the Emperor’s Cup. In addition, Kotoshogiku’s bid to restore his Ozeki rank took a serious blow, when injured Ikioi kept mobile and was able to slap down the Kyushu Bulldozer as he was chasing Ikioi down.
Overnight, Kokonoe rikishi Chyoo withdrew citing a foot injury, and will likely end up back in Juryo for May, as he was Maegashira 15 and already make-koshi. But his default loss brought Takakeisho to 7-4, one win away from securing his kachi-koshi and ensuring a returning slot in Makuuchi.
Ura was able to defeat Kyokushuho, partially by confusion and surprise in one of the sloppiest matches yet. Ura went in very low, stayed low and wriggled his way around, but managing to stay upright until Kyokushuho stepped out. Kyokushuho now make-koshi and likely headed back to Juryo as well.
Ishiura’s bout with Kotoyuki featured a monoii, where the Shimpan award the win to Ishiura after reviewing the video. It was very close on who was out first, as Kotoyuki was falling as Ishiura stepped out. Kotoyuki seems to have sustained some damage in the fall.
Aoiyama won over Kagayaki via a rather ungraceful henka.
Tochiozan keeps winning, this time defeating Chiyonokuni. He remains part of the group (now 3 strong) that are one off the pace. The first bout started with a Tochiozan henka, and ended with a simultaneous throw that triggered a monoii. The Shimpan declared that the match would be re-fought, and in the second bout, Chiyonokuni henka’d, but Tochiozan was all over him and drove him quickly out.
Hokotofuji managed to win again, this time against the hapless Kaisei. A few days ago it looked like Hokotofuji was headed to his first career make-koshi. Today it looks like he is not ready to surrender, and has battled back to 5-6. Very impressive performance from this young college sumo champion.
Arawashi gave Terunofuji a great bout, but as expected Terunofuji prevailed and remains one behind Kisenosato. At one point Terunofuji tried to lift and carry Arawashi, but Arawashi was able to escape Takakaze’s fate. Both rikishi traded throw attempts multiple times, neither able to get the other off balance enough to complete the move. Amazing sumo.
Harumafuji’s win over Mitakeumi happened in the blink of an eye. Harumafuji launched out of the tachiai and his momentum drove Mitakeumi out in one single fluid move. This is the Harumafuji style we love to see.
The final bout of the day saw Yoshikaze pour on the attack against Kisenosato. The outcome of the bout was very much in doubt as Kisenosato was purely reactive at first, and struggled to find an opening to switch to offense. Eventually he was able to get an arm hold on the Berserker and maneuver him to be pushed out. Fantastic effort by Yoshikaze, and excellent recovery by Kisenosato, who is looking very much like the man to beat.
Most of the time the Tachiai crew focuses on Makuuchi, as that’s the extent of what we US based fans get to watch on the NHK highlights. But there is a great story that has been unfolding in the next division down, Juryo.
For the Hatsu basho, he was Maegashira 16, but could not eek out a winning record, and was sent back to Juryo to fight his way back to the upper division. Ranked as Juryo 7, he was likely to face at least 2 tournaments before he could make a bid to return to the top division. But perhaps not.
As of day 10, Osunaarashi has an 8-2 record, and is tied for the Juryo yusho. He has been absolutely dominating his matches, and appears healthy, healed and strong. As Osunaarashi is a favorite of the sumo fans, and Tachiai as well, we are cheering him on and hope he can win back his place in Makuuchi.
Video below of Osunaarashi (Large sand storm) blasting Hidenoumi on day 10.
Since he joined the ranks of Sumo in 2015, Ura has defied convention. His style is based on maneuver, speed and improvisation. As a result, he quickly moved up the ranks because most of his opponents had no idea what he was doing, or what they could do to defend against the next magic trick he would produce mid-bout.
From his debut in May of 2015, it took him only a year to reach Juryo – and impressive rise. He scored one yusho, and 3 Yusho-doten (where he lost in a playoff to the yusho winner). But once in Juryo, his speed and improvisation could not longer be counted on to carry the day. Ura decided he needed to bulk up in order to stand a chance against the much heavier men in the upper divisions. For a rikishi who’s sumo depends on speed and flexibility, many fans (myself included) worried he would have cultivate an entirely new collection of skills from scratch.
The 2016 Aki basho looked to be a turning point, where he entered the tournament a Juryo 1 East, the top wrestler in the division. He went to rack up a disappointing 6-9 record, and he remained in Juryo while rikishi like Ishiura were promoted to Makuuchi. Now, at long last for his fans, he has reached the upper division, being placed at Maegashira 12 West for the Haru Basho in Osaka (his home town).
Ura has added a great deal of mass, and fans will be watching his Makuuchi debut with great interest. As Andy pointed out, the Juryo crew figured out how to counter his low tachiai, which is what lead to his disastrous Aki score. As could be expected by a dedicated sumotori, Ura went back to the heya and came up with new approaches. He bulked up, adding at least 15 Kg since then, and has had to work hard to adjust his sumo to accommodate his much larger body. Clearly he had a working formula for Juryo, but now we get to see him face off against the top men in Sumo.
Ura is quite different from the common rikishi, his manners, his humble attitude, his general bright and sunny disposition nd amiable nature seem to really be something new and different on the dohyo, and for myself I find it quite compelling.
If readers have yet to watch Ura’s matches, I strongly suggest a quick search of youtube and watching the man in action. Some of what he does may impress you.
Story line 1 for Hatsu was the celebration of Egyptian sumotori Osunaarashi’s return to the top division. Osunaarashi had a sponsor arrangement that only really paid out when he was competing in top division matches, so he had a substantial financial incentive to return to Makuuchi. During the Kyushu basho, Osunaarashi drove himself relentlessly to compete in spite of obvious personal injuries and great physical pain. No one could question his devotion to sumo or his fighting spirt. But his injuries overcame him, and on day 13 of Kyushu, he withdrew from the tournament.
In spite of this withdrawal, the Japan Sumo Association gave him a chance for Hatsu basho. It was with great joy that his followers and fans noted that he had made the very last spot: Maegashira 16 East, on the Makuuchi banzuke. Everyone hoped that Osunaarashi would arrive day 1 in good physical condition and ready to compete and hopefully secure a winning record.
Sadly, after a fairly strong start where he defeated a trio of Kokonoe rikishi (M15e Chiyoo, M14e Chiyootori and M14w Chiyotairyu), he proceeded to grow progressively weaker, and more injured day after day. His finishing record was 4 wins, 11 losses: an ugly make-koshi.
This means that Osunaarashi will be deep in the Juryo pack for Osaka, and once again out of the top division. Osunaarashi needs time to heal and recover, or he is likely never to be a serious competitor again. Each basho he seems a bit more damaged, and his performance is declining.
Tachiai hopes that Osunaarashi will find the time to have his injuries addressed, and can return to fighting form.