The Japanese Sumo Association has announced that four Makushita wrestlers are being promoted to Juryo for July’s tournament. Kotokuzan from Arashio-beya (apparently NOT from Sadogatake-beya) will make his Juryo debut. Yago, Kaisho, and Abi return to the salaried ranks.
The headline here is that Abi, and his shiko?, will return to Sekitori status after serving a suspension for breaking Covid protocols with Fukushima (then Gokushindo). He has stormed back in the most rapid fashion, scoring 14 straight regulation victories, including a victory over Kaisho. While Abi was away, Ichiyamamoto returned and has established himself as a solid Juryo rikishi with a very successful Natsu. I am eager to see if the two of them go toe-to-toe at some point.
Abi’s redemption comes at an awkward time as current Ozeki Asanoyama is facing down a similar scandal, though the facts in his case are still being investigated and thus a punishment has yet to be determined.
Yago will be eager to finally find a permanent foothold in the division. He is talented but has struggled with injuries, seemingly yo-yoing between Juryo and Makushita. Kaisho reached Juryo briefly in 2019 for two tournaments before falling back into Makushita. For Kotokuzan, his promotion has been a long struggle. He has been in Makushita since the end of 2016, back when Terunofuji was an Ozeki the first time ’round. It will be interesting to see if he’s got a spark in his sumo that can keep him around for a while.
Thank you, Bruce and Leonid and all the readers and commenters for another very entertaining tournament. I’m very pleased this one finished so well and it seemed to offer quite a bit of solace and distraction from the news and Covid. During the run-up to the basho, the debate in the Japanese press mentioned how at times of hardship, sumo served to distract/inspire/cheer up the nation.
Sumo is a sport where there’s SO MUCH GOING ON that when you pull on one thread there’s usually an amazing backstory that just pulls you deeper into Japanese culture. Here, we have one such thread (in a literal and figurative sense).
After Tsurugisho’s Juryo yusho last night, the Yamaguchi.shishu Instagram account posted their congratulations with the image of his kesho mawashi. I’m usually asleep during the Juryo dohyo-iri so I had not noticed his kesho mawashi before. I really enjoy their account and I’ve found them not only beautiful but very interesting and I like researching it and the connection to the wrestler — or the dentist. Sometimes it’s a high school symbol or something from their home town…or in Shodai’s case, a random dam in Gunma.
“Is that kid jumping out of a peach? And why is that on a kesho mawashi?”
Me (to my wife)
For this one, though, I really didn’t know where to start so I asked my wife. Her eyes lit up and she started singing, “Mo– motaro-san, Momotaro-san, okoshi ni tsuketa kibidango…” That first bit was even in the Instagram post. Then she told me the story of the kid born from a peach to an elderly couple. He then goes on a Hobbit-type quest and defeats some Oni (demons). During the quest he’s picks up a few friends, who basically hang out with him and help him because his kibi-dango are the bomb.
A Little Tangent
Here’s where I’m going to go off on a little tangent and give some advice about studying Japanese. When you’re learning Japanese, do yourself a favor and pick up some childrens’ books. If you’re learning Persian, you’ll probably want to read Rumi. When I was studying Russian and Spanish back in college, our professors would introduce us to their newspapers and rather fine literature. Even back in High School my Latin teacher had us memorizing Caesar’s “Gallic Wars.”
Frankly, I think that’s a bit of a mistake and it’s probably done because high school and college students probably think they’ve outgrown nursery rhymes. That is definitely not-so with Japanese. You will NOT be able to pick up and read a Japanese business newspaper for the very simple fact that you have to learn all of that kanji first! And frankly, before even that you really need to master hiragana, katakana, and a lot of the basic kanji. That’s where childrens’ books come in.
So, swallow your pride and go to the childrens’ section if you ever find yourself in a Japanese bookstore, like Kinokuniya, (Don’t laugh, I go to the one in NYC all the time and I’m pretty sure there are 5 in California, and 3 in Texas — check that, there are 4 — and several more around the country.) If you’re lucky enough to make it to Japan, there’s usually at least one bookstore in every mall and there’s usually at least one mall attached to (or next to) every major train station.
The benefit of having two kids in Japanese school is that we have got a bunch of their text books and other books around the house. Momotaro is one of the more common stories that feature in their books. There’s a two-volume set that I love, pictured above. These feature 366 tales (one story per day).
Back to Momotaro-san
In the version of the story that’s in this book (July 13, in the red volume which covers July-December), the old woman goes to the river to wash clothes. She finds a nice peach floating down the river. She takes it back to her husband and as they’re going to open it, a cheerful baby jumps out. They are quite happy and name him, “Momotaro.”
He grows up healthy. “すくすく育った.” Japanese is full of these repetitive, onomatopoeic words and the kids books are full of them. They’re a huge stumbling block for me when trying to listen to the spoken language.
When he grows up, he decides to go off on his quest to the demons’ lair. As he sets off, he receives kibidango (dumplings) from the old woman. These dumplings are made from a process similar to the way mochi was made at New Year’s with the mortar and pestle. (Sumo’s ties to the mochi-tsuki run deep!) As he’s traveling, a dog, monkey, and then a pheasant accompany him, drawn by the dumplings which he shares with them as they travel.
When they make it to the demons’ hangout on Onigashima, the animals help attack while the oni were all drinking. They defeat the oni and the demon boss apologizes…with his hands on the ground. (“手をついていいました”! And people wonder how I am able to connect sumo to just about anything.) The merry band then travel back home with their plunder. I wonder if they rented the Takarabune to get back to the mainland….
There are a lot of vocabulary and kanji in these simple stories that really help with shikona and understanding basic Japanese. But the key is, it’s not such an impossible hurdle as trying to read a Japanese book about sumo, which usually has no helpful furigana. And these short stories are such bite-size chunks that it’s actually manageable, even early in your studies.
Even better, the great thing about being an adult, is that we understand metaphors and chuckle at the subtext. Just like many legends and Fairy Tales have a darker or “adult” edge, I wonder what the inside of the peach was referring to? Hold up…Venus was born from a “clam,” Athena sprang forth from Zeus’ “head,” Momotaro came from a peach… Dude, ALL these stories are dirty!
Before my thoughts sink deeper into the gutter, let’s get back on topic. What is the connection between Tsurugisho and Momotaro? Well, it’s actually his name! We often forget that shikona, wrestlers’ ring names, include the more famous surname — and a first name!
Hakuho is “Hakuho Sho.” Takakeisho is “Takakeisho Mitsunobu” while Tochinoshin is “Tochinoshin Tsuyoshi.” Tsurugisho chose Momotaro. Whether there’s a deeper personal connection between Tsurugisho and the tale of Momotaro, I’m uncertain. If you know more details, please feel free to drop such knowledge in the comments! If you made it this far, thank you.
We find ourselves halfway through the first tournament of 2021, and I’m not sure anyone could have anticipated what we have seen so far. The top division alone has provided plenty of twists and turns, but be careful not to overlook Juryo over the next week. Some veterans will need a big turnaround over the next eight days to get back to Makuuchi, while a few notable rikishi look to be well on the way to a long-awaited Makuuchi return or debut. Come with me, dear reader, as I walk you through the magnificent landscape that is the Juryo division.
There are nine Juryo rikishi inactive this month, chiefly as a result of coronavirus protocols. This has opened the field up significantly as several maegashira mainstays have been eliminated from Juryo yusho contention from the jump in Enho, Ishiura, and Chiyomaru. Chiyonoo is also out, meaning he will have to wait for another chance to make his first makuuchi appearance since 2017.
As for the rikishi who are healthy, the remaining top third of juryo has had a basho to forget. Ex-komusubi Shohozan (currently perched at J4E) is showing his age at 36, managing only three wins from his first seven bouts this month. He is without a winning record since 2019, and such a result is not looking likely this January, either. It will be interesting to see if we’ve seen the last of Shohozan amongst the top flight’s rank-and-filers. Daiamami has been unable to build on the form he showed back in November when he accrued a respectable 9-6 record, so this month’s J1W will need a big second week to find himself in the first division for the eighth time come March’s basho. Churanoumi’s 4-3 record at J3W (a career high for the 27 year old from Okinawa Prefecture) might not seem incredibly impressive, but he is riding three straight winning records, all of them 8-7. His consistency is noteworthy, and he has been slowly but steadily climbing the banzuke. He looked good on Day 7 against M17E Sadanoumi, so who knows? Perhaps another eight win effort is on the cards for Churanoumi.
The leader to this point in the basho in Juryo is J8E Tsurugisho, which is nice to see from a guy who had a cup of coffee in makuuchi from late 2019 to early 2020. Gunning for his second career Juryo yusho, Tsurugisho is undefeated so far. He hasn’t exactly been facing total scrubs either, with quality wins over the likes of Churanoumi, Nishikigi, Shohozan, and a rejuvenated Jokoryu. He has not faced the 5-2 fan-favorite Ura yet, whose return to makuuchi has been widely anticipated. Ura presents perhaps the biggest threat to Tsurugisho’s yusho hopes, as the widely publicized sekitori debut of J11W Oho has been disappointing (a mere 2-5 record so far). There is a significant portion of the division at 4-3 or 3-4, so it will be interesting to see who can separate from the pack and chase down Tsurugisho.
One last story to follow is the continuation of the Jokoryu Revenge Tour. Could he rip off a big second week and inch ever closer to his first makuuchi appearance in five years? It’s been a slow comeback for the 32 year old, but he is without a losing record since 2019. He’s got a good opportunity to build on his 4-3 start against J14E Ryuko on Day 8. Jokoryu is back, you heard it here first.
That’s all for now, catch me back here again next week with some fire post-basho Juryo analysis.
Last year we saw the first Honbasho of a new Imperial era, and now we are a few days away from the first Honbasho of a new decade. What hasn’t changed, however, is my commitment to bringing you scorecards for each and every tournament. Here’s hoping we ring in the new year with another amazing Hatsu Basho!