We’re just about one week out from the start of the Aki basho in Tokyo but two big events of note were held at Kokugikan. First up was the open practice hosted by the Yokozuna Deliberation Council. The pressure is on for the sekitori, mostly, to impress the committee and the public. Second was a special dohyo-iri featuring former Yokozuna Hokutoumi, current Hakkaku-Oyakata.
Sept. 2023 Keiko Sōken
This was the first time since the start of the global pandemic that the Yokozuna Deliberation Council’s practice session was open to the public. At this event, the public sure let its presence be known with one spectator admonishing the sekitori on the dohyo for blocking their view. The dutiful wrestlers squatted or climbed off the dohyo to allow the spectators to see. Ever more helpful and accessible to online viewers, the Kyokai has posted a great video of the action on their YouTube channel and I’ve embedded the video below for your convenience.
The video opens with a sparring style called “mōshi-ai.” Here they take turns facing the winner of the previous bout. They’re rather aggressive as they jostle for the winner’s attention. While I’d be in the back, politely raising my hand, “ooo, ooo, Pick me, Sir! Pick me!” others are not as patient and bum-rush the victor, shoving their hand in his face… or just outright grabbing his head. I can never tell how the decision got made but it seems to be clear to just about everyone on the dohyo.
An exception to the rotation is when the Ozeki or Yokozuna appears. Ura won a good bout against Gonoyama where he was able to get in behind the youngster, but ceded his spot with the arrival of Ozeki Kirishima. The dohyo maintenance crew steps in to give the Ozeki a fresh fighting surface. Salt comes out of nowhere. Attentive tsukebito, show up, equipped with towels and water. The action heats up. It’s their show. The recuperating Terunofuji did not participate in the moshi-ai or bouts, though he did lend his chest for butsukari.
Just before the Kirishima/Wakamotoharu bout, Takakeisho climbed up onto the edge of the dohyo. When that bout ended, Kirishima picked Daieisho but when he clocked his fellow Ozeki, crouching at the side, he checked to see if Takakeisho wanted to step in, instead. Takakeisho deferred to Daieisho but stepped in for the next bout. With Hoshoryu joining them on top of the dohyo, most of the hiramaku wrestlers step down and the sanyaku (plus Onosho?) remain at the top of the surface. The Hoshoryu/Kirishima rivalry took precedence for quite a while as they fought each other over and over, not yielding to the eager bystanders. At one point, Nishikigi tries to get in there to take on Kirishima but, hilariously, Hoshoryu boxed him out. Status is everything.
The bouts themselves are pretty intense for practice and seem to give a real glimpse of the readiness of the wrestler. At one point, Kirishima defeated both Hoshoryu and a napping Takakeisho at the same time. Poor Takakeisho. He fought well, but did seem tentative. I’m eager to see how he performs on opening day, next weekend.
When Terunofuji arrived, in a gleaming white mawashi, the action shifted to butsukari. Kirishima got the privilege of working out with Terunofuji to start. A few wrestlers were still on the dohyo and Terunofuji shooed them away. “This is my dohyo now.” Kirishima was plainly gassed from his earlier bouts and was rather too slow to get up. “Hurry up! You’re slow!” Terunofuji repeatedly implored to Kirishima, lifting him by the knot of his mawashi. When Terunofuji finished with Kirishima, they climbed off the dohyo and let the others work out. Terunofuji remarked that Kirishima is the closest to becoming Yokozuna. Near the end of the video, we see Nishikigi nursing a possible pulled muscle in his right leg. He still has a week to prepare so I hope that will be enough.
Hokutoumi Kanreki Dohyo-iri
Turning 60 years old is a significant milestone in Japan (as well as some other Asian countries), commonly associated with red decorations and clothes. For former Yokozuna, they get dolled up in their old Yokozuna kit and perform a special dohyo-iri, except they use a special red tsuna instead of white.
Former Yokozuna Hokutoumi is now Hakkaku-oyakata, chairman (rijicho) of the Japan Sumo Association. As the head of his own heya, he has ushered along several top rikishi, including Hokutofuji and Okinoumi. Both served as his attendants for his dohyo-iri, as you will hopefully see in the video on the left.
Twitter embeds have been a bit weird lately, so let me know if it stops working and I’ll dig up another source. This one has the entire dohyo-iri, so I hope it works.