Tohoku Revival Dohyo-iri

Yokozuna Kakuryu was in Minamisanrikyu to perform a dohyo-iri in remembrance of the Tohoku earthquake and continuing support of the hard hit community. The Yokozuna noted he had come eight years ago as the sword-bearer for Hakuho, who is still recovering from his arm injury.

Araiso oyakata, former Yokozuna Kisenosato, was also on hand and expressed his support for the community. Many are still in trouble and need support.

On March 11, 2011, a 9.0-magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of Tohoku. The quake and resulting tsunami killed more than 15,000 people and touched off a nuclear contamination disaster which the area has yet to recover from.

Kisenosato Exhibit at Ryogoku Kokugikan

Sumo Museum - Kisenosato Exhibit Banners
Banners outside Kokugikan advertising the Kisenosato Exhibit in the Sumo Museum

While the name Kisenosato may have disappeared from the banzuke, the man himself continues to still be very much present in the world of sumo. Whether it’s making TV appearances or being visible at training in his new role as Araiso-oyakata, the man whose elevation to Yokozuna took sumo popularity to new heights continues to be a central figure within the sumo world.

Accordingly, merchandise and social media activations continue to be popular at honbasho, and the NSK has pulled another big look into the career of the 72nd Yokozuna out of the hat with a collaborative exhibit now taking place in the Sumo Museum inside of the hallowed walls of Ryogoku Kokugikan.

The Sumo Association has worked with the former Kisenosato to take items from his storied career on loan so that fans can get an up close look. The Museum is located near the entrance of Kokugikan, and is open from 10am to 430pm with free entrance on non-basho days (last entrance 4pm), and all day while the tournament is in session, with entrance restricted to ticket holders.

Unfortunately, photos are extremely prohibited inside of the museum. However, I went to Kokugikan today to have a look. With another sold-out tournament on the horizon, I figured this would be the best chance to savor the experience without having to battle the match day crowds.

Sumo Museum - Kisenosato Exhibit entrance
This is as far as you can get while taking photos – they are banned in the Sumo Museum

Items on Display

There’s no question the Association has done a great job working with Kisenosato to curate this exhibit. Those able to get to the exhibit will have a chance to see the following:

  • Kisenosato’s Unryu-style tsuna rope.
  • An akeni lacquer wicker trunk used by the Yokozuna.
  • A purple hikae-zabuton used by Kisenosato during a basho – these are the large cushions which you’ll see the rikishi sit on at the side of the dohyo while they await their turn to take the ring. Assistants take to make sure each rikishi’s personal hikae-zabuton is transported in and out of the main room of the arena before the rikishi enters from the shitakubeya dressing room.
  • Five sets of kesho-mawashi all used by Kisenosato and his attendants during honbasho and other events where he performed his dohyo-iri (ring entering ceremony). Some of these were quite stunning to see up close, particularly those that had one consistent design woven as a triptych across three aprons. Kisenosato’s collection featured a beautiful landscape scene, a striking red Mt Fuji against a black background, manga heroes, and more.
  • Tachi swords and kimono used by the Yokozuna.
  • A filthy old training mawashi, tabi (japanese style socks) and setta (sandals).
  • Photos from throughout his career:
    • His debut in sumo
    • Kisenosato with his former stable master Naruto (ex-Yokozuna Takanosato).
    • Kisenosato snapping Hakuho’s 63-match winning streak.
    • Deploying a kotenage while injured to beat Terunofuji in the epic playoff to seal his second and final yusho in Haru 2017.
    • His retirement and ascension to Araiso-oyakata
    • Visiting his supporters in Ibaraki Prefecture to thank them for their support during his career, and more.
  • Banzuke from throughout key moments in his career:
    • His banzuke debut in Jonokuchi, with a helpful arrow pointing out the tiny writing where he is listed under his original name Hagiwara.
    • His first banzuke at Maegashira, Ozeki and Yokozuna level, along with photos of him receiving those promotions.
  • A dark maroon shimekomi including the stiffened sagari cords with his shikona embroidered on the top – the craftsmanship that goes into even the small details is really amazing.
  • Goods and merchandise from throughout his career.

Visitors to the Sumo Museum at Kokugikan will know there is typically a TV in the room playing highlights of great moments from past basho. During the exhibit, this TV is playing all Kisenosato highlights, from his earliest moments before his hair was long enough for a top-knot all the way through to his retirement press conference.

Kisenosato/Araiso continues to be a hugely popular figure in the sumo world, so it is really great that the Association has continued to make efforts to curate events like this in order to provide moments for fans to connect with the sport.

The sport does and always will evolve. To be sure, not every retiring rikishi or even retiring Yokozuna will be afforded the treatment given to the 72nd Yokozuna Kisenosato, but the current exhibit is a fitting testament to his contributions to sumo. I would certainly encourage anyone visiting Tokyo in the near future to get over to the Kokugikan and check it out.

Takakeisho – Ozeki Denied (For Now)

Rising star Takakeisho pressed hard during the Hatsu basho to make the case that he should be promoted to Ozeki. Among sumo fandom, a general guideline is thought to be 33 wins for consideration by the NSK for promotion. To be clear, it’s not a standard of “win 33 over 3 basho and you get promoted”; reality shows that is the minimum for consideration. [It’s not even a minimum: Kisenosato and Goeido were both famously promoted with only 32 wins, and further back in time there were promotions with even lower totals. -lksumo] On the road to his 33rd win, Takakeisho has won a yusho, a jun-yusho, and shown that he can beat Yokozuna and Ozeki. For most fans, it was almost a foregone conclusion that his bid would be approved.

But following the Hatsu basho, the NSK committee of sumo elders concluded that in spite of winning a tournament, and nearly winning a second consecutive tournament, his performance was insufficient to qualify for promotion to Ozeki at this time. They encouraged him to try harder (?) at Osaka. Part of their citation was his loss to Ozeki Goeido on day 15, where the struggling Goeido overpowered Takakeisho and quickly ejected him from the dohyo. Later we learned that in the course of this match, Takakeisho suffered a foot injury.

Takakeisho, at 22 years of age, represents the next generation of rikishi who have been pressing hard to dislodge the old guard, and take their place in sumo’s top ranks. Young, strong, lacking chronic injuries that never quite healed, the rise of both the Tadpole and Freshman cohorts is part of the natural evolution of sumo that Tachiai has been forecasting for the past two years.

But it’s quite likely that western fans felt the young fellow was robbed by the curmudgeons in the NSK, who as of late have been working in increasingly mysterious ways. I was not, however, surprised that the NSK had decided to make young Takakeisho work a bit longer before he became Ozeki. It’s clear he is on an ascendant path, and with his youth, strength and quality of sumo, he will be Ozeki no matter what if he can keep from getting hurt. It is undeniable that the drama around both Sekiwake coming from recent yusho, and both working to make a valid Ozeki bid, will bring a lot of attention to the Osaka tournament, and with the Japanese Yokozuna now retired, the NSK needs compelling stories to keep the public engaged.

Quick Hatsu Review – Liam Loves Sumo

After a short break, I’m back with a short review of the 2019 Hatsu Basho. In this video, I briefly discuss the biggest ups and downs of the Hatsu Basho, surprises and disappointments, the Banzuke picture for the upcoming Haru Basho, and the big stories coming out of January.

I want to thank Bruce for encouraging me to post this to the front page. I’ve been brainstorming some new videos and content and I’m very excited to try them out.

Stay tuned, more sumo content coming soon!

A Day out at the Ryogoku Kokugikan: The Morning after the Night Before

Flags at Kokugikan - Hatsu Basho 2019

One thing I’ve always loved about sumo it’s that it’s a constant evolution. There are no arbitrary end points. While there are 15 day tournaments, and champions of those tournaments, there are no annual seasons to speak of which playoffs or teams or players who can afford to punt the season. Every match counts relative to the next tournament, and until then? There’s constantly work to be done.

Against this backdrop, it’s fairly remarkable how, when I returned to Kokugikan for Day 6 action, it was business as usual. Just three days before, we witnessed in person the last ever match of one of only 72 men in history to hold the title of Yokozuna, and then a day later the media surrounding the sport swelled with coverage of the news of his retirement. On Friday, you wouldn’t really have known. Sure, Kisenosato was on the kyujo list on the side of the scoreboard – but really, taking into account that I missed Aki last year, Kisenosato was always on the kyujo list on the side of the scoreboard for the last 6 tournaments I’d seen. Hell, I’d been to more basho than he had!

The shops were selling out of Kisenosato merchandise, and the cardboard standees were still up for fans to take photos with the Yokozuna. But there was still a tournament to be won and if he wasn’t going to win it, somebody else was. That’s how sumo works.

New and Old Staples

As I was taking in the basho with a friend who had never been to sumo before, we made a stop at the Kokugikan’s Sumo Museum. It’s a must-visit for any first time (or even multiple time!) visitor to Kokugikan, with loads of artifacts from the past hundreds of years of the sport. There’s a small shop inside that sells a very small selection of official merchandise, manned by former rikishi. I hadn’t been into the Museum actually since Harumafuji retired, so the wall featuring photos (and drawings, from before there were photos) of all of the 72 Yokozuna to date was a really nice stroll down memory lane and a great opportunity to pay tribute to Harumafuji and Kisenosato.

I can imagine that for people who have been coming to Kokugikan for years (and technically I suppose I am in that category on my third Hatsu basho), walking past the long list of greats it’s a fantastic opportunity to share stories of legends they grew up watching, with newer fans.

Apart from that, we passed ex-Satoyama in the hallway as we made another trip into the basement for another delicious bowl of Michinoku-beya’s “Variety Chanko.” Fully loaded up on snacks (including the insanely popular “Sumo Pancake,” which comes with a side of soft serve ice cream), we reached our seats just in time to see Ura claim victory.

Reckoning: Now Underway

Readers of the site will know that Bruce will usually sort the drama of a basho out into three acts. Well, when we talk about The Reckoning that’s now under way, Kisenosato’s retirement may just be the first act of a significant transition, and what we’ve been watching for the past year may just have been the prelude. It became clear when I visited for the second time this week that we will see yet more follow, and soon.

Takekaze: He’s 39 and has had a career remarkable for its longevity, but he’s been on a steep downward decline and this will certainly be his final basho as a sekitori, bar a drastic turnaround in form in the next few days or in March, should he decide to continue. But as a rikishi who has only spent two tournaments outside of the paid ranks, the last of which was sixteen and a half years ago, I fully expect like many others before him that he will retire in the next two weeks once the tournament is finished. He went down too easily to Arawashi on Day 6 and has since lost again on Day 7 and 8 and at 1-7 is now facing an almost impossible climb out of trouble.

Aminishiki: Like Takekaze, Aminishiki is now 1-7. Uncle Sumo recently made a wonderful comeback to the top division, but sadly it appears that is where the party will end as his various backwards pull down tricks are no longer working a treat. Aminishiki hasn’t been out of the top two divisions since 1999, but unlike Takekaze, he at least has the luxury of a cushioned fall should the rest of this basho continue as it has started. I wouldn’t rule out him scraping together 3 or 4 more wins by the time it’s finished, but with the number of solid graduates who have escaped the Makushita-joi recently (including the wily Daishoho, who punished him by the same means he frequently punishes others on Day 6), I question whether he has more than two or three more tournaments left in him. Still, others have bet against him before and come up on the losing end.

Both Takekaze and Aminishiki possess elder stock and would be set for (relatively truncated) coaching careers, rather unlike:

Sokokurai: I know this may seem a bit of a reach as he won the yusho in Makushita last time out, but he looked listless in person against Chiyonoumi and has for much of the basho. Obviously he will be motivated at 35 to pick up a pay packet for as long as possible, but one wonders how much of his time will be spent in the Makushita joi battling for the right to do so, as he is likely headed right back from whence he came after this basho.

Mitakeumi injury

One of the key moments of Day 3’s action was the overwhelming crescendo of support for Kisenosato and the comparison with the overwhelming deflation that followed. Mitakeumi’s match was a similar moment on Day 6. There was no better supported rikishi at Kokugikan that day – as has become the standard with Endo- and Abi-mania fading with their recent form – and there were cheer towels, chants, claps, shouts, screams and general mayhem inspired by 2018’s Nagoya basho winner coming from every corner of sumo’s hallowed home.

Initially I simply felt that him losing his bout to Myogiryu simply sucked the life out of the place, given the manner of the somewhat emphatic oshidashi that ended with Mitakeumi’s ejection from the raised surface in total. But when the Dewanoumi man stayed down, it was clear that the crowd was incredibly worried about the man who has become the poster boy for the potential next era of champions.

Doubly disappointing is that this came in the context of what had fast become his best best basho since Nagoya, as he was fighting with the tenacity and intention to be worthy of championship contention. While there are now whispers that he may yet make a return from an injury that is potentially not as bad as first feared, the absolute upside for him from this tournament is now trying to squeak through a kachi-koshi in the event he can make it back (whether that’s well or ill-advised at this point is anyone’s guess), and it further pushes back the start of any meaningful Ozeki run by yet another basho.

After that, apart from Takakeisho dropping his bout with Tochiozan, there weren’t any major shocks, and the day finished with Hakuho taking care of business as usual, as he steamrolls his way towards his 42nd yusho. How lucky we all are to be able to continue to watch him fight.

Overall, I am of course grateful for the opportunity to have attended a couple days at another basho – and now will sit back and look forward to more great sumo in Week 2, the Hatsu yusho champion and to sharing more stories in a couple months from Osaka!

What You Need To Know After Act One

Photo courtesy of the official NHK twitter account

The curtain has dropped on Act One of the 2019 Hatsu Basho, and what show stopper it’s been! With major developments happening on and off the dohyo, here’s a quick update to catch you up on everything you need to know before Act Two.

Leader Board

It’s very early days in the Yusho race, but we already have a small quartet of 5-0 rikishi separating themselves from the crowd. The Brazillion behemoth Kaisei, Onosho, Mitakeumi, and Yokozuna Hakuho have all avoided defeat (some more closely than others) and remain perfect after Act One. A mob of chasers is right on their heels, with Chiyonokuni, Yago, Aoiyama, Nishikigi, Ichinojo, and Takakeisho all ending Day 5 with 4-1 records. Act Two will undoubtedly separate the boys from the men in what should be an interesting Yusho race.

Not Looking So Hot

At the far end of the standings is another race to determine who will be the last winless rikishi of Hatsu. The contenders are Daishomaru, Asanoyama, and Yoshikaze, who have yet to pick up their first win. Not doing much better is the fivesome of Kagayaki, Tochiozan, Komosubi Myogiryu, and Ozeki Goeido. As for the rest of the sanyaku, there are some big names who haven’t been looking their best this January. Kakuryu and Takayasu have both dropped three early matches, and as for Tochinohsin? Well, we’ll get to him in a bit. All of these rikishi will need to make some serious adjustments during the remainder of Hatsu.

Kyujo and Intai

For the first time since Act One of the 2017 Aki Basho, I’ve had to add  Intai heading of this section, and it won’t be the last time in the coming months and years if Bruce is correct. Much has already been said about the retirements of Takanoiwa and Kisenosato so I won’t go into detail here. As for injuries, the only man to bow out of competition during Act One was Tochinoshin. Leg injuries have robbed the Georgian of his forward movement and strength which resulted in him going winless after four days. Hopefully, Tochinoshin will get the rest and recuperation he needs to clear his kadoban status come March.

Kinboshi

Prior to his retirement, Former Yokozuna Kisenosato gave up two kinboshi to Ichinojo and Tochiozan respectively. Ichinojo picked up a second gold star off of flagging Yokozuna Kakuryu. This was the second kinboshi Kakuryu has coughed up this January, as he also lost one to Nishikigi on Day 3. With Kakuryu looking precarious, and Hakuho off his game, we may come out of Act two with a few more kinboshi winners.