Tachiai Interviews Kintamayama, Part 2: “You have a responsibility to your viewers to show everything.”

Kintamayama at Kokugikan
Kotokintamayama? Photo courtesy of Moti Dichne

Welcome to Part 2 of Tachiai’s conversation with Moti Dichne, aka Kintamayama. Moti is well known in the online sumo community for his tireless coverage of all things sumo through his newsletter, his presence on SumoForum, and of course, his exhaustive YouTube channel.

If you missed Part 1 of our conversation, click here to catch up. The second part of our series incorporates some of Moti’s thoughts on the current state of sumo coverage, and who he’d like to bring onto his channel. As with Part 1, the interview has been edited only for clarity and length. This segment features some strong language and opinions, which are of course the subject’s own.

Tachiai: One of the great moments from your channel in the last few years was your Konishiki interview. That was an amazing moment, and one of the things that was very interesting was when you drew out the revelation that Konishiki felt Hakuho wouldn’t have been dominant in another era –

Moti Dichne: He didn’t say “wouldn’t have been dominant.” He said he would barely make Ozeki! 

And he also correctly predicted Kisenosato as the next Japanese Yokozuna.

He said he was the only one. And when he said that, I said, “Are you sure about what you said? You’re OK with me broadcasting this?” 

But Kisenosato still had to actually do it. You had that moment, but who from the sumo world, now or in the past, would you like to feature on the channel, like the interview that you had with Konishiki?

That’s an excellent question. Well, Taiho is dead, so I won’t be able to do that. Chiyonofuji is dead. I guess… Kisenosato (Araiso oyakata).

You know, something really weird happened. The guy [Kisenosato] could hardly speak. When they said they were going to make him an NHK commentator, I said, “This guy has blocks in his mouth.” He’s like Moses!

And suddenly, he’s become this articulate speaker, and very, very deep. The things he says, he’s always right – very nice observations. I said, “What! This is Kisenosato?!”

Look at all of his interviews from when he made Yokozuna, or when he made Ozeki. You can’t understand a word he’s saying – and I know Japanese pretty well. And it’s not like [the interviews are] right after the basho, he’s out in front of the stable! Suddenly, it’s like he has a load off his back, he’s a different person, he has a different face! He’s not grouchy, and he has a lot to say. He says it without being asked, which is even more astounding.

I remember what Takanohana used to do. They used to have to drag all of the stuff out of him. They would ask him three times until he would say yes or no. Now, Kisenosato’s not Kitanofuji, that’s for sure. But Kitanofuji, there’s only one.

Kitanofuji has also had 40 years to hone his punditry.

I like Kitanofuji, because he says things that no one dares to say.

I think that’s what sumo needs.

Of course! The NSK gets offended at every word. Hakuho asks [the fans] to clap three times, they call him in. “Why did you do that? Bye. Here’s your punishment.” “Thank you very much.” What are they trying to do? They’re trying to break him. Hakuho, the guy who broke all the records, which pisses them off, for sure. They can’t do anything about it, but [he has] TEN more [yusho] than the great Japanese Taiho – who was half Russian.

It’s interesting. One thing that we talk about a lot on Tachiai is that there are a lot of people that don’t realise that the Sumo Association is not 100 people who all think the same thing. There are different personalities.

It’s also different generations. 

Yeah, and politics. And navigating that as a sumo fan is that next challenge after you start to understand the sport. 

It’s almost impossible. It’s a different mentality [in Japan]. And if you don’t understand it, you don’t know what’s going on.

That’s why many fans say “Why don’t they do this? Why don’t they lower the dohyo?” Nonsense. I keep writing [that] the injuries from falling off the dohyo are 0.4%. All the injuries occur on the dohyo but not from falling down. Almost none. They learn during the keiko [how to fall], it’s part of training!

That’s another misunderstanding, people who come from [a background of] American sports trying to change the rules, you know? The Kyokai has a lot to change, but… let’s leave the rules.

You’ve said a number of times, “I’ll stop posting recaps when NHK starts covering every bout.” Through what you’ve posted, it would appear you’ve brought thousands of fans to sumo.

For sure. I know, and I keep all the thank you notes. I have them all kept.

As you have been doing what you’ve been doing, and seeing the development of the Abema and NHK and the hunger from the fans, how have you received NHK’s recent development? Where do you think they are in the path to provide the best sumo coverage?

They are by far in a better place. They have NHK World doing live shows 3 or 4 times a basho? Come on, anybody can watch it, for free! That’s incredible.

The only thing I never understand is, even on the Japanese side, they do the digest and they always leave out 4 or 5 bouts. That’s disrespectful. And it’s not that there’s no time. I do it in [a] 15 minute video. They have 24 minutes. So, cut off one of the fucking replays, you know? Show the Daishohos. Show the Daiamamis.

There are guys that I don’t give a shit about, but you’re showing the sport. You’re calling it a digest. Sumo is not a ten minute bout, it’s a three second bout. Altogether, these bouts that [NHK is] cutting out, [total] maybe one minute.

It drives me nuts. If you’re doing a digest, do it. In the USA, in baseball, you’ve got many more games, and the shows show every game. You cannot disrespect the wrestlers. You’re NHK, you have the rights. It’s not like you’re some pirate station where the guy shows only who he likes. You have a responsibility to your viewers to show everything. And that got me doing it. Because it kills me, today – that they still don’t show all the bouts!

As a fan, or as someone who’s even just getting into it, how do you even understand the story of a Terutsuyoshi, or a Daishoho, if you don’t know what’s happened?

It’s unfair, it’s unfair. Period. That’s all I can say. Someone like Nishikigi’s bouts [are] boring to me too, but show it! Sometimes it’s a great bout! Or there’s a great story behind it, you know?

Beyond that, do you think there are more things they can do?

Yeah, they can do 15 days [of live coverage]. But they won’t, because they can’t shoot themselves in the legs. But listen, what they’re doing now is incredible, and it’s still not enough.

Also, it’s only Makuuchi, and it’s not even the whole of Makuuchi. Still, beggars can’t be choosers. For anyone who is not into YouTube, or they’re older, [they] can have NHK World, on cable, on their [device], and it’s free. That’s better than nothing.

I would do every single one of the [live broadcasts] with Murray [Johnson] and [John] Gunning! They are the best, fantastic. I never used to listen to the English people, they drove me crazy with mispronunciation. But Murray I always liked. Together with John, it’s so nice, it has great pace, it’s very informative, there’s great humour. 

They work well together.

They have a good rapport! I would watch that, without question. Very informative. First of all, John has experience. He did sumo, he knows what he’s talking about. He’s a busy person, he does all kinds of stuff with rugby, and he still has time [to keep up with sumo]. Listen, I know him, since he was just getting started. He is an incredibly nice guy. An amazing guy.

Find out more from Kintamayama and subscribe to his mailing list at dichne.com, and keep an eye out for the next parts of our conversation, which will run soon on Tachiai.

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.