Everything You Need to Know After Act One

 

Act 1

After a somewhat tepid start, the 2018 Natsu Basho is beginning to heat up. So far we’ve seen some excellent sumo from one end of the banzuke to the other, especially from the men in the Joi who are in top form and have been delivering some great bouts. With Act One done and dusted, here’s everything you need to know after the first five days of the Natsu Basho!

Yusho Race

It’s still early in the Yusho race, but five days of sumo has quickly whittled down the numbers and we now have a very competitive leaderboard. At the top, we have Shodai, Tochinoshin, and Yokozuna Hakuho who all still have perfect records after Act One. Right behind them is the chase group of 4-1 rikishi such as Kyokutaisei, Chiyonokuni, Daishomaru, Ichinojo, and Kakuryu. brining up the rear is a massive hunt group of rikishi all with two losses, including Sadanoumi, Daiamami, Asanoyama, Yoshikaze, Kotoshogiku, Mitakeumi, and Endo just to name a few.

Kachi Koshi and Make Koshi

While fortunes certainly can change,  there are several rikishi with a good shot of reaching their kashi koshi by the end of Act Two, and even more who will have to put some serious work in to avoid their make koshi. Kyokutaisei, Chiyonokuni, Daishomaru, Ikioi, Shodai, Ichinojo, Tochinoshin, Kakuryu, and Hakuho all have four wins or more after the first act and are halfway to their coveted winning records. On the flip side of the coin, Aminishiki, Ishiura, Arawashi, Hokutofuji, Ryuden, Chiyomaru, Shohozan, Kaisei, Yutakayama, Tamawashi, Daiesihso, and Abi have all gotten at least four losses and will have to get their sumo in gear to avoid demotion in July.  Everyone else will have their fates decided later on in the Basho.

Kinboshi

We have only seen one gold star victory handed out so far this basho, and it was awarded to Maegashira 2 Shohozan, who defeated Yokozuna Kakuryu on Day 4. with upper Maegashira men such as Shodai and Ikioi off to very impressive starts, we may see the number of kinboshi rise if/when they get a crack at the two standing Yokozuna.

Kyujo

With the exception of Yokozuna Kisenosato and Ozeki Takayasu pulling out before the official tournament start, the Makuuchi Division has been remarkably kyujo-free so far. While this certainly can change later on in the competition, it does seem like the men in the mawashis are taking extra care of late to ensure that nasty falls off the dohyo are less common. With any luck, this new sense of camaraderie will mean fewer rikishi pulling out due to fall related injuries.

Act Two will see the heat rise in Tokyo as the competition gets fiercer and fiercer at the 2018 Natsu Basho. The Mid-Basho weekend is shaping up to be an excellent display of sumo and this fan can’t wait to see what will happen! Let Act Two begin!!

 

 

Yokozuna Kisenosato Kyujo For Natsu

Kisenosato-down

As Tachiai had speculated, perpetually injured Yokozuna Kisenosato has declared he will not start the May tournament in Tokyo.  This will be the 7th consecutive tournament that he has missed all or part of the 15 day competition. His Oyakata again is sighting continued difficulty recovering from injuries sustained in March 2017 at the Osaka tournament, where he won the yusho in his first outing as Yokozuna.

Full details (in Japanese) at the link

https://www.asahi.com/articles/ASL595JHRL59UTQP01N.html

Why Am I Dreading the Natsu Basho?

Kisenosato

Like all sumo fans, I am eager for the next honbasho to get underway, yet in many respects I am apprehensive about the upcoming tournament. Many of the trends Tachiai identified early and have been dutifully covering are continuing to unfold, with both positive and negative aspects. Sure, I will be cheering as I watch day 1, but I worry Natsu is a preview for just how ugly things will be in the second half of the year.

In Yokozuna land, there is the clear indication that Kisenosato will sit out yet another basho. The man has his pride, and as Herouth mentioned a few weeks ago, there are some indications he may be preparing to announce his retirement from the sport. This is a natural result of his career ending injury sustained at the Osaka basho in 2017. If we consider things with honesty, there was never a very large chance that even with surgery that pectoral muscle would ever again support Yokozuna class sumo. Even the Great Pumpkin seems to be taking it seriously now. Why do I dread this? Once again, a segment of the sumo world (mostly in Japan) will erupt into a festival of complaints about Mongolians and other foreigners in the sport. Having lost their Japanese Yokozuna, some commentators may become insufferable.

But there’s a bright spot, right? Hatsu yusho winner Tochinoshin is moving to make his case to become Ozeki? That’s full of awesome, right? The Tochinoshin story is fantastic from a fan and from a blogger perspective. The man is a walking testament to never giving up and overcoming any obstacle. But he would be yet another foreign born rikishi at the top of the sport, further fueling the tribalist influences that sometimes are on display in sumo-fandom. He is also 30 years old with a bum knee. While It would be awesome to see the man from Georgia achieve the exalted status of “Great Barrier”, I get a sick feeling this is going towards a calamitous end.

Ok, so give the Japanese public a fresh Japanese Yokozuna and all is well, right? Sure, but then Takayasu shows that he’s banged up and probably needs to sit one out. His sumo devolved to where he was using his tachiai to ram one shoulder or upper arm into every opponent, and no one should be surprised that they are now injured. We will find out soon enough how bad it is, but don’t be surprised if Takayasu spends part or all of Natsu on the bench.

Don’t get me wrong, by the time that we are entering the final weekend, the Natsu basho will be a grand and epic arc of fantastic sumo. But as we get towards the middle of this transitional period, it can be a bit tough to watch the carnage.

Onward to Sunday!

Pre Natsu News Round Up – May 7th

Kisenosato-Salt

*Thanks to Herouth for scouting much of this content via twitter.

Across Tokyo, inter-stable training sessions are increasing as the rikishi continue to hone their preparations for Sunday’s start of the Natsu basho. While everyone is training hard and engaging in multiple test matches, it’s the top men who are getting the headlines.

Yokozuna Hakuho participated in the Isegahama Ichimon joint training session, going up against Kaisei, Takarafuji and Kyokutaisei, finishing with a 13-0 record. He is looking strong and confident going into Sunday’s tournament start, and will be a strong contender for the yusho. Observers noted that his tachiai no longer featured his usual face-slap, as requested by the Yokozuna Deliberation Committee.

Injured Yokozuna Kisenosato trained at the Nishonoseki joint training, held today at kaze-land (Oguruma). Kisenosato went against Yoshikaze for 9 bouts and won all of them. It should be noted that something has robbed Yoshikaze of most of his overflowing genki fighting form as of late, and today his right shoulder was heavily taped. One notable from the Nishonoseki rengo keiko was the early departure of Ozeki Takayasu, who complained of pain in his left arm. Previous training sessions featured the big Ozeki suffering pain in his right shoulder in between bouts.

Meanwhile, Yokozuna Kakuryu looked strong and dominant in joint training Monday at Tokitsukaze beya. He faced Endo, Abi, and Yutakayama, finishing 18 and 1. Yokozuna Kakuryu has stated his absolute goal is to score a back-to-back yusho, overcoming everyone including Hakuho to maintain his lock on the top spot in sumo, Yokozuna 1 East. Going into Sunday’s start, he is the man to beat, with his health seeming to be good, and his body in excellent condition, he is possibly in his best form ever.

Tachiai drops in on the YDC Soken

Kokugikan Interior - YDC Soken
The Makushita division moshiai during the Yokozuna Deliberation Committee’s soken

Once a year, the Yokozuna Deliberation Committee opens their soken to the public. Anyone can simply turn up to the fabled Kokugikan in the Ryogoku neighborhood of Tokyo and watch all the stars (and more besides) work out in front of the Committee and a selection of esteemed stable-masters, several of whom are also on the board of the Sumo Association. Oh, and by the way – it’s free.

The soken started from 7:30am and ran until just after 11am. The open training session and assessment contains a few features, the two most prominent being moshiai (where two rikishi fight and the winner stays on and picks his next opponent from an eager crowd) and butsukari (one rikishi holds firm while the other tries to essentially plow him across the dohyo). At the end of the day, each Yokozuna also picked a handful of friends to come up for some sanban (a series of 1 on 1 matches).

The crowd at this event was overwhelmingly elderly in nature, though there were a handful of families in attendance. Again, a gift shop was set up, and curiously, I spotted a rare piece of Harumafuji merch: a statue that retailed for about $120, a beautiful collector’s item for any super fan of the former champion. In the arena, the lower boxes were almost completely full, and the upper deck of Kokugikan was about 10% full. Owing to my vantage point, occasionally the odd punter walks in front of my camera, so please mind any interruptions in the videos below.

Juryo & below

Soken - Kaisho, Tomisakae, Enho
Kaisho and Tomisakae do battle as Enho awaits his turn. (Photo credit: @nicolaah)

Terutsuyoshi gave Enho butsukari, but the wee Miyagino man either really had some trouble pushing the wee Isegahama man across the dohyo, or Terutsuyoshi was digging in with some incredible strength. The soken is meant to be a quiet training session, but the first sign of the day that that clearly wouldn’t be the case was the big cheer given to Enho when he mounted the dohyo for this first practice.

Wakatakakage put a nice little run together when picked for moshiai, but got a little over ambitious in picking the experienced Azumaryu, as he was no match for the veteran on this day. Wakatakakage seems a little more ready than Enho was for the lower end of Juryo, and his promotion may be well timed.

Fellow Juryo promotee Hakuyozan was by far the most popular pick in the Juryo moshiai, and also the recipient of the most losses. That said, no one in the Juryo division was really able to put a run of more than 3 wins together in the moshiai. Rikishi were presumably getting tired quite quickly with so many repeated matches under the hot lights. Tokushoryu managed to stay up for 5 matches which seemed the longest run in the division.

Lower Makuuchi

Soken - Sumo Elders & Oyakata
Several oyakata look on as their charges mount the dohyo. (Photo credit: @nicolaah)

Uncle Takarafuji (the heir to the Uncle Sumo mantle whenever Aminishiki hangs em up) put together a nice run in the moshiai. He also called on shin-makuuchi man Kyokutaisei for his first moshiai in the top division. The Hokkaido movie-star gave him a good match before disposing the veteran. Kyokutaisei in turn then got even more ambitious and selected Mitakeumi, and… he learned a lesson.

Everyone wanted a piece of Tochinoshin. And a lot of them were able to get it, because he was an absolute monster on the dohyo. The only time the Georgian relented during a remarkable stretch where he laid waste to about 10 rikishi in a row was simply to get his man servants to come over and wipe him down from all the sweat he accumulated under the lights.

Chiyotairyu was the man to finally beat him, and must have enjoyed it so much that he then pushed the crowd away to give the Kasugano-beya star a rematch, which he also won. Chiyotairyu must make a great DJ because he was in a real crowd pleasing mood, and evoked a massive applause from the crowd by giving shin-Komusubi Endo his first outing of the day.

For those of you who haven’t been to Kokugikan, if you walk around the halls, the only non-yokozuna rikishi that you see anywhere is Endo. He’s on advertisements, he’s on cardboard cutouts where you can have your picture taken with him, he’s a bona fide sumo rock star. That said, his wins were far and few between today as he did not look particularly genki.

Here’s Endo knocking off Myogiryu before losing again to Chiyotairyu:

Chiyonokuni was tapped by Yoshikaze to take the stage and this was a brilliant street fight, with Yoshikaze getting dumped off the dohyo having been thrusted out by the man from Mie. I cursed myself for missing out on filming this (but an iPhone battery can only take so much abuse in one sitting), but I look forward to a rematch here in the Natsu basho, Great Sumo Cat-willing.

Maegashira basement-dweller Nishikigi was a popular selection for many rikishi in the moshiai. Here he is, taking on and defeating everyone’s favorite pony-tossing sekiwake:

Notable absentees included many of the same men absent from jungyo, as Ikioi and Aoiyama were nowhere to be seen. Injured men Takakeisho and Aminishiki were in attendance, and fan favorite Abi did not take the dohyo but performed stretching activities out to the side. Another man who didn’t spend much time on dohyo was Chiyomaru, but he was certainly a favorite amongst the fans gathered outside after the event: when the rikishi exited the soken, many of them had to walk right through the fans and over to the taxi rank outside Ryogoku station, and the hungry man had to stop to pose for more fan photos than anyone else I saw.

San’yaku

Soken - Kisenosato v Kakuryu
Kisenosato drives Kakuryu back. (Photo credit: @nicolaah)

The men of the top ranks mostly fought against each other, and this was prime fare for the sumo watcher. Luckily for you, dear reader, we’ve got lots of video!

Kisenosato was very active and got several rounds in, mostly against Goeido and Kakuryu. He snuck a couple wins but didn’t look great. Again, Goeido showed no mercy and looked like he had the beating of him. If this Goeido shows up to Natsu, it could be a really good basho.

Kakuryu looked really good. He looked like a yokozuna. Ichinojo was on hand for the san’yaku moshiai but didn’t as feature much either in the moshiai, or later, the butsukari, as the other men of the san’yaku.

Takayasu spent most of the day hanging out on the sidelines with his man-servant and doing stretching activities. It was clear before he even got on the dohyo that he was not in good shape, and his feet were heavily taped. Goeido wasn’t in the mood to show any man from Tagonoura-beya any mercy today: when Takayasu eventually did mount the dohyo, he was dispatched multiple times by his fellow ozeki. His final attempt at battle had the hairy man ending up howling in pain, grasping his right shoulder, and stumbling back to the corner to stretch out for the rest of the morning.

Hakuho showed once again why he is such great entertainment. As you can see from the videos, he waits off to the side for ages. After everyone has had their little fun, The Boss takes the stage and he is utterly and completely box office. It’s san-ban time and Hakuho goes several rounds with Mitakeumi, then Endo, then Mitakeumi again. Mitakeumi gives him more of a game than Endo, who just looks totally overmatched. Hakuho looked like he still had it in for Mitakeumi for breaking his win streak last summer. Towards the end it gets humiliating, like when Hakuho spins Mitakeumi around and just kicks his leg out from under him. The very next fight, Mitakeumi finally pushes his man out of the dohyo, only to be rewarded with yet more san-ban.

Soken - Hakuho & Endo
Hakuho and Endo in butsukari. (Photo credit: @nicolaah)

Hakuho later gave absolutely brutal butsukari to Endo that lasted at least 10 minutes. I captured perhaps the least humiliating parts of that encounter in the below video, because I didn’t want Endo to see much video evidence of what happened today on the internet. From time to time Hakuho threw a few kicks in for the dirt-covered star while he’s lying prostrate on the clay. Hakuho also took reverse butsukari from new maegashira Kyokutaisei, in what must have been another cool moment for the Tomozuna rikishi.

Tochinoshin and Kisenosato were butsukari bros for the day, alternating attacks. When Tochinoshin was on the offensive it looked like he was targeting Kisenosato’s injured left pectoral in particular, and I wondered if that might have been more with Kisenosato in mind than Tochinoshin, perhaps to show those in attendance (and perhaps the Yokozuna himself) how much the beleaguered Yokozuna could withstand from a strong Sekiwake at the peak of his performance. Tochinoshin was absolutely on fire all day, displaying a confident and authoritative presence, and if he turns up to the upcoming tournament displaying the form we saw today, then he will make a very strong case for a promotion to Ozeki.

Many thanks to Tachiai’s instagram moderator Nicola for many of the photos in this post. For more photos from the soken, head over to Tachiai’s instagram profile!

May 2nd Sumo News Roundup

soken

As we count down the days until the Natsu basho kicks off in Tokyo, rikishi are preparing to battle it out for the tournament’s 15 days. In training we have seen alarming problems for Takayasu, who collapsed in pain during training at Tagonoura,but later seemed to recover. We have also seen Ozeki hopeful Tochinoshin confess to a right shoulder injury during the jungyo tour, that may cause him significant problems as he pushes for double digit wins.

Perpetually injured Yokozuna Kisenosato seems to be doing better, but is (in my opinion) doubtful for this tournament. In reports from Herouth, there has been some kabu shuffling as of late, which could indicate that he has owned up to the prospects of ever recovering full use of his left arm, and is seeking a dignified exit from the dohyo, and a transition into coaching, running a stable or other role within the NSK.

Meanwhile, compact powerhouse Ishi-ura became the father of a baby at 3:30 AM Japan time. Both mother and child are doing well, and we congratulate the new father on his family. Former sekitori Osunaarashi has decided to switch to mixed martial arts (MMA), and we will likely see him in battle again before too long. We wish the big Egyptian luck, but recognize the battered condition his body was in during his final tournaments, and urge him find a way to stay healthy.

You want more from today’s soken? Josh and Nicola are attending, and Nicola is posting lots of great photos!

Natsu Banzuke – Bruce’s Comments

Mole Boss vs Dia Yokozuna

The Tachiai team will gather for their banzuke podcast next weekend, but with the Banzuke just published, it’s time for some comments and remarks. If you are looking for lksumo giving himself a hard time over his estimates, he will likely publish those soon.

Yokozuna / Ozeki – no surprises here, Kakuryu remains at 1 East. Although Kisenosato has been participating in Jungyo, and making competition noises, it’s far from certain that he will actually compete in Natsu. Takayasu is starting to dream of trying for the rope himself, but this basho will likely feature Hakuho in the roster. Not that the dai-yokozuna is unbeatable, but Takayasu needs to dominate across the board to make a play for the yusho.

In the lower San’yaku is where the excitement starts. We have Ozeki hopeful Tochinoshin taking the Sekiwake 1 East slot, with our favorite boulder Ichinojo taking West. Tochinoshin continues to look very strong, incredibly focused and driven to excel. With Hakuho back in action, the challenge to reach double digits again will be significantly increased. Mitakeumi drops down to Komusubi East, with Endo making his San’yaku debut at Komusubi West. It’s been a long, hard road for Endo, and I am sure that he is savoring this achievement.

Kaisei rocketed up the banzuke to grab Maegashira 1 West, from 6 East last tournament. There were some who speculated that his impressive 12-3 Jun-Yusho should put him in the San’yaku, but there was a pack of over-achievers in Osaka, and the Brazilian is forced to settle for M1. This is further evidenced by Tamawashi only moving from West to East, even though he produced a 9-6 record.

In the Freshmen, Abi continues to over-accomplish. He is now firmly in the Joi at Maegashira 2, with fellow Freshman Yutakayama taking Maegashira 3. Ryuden rises a respectable 4 slots to 7 East, while Asanoyama is settling for a mild promotion at 12 West, thanks to another cohort of solid performance in the lower end of the banzuke in March.

The Oitekaze brute squad is further represented by Daieisho at 3 East, thanks to his 9-6 in March from 8 West. Can someone please get the Oitekaze chanko recipe? I feel it could have wonderful benefits for the infirm and the aged (starting with me!). Daiamami picks up 11 East after 10-5 from 16 East in March.

The tadpoles are licking their wounds to be certain, now. With Mitakeumi out of Sekiwake, Takakeisho down to 10 West, and the fighting red mawashi of Onosho dropped down to Juryo without so much as a “すみません” (Sumimasen). Is Takakeisho a Maegashira 10 rikishi? Ha! No, no and hell no. Is Onosho a Juryo riksihi? Lower division folks, make sure you are taped up when you face the red terror. The tadpoles are down, but not out.

But speaking of large objects, everyone’s favorite spheroid, Chiyomaru, dropped to 7 East while his stable-mate Chiyotairyu took the Koumusubi express back down the banzuke to 4 East.

But let’s not end hungry! Down at the lower rungs of the banzuke, there are some happy faces. Kyokutaisei makes his debut in the top division. He joins returning faces Sadanoumi, Takekaze and… UNCLE SUMO! Yes, Aminishiki returns like that favorite pair of jeans you though were too beat up to wear. Nope, still plenty of life, but enjoy them while you can.

I would be remiss if I did not comment that much farther down the banzuke, our favorite Texan, Wakaichiro, finds himself back in Jonidan at 14 East. This is certainly a disappointment to him, but we encourage him to recall he always fights better in Tokyo. Give ’em hell!

A Day Out at the Koshigaya Gymnasium: Spring Jungyo Finale

Koshigaya Gymnasium - Exterior
The Koshigaya Gymnasium

It’s been a month since the conclusion of the Haru basho, and if you’re like me, you probably really miss sumo right now. If you’re like me, you’re also in Japan for the next month and will be looking to cover some unique events for Tachiai. So, with that in mind, I headed up to Koshigaya today for the final date of the spring Jungyo tour. This is my first time covering Jungyo for the site, and I will do my best to do justice to the work of the mighty Herouth!

Getting to Koshigaya

From my base near Shimbashi Station in Tokyo, it took about an hour, two trains and around ¥600 to reach the town of Koshigaya in Saitama prefecture. Koshigaya Station is your typical Japanese suburban train station with a decent amount of amenities, and it was very handy that the station had a 7-11 ATM that supports international cards, as I didn’t have much cash on hand for food and/or souvenirs.

From the station, it’s about a 3km/35-40 minute walk to the Gymnasium (which is part of a sports complex in the town), and the alternative options are bus and taxi. I didn’t see any buses and there was one taxi nearby, so I grabbed that at the price of an additional ¥1450. Both the driver and I had a very limited grasp of each others’ languages, but I showed him where I wanted to go on the map and off we went.

The Venue

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The entrance to the Gymnasium was very festive, despite some scaffolding in front of the venue as you can see in the photo at the top of this post. There were a number of food stalls set up out front, and also some rikishi walking around (most prominently, in more ways than one, Chiyootori).

It is safe to say I have never been at a place in Japan where people were so happy to see me, at every stall. They were incredibly surprised to see a foreigner in their town (I saw, at most, 3 or 4 others in the venue), and everyone wanted to be very welcoming to me. An older gentleman at a noodle stall asked where I live, and when I told him that I live in Los Angeles, he was extremely excited to share that he spent time in Chicago in his younger days. He assumed I must have friends in Koshigaya and when I told him I was just visiting to come see the sumo, he shook my hand in surprise multiple times and very enthusiastically thanked me for supporting the town and his stall.

At the door, you receive a sheet with the day’s torikumi and a plastic bag for your shoes. Fortunately, our friends at BuySumoTickets.com alerted me when I purchased my ticket that everyone must remove shoes inside the venue and switch into your own slippers. If I hadn’t brought a pair with me, I probably would have been OK just wearing socks, as I saw a handful of people doing (the restrooms, if you’re interested, had a space outside for switching from your slippers into special provided shoes for the toilets). The whole floor inside the entry of the venue was covered with tarp. At the entry, it was quite easy to make this costume change, but the large group of (mostly elderly) fans exiting the arena at the end of the day led to quite a bit of a bottleneck.

The food and merch stands inside the venue had good, if limited selections. The best option at jungyo seems to be to take advantage of the numerous local vendors outside. I grabbed a box of karaage inside the venue which was tasty, if a bit fattier and greasier than you’ll usually find at the Kokugikan.

The Gymnasium layout consists entirely of floor seats on the main dohyo level, and a couple of sections of arena seats in the upper level. I had an Arena “A” seat, of which there were two rows up against the balcony wall in front of the corridor, so I had a view unimpeded by pedestrians.

The crowd on hand consisted mostly of the extremes of very young children and very elderly folks. There were a lot of grandparents on hand with their grandchildren. A very large group of school kids wearing yellow bucket hats filled out the room for the sekitori bouts. In all, the venue and events provide a great day for families and in the local community to connect with sumo, and I found that being there in person was an interesting counterpoint to how jungyo is often discussed: “that endless injury-causing tour that everyone complains about.”

The Events

I arrived just in time to see Hakuho engaging Ryuden for butsukari. Hakuho was playing up the crowd, who loved every appearance he made throughout the day. It was clear that his presence just electrifies the room, and this was made even more clear given that we were in a smaller, local gymnasium.

Kiddie sumo came up next, with a group of very eager kids pairing up to take on the three local Saitama-born rikishi Hokutofuji, Daieisho and Abi, as well as Endo and Ryuden. Endo led off, after which Hokutofuji and Ryuden took several rounds. Abi, who was unquestionably the star of the day, played up the local crowd by interfering with Hokutofuji and Ryuden’s bouts, coming up behind and helping the kids push/pull the big rikishi out. Ryuden looked absolutely exhausted and was still covered in dirt from the Hakuho treatment he had received moments earlier, but he still managed to give a pair of kids the helicopter treatment, grabbing one each by the mawashi and spinning them around in the air!

Finally, Daieisho and Abi got their turns to loud applause from the crowd. With Abi, the kids took the logical approach: trying to lift up those huge legs! And of course, shiko-wizard Abi took this as an opportunity to show off just how high he could raise his leg (answer: well over the head of a small child).

Abi with fans. Jungyo Koshigaya 27 April 2018
Local hero Abi: taking pictures and signing autographs for fans

There was a bit of a lull after the butsukari and kiddie sumo finished. While the jungyo events follow a different cadence to the relentless progression of a day at a honbasho, it’s still a long day, and plenty of folks were taking naps in the upstairs part of the venue while the sandanme and makushita wrestlers were having their bouts.

The shokkiri team of Sadogatake-beya’s Kotoryusei and Kotorikuzan definitely brought the comedy to their portion of the day’s events, and I’ve added the first 5 minutes of their performance here:

The performance was a real welcome moment to get everyone in good mood and ready to enjoy the stars as they prepared to mount the dohyo for their proper bouts. The only sad part of the shokkiri was that the crowd didn’t seem to recognise Kotoryusei’s impression of Kotoshogiku doing his famous belly bend. Is it possible that now that the former Ozeki has stopped doing his famous pre-match routine, some memory-challenged fans simply forgot it?

The Bouts

Touching on just one bout outside of the top two divisions, I will say that the Chiyootori comeback tour is looking good. He appeared mostly unbandaged apart from one foot, and created a thunderous tachiai that I actually felt in the second row of the upper deck, as it reverberated in the entire gymnasium. I suppose that is one benefit of the odd acoustic differences between a gymnasium and a proper arena like the Kokugikan.

Juryo

Enho easily dealt with Akua but came away with a bloodied face for his troubles. Here’s the video:

Terutsuyoshi deployed his heaping salt throw and had a decent start against Akiseyama as he worked to lock up his arms. But, when he shifted to get a mawashi grip, the big man took advantage and got two hands around the smaller rikishi, picking him up by the back of the mawashi and carrying him out spectacularly.

Billy no-mates Takagenji, the lone sekitori representative of his more isolationist stable at the jungyo, posted a good yorikiri win over a thoroughly exhausted Daishoho, after a prolonged grapple in the center of the dohyo. If Takagenji can continue that form, then he should have a good tournament at Natsu.

Tsurugisho is middling at the moment, but he absorbed Kotoeko‘s tachiai in an almighty clash and tossed him aside, laying waste to the notion that the Sadogatake man might be ready for a big promotion that it’s possible he will get this weekend.

Terunofuji beat Gagamaru, who showed up without any strapping, so I assumed he’d be in good health and genki. You wouldn’t have known that to be the case, as Gagamaru appeared to be so confused at the tachiai that he must have thought he was Shodai. He just stood up and took two blasts from Terunofuji, who promptly switched to plan B, turned the Georgian around and pushed him out. This was not really a match that will tell us much about either guy, and Terunofuji, who received a hearty applause in the dohyo-iri and then entering and exiting the arena floor, appeared a little disappointed in the level of opposition.

Kyokutaisei, who usually has an expression like someone ate his chanko, had a grin on his face all day, both in the dohyo-iri and before his match with Takekaze. It looked like Takekaze might get the better of him, but after a good grapple, the soon-to-be shin-makuuchi man pushed out his elder colleague.

Makuuchi

A number of infants made the makuuchi dohyo-iri and one man holding an infant was Saitama prefecture’s Abi who received an almighty ovation during the ring entering ceremony for the east rikishi of the top division. On the west, Tochinoshin seemed to receive the largest round of applause. I didn’t think there would be a louder cheer than we got for Hakuho‘s dohyo-iri, but the place exploded when Kisenosato walked in the room.

Asanoyama meant business and led with what appeared to be a Takayasu-style shoulder blast before leading Nishikigi to the bales and out.

Chiyoshoma vs Ishiura is a battle I want to see every basho. The Tottori protein spokesman and GQ model drew a nice round of applause, and this match also had a handful of sponsors. As for what happened, regular readers won’t need to guess: Even at jungyo, Ishiura tried a henka. He nearly pulled it off, as the Kokonoe man ran right through. Up against the bales, Chiyoshoma managed three times to pull the smaller rikishi up with his legs dangling horizontally in the air, but all of those protein shakes are working for the muscular man from Miyagino-beya, and Ishiura managed to put him over the the line. Then he threw a cool party on Instagram Live tonight, featuring Daishomaru, Terutsuyoshi and a very reluctant Akiseyama.

David Gray was a pop singer with a good run of success in the 2000s, and on stage, he became known for how his head would wobble from side to side when he played guitar. Ryuden has an oddly-similar pre-match demeanor, and suffered a fairly straightforward yorikiri loss to Yutakayama, whose technical ability has improved tremendously. Mawashi-watchers will note that Ryuden has switched from black to a new wine-colored mawashi.

Daieisho got a good round of applause from the locals as he mounted the dohyo. Okinoumi had him going backwards, but Daieisho turned the veteran around and got a yorikiri win for his troubles. Again, it’s tough to take a lot from this match, and I’ll just say it was probably not a match he would have won in a honbasho that wasn’t taking place in a gymnasium in his home prefecture against a perma-injured opponent.

Chiyonokuni is now sporting a blue mawashi. Not a vibrant Kotoshogi-blue but more of a soft Shodai blue. I don’t know what Kagayaki was doing engaging him in a high octane slapfest but Chiyonokuni loves a good handbags-at-ten-paces kind of encounter and ushered his opponent back and out.

Yoshikaze didn’t look great, and Hokutofuji grabbed him one-handed by the belt, pulled him around and shoved him out. I thought the winning technique was going to be called an okuridashi, but, perhaps charitably for the elder, losing rikishi, it was ruled uwatedashinage.

Kaisei v Chiyomaru: these guys are big enough to bring a small gymnasium down with a thunderous tachiai. The announcer gave Kaisei’s shusshin as Sao Paolo rather than Brazil, which I hadn’t heard before, and thought was cool. Chiyomaru dropped the pretense he has sometimes flirted with of trying to be a mawashi guy, and relentlessly thrusted Kaisei out. Chiyomaru reminded me of a smaller, rounder Aoiyama in this match. Kaisei (who has been giving great face lately) walked away toothily grimacing and clutching his stinging chest.

Kotoshogiku and Takarafuji engaged in a battle of the vets. Takarafuji is always technically very sound, but this time he was clinical as well: he wrapped up his man, and escorted him out. Takarafuji has also switched to a soft matte blue mawashi from his previous wine blend.

Big Guns Shohozan took on Tamawashi, who also has given up his signature teal mawashi for the very in-vogue soft matte blue. This was a street fight that I wish I caught on video. Both men bounced off each other and then stood a few paces apart, seemingly egging the other to bring it on. Shohozan threw a right hook which Tamawashi ducked, then both men traded attempts at a roundhouse and missed before Tamawashi just shoved Shohozan into the crowd. This was another matchup I hope to see again soon.

Endo was wearing a dark purple mawashi, and took on local man Abi, who got an enormous applause. Endo got the better of the tachiai and moved Abi back, but of course the local hero danced his long limbs out of danger and recovered to put Endo away. Abi exited to huge cheers from the crowd. Watch the match:

Ichinojo smacked into Chiyotairyu in the matchup of the two current komusubi, and had him out within seconds.

I’m not sure where the version of Mitakeumi we saw today has been. He charged into Tochinoshin, moving him back. But then, Tochinoshin lifts him off his feet, and as his feet are wiggling in the air, you think: “oh no, he’s going to get embarrassed again.” But he recovers, turns the Georgian and lifts the Hatsu yusho winner off his feet and out.

Goeido beat Kisenosato in a lengthy match where it looked like he was going to snap the Yokozuna’s left arm in half probably 2 or 3 times. It was clear even in an exhibition contest that Kisenosato has very limited ability to do much with that injured left side. Let’s cut to the VT:

In the musubi-no-ichiban, Hakuho has a good match against a Kakuryu who fought hard. Kakuryu moves Hakuho back, but this crowd is here to see The Boss win and he delivers them the victory. As Kakuryu moves to pin him back, Hakuho lifts up his fellow Mongolian yokozuna in the air, spins and deposits him out of the ring.

After the event ended, there were long lines on hand for buses and taxis in a suburban town which perhaps wasn’t used to holding large events. There didn’t appear to be enough buses or taxis, but the bus seemed my best bet to get back to the train station. In spite of the wait, the elderly crowd was very good-natured, and a nice old gentleman waiting next to me gave me a wrapped seat cushion from the event as a gift.

I can’t say enough about how friendly and warm and welcoming everyone in the Koshigaya community was, and I strongly recommend checking out a jungyo event if you ever get the chance.

Natsu Banzuke Crystal Ball

I started writing these prediction posts exactly a year ago, so this will be my seventh banzuke forecast for Tachiai. The accuracy has varied from basho to basho, though I think it’s fair to say that the forecasts give a very good idea of roughly where each rikishi will land—in most cases, within one rank or closer.

Upper San’yaku

Y1

Kakuryu

Hakuho

Y2

Kisenosato

O1

Takayasu

Goeido

No changes here from the Haru banzuke.

Lower San’yaku

S

Tochinoshin

Ichinojo

K

Endo

Mitakeumi

With his 7-8 record, Mitakeumi will lose his Sekiwake rank, but should only fall to Komusubi. Tochinoshin moves over to the East side, while Ichinojo moves up to Sekiwake. Endo finally gets his San’yaku promotion, and is a sufficiently strong candidate with his 9-6 record at M1e that I have him on the East side, although the banzuke committee could certainly switch him and Mitakeumi.

Upper Maegashira

M1

Tamawashi

Kaisei

M2

Abi

Shohozan

M3

Daieisho

Yutakayama

M4

Chiyoshoma

Ikioi

M5

Shodai

Kotoshogiku

What’s certain is that there will be a lot of turnover in this area of the banzuke, as with the exception of Shohozan, everyone in the M2-M5 ranks checked in with a losing record, and only Shodai limited his losses to 8. Many in the ranks immediately below this group also did not distinguish themselves, meaning that we have to reach far down the banzuke for viable promotion candidates. Exactly how this will play out is much less certain, as there are many possible scenarios, and the considerations going into them are complex.

Let’s start with the easy part. Both Tamawashi and Kaisei did well enough to earn promotions to San’yaku, but since there are no open slots for them, they will have to be content with the top maegashira rank. Abi and Shohozan are the only plausible candidates for M2, although their ordering is uncertain. Abi will jump 5 ranks, and will join the joi in only his third top-division basho after earning 10-5 records in the first two. Similarly, Daieisho is the only plausible candidate for M3e. He will also jump 5 ranks, matching his highest career rank.

From here, things get complicated. The next best numerical score belongs to Shodai, but he can’t take the M3w slot due to his make-koshi record at M4w. The best he could do would be to remain at his current rank, though it’s more likely he gets a minimal demotion to M5e. Kotoshogiku could technically  be only demoted from M3e to M3w, but given his 6-9 record, this seems overly generous, and he should really be ranked below Shodai. The next best candidate for M3e is none other than Yutakayama, whose 10-5 record could vault him 8 ranks up the banzuke, all the way from M11.

If we put Shodai and M5e and Kotoshogiku right below him at M5w, who fills the M4 slots? The choice is between the next two strong kachi-koshi records, which belong to Chiyoshoma (9-6 at M10) and Ikioi (11-4 at M14), and the other two high-rankers due for big demotions, Komusubi Chiyotairyu (4-11) and M2 Takarafuji (5-10). My forecast favors the guys moving up the banzuke over those moving down. If the banzuke committee agrees, six out of the ten rikishi in this group would be moving up at least 5 ranks!

Mid-Maegashira

M6

Chiyotairyu

Takarafuji

M7

Chiyomaru

Ryuden

M8

Yoshikaze

Hokutofuji

M9

Kagayaki

Daishomaru

M10

Okinoumi

Daiamami

M11

Chiyonokuni

Takakeisho

At Natsu, this area of the banzuke will serve primarily as the landing zone for higher-ranked rikishi who achieved make-koshi records ranging from just below .500 (Yoshikaze, Kagayaki, Okinoumi, Chiyonokuni) to horrific (hello, Chiyotairyu and Takakeisho). The only bright spots are Ryuden, who moves up from M9 with a minimal kachi-koshi, and the Oitekaze stablemates Daishomaru and Daiamami, who vault up and out of the demotion danger zone with their 9-6 and 10-5 records.

Lower Maegashira

M12

Asanoyama

Arawashi

M13

Ishiura

Sadanoumi

M14

Takekaze

Tochiozan

M15

Aoiyama

Kyokutaisei

M16

Aminishiki

Kotoeko

M17

Gagamaru


The bottom of the banzuke is complicated by the fact that there are 6 Makuuchi rikishi who earned demotions by the usual criteria (in order from most to least deserving of demotion: Hedenoumi, Kotoyuki, Sokokurai, Onosho/Nishikigi, and Myogiryu), but only 3 Juryo rikishi who clearly earned promotion: Sadanoumi, Takekaze, and Kyokutaisei. Aminishiki is borderline, and the next two best candidates, Kotoeko (10-5 at J8) and Gagamaru (8-7 at J5), are ranked too low to be normally considered for promotion with those records. Obviously, the numbers moving up and down have to match. What to do?

My initial inclination was to demote Nishikigi in favor of Aminishiki, and save Onosho (who was kyujo) and Myogiryu. Over on the sumo forum, Asashosakari suggested that they could instead demote Onosho and save both Nishikigi and Myogiryu. The solution I’m currently favoring, given how poor their records were, is that both Nishikigi and Myogiryu will be demoted, as will Onosho. I’m guessing that the banzuke committee will be more likely to promote kachi-koshi Juryo rikishi with insufficiently strong records (after all, this has happened in the past) than to keep in the top division rikishi who failed to defend their places there. But I wouldn’t be surprised to see this play out in any number of ways. We’ll find out on April 26th!

 

Winds of Change – 1 Year Ago In Sumo

It’s Sunday, maybe you have some free time and you are a sumo fan. I have been missing some of my favorites, who have faded from the top division. So I am going to share this 22 minute long example of just how much sumo has changed since Osaka last year.

Sumo is always evolving, but this was in fact a monumental turning point for the sport it seems.  A year later we can see recognize the seeds of change in this video.  The triumph, the defeat, the raw emotion

Yokozuna Kisenosato Kyujo

Kisenosato-down

The injured Yokozuna declared today that he would not be competing in the Haru basho, due to ongoing complications related to his un-treated left pectoral injury sustained at the end of last year’s Haru basho. Kisenosato previously had declared an ultimatum for himself that he would either compete at a Yokozuna level in the next basho he entered, or he would retire. Given this condition, he was not ever a real candidate for entry.

Fans want to see Kisenosato healthy again, and worry that he is not on a path to recovery given his current level of activity. We wish him the best and urge him to seek out the best sports medicine doctors and trainers to assist his recovery.

Yokozuna Decision Day

unryu-tsuna

It’s nearly dawn on Thursday in Osaka, and later this morning the day 1 torikumi (fight card) will be drawn up. The deadline for the Yokozuna to decide if they are going to start the Haru basho is today, which allows the scheduling team to draw up a proper roster for the opening days of the tournament. Tachiai is expecting at least one Yokozuna to not start Haru, and for none of the Yokozuna to be competing by day 10.

Some reasons why:

Hakuho – Damage to both big toes caused him to withdraw from Hatsu. He has struggled to train, but has recently started test matches against rikishi in his own stable. At Hakuho’s age, significant re-injury to his right big toe could possibly end his career.

Kakuryu – Probably in the best condition of the three Yokozuna, his ankle is probably well enough to begin competition, but injury to his right hand on the final day of Hatsu is still causing him problems with establishing and maintaining a mawashi grip.

Kisenosato – His un-repaired left pectoral muscle injury may have no way to heal to full capacity.  During the past year, Kisenosato has put himself on light duty in hopes of “Healing Naturally”.  As a result, he has become de-conditioned, and no longer has the strength, balance or ring sense required to compete at Yokozuna levels.

Kisenosato – Frozen In Carbonite?

Kisenotato - Carbonite?.jpg

I admit, my Japanese is very poor. But I fear this post on twitter from the NSK reports that Yokozuna Kisenosato has been frozen in carbonite until they can find a way to repair his damaged left pectoral muscle.

Hopefully no one has summoned Boba Fett

 

Haru Story 1 – The Threat of No-Kozuna

tsuna

For the past year, the sumo world has grappled with the specter of a tournament with no Yokozuna able to complete the entire 15 day competition. All three surviving grand-champions each suffer from chronic injuries that they nurse, bandage, brace or ignore to compete. But up until recently, at least one of them could muster enough healthy to oversee an entire 15 day basho. With the retirement of Harumafuji at the end of 2017, the roster of Yokozuna dropped to three, each of which come to Haru with medical issues. If no Yokozuna can compete for all 15 days, will this be the first tournament in years that features Ozeki as the highest rank competing on the final day?

In 2016, Hakuho underwent surgery to repair his big toe. It took months for him to recover enough to credibly compete once more. News during January’s Hatsu basho was that Hakuho had not only re-injured that toe, but the other one as well. He has been training as best as he can manage, but may be questionable for the entire tournament.

Japan’s great hope – Yokozuna Kisenosato, has not sought surgical treatment for his torn left pectoral muscle, and may have very few options to regain strength in his dominant left side. He has been admonished to stay out of competition until he is completely healed, and able to perform at Yokozuna levels again.

Rounding out the list is the eternally injured Kakuryu. He looked almost unbeatable during the first 10 days of Hatsu, until he injured his ankle and struggled to win. While he took surgery to repair damage to that ankle, but an awkard fall on the final day match against Goeido left his hand injured, and now he struggles to generate any grip strength.

While fans may worry about a tournament with no Yokozuna competing, this is in fact all part of the natural evolution of Sumo. We are in a transitional period where may well loved rikishi at all ranks reach the end of their careers, and retire. While we will miss all of the ones who say goodbye this year, it’s evident that at least two strong, eager classes of young men are ready to step up and take the ranks they vacate.

Haru Banzuke Crystal Ball

Aminishiki

Unlike the Hatsu banzuke mess, the Hatsu results should make for a fairly predictable Haru banzuke.

Upper San’yaku

Y1

Kakuryu

Hakuho

Y2

Kisenosato

O1

Takayasu

Goeido

The rankings aren’t in doubt, but nonetheless there are many questions about this group. Which if any Yokozuna will show up? Kakuryu (ankle) and Hakuho (toes) are nursing injuries. Kisenosato has declared that the next tournament he enters will be his make-or-break one—perform at Yokozuna level for 15 days or retire. My guess a month before the basho is that Hakuho is very likely to participate, Kakuryu is also likely to compete, and Kisenosato will most likely sit this one out.

Lower San’yaku

S

Mitakeumi

Tochinoshin

K

Ichinojo

Chiyotairyu

In the upper ranks, a kachi-koshi (winning record) is no guarantee that your position within the rank won’t change: witness the Yokozuna and Ozeki getting reshuffled based on their performances at the previous basho. This used to be the case for Sekiwake as well, with 8-7 East Sekiwake frequently moving to West Sekiwake for the subsequent tournament when a more deserving candidate for East Sekiwake existed. However, this seems to have changed about ten years ago (perhaps someone can shed light on the history), and an 8-7 record at Sekiwake (or Komusubi) now appears to guarantee retention of rank and side. A recent example of this is S1e Tamawashi not switching sides with S1w Takayasu even after their respective 8-7 and 12-3 performances at last year’s Haru basho. Long story short, 8-7 Mitakeumi will retain his S1e rank, with 14-1 yusho winner Tochinoshin joining him at Sekiwake on the West side. Ichinojo and Chiyotairyu, the highest-ranked maegashira with winning records at Hatsu, should take over the Komusubi slots vacated by Takakeisho and Onosho.

Upper Maegashira

M1

Tamawashi

Endo

M2

Arawashi

Kotoshogiku

M3

Takakeisho

Takarafuji

M4

Shodai

Shohozan

M5

Chiyomaru

Onosho

Endo has been ranked M1 twice before, but has never broken through to San’yaku. Is this his time? Arawashi would similarly tie his highest rank, while Chiyomaru has never been ranked above M8. Everyone else in this group has been ranked in San’yaku, most of them within the last couple of years.

Mid-Maegashira

M6

Kaisei

Hokutofuji

M7

Yoshikaze

Kagayaki

M8

Abi

Okinoumi

M9

Chiyoshoma

Chiyonokuni

M10

Daieisho

Tochiozan

M11

Yutakayama

Ryuden

A mix of rikishi in a holding pattern in this part of the banzuke (Kaisei, Chiyoshoma, Chiyonokuni, Tochiozan), higher-ranked rikishi dropping down after rough Hatsu performances (Hokutofuji, Yoshikaze, Okinoumi), and up-and-comers making a move up the banzuke (Kagayaki, Abi, Daieisho, Yutakayama, Ryuden). Three of the rikishi promoted from Juryo for Hatsu put up good numbers and find themselves here.

Lower Maegashira

M12

Kotoyuki

Daishomaru

M13

Ishiura

Ikioi

M14

Asanoyama

Nishikigi

M15

Myogiryu

Sokokurai

M16

Daiamami

Hidenoumi

M17

Aoiyama


Predicted demotions to Juryo: Terunofuji, Aminishiki, Takekaze. Predicted promotions: Myogiryu, Hidenoumi, Aoiyama. Often, this area of the banzuke contains a bunch of poor performances from the previous basho, but the only one who really fits that bill is Ikioi, who is dropping from M6 after putting up a 4-11 record. Kotoyuki, Daishomaru, and Sokokurai put up mediocre numbers, but Ishiura, Asanoyama, Nishikigi, and Daiamami all earned kachi-koshi records at Hatsu. Nevertheless, they’ll be fighting for their Makuuchi lives again in Osaka, as everyone in this group needs a minimum of 6 wins (more for those closer to the bottom) to be safe from demotion.