Takakeisho’s Bento Box: A Tachiai Review

Takakeisho's Bento Box at Kokugikan
The Takakeisho Bento Box

The last day that I visited Kokugikan during the recent Natsu honbasho was actually also the first day I had ever had the fortune of sitting in one of the “masu” boxes on the ground floor. It felt appropriate to celebrate the moment by engaging in one of the time-honored sumo and uniquely Japanese experiences: purcashing a proper bento box for lunch and enjoying a meal while watching some feisty lower division matches.

Given that Natsu was the first basho following the promotion of Takakeisho to Ozeki, it was a good moment to explore the Takakeisho bento box. As covered previously on the site, there are bento boxes for sale which contain selections from all of the Ozeki and Yokozuna (as well as some other generic boxes). This also means, that following the demotion of Tochinoshin to Sekiwake before the Natsu basho, that the previously available Tochinoshin bento was no longer available (and presumably, as the man himself resumes Ozeki duties, will be making a return for Nagoya).

Takakeisho Bento Box Interior
Takakeisho’s bento is rich with both flavour and detail

The Takakeisho bento included the following:

  • Umeboshi rice with black sesame seeds
  • Katsu pork with sauce and mustard
  • Soy sauce egg hard boiled
  • Tempura thing which seemed to be a fish cake
  • Broccoli and corn
  • Mushrooms (buried under the egg – they really pack a lot of stuff in there)
  • Carrot cut into the shape of a flower

At ¥1150, it’s an insane bargain (as much food is at sumo), especially by western standards. The box feels like it would easily be a $20+ package here in the States.

It should be pointed out that if you want to get your hands on one, then you’d better arrive well before Juryo: all of the sekitori bento typically sell out on a normal day at the basho, and the new nature of the Takakeisho box and popularity of its curator meant that his were flying off the shelves quicker than usual. A further pro tip for our readers: if you’re seated on the ground floor and all of the bento have sold out, more may be available in the gift and snack stands on the second floor of Kokugikan.

Takakeisho has done a great job on the whole of choosing very attractive – especially for sumo – and filling ingredients. As a very hearty bento, I actually think it is a box that would be very suitable especially for the Hatsu basho in January.

Katsu, Tempura and Egg inside Takakeisho's Bento Box
Beside the katsu and underneath the perfectly cooked egg, delicious mushrooms are revealed

Let’s get into the taste. The dried marinated fish element is probably better suited to the start of the meal. And if we’re talking tactics, I’d probably eat this from the left, the right then the center.

The broccoli and corn were surprisingly flavorful – moist and incredibly well seasoned, very peppery. These were among the standout items of the dish. Conversely, if I have one complaint, it would be that the rice was somewhat cold and hard, although I don’t know that that can be helped in the bento format. The egg was extremely delicious and a perfect caramel shade.

It was a bit a bit early in the day for me to imbibe when I was eating it, but Takakeisho’s bento would be a very nice accompaniment for any beer. The tempura item was a bit bland, but the mustard packet helped.

Four very generous cuts of katsu were included, and the accompanying sauce was very rich. I recommend using it sparingly.

No wonder Takakeisho came back early from kyujo! if I knew this was at Kokugikan…

Tachiai’s Rating: ⚪️⚪️⚪️⚪️⚫️

Natsu 2019 – Tachiai’s Experience In Tokyo

Ryogoku JR Station and Kokugikan at Sunset
The sun sets on another honbasho

The Natsu basho is always a special time for me. Both this year, and last year, I’ve spent a significant amount of time in Tokyo around the May tournament, and been fortunate enough to enjoy some fantastic sumo experiences and meet with some great people. In this post, I’ll share a bit about what I encountered over the past several weeks in Japan’s capital city.

New Tachiai experiences

First of all, I’m happy to share that I will be bringing a number of pieces of new content to the site in the coming weeks before the Nagoya basho. I attended keiko at Onoe beya with John Gunning, and later met one of Onoe’s new oyakata, and former sekitori Satoyama, who asked me to share some news with our readers, which will be coming in a later post.

Onoe beya Keiko
Keiko at Onoe beya. Former sekitori Tenkaiho (Hidenoyama oyakata) looks on.

Additionally, backed by some fantastic questions from our readers, I spent an hour and a half with one of the voices of NHK’s sumo coverage, none other than popular broadcaster Murray Johnson. We had an amazing conversation, and I’m excited to bring it to you soon. And as a surprise for our readers, I met up for coffee and chocolate cake with luminary of the digital sumo world, the one and only Kintamayama. We had a similarly in-depth conversation that will be making its way to these pages soon (and we may even sneak some audio snippets into a future Tachiai podcast, so if you haven’t subscribed now, do it). I also, of course, got to visit my first sumo art exhibit, and my first dohyo consecration ceremony, the dohyo matsuri. Check out this post if you want to learn more.

Finally, I’m happy to say that I got to meet so many members of the Tachiai community. Natsu is a very popular tournament for sumo tourism – the weather is fantastic and the early summer time makes it a convenient moment for many fans to visit Tokyo. Jason Harris of Jason’s All Sumo Youtube Channel hosted a brilliant meet up during the tournament, where many Tachiai community members were present. Our reader and friend El Zeno produced fantastic Black Panther movie inspired Wakaichiro shirts, and it was a great chance to meet up with our friends at BuySumoTickets, who continue to provide so many of our readers with access to live sumo.

It was also wonderful again to link up with Tachiai contributor Nicola – please follow her work on the Tachiai instagram! – who has shared literally gigabytes of original photos that we are working to bring to the site in the near future. And I’d like to give a special shoutout to friend of the site Melissa, who along with her partner shared a box with me at my final day of the tournament – it was wonderful to have some great conversation and take in the basho with some very serious sumo fans!!

Ryogoku Kokugikan Panoramic View from Box C masu
A panoramic view of Kokugikan, from the “Box C” masu section.

The Live Experience

I could probably write several posts on this, so I’ll keep it somewhat short. The live experience at Kokugikan continues to be the reason why so many folks make the trek from far and wide. There simply is nothing like experiencing sumo in the building that goes some way to making the sport as special as it is.

Special new “Reiwa” era merch has been produced, featuring the san’yaku of the first basho of the Reiwa era. Tochinoshin’s upcoming re-promotion has rendered these immediately out of date, but the NSK is clearly working to capture the enthusiasm of this new period. I would also add that like many of our readers who visited Kokugikan during this basho, I wore a Tachiai t-shirt with pride, and many locals (including vendors!) were very interested to find out where I got it. The well-received shirts can, of course, be purchased from Tachiai’s shop!

Kisenosato / Araiso arrives at Kokugikan
Kisenosato / Araiso arrives at Kokugikan

The Kisenosato exhibit at the Kokugikan drew massive numbers – and also as much enthusiasm as the man himself when he made his way into the public areas of the arena, as he did on several occasions. I witnessed mass hysteria greet the 72nd Yokozuna as he entered the building, and he continued to make a string of increasingly popular media appearances. His commentary has been praised from many quarters.

Natsu was the first tournament where I was able to watch from one of the “masu” box seats on the first floor. It was a very new experience for me, as I managed to score seats in the “Box C” section. The sight lines were still very good, though if you’re looking for a pure view and can’t manage to obtain the very rare and expensive seats nearer to the dohyo, I might recommend the Arena A seats on the second level.

For me, the box experience was almost less about seeing sumo and more about living the live sumo experience. It was the first time I had been at a basho where I hadn’t been surrounded by folks who look or talk like myself, and whether that’s good bad or irrelevant, there can be no denying that it created an incredibly different atmosphere for me and a very different experience on the whole. A year ago, I hadn’t even taken my first Japanese lesson, so it was a very rewarding feeling not only to be able to have basic conversation with the Takayasu-loving locals in the next box at points throughout the day, but also to be able to cheer for and share the rikishi that I love to follow (even if those were in some cases met with quizzical looks!).

Kokonoe Beya Variety Chanko - Natsu 2019
Kokonoe beya’s “variety chanko,” served during the Natsu basho

Of course, it’s impossible to talk about sumo without talking about food. Kokonoe beya delivered the tournament’s helping of tasty “Variety chanko” for fans to sample. This tournament also marked the debut of the new Takakeisho bento box, which I experienced and will review in a later post. Of course, with Tochinoshin poised for an ozeki return, there won’t be a shortage of rikishi-inspired meals for us to continue to indulge at the venue in future.

Asanoyama arrives at Kokugikan
At the end of it all, one man stood alone.

The Tournament, The Trophy, The Winner

I can’t say that on the days that I attended it really felt like there was a momentum or a story building behind Asanoyama – it was still early enough in the tournament that his first week, like that of many other well performing Maegashira every basho, could be corrected with a gruelling week 2 dance card. But he does have a growing number of die-hard fans in attendance at the tournament, and his cheer towel is one of the better sellers.

I have to say I agreed a lot with Bruce’s thoughts on the presidential visit and the trophy. It was impossible to escape conversation about this with virtually any english-speaking sumo fan or pundit in Tokyo. It was a moment of intrigue that has to do as much with the person as the politics – that is to say everything and nothing. This is because frankly, wherever you sit on the political spectrum or what you believe – everyone just didn’t know what would happen. How would it work? What would it be like? Kokugikan is a very security-free venue, which makes it part of the charm. So, this conversation piece certainly added to the sense of occasion.

Hungary Tea Cup trophy
The great tea cup of Hungary: unique, and staggering

I also concur with Bruce that I am happy for there to be some kind of American trophy. It’s not the one I would have made – personally, I long for the creativity of the giant macaron or the tea cup, I love those things. But, we have seen such a growing affinity between Americans and sumo over the past few years – this site is testament to that. So for there to be any trophy from America, well, it’s a nice feeling. Perhaps in future years America can do something like contributing a gift from the home state of the president, much in the way other countries supply yearlong supplies of beer or gasoline.

It’s important for us to keep the focus on sumo though, and I’m happy and relieved that we experienced a tournament that delivered that yet again. To our new followers who may have just discovered this world: welcome! We’re happy to have you. And to our friends of the site and long time readers, I’m excited to continue partnering with everybody else to create more content for the site! Thanks for sharing the experience with us.

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.

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!

Hatsu Day 8 Highlights

Japanese Emperor Akihito’s Final Visit To The Kokugikan
From the Sumo Kyokai Twitter Feed

His serene highness, the Emperor of Japan, paid a farewell visit to the Kokugikan to take in some of the day 8 action. Japan adores the emperor, and the crowd welcomed him with applause, shouts of well wishes and waving of Japanese flag. He is set to retire in April due to declining health, making the upcoming Natsu basho (May), the first sumo tournament of a new imperial era.

Matters were less serene in the Ozeki ranks, as the two remaining both took losses to further underscore how their poor health in the new year is hampering their progress towards the safety of a kachi-koshi. This is in stark contrast to Hakuho who remains the only unbeaten rikishi in the top division, and looks to be charting a course towards his 42 yusho.

Highlight Matches

Yutakayama defeats Terutsuyoshi – Juryo visitor Terutsuyoshi attempts a hit-and-shift against Yutakayama, which really seems to fire him up. Terutsuyoshi gets chased around the dohyo and receives the sumo equivalent of a “pile driver”.

Yago defeats Daiamami – An astute reader pointed out that newcomer Yago looks surprisingly like Shrek, and I think we now all see the resemblance. Daiamami did manage to get Yago turned around for a moment, but Yago was able to reverse and send Daiamami to Far Far Away.

Chiyonokuni defeats Kagayaki – Kagayaki found himself completely bamboozled by Chiyonokuni’s sumo. It quick flurry of slaps were exchanged, and Chiyonokuni side steps for the win.

Meisei defeats Daishomaru – Daishomaru is winless, make-koshi, and the first passenger on the slow boat to Juryo for Osaka.

Sadanoumi defeats Kotoyuki – Sadanoumi’s level of bandaging would be comical if it did not represent how dedicated he is to competing in spite of multiple injuries. Kotoyuki drove this match from the tachiai, but Sadanoumi rolled him out at the tawara with a well executed uwatenage.

Kotoeko defeats Ikioi – Reports had surfaced prior to the match that Ikioi’s left eye, which took a finger in his day 7 match, had given him blurry and cloudy vision. But Ikioi being Ikioi (he has 3 eyes, you see), he mounts the dohyo anyhow and continues to compete. He blasted out of the tachiai and took the fight to Kotoeko, going chest to chest. He looked to be in the drivers seat, but Kotoeko rescued the match by thrusting Ikioi down and out at the edge.

Abi defeats Chiyoshoma – A rapid, blistering delivery of solid Abi-zumo carried the day.

Takarafuji defeats Ryuden – Ryuden continues to struggle in day 8. Takarafuji lands a mawashi grip and controls his opponent throughout, really not much in the way of offense from Ryuden.

Asanoyama defeats Yoshikaze – The ghost of Yoshikaze continues to mount the dohyo with little offensive sumo on tap. Painful to watch, we can only imagine how miserable it is for him. The rest of the rikishi corps seem to be in on whatever is plaguing him, as they seem to take great care to keep him safe.

Kaisei defeats Kotoshogiku – Kaisei’s first win over the Kyushu bulldozer. Kaisei withstood the hug-n-chug attack, and applied the sukuinage for the win. Even Kotoshogiku seemed impressed.

Okinoumi defeats Daieisho – An early surge by Daieisho was soon reversed by Okinoumi for the win.

Chiyotairyu defeats Shodai – Comedy match as Shodai’s miserable, weak tachiai is paired against Chiyotairyu’s 191 kg cannonball charge. Shodai actually was airborne for a moment as a result of collision. It was over that fast.

Endo defeats Hokutofuji – Endo seems to have dialed in his sumo, and is fighting well. Hokutofuji attempts the handshake tachiai, but Endo is ready and counters with a double arm thrust attack to the shoulders, which drops Hokutofuji.

Ichinojo defeats Nishikigi – Nishikigi’s budding sumo power seems to be absent for the past few days. He has always struggled with Ichinojo (has yet to beat him). Ichinojo landed his preferred left hand outside grip at the tachiai, and there was nothing that Nishikigi could do.

Tochiozan defeats Myogiryu – Two battle hardened old veterans made this a quick match, with Tochiozan giving ground while maintaining grip, dropping Myogiryu to the clay.

Takakeisho defeats Onosho – These two are long term rivals, and friends. They also represent the archetype of the tadpole form. It was a fierce match that favored Takakeisho, and he gave no quarter to Onosho, who made a quick exit powered by Takakeisho’s thrusts.

Tamawashi defeats Goeido – Goeido drops to 3-5 as Tamawashi did not give the Ozeki any opening to bring his offense to the match. Multiple times Goeido went for a grip of any kind, and found himself reactive to Tamawashi’s oshi attacks.

Shohozan defeats Takayasu – Points to Shohozan for having the stones to unload a henka with the Emperor watching, and Takayasu bought it. To be honest, Takayasu is less than normal, and Shohozan’s execution was very good. But it would have been better to see these two fight it out.

Hakuho defeats Aoiyama – Aoiyama opened strong with his preferred thrusting attack, but Hakuho absorbed it all and remained on balance and poised. In the blink of an eye, Hakuho moved in close to Aoiyama and loaded a throw. Its both amazing and impressive to see that much Bulgarian airborne. Hakuho remains undefeated.

NHK Charity Sumo Event

Ikioi Sings

During Saturday, the sumo worlds, attention was once again focused on Tokyo’s Kokugikan for the NHK charity event. This is a yearly single day program that features elements of Jungyo, at least one rikishi interview, demonstration matches, dohyo-iri and lots of celebrity appearances with famous rikishi.

There was an interview with Tochinoshin, and the people attending were treated to photos of his wife and child in Georgia. As expected, Ikioi treated everyone to his truly talented singing voice, and even Mitakeumi had a song with idol band WaaSuta.

Reports are that the event was sold out, and parts of it will be shown in Japan on NHK-G next weekend. Sadly for us sumo fans outside of Japan, we have to resort to finding parts of it on YouTube.

Eating Sumo: Which Rikishi Has the Best Lunch?

kisenosatoboxlunch
Photo by the author, pixelation by iPhone 7

The last time I visited Ryokogu Kokugikan, the lunch selections were named according to the various sumo ranks – “Yokozuna Box,” “Ozeki Box,” etc. But today, I went to the hallowed stadium for day 2 of the Hatsu-basho, and found that the bento selections had been named after some of our nearest and dearest superstars.

So, for a bit of fun, let’s run through each of the selections, and then you can vote for the rikishi with the best bento at the bottom (EDITED: all of the poll embeds were breaking so just leave your selection in the comments). All of these bento boxes are the same price, so your choice strictly comes down to the contents, and the descriptions are more or less verbatim as they are presented in English on the menu. If you want to be cheeky, feel free to create a menu for another rikishi’s bento in the comments.

Takayasu

  • “Dried pickled sour Japanese plum on the rice” (Umeboshi)
  • Mackerel in miso sauce
  • Chicken nanban
  • Lotus root seafood scissors
  • “Cut the cooked kelp”
  • Pickles marinated with soy sauce
  • Boiled mixed beans
  • Cherry tomato

Goeido

  • “Dried pickled sour Japanese plum on the rice” (Umeboshi)
  • Grilled beef
  • Beef croquette
  • “The spitted cutlet of pork”
  • Potato salad
  • Cherry tomato
  • Japanese style omelette
  • Kinpira burdock root

Kisenosato

  • “Dried pickled sour Japanese plum on the rice” (Umeboshi)
  • Salty mix of chicken and Japanese leek
  • Mushroom marinade (Marinated mushroom?)
  • Boiled egg
  • “Food boiled and seasoned: Radish, Carrot, Konjac, Shiitake mushroom, Japanese butterbur, Taro”
  • Honey pickled plum
  • Meat ball

Kakuryu

  • “Dried pickled sour Japanese plum on the rice” (Umeboshi)
  • Sirloin pork cutlet
  • Beefsteak
  • Boiled egg
  • Boiled vegetables: Carrot, Potato, Pumpkin, Broccoli
  • Pork sausage
  • Cherry tomato
  • Boiled mixed beans
  • Pickled vegetables

Hakuho

  • “Dried pickled sour Japanese plum on the rice” (Umeboshi)
  • Deep-fried chicken with Japanese leek sauce
  • Deep-friend Chinese style dumpling
  • Boiled egg
  • Boiled vegetables: Carrot, Potato, Pumpkin, Broccoli
  • Cherry tomato
  • Boiled mixed beans
  • “Stir-fry shrimp in chilli sauce”