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.
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.
“Dried pickled sour Japanese plum on the rice” (Umeboshi)
Mackerel in miso sauce
Lotus root seafood scissors
“Cut the cooked kelp”
Pickles marinated with soy sauce
Boiled mixed beans
“Dried pickled sour Japanese plum on the rice” (Umeboshi)
“The spitted cutlet of pork”
Japanese style omelette
Kinpira burdock root
“Dried pickled sour Japanese plum on the rice” (Umeboshi)
Salty mix of chicken and Japanese leek
Mushroom marinade (Marinated mushroom?)
“Food boiled and seasoned: Radish, Carrot, Konjac, Shiitake mushroom, Japanese butterbur, Taro”
Honey pickled plum
“Dried pickled sour Japanese plum on the rice” (Umeboshi)
With the start of the much anticipated 2018 Hatsu basho just days away, the Kokugikan crew is busy constructing the dohyo that will be the focus for the January tournament. Re-built each time a tournament is about to start, the dohyo is a masterpiece of hand crafted earth, packed firm with simple wooden tools and laid out according to long standing tradition.
Early Saturday, Tokyo time, the dohyo will be consecrated in a solemn ceremony, and this event is typically open to the public. For sumo fans, it is a fascinating spectacle, and features attendance by many of the top men of the sport.
Construction of the Kokugikan’s dohyo for the Aki basho is complete, and is ready to be consecrated prior to Sunday’s first matches. In a solemn ceremony on Saturday, the dohyo will be blessed by shinto priests. Members of the public are welcome to attend the ceremony, which will be attended by the leading men of sumo and of the NSK. Immediately following the ceremony, the yusho portraits for both the Natsu and Nagoya basho (Hakuho) will be on display in front of the Kokugikan, prior to their being hung inside the stadium.
With five days to go before the action starts in Tokyo, the build of the Aki dohyo is in full swing. According to reports by the NSK on twitter, the rough form of platform was completed by the end of the day Tuesday, with construction of the tawara progressing well.
Over the course of the next few days, the dohyo will take its ultimate shape, and be ready for battle by the consecration ceremony on Saturday.
UPDATE: Seems there is a “day of sumo” with none other than the legend Konishiki! It will be September 19th, and if any of our readers are or will be in Tokyo, I strongly encourage you to try to go. Konishiki is the reason I took notice of sumo to begin with, and seeing as it day seems to include a meal (like Chanko!), you can’t miss.
As many of the readers here at Tachiai know, I took the big step of taking a trip to Tokyo to watch sumo live at the Kokugikan. While I thoroughly enjoyed myself, and found the trip quite rewarding, I thought I would share some of the details of the trip to help anyone considering doing the same.
Flying To Japan – JAL 065
Although I have a large number of miles and some decent status on American Airlines, I chose to fly to Tokyo on JAL. There were a number of reasons why. Firstly, I was traveling over with a long term friend who lives in San Diego. The JAL flight left from there, and was on a Boeing 787, a composite body aircraft that operates at higher cabin pressure than the 777 alternative. This translated into less jet lag, and a more comfortable trip all around. It should also be noted that the JAL economy class seats are really very nice. Wider and with more space between them than any of the US carriers provide.
As you might expect, the Japanese flight crew were the acme of customer service, attention and all around professionals. The entire trip was a notch or two above my typical international flight on American. The food was very good, too.
Living In Japan – Air BnB
Hotels in Japan cost a fortune. Space is at a premium, and accommodations for westerners, who are usually looking for more space, tend to run $300 / night more more. My friend decided to try Air BnB, and scored what in my opinion was a major coup. We rented an entire house in Sumida, just 3 blocks from the Kokugikan for about half of what we would pay for a hotel. But let’s be clear. This house was small, no, this house was tiny.
The footprint was about 12′ x 12′. When we ended up meeting the neighbors, they were surprised that two full sized Americans were living in that house. One of them said, “My house is small, but that house is too small!”. One of them referred to it as the “Rabbit Hutch”.
We found the house to be a tiny delight. Yeah, there were several adjustments we had to make to the very limited space, but it was RIGHT THERE. Sleeping was on tatami mats, and for Americans used to sleeping on beds, it took a couple of days before one could feel comfortable sleeping that way. But once used to it, I will admit my back never felt better.
Due to the preponderance of convincence stores and everything else in this neighborhood, we wanted for nothing. In fact, we were next door to a really fantastic smelling curry shop, that we kept not being able to catch open and serving food. Until the last couple of days, and then it was “Jackpot!”.
Watching Sumo – Kokugikan
Being 3 blocks away from the center of the sumo universe has many advantages. Firstly, no train rides fighting the crowds to or from the stadium. Secondly, you see rikishi going about their daily lives everywhere. Yes. there is the language barrier, but the Japanese public are kind, friendly people who never fail to go out of their way to help you or try to make you feel welcome in their country.
The staff at the Kokugikan include guides who speak a variety of different languages, and they will not only help you find your seat, but can help you figure out where everything is. If you catch them in the morning before it gets busy, they may even take you around and show you the stadium if you want.
I purchased my tickets through buysumotickets.com. They were not cheap, but they did an excellent job, and we had some fantastic seat. One day we were sitting on the 2nd floor, in the “chair” seats, but I was 6 seats away from the Imperial box. The view was frankly unparalleled. But if you go for the early matches, you will find the Kokugikan largely empty until Juryo. So feel free to go downstairs and check out the view of the zabuton. But do take your shoes off. In fact, you may want to consider taking slip on / off shoes with you to Japan, as you will be out of your shoes and into house sandals or slippers all the time.
There were an impressive amount of non-Japanese folks at the basho. It gave me a renewed appreciation of the potential for Sumo to be a global sport. The other thing that surprised me is that large blocks of tickets seem to go daily to groups. One day it seems to have been the little old ladies club, the next day it was the Salaryman’s Drinking Union or something like that. Around the start of Makuuchi, big groups (200+) would stream into the Kokugikan and all sit together in the same section. The other group we could always count on were the high school groups. It seemed each day 3-6 groups of highschoolers would take up several sections.
The other thing of note. Between 1:30 and 2:30, the sekitori show up at the Kokugikan. Usually this is a public affair, and they walk right down the side alley between the train station and the stadium, with their retainers in tow.
Also, as they arrive, they stop by both he guard booth, where they check in, and this tent. At the tent, the drop off their mobile phone, which is placed in a ziplock baggie, and placed in a metal box. I am going to guess this is a rule that was put in place after the betting scandals from a few years ago.
I happened to be very lucky, and I encountered Wakaichiro in the Kokugikan on day 2 after his match. In person he is the nicest fellow you could ever meet, and I am quite delighted he took the time to say hello to one of his fans and talk for a few minutes. I am sure the he had many chores waiting for him back at the stable.
Living In Japan – Food
You can eat yourself to death in Japan. There is so much good food everywhere that you can’t really go wrong. The biggest challenge once again is the language barrier. I used two applications to help me augment my somewhat shaky Japanese skills:
VoiceTra – this is a voice to voice translator. Say something in English into it, it spits out a guess of what you said in Japanese. It also shows you a round trip transaction – it passes the Japanese back re-translated to English. This helps you figure out if it guessed wrong on what you meant. It also shows you the phrase it spoke in Japanese in Kana, which is even more useful. When I got stuck, I pulled this thing out and it really helped.
Yomiwa – This is your Kanji cracker. You can take a picture of something in Kanji (say a menu) and use Yomiwa to tell you what it says. You can use a live feed from your camera, or snap a still and detect the text a few glyphs at a time. Using this tool, I was able to figure out the menus of a few of local eateries. Very helpful
Some places to eat, you get a menu. Some places you have a vending kiosk that allows you to select your food and some options. You put in your money and it spits out a printed receipt that you give to the cook and they prepare you food. Actually very fast, easy and works well if you are not quite up to stumbling through some spoke Japanese to order.
Oh, and that curry place next to the tiny house? We finally caught them open. It’s an older couple who seem to only serve the lunch crowd. Their little place can seat no more than 15 at a time. We were treated to Katsu Curry of a most remarkable flavor that it’s worthless to try and describe it. It was well worth the effort to catch them open
In summary, the entire Tokyo trip was somewhat out of the ordinary, even for folks who want to go see sumo. But I will confess that my appreciation for the sport and it’s place in the culture has been greatly expanded by my visit. I encourage our readers here at Tachiai to consider doing the same, as it is a worthy aspiration.
The sad day has come when my sumo tickets for Natsu have run out, and I will no longer enjoy sumo in the raw organic form. As I remarked earlier, it is a completely different experience, at both exciting and relaxing at the same time.
When you watch a sporting event like sumo on TV, you see what the camera and the editors want to show you. When you are live at the venue, you can see whatever your eyes might show you. From a technical standpoint, the cameras likely win. From an aesthetics and enjoyment standpoint (for me anyhow) there is no comparison.
This is the final day of the first third of this basho, as the basho tends to move in thirds. The first third shows you who is too hurt to compete, and gets the San’yaku warmed up for the big matches starting this weekend. Given the imbalance in the banzuke (because of the Ozeki and Kisenosato), the lower San’yaku is once again the bright spot for this basho. The middle third starts Friday, and it tends to have a very different character.
Select Matches We Like
Onosho vs Myogiryu – Onosho has been fighting hard this first week, and I look for him to overwhelm Myogiryu, who has been keeping steady at 2-2.
Tokushoryu vs Kaisei – I am hoping for a day 4 repeat where Kaisei moves forward, keeping his center of gravity low. It may sound silly, but a renewed focus on fundamentals for him would probably reinvigorate his flagging career.
Kotoyuki vs Ura – After day 4’s crazy outcome, Kotoyuki gets a try at surviving the space-time distortion field. I still think the Shimpan had to find some way to call that match, inspite of Ura’s gymnastics.
Tochiozan vs Shodai – Tochiozan continues his hot streak from last basho, and he has seem to overcome his injuries from last year and is back on his sumo. It’s great to watch because he is strong and usually patient. Shodai looked good on day 4, but his tachiai is still his weakest point.
Tamawashi vs Yoshikaze – This could be the best match of the day. Yoshikaze is fighting at his best unseen for many tournaments, and it’s really wonderful to watch, especially for a Yoshikaze fan like myself. Tamawashi has been operating better than his 2-2 record would indicate, and it’s time for him to turn it around.
Endo vs Takayasu – I expect a repeat of the Mitakeumi vs Takayasu fight, except that it’s Endo and he’s kind of stumbly. If Takayasu can avoid an injury, he is looking good for at least 10 wins.
Chiyonokuni vs Goeido – Day 4 Goeido was looking better than he had this basho, and was actually able to put power to ground. Perhaps he has found a way to compete in spite of the problems with his ankle, which would be fantastic news.
Terunofuji vs Kotoshogiku – It’s fairly sad to watch Kotoshogiku fade away. Even the crowd knows hes on the path out, but he persists in fighting.
Mitakeumi vs Hakuho – Mitakeumi will put up a good fight, but I expect Hakuho to clear the dohyo with his usual flair. I am interested to see how long Mitakeumi can make it last.
Kisenosato vs Chiyoshoma – At what point does Kisenosato sit out? It’s against his very nature, but as we outlined the nature of his injury is quite serious, and unlikely to have been healed in the 8 weeks or so since he was injured. The sooner the better.
As feared, connectivity in Japan has been hit-or-miss, and it has greatly impacted my ability to post, upload photos and video and a host of other things. But fear not, dear readers! The day 5 results from the Kokugikan are here!
It seems today was “Salaryman Day” or something of the sort. A few minutes before the Makuuchi dohyo-iri, a few thousand salarymen began streaming into the upper deck stadium seats at the Kokugikan. I am sure it’s perfectly normal, but to this sumo fan, it seemed a bit surreal. They were followed by ushers carrying huge flats of beer cans, which were passed around the crowd of business men.
There was some massive, raucous action on day 4, so I strongly encourage all to watch the matches on NHK, or better yet, Jason’s all sumo channel.
Onosho defeats Myogiryu – There was a huge amount of effort in this bout, and it featured competing throw attempts that ended at the edge. It was a great way to start Makuuchi.
Kaisei defeats Chiyotairyu – Kaisei won – yes, by moving forward. He has the bulk and the leg strength, but it seems he needs to put away the pulling technique and take a page from Kisenosato’s book – 蜻蛉 (Tonbo)
Tochinoshin defeats Ura – There were so many things wrong in this bout, it took a rather lengthy monoii to try and put a fig leaf on it. First of all, there should have been a matta at the start, but sure, whatever. Then there was an excellent raging battle between size and strength vs speed. It ended with some fantastic acrobatics at the tawara, and it looked to me like the Gyoji said “screw it” and pointed his gumbai in a random direction. Without the benefit or replay, I can only go by what my eyes saw, but it seemed Ura’s win.
Takakeisho defeats Ichinojo – Slow motion sumo match. I left 30 minutes after the final bout, and Ichinojo had yet to reach the clay.
Ikioi defeats Tochiozan – Big ugly slap fest the Ikioi managed to win. I would expect Tochiozan’s hot streak to continue past today, even though Ikioi racked up a win.
Shodai defeats Takarafuji – Great strength match, polite of Takarafuji to take advantage of Shodai’s consistently sloppy tachiai.
Takayasu defeats Mitakeumi – Probably the match of the day, and they both put everything into it. Takayasu is displaying almost unthinkable strength and determination this week, and even a really aggressive highly motivated Mitakeumi could not defeat him. Takayasu now needs 6 wins, and certainly looks like Ozeki material
Kotoshogiku defeats Tamawashi – So happy that Kotoshogiku got a win and was able to deploy his hug-n-chug. He is headed towards a hard, brutal make-koshi, most likely. I am grateful I had a chance to see him operate when he was healthy.
Terunofuji defeats Chiyoshoma – Terunofuji looking somewhat better, I am staring to hope that he will put forth a strong effort this time and avoid more kadoban nonsense.
Goeido defeats Daieisho – Future Sekiwake Goeido pretzeled up Daieisho, who must be wondering what the hell happened an how he ended up in this living sumo hell, and why the schedulers hate him so much.
Harumafuji defeats Chiyonokuni – Harumafuji’s back! In person it was clear he was trying for Chiyonokuni’s mawashi, and I was hoping to see the spin cycle today. Instead he had to settle for launching Chiyonokuni into a handy Shimpan landing zone.
Yoshikaze defeats Kakuryu – The Berserker is on fire right now, and it’s tough to stand up to him. Kakuryu is in deep ugly trouble now, his reactive sumo is not working this time, and he will have to endure calls for his retirement.
Endo defeats Kisenosato – Kisenosato gives up his first kinboshi, he is clearly still hurt in a very performance limiting way. Hell, a left handed Yokozuna loses use of his left upper body, but still manages to win half his matches. I expect him to somehow swallow (for him) a bitter pill and go kyujo on the weekend.
Hakuho defeats Okinoumi – I honestly feel sorry for Okinoumi. Hakuho is clearly back in fighting form, and he’s just going to crumple and fold everyone for the next 11 days.
Day one at the Kokugikan saw a capacity crowd, with fans eager to see who among their favorite rikishi were starting strong, and who they would worry about.
First some notes from Juryo: New entrant Takagengi won his debut match as a sekitori, many will see this as a good sign that the youngster can be competitive in the upper ranks. The match was acrobatic and could have gone either way, but it was good sumo!
Ikioi defeats Hokutofuji – Ikioi exploded off the line and then overpowered Hokutofuji for a rather straight forward Okidashi
Takarafuji defeats Aoiyama – This match was all over the place, and for some reason Aoiyama trying to grab for Takarafuji’s non-existent neck. Takarafuji stayed mobile and took the punishment waiting for his chance, which came at the edge as Aoiyama tried a pull down, but failed.
Takayasu defeats Daiesho – This was horrifically one sided, with Takayasu in control from the tachiai. Takayasu’s slap down was loud and strong, with some fans gasping as it was unleashed. 9 more wins for a viable chance at Ozeki for Takayasu
Goeido defeats Okinoumi – First of all, I can almost swear that Goeido lost a considerable amount of mass. Secondly, he heavily protected his damaged right ankle, including a move at the edge of the ring that did not look easy or comfortable. I think Goeido has real problems.
Endo defeats Terunofuji – The big Mongolian Ozeki started strong, and went for his favored double outside shoulder grip, but somehow Endo countered or at least stayed away from the edge of the tawara. As Terunofuji went to put Endo away, Endo reached down to grabe Terunofujis (injured) knee. At that point Terunofuji eased up and Endo finished him.
Hakuho defeats Chiyonokuni – The Gyoji almost gave it to Chiyonokuni, but it was clear that Hakuho blasted him at the tachiai. Chiyonokuni as been progressing steadily in the past year, and made a good showing against Hokuho. I should not that Hakuho did not see to be hesitant, favoring any part of his body or injured in any way. It may be the case fans finally can see him in good form once more.
Mitakeumi defeats Kakuryu – Very strong work from Mitakeumi once more. Kakuryu’s reactive sumo left him out of room at the edge and off balance. Mitakeumi was able to finish him.
Yoshikaze defeats Kisenosato – Kisenosato looked unsure and unsteady. As noted in prior posts, the kind of injury he suffered usually requires surgery if it can be repaired at all. As a Yoshikaze fan I appreciate his winning, but it’s worrisome to see sumo’s #1 ratings machine in trouble.
More tomorrow as it happens (if the 4G signal can behave) from the Kokugikan.
The Kisenosato effect is still going strong. This morning at the Kokugikan, your jet-lagged author was up wandering around, and spied a growing line of folks hoping to score coveted day-of tickets reserved from the onslaught that cleared out the Kokugikan in under an hour when tickets went on sale. The line was massive, and stretched from the front of the venue, down to the nearby Edo Museum.
Since Kisenosato’s promotion to Yokozuna, the interest in sumo has been through the roof. After not being able to buy tickets outright, fans have resorted to camping overnight in the Ryogoku station parking lot (saw it myself). I sincerely hope that many of these dedicated sumo fans can score tickets.
Also, a small crowd of lower-ranked men waiting to go inside and dress for what I am assuming is Mae-zumo.