Longtime followers of Musashikuni were disappointed to learn of his recent intai. Long touted as a great hope of Musashigawa-beya, the former Yokozuna and stable master’s nephew vacated the banzuke after struggling with injury in recent months.
His intai ceremony was performed at his heya, and left the Texan Wakaichiro (whose shusshin is technically Nagasaki) as the sole American competitor in the sport.
Yesterday, my dearest Anideshi Musashikuni retired. He has been always cool to me from day 1. I’ll miss him a lot. I wish him the best for new endeavors. あにでしの武蔵国が今日いんたいしました。あったときからいつもやさしかったです。とてもとてもさみしくなります。 pic.twitter.com/dmYgFHervl
Musashikuni has now resurfaced in America, taking part in the curious “Sumo & Sushi” tour, which will be hosted by the legendary former Ozeki and popular cultural tarento, musician and plate lunch grillmaster Konishiki. These events have taken place on a smaller scale at various cultural festivals across America, and allow people who might be completely unfamiliar with the sport to see some of the traditions and the rikishi up close and personal. Often, the events even offer local customers the chance to get in the ring with a former rikishi, and we had the privilege of speaking to one such punter not too long ago.
(The competing rikishi’s status in the sport is perhaps played up for the benefit of customers who may never be the wiser – we also spoke to someone who was under the impression that former Maegashira Yamamotoyama had in fact been a Yokozuna.)
Musashikuni will be on tour with three other retired rikishi: Bungonishiki (Makushita 16, Dewanoumi beya), Kumago (Sandanme 38, Takasago beya), and Tooyama (Makushita 7, Tamanoi beya)
The events will offer varying degrees of tickets for fans in the Seattle (Oct 31-Nov 2), Los Angeles (Nov 10) and New York (Nov 16 & 17) metropolitan areas over the balance of 2019. Viewing-only tickets range between $50 and $70, Sushi dinner ticket packages tend to run around $100, with front row seats and fights against the rikishi running $100 and $200 more, respectively.
While those ticket prices do compare somewhat unfavourably with even Kokugikan honbasho tickets purchased through third party sites which apply a fee, it does of course seem fair to mention that these events not only may serve to bring new fans to sumo, but can offer intimacy on a tangential level with the sport for fans who may not be able to travel (for time or budgetary reasons) all the way to Japan. Of course, the events can also help provide a source of income for former rikishi who may not have achieved sekitori status and the accompanying salary in their career in Ozumo. And you certainly wouldn’t get the chance to dance with a current rikishi at Grand Sumo’s hallowed home.
Tickets can be purchased at sumoandsushi.com. We would certainly look forward to any feedback from readers of the site who may be in attendance. We will also be tracking these events and keeping a close eye on other lower division favourites who may be making their way around the world with similar tours in the future.
Welcome to Part 2 of Tachiai’s conversation with Moti Dichne, aka Kintamayama. Moti is well known in the online sumo community for his tireless coverage of all things sumo through his newsletter, his presence on SumoForum, and of course, his exhaustive YouTube channel.
If you missed Part 1 of our conversation, click here to catch up. The second part of our series incorporates some of Moti’s thoughts on the current state of sumo coverage, and who he’d like to bring onto his channel. As with Part 1, the interview has been edited only for clarity and length. This segment features some strong language and opinions, which are of course the subject’s own.
Tachiai: One of the great moments from your channel in the last few years was your Konishiki interview. That was an amazing moment, and one of the things that was very interesting was when you drew out the revelation that Konishiki felt Hakuho wouldn’t have been dominant in another era –
Moti Dichne: He didn’t say “wouldn’t have been dominant.” He said he would barely make Ozeki!
And he also correctly predicted Kisenosato as the next Japanese Yokozuna.
He said he was the only one. And when he said that, I said, “Are you sure about what you said? You’re OK with me broadcasting this?”
But Kisenosato still had to actually do it. You had that moment, but who from the sumo world, now or in the past, would you like to feature on the channel, like the interview that you had with Konishiki?
That’s an excellent question. Well, Taiho is dead, so I won’t be able to do that. Chiyonofuji is dead. I guess… Kisenosato (Araiso oyakata).
You know, something really weird happened. The guy [Kisenosato] could hardly speak. When they said they were going to make him an NHK commentator, I said, “This guy has blocks in his mouth.” He’s like Moses!
And suddenly, he’s become this articulate speaker, and very, very deep. The things he says, he’s always right – very nice observations. I said, “What! This is Kisenosato?!”
Look at all of his interviews from when he made Yokozuna, or when he made Ozeki. You can’t understand a word he’s saying – and I know Japanese pretty well. And it’s not like [the interviews are] right after the basho, he’s out in front of the stable! Suddenly, it’s like he has a load off his back, he’s a different person, he has a different face! He’s not grouchy, and he has a lot to say. He says it without being asked, which is even more astounding.
I remember what Takanohana used to do. They used to have to drag all of the stuff out of him. They would ask him three times until he would say yes or no. Now, Kisenosato’s not Kitanofuji, that’s for sure. But Kitanofuji, there’s only one.
Kitanofuji has also had 40 years to hone his punditry.
I like Kitanofuji, because he says things that no one dares to say.
I think that’s what sumo needs.
Of course! The NSK gets offended at every word. Hakuho asks [the fans] to clap three times, they call him in. “Why did you do that? Bye. Here’s your punishment.” “Thank you very much.” What are they trying to do? They’re trying to break him. Hakuho, the guy who broke all the records, which pisses them off, for sure. They can’t do anything about it, but [he has] TEN more [yusho] than the great Japanese Taiho – who was half Russian.
It’s interesting. One thing that we talk about a lot on Tachiai is that there are a lot of people that don’t realise that the Sumo Association is not 100 people who all think the same thing. There are different personalities.
It’s also different generations.
Yeah, and politics. And navigating that as a sumo fan is that next challenge after you start to understand the sport.
It’s almost impossible. It’s a different mentality [in Japan]. And if you don’t understand it, you don’t know what’s going on.
That’s why many fans say “Why don’t they do this? Why don’t they lower the dohyo?” Nonsense. I keep writing [that] the injuries from falling off the dohyo are 0.4%. All the injuries occur on the dohyo but not from falling down. Almost none. They learn during the keiko [how to fall], it’s part of training!
That’s another misunderstanding, people who come from [a background of] American sports trying to change the rules, you know? The Kyokai has a lot to change, but… let’s leave the rules.
You’ve said a number of times, “I’ll stop posting recaps when NHK starts covering every bout.” Through what you’ve posted, it would appear you’ve brought thousands of fans to sumo.
For sure. I know, and I keep all the thank you notes. I have them all kept.
As you have been doing what you’ve been doing, and seeing the development of the Abema and NHK and the hunger from the fans, how have you received NHK’s recent development? Where do you think they are in the path to provide the best sumo coverage?
They are by far in a better place. They have NHK World doing live shows 3 or 4 times a basho? Come on, anybody can watch it, for free! That’s incredible.
The only thing I never understand is, even on the Japanese side, they do the digest and they always leave out 4 or 5 bouts. That’s disrespectful. And it’s not that there’s no time. I do it in [a] 15 minute video. They have 24 minutes. So, cut off one of the fucking replays, you know? Show the Daishohos. Show the Daiamamis.
There are guys that I don’t give a shit about, but you’re showing the sport. You’re calling it a digest. Sumo is not a ten minute bout, it’s a three second bout. Altogether, these bouts that [NHK is] cutting out, [total] maybe one minute.
It drives me nuts. If you’re doing a digest, do it. In the USA, in baseball, you’ve got many more games, and the shows show every game. You cannot disrespect the wrestlers. You’re NHK, you have the rights. It’s not like you’re some pirate station where the guy shows only who he likes. You have a responsibility to your viewers to show everything. And that got me doing it. Because it kills me, today – that they still don’t show all the bouts!
As a fan, or as someone who’s even just getting into it, how do you even understand the story of a Terutsuyoshi, or a Daishoho, if you don’t know what’s happened?
It’s unfair, it’s unfair. Period. That’s all I can say. Someone like Nishikigi’s bouts [are] boring to me too, but show it! Sometimes it’s a great bout! Or there’s a great story behind it, you know?
Beyond that, do you think there are more things they can do?
Yeah, they can do 15 days [of live coverage]. But they won’t, because they can’t shoot themselves in the legs. But listen, what they’re doing now is incredible, and it’s still not enough.
Also, it’s only Makuuchi, and it’s not even the whole of Makuuchi. Still, beggars can’t be choosers. For anyone who is not into YouTube, or they’re older, [they] can have NHK World, on cable, on their [device], and it’s free. That’s better than nothing.
I would do every single one of the [live broadcasts] with Murray [Johnson] and [John] Gunning! They are the best, fantastic. I never used to listen to the English people, they drove me crazy with mispronunciation. But Murray I always liked. Together with John, it’s so nice, it has great pace, it’s very informative, there’s great humour.
They work well together.
They have a good rapport! I would watch that, without question. Very informative. First of all, John has experience. He did sumo, he knows what he’s talking about. He’s a busy person, he does all kinds of stuff with rugby, and he still has time [to keep up with sumo]. Listen, I know him, since he was just getting started. He is an incredibly nice guy. An amazing guy.
Find out more from Kintamayama and subscribe to his mailing list at dichne.com, and keep an eye out for the next parts of our conversation, which will run soon on Tachiai.
In 1987, American-Samoan Saleva’a Fuauli Atisano’e made history when he became sumo’s first foreign Ozeki. Now one of the sports most elite athletes, Atisano’e, better known as Konishiki Yashokichi, was the closest any gaijin had ever come to attaining one of Japans most hallowed titles: Yokozuna. But the road between Konishiki and the white rope would prove to be a long and difficult one.
Konishiki was on top of the world in July ’87. The Hawaiian born Ozeki had etched his name in sumo’s long storied history, and his supporters believed it wouldn’t be long until he took his place amongst the sports grandest of champions. Despite this optimism, Konishiki followed this achievement with one of the most mediocre periods of his career. With the exception of a fifth career Jun-Yusho, the American rikishi spent most of the next three years doing just enough to retain his spot at the top of the Banzuke. This mediocracy was primarily due to a vicious cycle of knee issues and weight gain that threatened to cut short Konishiki’s career just as it was taking off. Still feeling the lingering effects of a knee injury he suffered prior to his Ozeki run, the big man couldn’t train with the same intensity he had earlier in his career. As a result, the American rikishi had gained twenty-two kilograms and now tipped the scales at 252 kg (555 lb). In turn, this extra weight put even more stress on Konishiki’s ailing knees. Konishiki had begun the most important battle of his career, and if he couldn’t get his weight under control he would lose everything he had worked for. While the Ozeki’s success on the dohyo may have tapered off, so too had the criticism he faced from the Japanese public. Now wiser and more cognizant of his public reputation, the big man had learned to stick to the Kyokai’s script, for the time being at least. This new tune, coupled with the incredible gaman* he showed in battling back from his devastating knee injury, had earned Konishiki the respect of Japanese fans. But this was only the calm before the storm. The “Black Ship” was on a course towards turbulent waters.
Konishiki made headlines again at the 1989 Kyushu Basho when he captured the Yusho, making him the first gaijin to lift the Emperors Cup since Takamiyama in 1972. After getting his weight down, the Ozeki dominated his competition once more and finished one win ahead of fan favourite Yokozuna Chiyonofuji. Having won the Yusho, Konishiki was on the precipice of doing something many of the sports staunchest traditionalists thought was unthinkable and become sumo’s first foreign Yokozuna. His first chance at promotion came at the 1990 Hatsu Basho, but a five-day losing streak dashed any hopes of promotion. finishing with a 10-5 record, Konishiki had missed his chance at grasping that white rope, but the big man had bounced back from his shin-Ozeki slump and was about to enter the best years of his career. Talk of a Yokozuna run was reignited at the 1992 Kyushu Basho when Konishiki claimed his second Yusho. For the first time in sixty years, sumo was without a Yokozuna after Hokutoumi’s retirement in May, and many believed Konishiki’s accession to the top of the banzuke was more a matter of when than if. Just as before, Konishiki came up short at the following Hatsu Basho. However, this time he’d secured a much better 12-3 record, and while not a Jun-Yusho, just maybe he could salvage his chances of promotion as long as he took the championship in March. Konishiki did take the Yusho in March, and the many speculated if he had done enough to get the call that would see an American become the face of the sumo.
But the call never came. On paper, Konishiki’s record of two Yusho and thirty-eight wins over three tournaments was better than both Hokutoumi and Asahifuji prior to their Yokozuna promotions. However, sumo is about more than just numbers, and without that Jun-Yusho Konishiki did not receive the support of the Yokozuna Deliberation Council or the NSK. In addition to his unsatisfactory record, the NSK also sited Konishiki’s “ugly”, “undignified” sumo and his excessive weight, which had ballooned up to 264 kg, as reasons for not promoting him. furthermore, NSK Chairman Dewanoumi publically insinuated that based on his past, Konishiki lacked the hinkaku or noble character of a Yokozuna, and was not worthy of the rank. But perhaps the most severe criticism came from the Yokozuna Deliberation Council, specifically longtime member Noboru Kojima. In an article written by Kojima titled “We don’t need a Gaijin Yokozuna”, the author stated that “What makes sumo different is its own particular characteristics of civility, which is the basis of Japanese morals and values. I cannot agree with a school of thought that would make a gaijin Yokozuna.” In effect, Kojima had made a statement equivalent to sportswriters of the 40’s denying black baseball players a place in the majors because they lacked the character of white athletes. These sentimentss were not unheard of in a country as ethnocentric as Japan, and were made worse by the deteriorating Japanese-American relations at the time of Konishiki’s Yokozuna run. This political tension, the result of trade disputes, caused the Japanese to cast the United States and Americans as arrogant interlopers trying to dictate Japan’s culture and future. Once again, Konishiki was viewed as an invader. The criticism from the NSK, combined with Kojima’s racist statements and the ridicule of the Japanese public, had pushed Konishiki to his limit.
Besieged on all sides and denied a promotion by all rights he felt he’d earned, things only got worse for Konishiki when the New York Times published an article about his struggles in April of 1992. The article featured an apparent interview with the American Sumotori, who accused the NSK of racism and stated that if he were Japanese he would be Yokozuna already. The article caused an uproar in the NSK, who demanded an apology. Konishiki publically apologized for the article and claimed that unbeknownst to him one of his tsubiko had impersonated him during the call. Whether or not Konishiki made the statement is still a matter of debate (Konishiki’s tsubiko Eric Gasper has reportedly claimed to have imitated his sempai during the call) the New Your Times article still had a tremendous impact on sumo. In an attempt to quell the accusations of racism, the NSK decided to put Konishiki’s fate in his own hands, and if the American could win the upcoming Natsu Basho he would be promoted. For the first time, concrete requirements for an automatic promotion to Yokozuna had been laid out: back to back Yusho would seal the deal. But much like before, Konishiki buckled under the pressure and failed to take the Emperors Cup, in what would be his final chance at earning the white rope.
Following the 1992 Natsu Basho, Konishiki’s career gradually wound down until the sports first foreign Ozeki, now at the bottom of the makuuchi division, announced his retirement in 1997. While Konishiki may have been the victim of a system that persecuted him because of ethnic origin, the enormous impact he left on Japan’s traditional sport was felt not even one year after his failed Yokozuna run. In 1993, following the path blazed by Konishiki, fellow Hawaiian Akebono Taro secured his second consecutive Yusho, meeting the requirements to become sumo’s first gaijin Yokozuna. There is a saying that goes: Takamiyama cleared the ground, Konishiki built the stairs, and Akebono climbed them. Konishiki Yasokichi fought the good fight and forced the NSK to create a system where merit outweighed ethnicity, ultimately paving the way for men like Akebono, Musashimaru, and every other gaijin to do what Konishiki could not, and reach sumo’s most prestigious title.
Chiyonofuji (left) vs. Konishiki (right), Kyushu Basho, 1989.
In today’s modernized sumo, foreign rikishi have become as much a part of the sport as mawashi, stables, and salt throwing. Wrestlers from across the globe now compete in every level of sumo, following a trail blazed for them by the American born Jessie Kuhaulua, better known as Takamiyama Daigoro. Having broken the Gaijin barrier, Takamiyama opened the minds of the Japanese to the idea of foreign rikishi competing in their national sport. Yet his influence on sumo only went so far. While the notion of non-Japanese wrestlers was becoming more welcome in Japan, the idea that one of them could reach the lofty heights of Ozeki, or more importantly Yokozuna, was still preposterous. But this belief only served to light a fire under the young Samoan-American Saleva’a Fuauli Atisano’e, who was determined to pick up where Takamiyama left off and show Japan that a foreigner could be every bit as worthy of sumo’s most prestigious ranks.
Born in the breezy paradise of Oahu, Hawaii in 1963 to Samoan parents, Saleva’a Fuauli Atisano’e never dreamed of becoming a sumo wrestler. In fact, he knew nothing about the sport save for one thing: that a Hawaiian named Jessie Kuhaulua had made it big in sumo, and even won their trophy. Little did he know that a chance meeting in 1982 with that very same Hawaiian, now going by Takamiyama, would have a profound impact on his life. Upon meeting Atisano’e, Takamiyama saw great potential in the hulking eighteen-year-old, whose six foot tall four hundred pound frame meant he was already bigger than some of the sports top stars. Despite not knowing a thing about sumo, the young Atisano’e jumped at the offer to journey to Japan to seek the same fame and fortune that Takamiyama had achieved. Joining Takasago Beya, Atisano’e quickly impressed his Oyakata, who saw the same natural talent in the young American that Takamiya had seen. To encourage him to live up to his potential, Takasago Oyakata gave Atisano’e the shikona of Konishiki Yashokichi, the very same shikona used by the sports 17th Yokozuna.
Making his professional debut at the 1982 Nagoya Basho, Konishiki used his impressive size and strength to overwhelm all who faced him on the dohyo, and he entered his third Basho not only undefeated but with two lower division Yusho under his belt. Konishiki’s rise up the Banzuke was remarkably quick, and he reached the Juryo division by November of 1983, having only suffered seven losses along the way. Much like before, the American rikishi dominated his competition, and after winning back to back Juryo Yusho, Konishiki entered the Makuuchi Division at the 1984 Nagoya Basho, just two years after entering sumo. Konishiki made major waves at the ’84 Aki Basho and finished in second place for the Yusho with a 13-2 record, which included kinboshi wins over Yokozuna Takanosato and Chiyonofuji. This remarkable performance earned Konishiki a massive promotion to Sekiwake for Kyushu. An injury, however, compelled the young American to pull out on Day 11, costing him his spot in the San’yaku. Over the next two years, Konishiki would claim the Jun-Yusho and earn promotion to Sekiwake on three separate occasions, but injuries would curtail any hopes of an Ozeki run each time.
While Konishiki was finding tremendous success on the dohyo, cultivating a positive reputation outside the ring proved to be far more challenging. The big American was extremely bright, and his early dominance served made him confident and unafraid to challenge the Kyokai status quo. This attitude lead many to typecast Konishiki as arrogant. Coupled with the way he used his might to “bully” his opponents out of the ring, many Japanese, non-sumo fans included, believed Konishiki was invading their traditional sport. As such, they began to refer to him as “the black ship,” drawing comparisons between the American-Samoan rikishi and the ships used by the American navy to force Japan to open its borders in the 19th century. Konishiki did little to help dissuade this reputation, often coming off as brash and ignorant of sumo customs in interviews. In one such case, the American rikishi was asked if he would defeat the yokozuna in the upcoming basho. Rather than the standard response of “I will do my best” he brazenly responded with “bring it on.” In another interview, when asked what sumo meant to him, Konishiki impatiently responded with the phrase “kenka, ja nai”: it’s a fight, isn’t it? While Konishiki may have been trying to describe the combative nature of the sport, his use of the word kenka, typically associated with street fights, served to only sour impressions of him. Konishiki had strayed from the accepted script, and as a result, his reputation had suffered.
Although opinions of Konishiki may have been at a low, his continued strong performances meant nobody could ignore him. After returning from injury for the third time at the 1986 Aki Basho, Konishiki began a remarkable run that saw him secure five consecutive double-digit records and two more Jun-Yusho. But most importantly, after three hard-fought years in Makuuchi, Konishiki’s efforts had finally secured his promotion to sumo’s second-highest rank, cementing his place in history as the first foreign Ozeki. If his rise to Ozeki had surprised sumo traditionalists, his 1989 November Yusho shocked them. For the first time in sumo’s thousand-year history, a gaijin was knocking on the door of Yokozuna-ship.
End of Part One
Konishiki (left) vs. Takanosato (right), Aki Basho, 1984.