Jonokuchi Match Day 2 featured a handful of good bouts. First up, we’ve got Tanji. I spoke highly of him yesterday, saying I thought he’d go deep in the yusho race. Effective jinx as he lost today to Sato…in spectacularly uncomfortable fashion. Fantastic throw! Next up, we’ve got Noguchi and Tanaka. As they jostle in the center of the ring, Tanaka deftly wraps his leg around Noguchi’s right and falls forward. Beautiful move. Then we’ve got Hayashiryu taking on Arise. We’ll add a little bit of pressure to Hayashiryu by making him fight directly in front of his oyakata. Of course Arise overpowers the youngster almost tossing him into Nishonoseki’s lap. I guess it could have been worse if he had landed ON Kisenosato…
I’ve included the maezumo bouts again, and there are several great bouts in here. I really liked the Yamada battle but Imazeki really got a workout. I feel the Jonokuchi AND Jonidan yusho races will be tight over the next few basho.
The current Jonokuchi cohort missed out on their maezumo experience due to the surge in Coronavirus cases. This meant their introductions were delayed until the start of this tournament. There’s also been a bit of reform in the “amateur” divisions as Sandanme has been reduced to 90 ranks and there may be further cuts. It also seems that most of Jonokuchi was promoted into Jonidan, including perenial cellar-dwellers Higohikari and Sawaisamu. So, virtually all of the Jonokuchi wrestlers are the new recruits who should have taken part in Osaka’s maezumo, with most of the remaining wrestlers made up of wrestlers returning from kyujo, and Takatairiku.
Since we’re really far too early to start talking about yusho contenders, I wanted to look at the current maezumo cohort. The press is having a field day with this particular class because it includes a wrestler named Suyama who joins the Kakukai (the Sumo World) from the prestigious Tokyo University. It also includes a wrestler from Nichidai named Imazeki and a young judoka named Yamada. Well, this particular group has three Yamadas — and there’s already another Yamada in Jonokuchi. Each of the newbies is introduced under a different shikona and I cannot make out the shikona used for Yamada Nelly. It sounded like “Wazachino” to me… As for Imazeki, his teammate Kayo debuted at Sandanme 90 with a glorious henka.
Kayo. Your first bout ever and you throw out a glorious henka.
I only included a couple of competitive Jonokuchi bouts there at the end. Many of them on this first Match Day were rather one-sided but there were a couple of gems. Tanji looks like he may go pretty deep in the yusho race, for example. As the field narrows down, we’ll learn a bit more about these youngsters. I hope you enjoy!
For most rikishi, maezumo is the required on-dohyo initiation to sumo tournaments. An exception is made for amateur champions from major tournaments in Japan. They are allowed to forgo maezumo and take advantage of a privileged entry directly into Sandanme or Makushita. This year is clearly a difficult year for recruiting — and the amateur sport — but there are still quite a few young men ready to join the heya life.
The goal in maezumo is for the participants to reach three wins in kind of a round-robin style. Top recruits will pick up their three wins very quickly and not participate in further bouts. If unsuccessful after even five matches, this does not preclude the wrestler from continuing their sumo career but it sure does not bode well for a rapid rise.
We have eight wrestlers who participated in maezumo this tournament, including five brand new recruits (shin-deshi), a drop from more than forty in March — but an increase compared with last November when there were only two. Aside from the two veterans who had fallen off the banzuke and hope to remain in sumo, we’ve got a nice new group of six men making their debuts.
The top recruit in the November cohort is Atamifuji. Born Takei Sakutaro in Chiba, he moved to Atami and his shikona is a nod to his hometown. He joined Isegahama stable this fall, at age 18. He’s the rikishi at the front on the far left. Joining Atamifuji at Isegahama are Onofuji (back row, left) and Minorufuji (back row, right).
Arauma, front and center, is Atamifuji’s biggest competition from this particular set of recruits and he joins Isenoumi stable. If I’m not mistaken, he’s the only Isenoumi recruit this year. The two faced each other for their third bout, the maezumo equivalent of a Darwin bout. Atamifuji came out on top but I’m sure we will be able to revisit this rivalry in January in Jonokuchi.
Lastly, Kyoda (front row, right) has joined Futagoyama and Harada (back row, center) joined Oguruma stable. Kyoda defeated Onofuji twice and Minorufuji once during the maezumo bouts to pick up his three wins. Harada also beat Minorufuji twice for his two wins. Onofuji picked up three wins but Minorufuji was winless in four bouts after being thrown in his bout against Arauma.
Sometimes people wonder what it takes to be a sumo wrestler. I don’t blame them because whenever I watch a Jonokuchi bout, I’m usually thinking the same thing, half, “That looks like fun!” and half, “I could clean up!” The five brand new recruits, shin-deshi, and had to pass the entrance physical.
*Hat tip to Herouth for explaining that Arauma’s physical was passed in September, so he’s not actually a “shin-deshi” in this maezumo cohort. Shishi also joined in January but had to wait until March for maezumo.
To qualify, recruits must be healthy, taller than 167cm and weigh more than 67kg and under 23 years old. From the list above, we can see all recruits easily met these standards, though Atamifuji was the tallest and heaviest at 185 cm (6 feet) and 166 kilos.
There are age exceptions for amateur champions, who must still be under 25 and middle school recruits must be at least 165cm and weigh more than 65kg. And since you’ll be hanging out in standard issue white boxers, you likely need a heafty dose of humility and have the personal hygiene skills to not leave skidmarks.
For exceptional talents, maezumo a very brief blip before they rocket up the banzuke, often pausing at the rough-and-tumble makushita joi. On the other end of the spectrum, wrestlers who are injured will sometimes fall completely off the banzuke (banzuke-gai) and will need to do maezumo again. Some wrestlers avoid this by fighting one bout each tournament, like Ryuden did before his storied come-back.
Despite the challenges of this year, maezumo cohorts from 2020 have offered up some amazing talents who we will likely see transition from part-time to full-time, like Hokuseiho, Shishi, and Hayatefuji, already well into Sandanme and likely set to get their own kesho mawashi within a year or two. We look forward to following all these new wrestlers in the new year.*
*I must apologize to the sumo fan universe, and all Americans, for the challenges that we have faced this year. My wife has informed me that 2020 is my Yakudoshi. I had thought that was next year but I’m told that next year will be better. Mea culpa.
So, um…last night I’m chilling on the couch half-watching Mexican soccer (Go Pumas!) when a Twitter account that I follow posted the results of an amateur sumo tournament from Saturday. “Whaaaaaa?” I’ve been tracking the Japan Sumo Federation (日本相撲連盟) and the raft of canceled and postponed tournaments all spring and summer. Apparently, I’d not been following it closely enough because they decided to hold a big one. Journalism 101, Andy-man. Stay on top of things. Oops.
So…it turns out they hosted the Eastern Japan University Sumo Championships this weekend. The tweet had been the results of B and C squads the day before. Sunday was the A Team. A total of twelve schools participated, including many of the top Japanese Universities. From previous coverage of amazumo tournaments, you may be familiar with some of the bigger schools already. However, since this is an Eastern Japan thing, Kinki Daigaku, alma mater of Ozeki Asanoyama, was not participating. They’re in the Western part of Japan. Herouth has found the results of the Western version which happened this weekend, too.
There was also a West-Japan university tournament today, but it didn't get as much love as the East one. These are the singles winners, three guys from Kindai, and one Mongolian from Doshisha uni. The Japanese transliteration of his name is "Demidejamutsu". Needs research. https://t.co/UdBaBl2v7Q
So, which schools were participating in the East? Let’s see…Shodai’s Tokyo University of Agriculture, Mitakeumi’s Toyo University, Endo’s Nihon University (AKA, Nichidai), Shohozan’s Komazawa University, Yago’s Chuo University, and Nippon Sports Science University which produced the likes of Hokutofuji, Chiyotairyu, and Myogiryu. Other schools, like Meiji, Keio, and Waseda are more well-known for their academics rather than their athletics, but still participate. To round out the twelve, we’ve got Takushoku, Senshu, and Hosei. Waseda and Keio seem to be pretty big rivals, so that match-up was nice to see in the third round. Even more athletes from these schools are currently battling their way through the lower divisions, like Mitoryu or up-and-comer Hagiwara from Takushoku University.
These tournaments will lead up to the Major championships later this year. Those who do well in those tournaments are rewarded with advanced placement in the banzuke if they go pro, in either Sandanme or Makushita. Win a major amateur title and get placed in Makushita, like Endo. Runner-ups don’t go home empty handeded as they get slotted in Sandanme. But if you miss out, you start at the bottom like Shodai. So there’s a lot on the line for those who want to go pro.
I posted a bit of a teaser yesterday for an article and data viz tool that I’m working on. It turns out that it will be related. Now, I’m going to need to see if I can get university affiliation into my data. But what I’m hoping for is to build a vizualization that will allow us fans to visually track the progress of maezumo cohorts. As we see from the graph below, despite the relatively low numbers of debutantes lately, there’s still more than 60 new guys to follow each year and that can be a bit overwhelming to see which of these guys will be up-and-comers, grinders, or flame-outs. There are SO MANY stories in here, many of which we read up on thanks to Herouth, Josh, Tim and the rest of the team.
So, how’d the schools do at this tournament? Well, it’s no real surprise that Keio did not make it to the next phase. They had a real tough schedule and got swept in the first two rounds, and only picked off one win against rivals Waseda. Since Waseda finished in the top 8, they were able to move on to the elimination phase. Toyo University swept their opponents in all three rounds, qualifying at the top of the elimination bracket. They were followed by Nichidai, Chuo, Takushoku, and Nitaidai for the Top 5. Shodai’s Tokyo University of Agriculture finished sixth with 9 wins. Komazawa and Waseda rounded out the eight.
Nitaidai Yusho. This is the alma mater of Hokutofuji and Chiyotairyu. Last year's College Yokozuna, Nakamura Yasuteru is from Nitaidai. He was a Freshman last year so we'll see if he can repeat. pic.twitter.com/cpwG2UZ3Pz
Well, the great thing about the tournament in the East is that for the second day, the Class A bouts — team and individual competitions — are all online. I encourage any fan of sumo to watch. The bouts happen very quickly. But if you want to skip forward to the elimination phase of the team competition, fast-forward to the 2 hour, 22 minute mark.
Nihon Sports Science University won the yusho. They defeated Toyo University in the semi-finals. The team, pictured below will be strong contenders for the National Championship later this year. However, I think Nichidai will have a better chance and they’re probably very disappointed to walk away tied for third with Toyo. Nichidai’s entire squad qualified for the individual finals and as Herouth points out, one of their team, Yersin Batagul from Kazakhstan, picked up the individual yusho.
The tweet below has pictures of the teams from the Final Four. Last is the yusho picture. I get the feeling Takushoku was just happy to be there. Nichidai seem disappointed and I expect they’ll fight hard at Nationals.
Welp, I need to run but I hope to dive into the individual bouts and the Western University tournament later tonight. But I wanted to get these highlights out for you all to enjoy. A real proper introduction to the university-level sumo is in the works and should be ready in the next few weeks, in preparation for the national championships.
This is Yersin Baltagul, the Kazakh wrestler. He just won the East Japan university competition.