Maezumo November 2020

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.

Physical Requirements

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.

Wait a minute, Amazumo is back? And there’s video?

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.

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.

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.

Maezumo: Hatsu 2020

Intro

Almost all prospective rikishi who find a stable and pass the Kyokai’s entrance requirements must then compete in several trial bouts against fellow recruits. Exceptions include wrestlers like Endo, Shodai, Ichinojo, and others who are granted the privilege of accelerated entry at a higher rank, usually lower sandanme up to middle makushita, just outside the makushita joi. This privilege is granted based on performance in top amateur tournaments. Injured rikishi who are kyujo for so long that they fall completely off the banzuke, or banzuke-gai, must also compete in maezumo bouts for their return.

Remember Kyushu?

A few new wrestlers joined last tournament in Kyushu: Mudoho, Nihonyagi, and Dewanoryu. Taiga is a current example of the latter group of injured wrestlers who hope to stay in the Heya Life rather than retire. Herouth introduced these men to us last tournament and I mentioned them briefly the other day in my first article from the lower divisions; more updates will follow.

Maezumo: Hatsu 2020

For this article, I will focus on the new crop of wrestlers for Hatsu 2020 and their bouts. I’m going to do the back row first. Hiding in the back right is Sasazaki, then moving left is Kirameki, Onoyama, and Sakai. In the front row from right to left are Hayatefuji, Takeoka, Shinohara, Nabatame, and Taiyo. Taiyo? Seriously? I’ll never figure out these readings, I owe a big thanks to Herouth for that one.

Above is the introduction of our new rikishi. This occurred on nakabi, after all the maezumo fights from the previous mornings. The ceremonial kesho mawashi are borrowed from their heya, or relatives. It will be quite a while before any of these rikishi wear their own kesho mawashi as sekitori, if any of them reach that high rank. According to the Sumo Kyokai website, ten rikishi were slated for introduction this tournament but one, Sergey Sokolovsky, will end up making his debut in March with Irumagawa-beya. https://www.japantimes.co.jp/sports/2020/01/16/sumo/ukrainian-sergey-sokolovsky-follows-sumo-great-taihos-career-path/

A little introduction to the wrestlers:

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Sasazaki Miramu (笹崎 巳来夢) joined Nakagawa stable from Mukainoka Technical Senior High School in neighboring Kawasaki. Here we’ve got the Instagram of Sasazaki the High School student.

https://www.townnews.co.jp/0206/2020/01/01/511723.html

And here we have Sasazaki-kun, the Rikishi. He will be welcome as stablemate Kyokuyuko also came from the same high school. This school looks pretty awesome, frankly. https://www.pen-kanagawa.ed.jp/mukainooka-th/zennichi/images/home_m.jpg. Robotics competitions, construction and a competitive sumo club? We need more of these schools around here to prepare kids with marketable skills out of high school. Instead, we get insane parents who respond to the idea of work after high school with, “not my kid.” (Sorry, PTA venting.)

Nakagawa beya has had a decent online presence, with a Twitter account, https://twitter.com/nakagawabeya, Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/%E4%B8%AD%E5%B7%9D%E9%83%A8%E5%B1%8B-291698034609289/, Instagram, (https://www.instagram.com/nakagawabeya/), and website http://nakagawabeya.jp/.

We learned of Hayatefuji (颯富士) last year as Okuwa (大桑) after he became high school yokozuna. In December, he entered the Open Championship hoping to win accelerated entry into the sumo world. He made it to the knockout stage but lost before making it to the quarter-finals. He has joined Isegahama-beya.

Nabatame (生田目 竜也) joins Futagoyama beya.

Sakai (酒井 慶次朗) joins Irumagawa beya, and will be joined by the Ukrainian Sergey Sokolovsky in March. The stable’s top-ranked rikishi is Makushita 14 West Sagatsukasa.

Daiyo (橋本 大海) joins Onoue beya, where Satoyama has a coaching job and high-flying Hokutenkai joined last year.

Shinohara (篠原 大河) joins Fujishima beya from Fuji city in Shizuoka.

Bolivian Daniel Velez-Garcia (ベレス ガルシア ダニエル), has taken the shikona Kirameki (煌) joins Asahiyama beya.

Onoyama (奥武山) of Okinawa joins Tatsunami beya, home of Meisei, Akua, and Hoshoryu. He’s the slightest recruit, weighing 152 pounds.

Takeoka (竹岡 勇人) joins Oguruma beya, to help replenish after the retirements of Takekaze and Yoshikaze.

Match Day 1:

Sakei did not fight on Day 1 he is listed as kyujo that first day. Instead, Tsuyasato fought twice. According to the SumoDB he is listed as banzuke-gai for this tournament and Kyushu after two straight kyujo tournaments, note the very large knee brace. Hopefully he’ll be back on the banzuke in March.

He had a rough first day back with two bouts, one against Sasazaki and the other against Takeoka — both losses. As expected, Hayatefuji, the former high school champion, won his first bout. Sasazaki, Taiyo, Kirameki, and Takeoka all claimed their first wins.

Round 2:

Hayatefuji, Sasazaki, and Takaoka picked up their second wins. Nabatame rolled against Tsuyasato, Shinohara quickly threw Sakai who got himself dangerously turned around near the edge. Sasazaki had a tough time against a persistent Onoyama, despite wrapping him up pretty quickly.

The unfortunate Onoyama then got flattened as punishment for his efforts but somehow Sasazaki seems to be the one grimacing after the bout. Hayatefuji makes short work of Taiyo and Takeoka got the jump on Kirameki. I thought that last one could have been a matta.

Round 3:

Tsuyasato picked up his first win against Onoyama but again it wasn’t easy despite the obvious size advantage for the veteran. Onoyama’s 0-3 but he’s picked up a fan. He’ll likely have an easier time in Jonokuchi in March. Nabatame beat Taiyu, who’s got a rather unique pre-tachiai stance. It looks more like something one would see from a defensive lineman in the seconds before they set before the snap.

Kirameki fell to a knee…not really a slippy-otoshi but an awkward loss to Shinohara. Lastly, Hayatefuji and Takeoka picked up their important third wins. Sasazaki seemed to get a jump on Hayatefuji but the high school champ shifted his direction and let Sasazaki’s weight do the rest.

Round 4

Hayatefuji and Takeoka are done, having picked up their third wins. Shinohara and Nabatame picked up their third wins during the fourth day. Onoyama gamberized against an opponent closer to his physical match but beat Sakai easily. Shinohara beat Sasazaki who seemed to walk a bit gingerly after the bout.

Nabatame dispatched Tsuyasato with some good oshi-tsuki fundamentals. Tsuyasato took a scary fall but got back up quickly. Taiyu…henka? Seriously? Maezumo henka? Relegated. Dust yourself off, Kirameki. Vengence shall be yours.

Round 5:

Sasazaki took a hard loss, and a hard fall, after a decent effort. Tsuyasato picked up his second win to the hapless Sakai, who will need to improve his technique because Houn and Hattorizakura will put up a challenge. The nodowa was likely a bit excessive.

Damn it, Onoyama, just when you were getting a fan you throw in a henka? This is maezumo. If you henka someone like Hattorizakura, I’m pretty sure they just exile you. It’s in the rules. In exchange, the Japanese take in one asylum seeker but it’s only done on a one-for-one exchange. And it be you. Good reaction from Kirameki this time, though, catching and throwing the string bean. Getting henka’d twice in maezumo? Kirameki’s got some notoriety now. Last, but not least, Sasazaki picked up his third win in a fairly even contest with Tsuyasato.

Well, that’s it for maezumo this tournament. Let’s follow these youngsters as they join Jonokuchi. Hayatefuji’s got to be an early favorite for the yusho but Takeoka will be an interesting competitor. Beware the henka!

Aki Day 3 – Bouts from the lower divisions

Naya

No typhoon today, and at 8:40 the third day opened with some mae-zumo matches. Maezumo is very short this time around, as only one new recruit joined this basho (another recruit was checked out, but being Mongolian, and requiring a visa, he will only be able to do his maezumo next basho). The other two are returning rikishi. One is Okuniasahi, from Nakagawa beya, who has been kyujo for five basho. The other is Asahimaru from Tomozuna beya, who only did his original maezumo in Haru 2019, and was kyujo last basho. His hair has not even grown yet.

The formidable new guy has a shikona already, “Yutakanami”. He belongs to Tatsunami beya. He has some high school sumo experience, but he wasn’t recruited straight out of high school. He actually worked in the car industry for four months (“I love cars”) before quitting and switching to the one profession in Japan that does not allow him to drive a car under any circumstances.

Jonidan

Skipping the lowest division here. Now, if you are missing Terunofuji, since he only wrestles 7 days of the 15, why not try Fujinoteru, the off-brand replacement from Jonidan?

Fujinoteru belongs to Onoe beya. Here he attacks from the right, against Kirimaru from Michinoku beya (the heya with the foggy shikona tradition):

Well, although clearly Fujinoteru is not Terunofuji, he does get a win here against the somewhat elderly Kirimaru.

Next we have the other of the Tatsunami mystery crew-cut rikishi, Yukiamami. Here he is on the right, in his short-hair glory, facing Asadoji from Takasago beya:

This is his second win in two matches, and like Roman, his shorn heya-mate, he seems to have quite a good run since returning from the mystery kyujo.

Sandanme

Since we are missing Musashikuni, I thought I’ll give you Shoji, his heya-mate, instead. On the left, he faces Hibikiryu from Sakaigawa beya. Both are 1-0 coming into the match.

Alas, the Musashigawa man does not look too good. What’s with that Tachiai? This was zombie sumo. Tsukiotoshi, Hibikiryu wins.

The pearl of the day was the next bout, which was posted in video by everybody who is anybody. On the left we have Nakaishi, from Nishonoseki beya. On the right, yet another Musashigawa man, Kaishu. Feast your eyes:

This kimarite is called “mitokorozeme”. That means “Attack in three places”. He grabs one leg, trips the other, and pushes the chest with his head. Mainoumi was known for this rare one.

Makushita

Roga, who suffered an initial loss, is here on the right, facing Kotoseigo (Sadogatake beya).

The Mongolian with the new chon-mage wins and balances his score to 1-1.

Another Mongolian we have already seen, Kyokusoten, faces Kotokuzan from Arashio beya. It’s not the same “Koto” as the Sadogatake “Kotos”. Kotokuzan nearly made it to Juryo a few basho ago, and his elderly stablemaster hoped he would become one by the time he retires (which is March 2020). But Kotokuzan somehow lost his edge, and dropped back to the Makushita ranks from which promotion is unlikely. So it’s Kyokusoten on the left, and Kotokuzan on the right.

Kyokusoten looks more Mongolian than usual… and indeed, the kimarite is uwatenage.

We now have Naya, who blew it on Day 1, trying to even back his score. However, he is facing Daiseido, from Kise beya, who is not to be taken lightly.

“I just can’t hit properly”, says prince Naya in an interview to the press. He has been touted as Yokozuna material, and I just can’t see it. I feel perhaps he made a mistake in joining his Grandfather’s former, declining heya.

Up we go to meet our Hungarian of the day. Well, our Hungarian of every day, since he is the only one around. Masutoo, on the left, faces Chiyootori on the right. This is a typical top Makushita match-up.

Chiyomaru informed us in an interview at Abema TV, that his little brother is quite genki and ready to return to silk mawashi status. I hope Masutoo rallies, though. It would be nice to see him enjoy some money and privileges before he retires.

Next up is Kototebakari, the man on a mission, facing yet another former sekitori from Kokonoe, Chiyonoo. Kototebakari is on the left, Chiyonoo, on the right:

The gunbai goes to Kototebakari, but a monoii is called, a consultation ensues, and the gunbai is reversed. Kototebakari apparently touched down first. I think perhaps Chiyonoo still had a toe inside at that point, but that makes it his win either way. Mr. Handscales is now 1-1, while Chiyonoo is 2-0.

Finally, we have Wakamotoharu, the middle Onami brother, facing Akua/Aqua from Tatsunami beya. These two are both eager to slip back into Juryo and the good life.

Wakamotoharu introduces Akua to some clay, and improves to 2-0.

Juryo

I’ll spare you the hospital ward scene that was Seiro vs. Ikioi. Ikioi lost, but Seiro was also unable to bend his knee and had his butt up in the sky. It was a sorry bout.

Instead, I’ll direct your attention to Yago vs. Kiribayama. Yago, on the left, does a great defensive work here, while Kiribayama is throwing the kitchen sink at his legs.

Eventually Kiribayama realizes that Yago has a good lateral balance. So he moves sideways, and pulls. Uwatedashinage.