The Makushita Intrigue: Haru Edition

One of my favourite things about a tournament and the few days after is the battle to cross the “heaven and hell” line dividing Juryo and Makushita. It’s often some of the most entertaining sumo, and Bruce doesn’t even have to stay up late on Senshuraku with his special “Yamazaki: The Darwin” whiskey bottle (don’t worry Bruce, I’ll have one made for you) to enjoy it because this high stakes sumo happens every day of the basho.

Let’s take a look at who’s in the promotion zone this time, plus a few other guys further down who might be worth putting a flier on in your fantasy sumo game of choice to do some damage this time out.

Ms1e Tsukahara – I remember when I used to write a regular “Ones to Watch” feature, someone in the comments would always say “what about my guy Tsukahara?” For some reason he was always a bit of a non-prospect to me and it looked like he properly hit the Makushita wall. He’s been in the division for 26 straight basho, now finding himself in the ultimate position. Probably a good bet for the 4-3 he needs to punch his ticket.

Ms1w Terutsuyoshi – He’ll be hoping he’s reached the end of his annus horribilus (ask an older British person, or your parents if they’re into history). The Samurai Blue superfan has had 12 months to forget, going 22-53 over the previous five tournaments and without winning a majority of his matches on the dohyo in a basho since July of 2021. #yikes. He’s had notable health issues, but that’s the kind of form that gets you turfed out of the salaried ranks, and here we are. He has the ability to take a majority of wins from matches against those around him, but the form book says he’s just as likely to notch a 2-5 or go kyujo.

Ms2e Fujiseiun – While Fuijshima oyakata coached a number of sekitori he inherited from the old Musashigawa beya at the start of his career, this is arguably the brightest period of his tenure as shisho, with a handful of intriguing products in the heya. Fujiseiun (a recent member of the 21 Club: rikishi with 3 straight zensho to open their competitive career) has stuttered a bit when the lights have been brightest, but finished strongly last basho. I’d tip him for a 4-3 here given that he’s likely to get at least one crossover match against a Juryo opponent.

Ms2w Chiyosakae – I wouldn’t bet against him “riding the elevator” a few times between Juryo and Makushita like his stablemate Chiyonoumi (and more recently/previously, Chiyoarashi). As far as the eye test is concerned, I didn’t feel like I saw anything notable in his four basho stint in Juryo and this may be a basho that determines whether or not he’s clogging up the banzuke ahead of the more vaunted prospects coming in behind.

Ms3e Tokihayate – Another guy who just feels like he’s been in the division absolutely ages, although he is only 26 and should be in his career prime. He’s fighting for the second time here at his career high rank, but with only two kachikoshi in seven career attempts ranked Makushita 10 and higher, even if he does make the breakthrough it’s tough to bet on him sticking.

Ms3w Kawazoe – It feels totally weird to say this, but could it be that a prospect as hyped as Kawazoe has had his star dimmed a little, just because of the excitement in his own heya? Former Yokozuna Hakuho gets his first top division product as shisho this basho with ponderous giant Hokuseiho entering Makuuchi, while Ochiai obliterated the competition last basho to reach sekitori after only one tournament. Off the back of 3 kachikoshi, the former Makushita tsukedashi entrant Kawazoe will make his debut inside the “promotion zone” with as good a chance as anyone to nail down a third straight 5-2 that would probably see him clinch promotion. I think he’ll do it. And if all this wasn’t terrifying enough to the rest of the sumo world, behind another top prospect in Mukainakano, there is absolute monster Otani making his debut at the bottom of Makushita in this basho. It’s far too soon to call it a Miyagino dynasty, but if Daiki Nakamura rocks up…

Ms4e Mineyaiba – Beleaguered popular oyakata Shikoroyama (former Terao) could always use some good news, and I think Mineyaiba will provide it, although he may need to wait another basho. I’ve long thought the lanky prospect has looked like a sekitori-in-waiting since back when he was going by his family name of Ito (now being used by his brother down in Jonidan). It’s not hard to see how an oyakata known for being a tall guy with a long reach, producer of recent yusho snaffler Abi, would also have additional success with another rikishi of similar (not the same) build. I do rate Mineyaiba, now 23, as more likely to stick in the sekitori ranks however than previous heya products Oki and Itadori.

Ms4w Kaisho – I’m really disappointed to see Kaisho back down here, but six straight makekoshi is not the making of a good run at any level. I felt pretty confident after his fantastic 11 win tournament at Nagoya 2021 that he would make short work of the penultimate division on his second try, but he’s had a fairly horrendous run in Juryo since then, despite showing glimpses of his promise. I think he’s a technically very capable rikishi, although I also do wonder if he’s let down a bit in his development by the lack of suitable training partners in his heya. At 28 he should be in his career prime, but legendary former Ozeki Kaio has not been a prolific recruiter of talent. One wonders if Kaisho should be spending as much time as he can get on degeiko with some of those terrifying monsters in the ichimon over at Hakuho’s place.

Ms5e Chiyonoumi – Veteran of 14 basho in Juryo, his form has been pretty indifferent since his return to Makushita and it seems unlikely he’ll find the 6 wins he likely needs to gain promotion from this tournament.

Ms5w Tochikamiyama – It feels like there are a lot of Kasugano guys in this part of the banzuke. Veteran Tochimaru wasn’t able to make it stick in Juryo, but Tochimusashi probably has a bright future (despite a tough Hatsu), Tsukahara we’ve covered, and Tochikamiyama at 22 looks like he’s positioned well to knock on the door for the next couple of tournaments. To have already been in Makushita for 21 basho at that age is some considerable experience at the level. He stumbled badly last time, losing a potential exchange bout (although it didn’t transpire that way) against Juryo man Hakuyozan, followed by a Darwin shootout against Tomokaze, who ended up himself getting promoted. 4-3 or 5-2 feels like the right outcome here this time.

Vets who could go 7-0 but probably won’t: Shiden (6e) hasn’t been back to Juryo since his scandal suspension wiped out his sekitori debut, and still hasn’t fought at the level. Chiyoarashi (7e) and Tochimaru (9e) were overmatched in Juryo and haven’t shown much in Makushita since coming back. Yago (8w) has zensho’d at this level before and has the ability but has been dismantled by injury. Akiseyama (10e) was on one of the best runs of his career before injury sent him out of Makuuchi and tumbling down two levels, but he’s unlikely to mount a storied promotion.

Prospects who could go 7-0 but probably won’t, but it would be cool if they did: Hayatefuji (6w) is yet another exciting one on the Isegahama production line at just 21, but his progress over the last couple years has been slow and steady. Takasago guy Ishizaki (7w) wants his Asa prefix, but had a rough makekoshi last time out. Mukainakano (8e) is possibly the likeliest of the big prospects to zensho – what price a playoff against Kawazoe, with both going up? Former Sandanme tsukedashi Hatsuyama (11w) and Kanzaki (15e) have to be in the reckoning and will hope to give their respective former Ozeki stablemasters another sekitori before long. Youngster Kiryuko (13w) and Miyagi (14w) have been on decent runs, and Oitekaze’s Hitoshi (14e) has zensho’d three times in his seven lower-division basho so far. Finally, Ukrainian Shishi will make his bow for the new Ikazuchi-beya under the tutelage of former Kakizoe.

Lower Division Highlights: Kyushu 2022, Day 1

That is a long, hideous title. I’ll think of something better as the basho rolls on. This series of posts is for those who are sick of the “hawt mess” in sanyaku. I’ll just say that sumo deserves an Ozeki who doesn’t tuck-tail and run from Tobizaru. That was utter capitulation. I’m looking forward to reading Bruce’s take on it. Anyway, as I’ve done in the last few tournaments, I’d like to look at the developing talent in the lower divisions. Lately, the recruiting classes have been small so it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to just focus on Jonokuchi as I had been doing, so I thought I’d provide some updates across the lower divisions.


Josh kicked things off with a great tournament preview for all of the guys in the second division. In an effort to keep that going, let’s track a few of the highlight bouts:

Tsurugisho started things off with a good ‘ole slap to the face (harite) of Bushozan but he quickly found himself in danger as Bushozan drove forward, forcing Tsurugisho to the edge. At the edge, Tsurugisho found leverage along the tawara and slapped Bushozan down. They called it a kotenage but I found it could have been more likely a katasukashi. (Oooo, look at you, Mr. FancyPants, challenging the kimarite!)

Hidenoumi demonstrated power, endurance, and superior position as he eventually forced Mitoryu out over the bales. Mitoryu found himself attacking Hidenoumi from above which immediately put him on the defensive. While Hidenoumi found himself a win, stablemate Kinbozan wasn’t quite so fortunate. Kotokuzan roughed him up pretty good before winning with a well executed pull-down. Hokuseiho showed a bit of patience, overpowering Chiyonokuni. Chiyonokuni’s gameplan was to be as wild and mobile and disruptive as possible but Hokuseiho wore him down; Chiyonokuni made the first mistake by stepping out.

The best bout, in my humble opinion, was Enho’s shitatedashinage win over Kaisho. First of all, I love to see Enho take someone on head-to-head, fighting big man sumo. He went right at Kaisho and didn’t get discouraged when his initial pull-down attempt failed. He re-engaged but as he couldn’t quite muster the strength to drive Kaisho back, he instead frustrated him with a solid left-hand belt grip which he used to pull down. Kaisho barely maintained his balance and tried to free himself from the pixie’s grasp. But as he stood tall to wrench Enho’s arm free, Enho drove forward forcing Kaisho to the bales. Enho then finished him off with a last, quick, hard pull on the mawashi.

Schedulers pitted the two Juryo division rookies, Tsushimanada and Roga, against each other on Day 1. Tsushimanada was raring to go and launched out at his opponent. Roga countered by slowing things down and forcing a belt battle. However, Tsushimanada proved too powerful today as he pivoted and threw Roga into the waiting gyoji. I’m eager to see this rivalry take off. Let’s hope both men have good tournaments and work their way up the banzuke in 2023.


The big story in Makushita for this tournament will again be Asanoyama. He came just short of the division title in the last tournament but his otherwise dominant performance catapulted him into the Makushita joi, where his competition will be the most fierce since his return from suspension. Here, he’s going to face a potpourri of fading former top division wrestlers, borderline sekitori, and more recent hopefuls. Last night he took his first step to likely re-promotion by cautiously wrapping up Daiseiryu and walking him back over the bales. Slow and steady.

Ishizaki weathered Tochimaru’s tsuppari storm and won with a quick shift and thrust down at the edge. Up-and-comer Hayatefuji had a strong showing against Makuuchi veteran Akiseyama. He displayed excellent speed and power but Akiseyama’s wiles turned the tables on the youngster, pivoting at the edge for a hard fought win. Fujitoshi used his head, literally, to knock out Nabatame. Nabatame met Fujitoshi’s fiery tachiai head on, but when the crown of Fujitoshi’s head met Nabatame’s jaw the Futagoyama youngster crumpled to the dohyo. We’ll see if he has to go kyujo.

Setonoumi won his first bout against Kainoshima. Readers may remember Setonoumi from his lower division yusho as he came back from a neck injury. He’s now reached his highest-ever rank at Makushita 26. With the hay-makers he was throwing last night, he’s aiming higher. He charged out at Kainoshima from the word, “jump,” with aggressive harite and a high-energy, free-wheeling oshi-tsuki style.

Nihonyanagi pancaked Miyagi and Mukainakano greeted Wakatakamoto with similar treatment. Both Miyagi and Wakatakamoto bounced back up and neither appeared to be injured despite rather scary falls. Lastly, Mudoho met his match in Okinofuji. Okinofuji was too big and powerful to drive back so Mudoho tried a poorly executed pull/throw-thing at the edge. Yeah, I’m not too clear on what he was doing, and it seemed neither was he. When he ended up with his back to Okinofuji, it was over in the most ignominious way possible, okuridashi.


After 26 years, Dairaido is still plugging away and finding wins. Today he powered his way to a win over Ryutsukasa…who was born a year after Dairaido joined the sumo world. Takeoka chased Ishii around the ring, forcing the Miyagino-beya hopeful out. Hitoshi started off with a quick, dominating win over Ebisumaru. I can’t help but reminisce whenever I see Ebisumaru’s name about the great times I had in Ebisu in Tokyo. And shrimp. Especially the Cajun shrimp I used to get in New Orleans when we’d visit from Biloxi, Mississippi. But I digress… Hitoshi will find his way up the banzuke quickly. Ishii needs a bit of a rethink as his strategy against Takeoka looked more like a retreat, from the beginning.


Our Jonokuchi yusho winner, Otani, started Kyushu off with a win as Terutaka’s henka attempt went awry. I don’t think Terutaka’s heart was really in the henka but he sure didn’t want to take Otani head-on. That’s like playing chicken with a dump truck — whose driver’s blind. Anyway, Otani’s my favorite for the Jonidan yusho.


This tournament, there are two wrestlers making their debuts but the big story is the return of Kyokutaisei from injury. Newcomers may not know him but while he’s had a few appearances in the top division, he’s really been a solid Juryo mainstay for a good six years. Needless to say, he put away the outmatched Fujinonami with 1 and 1/2 good shoves. Of the two debutantes, Takerufuji will hope to challenge Kyokutaisei for the Jonokuchi yusho. His Nihon University pedigree gave zero f***s about his opponent, the hapless Higohikari, tossing him unceremoniously off the dohyo. The eventual highlight bout between Kyokutaisei and Takerufuji will likely be all she wrote for this yusho race, hence the scope creep for my posts this tournament.

Why does Higohikari never have a chonmage? He always wears his hair in the free, zambara-style. He debuted nearly 20 years ago and his official Kyokai profile shows a picture of him with a chonmage. If anyone knows, feel free to share in the comments. It’s just one of those curiosities that I don’t seem to find an answer for.

Nagoya 2022: Jonokuchi Match Day 7

Who said that winning anything would be easy in this tournament? Well, it sure looked like it for about two weeks in the bottom division. A win for Takahashi here would have clinched the Jonokuchi division yusho. Kazuto would not go quietly into that good night. After the tachiai, Kazuto buried the crown of his head into Takahashi’s chin. This disrupts Takahashi’s game plan, lifting his upper body.

Kazuto tried to get some forward momentum going but when Plan A failed, he moved to Plan B and tried a quick slap-down… but missed. Plan C? RUN! Kazuto backed away, cycling around the dohyo with Takahashi in hot pursuit. Seeing no options, Kazuto planted at the tawara and made a last ditch effort, collecting it all to launch forward into Takahashi. What do you know, it worked! He corralled Takahashi squarely and drove through the dohyo, sending Takahashi to his first loss. This win sealed a ticket for a rematch in a prime time yusho playoff on senshuraku.

The Jonidan yusho was claimed by Hitoshi. That’s his second yusho in Jonidan. He won last year but after several tournaments kyujo, re-entered Jonokuchi last tournament. He featured in the opening days of the yusho race in May before losing to Yamato and Kazekeno, both of whom eventually fought in that play-off, Kazekeno claiming the title.

Speaking of Kazekeno, he finished with a strong sixth win. His only loss was to Miyagino prospect Ishii. This is another strong group of competitors who will find themselves in Sandanme in September. Unfortunately, Yamato won’t be able to join them yet because he got caught up in Musashigawa’s covid kyujo earlier in the tournament, and will finish with a 2-2-3 make-koshi including a loss to veteran Tochihayate. It will be very interesting to see where he ends up on that banzuke.

Moving up to Sandanme, Asanoyama claimed the yusho there. But, as Leonid covered, the Makushita yusho was also a bit of a surprise with Yoshii’s close win over Kinbozan. Lastly, Ryuden claimed the Juryo title with his win over Myogiryu last night.

The Makushita Intrigue

It now feels like it’s been many months since we’ve lamented the reduction of top division quality, as many beloved veterans have shorn the mage in favour of a more gentle future. Many of the names that have taken their place in makuuchi have failed to inspire, leading sumo fans to ask the question: where are the next generation of stars?

I don’t know that we can truthfully answer that, but going even beyond the makushita joi, there are some very intriguing names within the third division’s automatic promotion zone (the top 15 ranks can go up automatically with a 7-0 yusho). Now let’s be clear: I’m not saying most of these guys have it in them to zensho at this level, but what I am saying is that there are a whole host of very young rikishi and a few other intriguing names to watch out for when we look at Juryo promotions in the upcoming several basho. There just happens to be a very intriguing crop this time. I’m not going to go through all 30 of them (please see the comments section if you’d like to call me out on this), but here are the names I think are worth watching over the next few basho:

Up and Comers

Ms15E Tomokaze – The piano-playing erstwhile Yokozuna-slayer has continued his gradual comeback from injury and plays out his last basho under the Oguruma-beya name in this tournament, after which the Takekaze and Yoshikaze factions will split and it seems likely he’ll eventually end up in the latter’s Nakamura-beya. He has been fallible at times during his comeback and his ETA to Juryo is probably May or July, but it seems likely that at 27, he should still see out his remaining peak years in makuuchi, whatever his ultimate level. And don’t @ me – he still very much counts as an “up and comer,” even if he’s at the very upper limit of that category.

Ms12W Hokuseiho – Sumo fans were largely deprived of seeing Hakuho’s enormous prodigy in his sektori debut, as he was held out for Covid-19 reasons, then in his second basho was promptly dumped out in his first match before going kyujo. He’s one of a small list of names who, fitness permitting, could theoretically go 7-0 from this position against a slightly easier schedule (he’s done it from higher up the banzuke already once), although I’d posit his somewhat clumsy technique might make him a better shout for a return to Juryo in May, and a potential Makuuchi debut by November under the total supervision of what will be the new shisho at Miyagino-or-Magaki-beya.

Ms12E Oshoma – The Mongolian amateur champion served up a mixed bag in his makushita tsukedashi debut and the next couple tournaments from him will be intriguing to watch, as Naruto-oyakata hasn’t yet found the formulae to graduate any of the broad number of mid-20s prospects (Oshoma is 24 in his second basho) into the junior sekitori division. One suspects it will only be a matter of time, but while there’s a number of intriguing names, who ultimately rules the roost as heyagashira at this fledgling but interesting stable seems anyone’s guess.

Ms11W Oshoryu – Oshoma’s stablemate blazed through his first few tournaments but has very much hit the wall as he hasn’t been able to find the technique required to make the jump to sekitori level. He turns 26 after Haru and one suspects this may be a make or break year if he’s ultimately someone with a hope of ultimately impacting the top division.

Ms10E Tsukahara – It seems like the Kasugano man has been around absolutely ages, but he’s only recently turned 22 and is already a 2+ year veteran of the makushita joi. Having entered the sumo world at 18 and made short work of the bottom three divisions, he’s a case which makes you question what all of those coaches at Kasugano beya are able to do to mobilise their young talent. The critical issue for Tsukahara is that while he’s been able to put up wins, he hasn’t always been able to do it against the other top talent of his age group. But others have been able to build on their makushita experience at a young age to put together lengthy top division careers, so time is on his side.

Ms9W Kanno – Tsukahara’s physically imposing stablemate has passed him on the banzuke, and while his advancement stalled a bit after Kyushu’s 4-3, he seems certain to make his sekitori bow before long. This basho should tell us a bit more about how long his progression should take now that up against more serious opposition.

Ms9E Mineyaiba – A tall, lanky but physical presence from Terao’s place? Say it ain’t so. Mineyaiba, who’s fought most of his career under his family name Ito, made a quick rise to the top of makushita over 2020, and was one of the rare cases of a rikishi in the top half of the division still in zanbara. In any case, While Shikoroyama-beya has had trouble in recent years establishing anyone not named Abi in the top division, with Oki and Irodori having disastrous promotions to Juryo and veteran Seiro retiring, Mineyaiba (who’s now been joined in the heya by his younger brother) has always seemed the pick of the stable’s prospects after Saitama’s famous kyabakura-bothering jokester.

Ms8W Fukai – It’s hard to gather the headlines at Takasago-beya. Whether it’s the indiscipline of the former oyakata or presumed-Yokozuna-in-waiting heyagashira, the promotion exploits of Asanowaka and his missing rabbit ashes, the abortive attempts at sekitori success from the awkwardly renamed Asagyokusei, or the still beavering away veteran Asabenkei, there’s always someone making news among the top two divisions. Successful collegiate rikishi Fukai entered as a sandanme tsukedashi less than 2 years ago and has collected a couple zensho already in the sport’s middle tiers, and while he has stormed twice to the division’s upper reaches, he actually has a losing record (15-20, 4 makekoshi from 5 basho) while ranked in the top half of makushita. This has seen his star dim somewhat, in spite of Aki’s storming surprise zensho which saw him top new sekitori Kitanowaka in the winner takes all finale. The ability to make the next step is there and at 24 he is entering his prime years, but to claim his “morning” shikona from the nascent stablemaster, he’s going to need to play more than just the spoiler.

Ms7E Roga – The 22 year old Mongolian seemed destined for instant success and was tipped by many – even NHK’s Murray Johnson in an interview on these pages – for makuuchi stardom. Yet, he’s registered a shocking four makekoshi in six trips to the division’s top 10 ranks, and while his reading of matches seems to be sekitori-ready, he simply lacks the ability to dispatch opponents in short order. He was unbeaten through week 1 last time out, and a similar hot start here might finally start the promotion train. He’s too talented not to be in Juryo by the second half of this year and makuuchi by the second half of next year, but it’s clear he might not be the fast mover we originally expected.

Ms6E Dewanoryu – Dewanoumi beya’s 20 year old unit has appeared at times inconsistent, but I don’t think it’s anything to be concerned about as he feels his way through the sport from a very young age, finding himself on the verge of reaching a promotable position. He’s another one we’ll learn much from in this basho, because while we already know a bit about his technique and ability, we just haven’t seen him in a whole lot of matches against meaningful names yet.

Ms1W Atamifuji – Age is most certainly an indicator of future success, particularly the age at which one makes it to the top division, as analyses have indicated elsewhere (dive into the recesses of places like Sumo Forum for more on this). Master recruiter and developer Isegahama’s next student to impact the salaried ranks will be Atamifuji, and this absolute beast should have a much higher ceiling than recent graduates Nishikifuji, Midorifuji or Terutsuyoshi based on his career performance to date.

He won’t even turn 20 until this year’s Aki basho, by which point he could well be cemented in the top division. With a 36-6 career record to date, the stat that stands out the most is that his third most common kimarite is yoritaoshi, a move which signals only dominant performance. Very rarely does one accidentally secure such a manoeuvre and it is representative of how he has steamrolled through the lower tiers. I’ve actually found watching his losses to be more instructive and he does seem to look an awful lot like Mitakeumi at times to these eyes, the way that he’s able to often box out his opponents, but can be exposed by up-and-under grapplers in the style of a Takanosho or Meisei. Still, small sample size caveats apply here, as we simply don’t have much to analyse.

Still, anything less than promotion in this basho would register as a real surprise and we should be looking for him to be #2 in the stable behind the Yokozuna by the start of 2023 as Takarafuji declines.

The Veteran Spoilers of Intrigue

Ms15W Kitaharima – The lightweight yoyo man has been immediately relegated on his last three appearances in the second division over 5 years, and automatically you should be thinking his appearance here discredits everything I’ve said above about stodgy no-hoper vets getting in the way of talented youngsters who may or may not exist. But the limber Yamahibiki dude is 4 sekitori basho short of the requirement for retiring as an elder into the sumo association and if it’s going to happen, one must think it will happen this year: he turns 36 in July. Obviously he won’t be bothering the top division, but sumo has form for late career renaissances from rikishi trying to eke out a future in the sport, and with promotion places at a premium, that could turn up the pressure on his younger opponents in the coming months.

Ms5W Kyokutaisei, Ms3W Jokoryu & Ms1E Kyokushuho – These veterans maybe more than any ranked around them have the ability to disrupt the progress of the young guns, but have been disrupted recently by chronic injury (Kyokutaisei), consistently poor form (Kyokushuho) and age (Jokoryu). All of them qualify for elder status in the Sumo Association by virtue of their career achievements, but it’s unclear whether they have the intention (Kyokutaisei, Jokoryu) or citizenship requirements (Kyokushuho) to do so, and they may need to battle it out a bit longer until their futures become clear… two of them in a stable where Asahisho has already taken a myoseki on loan and another will likely be needed soon for Kaisei.

Ms5E Ryuden – No longer sumo’s most recent bad boy, the former heyagashira of Takadagawa beya has followed in the footsteps of Abi by running roughshod over the third division in his comeback to the dohyo. This basho might be a tougher ask but he should be in position to deny a talented youngster a spot in the salaried ranks.


For sure there are other intriguing names in the makushita-joi and environs, names who should be expected to make their Juryo debuts over the next year (Tochimaru, Kotodaigo, etc), but I don’t rate any of them as having a makuuchi ceiling – at least not one more meaningful than the names mentioned here.