Tachiai Interviews Kintamayama, Part 1: “It’s like breathing for me, I love sumo so much.”

Kintamayama / Moti Dichne Live in Concert
Moti Dichne, better known to many sumo fans as Kintamayama, prepares for his Tachiai interview

If you’re a sumo fan who lives outside of Japan, then it’s almost certain that you’ve encountered the work of Moti Dichne. Under the shikona Kintamayama, he has been present almost everywhere in the English speaking sumo community for over two decades. Between his popular newsletter, his presence on forums such as SumoForum, and his essential YouTube channel, he has not only provided outlets and lifelines for fans seeking content, but also introduced thousands of foreigners to the sport.

During the recent Natsu basho in Tokyo, I sat down for an extended conversation with Kintamayama. This is the first of several parts of that conversation which will run here on Tachiai. In this segment, we touch on how Moti discovered sumo, and the rikishi who inspired and continue to inspire him. It has been edited in places for length and clarity.

Tachiai: So, where did your love affair with sumo start?

Moti Dichne: When you’re growing up in Japan, in the late 50s and the early 60s, and you’re a kid and you like sports… then, all you have is baseball… and sumo. There was no soccer! Not like today. The only soccer was a league for companies. So, what could I like?

You [would] turn on the TV, and it was black and white, still. Sumo was on for 15 days, and I even got to watch it at Kuramae, the former stadium. Those were golden years, because it was [the time of] Taiho, Kashiwado, Wakanohana I… and you couldn’t miss it because it was everywhere. As a kid you love it, because there were the backstories. 

Without us actually knowing and saying, “yeah, that’s it,” the backstories are what’s important… what makes it fun! You know that Ikioi never lost a day [to kyujo], and you know he’s totally injured. It gives you a difference. It’s not that there are these two guys that you got nothing with, you know? You know each guy’s story. You know this guy, he always chokes, and this other guy needs to get the belt.

That’s part of the whole thing. It’s like a series: ‘Game of Fat Thrones.’ And you say, “wow, what’s going to happen?” [Nowadays] you don’t give it a second thought, because you know. 

I was sitting at the Kokugikan on Day 1, and there were 2 young Americans sitting next to me, a boy and a girl, and the girl said “wake me up – this is boring.” I said, “OK, you will listen to me from now on!” And by the end of the day, she was standing up, screaming, “Here come the towels!” I explained every bout. “You will see: the small guy’s going to go out there, grab the guy’s leg, and push him out.” “No! He’s 100 kilos more!” I said, “he’s gonna go under, he gonna get his leg, and push him out.”

And when Kotoshogiku’s up, it’s going to be X-Rated.

He’s gonna bump… and he did it! Not always, but he did on that day. 

Back to the story: I just grew up in Japan, I had no choice. We had baseball. I loved the Yomiuri Giants of course growing up in Tokyo. There was a saying: Jō-jin, Taiho, Tamagoyaki. That was what everyone was into. I never missed a day, it was great! School was over at 2 o’clock, so 4-6, that’s a very comfortable time zone. You can go out later.

I think everybody knows who your favourite guys are now, but back then, who were the guys?

Back then, it was of course Taiho. And Kashiwado, Taiho’s rival. And then there was a guy called Myobudani who had a dark complexion, thin and tall, completely different from the others and I guess that’s why he stood out. And of course there was Wakanohana I, he was the old man of sumo. He was incredible. Tochinishiki as well. As a kid, you go with the Yokozuna, you don’t go with the underdogs. You want the winners. I don’t want to be sad every day! Like, you know, going with Ikioi! 

Ikioi’s my favourite too.

Ikioi was always my favourite. 

We could talk about Ikioi for a long time. He has what I call… heavy metal sumo, high octane sumo. He goes full throttle.

And his heart is like a four year old. That’s the whole thing, and when it’s over, he’s limping. When it’s going on, he’s like a tiger.

Do you know his story? His background is a really interesting story. There was a guy called Kotokanyu, who was 39 years old. He was in Makushita. They had a bout, and Ikioi went in with slaps. Ikioi was 19. And won.

Kotokanyu put a towel across his hand and went – after his bout, not the next day – to the other shitakubeya, where Ikioi was in the bath, and beat the shit out of him. He beat the crap out of the poor guy. Because Ikioi slapped him, like Aoiyama slaps. And, the next day, Kotokanyu retired of course.

They both went kyujo, because Ikioi was injured. And Kotokanyu retired. Kotokanyu had been in Israel with Sadogatake-beya, with his wife and his two kids. He was gentle, but I guess that really humiliated him. Lower Makushita, Ikioi was just coming up! Whoever was there then, look it up, you’ll see it. It finished Kotokanyu’s career. At 39 years old, he could have gone on, he was OK, he wasn’t that bad.

That’s the Ikioi story. It was the first time I noticed Ikioi. I said, “OK, this guy is going to be my man.”

You couldn’t see Makushita then. It was a dream to see it, Juryo was a dream. Because we didn’t really have any idea who was where.

It predates a lot of information.

We had no idea what was going on. Today we know every guy all the way up from Jonokuchi, and who to look out for. You can see it. 

How hard is it for you to stay on top of sumo news? It seems like you get a lot of inside information.

You get the same internet in Israel! The camels are not on the streets anymore. We get everything, in real time, and also, every morning I read the papers!

Since I read the papers in Japanese, I know exactly what’s going on at every given time. [I know] Who was injured, who was in keiko, who was this, who was that. [I read it] with my morning cup of tea, at 9 o clock in the morning. If there’s something interesting to translate, I translate. I put it in the forum, and then my newsletter. If there’s nothing really interesting, then I don’t. It’s very easy, it’s all a question of wanting to do it. If you want to do it, and you love it, then you do it! It’s like breathing for me, I love sumo so much. I wouldn’t mind doing much less. But if no one else is doing it, it’s something that I feel I have to do! 

And I was at the Kokugikan, and I was astounded by the number of foreign fans! First of all, all the guys I was sitting next to got their tickets from BuySumoTickets because that’s the only way we can buy tickets now. 5 years ago, we used to walk in, and sit on a masu seat… alone… the whole day!

Now, it’s very difficult for foreign fans to get tickets through the Association.

BuySumoTickets is able to buy blocks. And other [vendors] buy blocks. Takakeisho’s sudden popularity, and new [female] fans, with the good looking rikishi: that’s a new thing, that wasn’t there ten years ago when I came, no way! The youngest guy there was a 70 year old, everyone was old!

The first basho I went to, it kind of felt like that, and then Kisenosato got promoted. After that, everything changed.

Oh, yeah. That was the moment. You used to [be able to] buy tickets at the entrance, the one day tickets, for 2000 yen. You know what we used to do? It’s called zabuton bingo. We would go and sit [in the masu] and then at 2:30, some guy would come, and we moved to the next seat. The contest was who could stay the longest [without having to move]!

I once made it to the middle of Juryo without having to move – in the 4th row! That’s an incredible experience. It’s nothing at all like anything else. And then… the old lady [whose seat it was] came!

Today you go, and they want tickets. They say, “where’s the ticket?” We used to walk around and only at the very end did you go to your actual seat. [This basho] I was sitting in the nosebleed seats, I started getting dizzy from the height!

I know what this experience has been like for me, so I’m curious about someone like you who’s been in the game as long as you have: What is the reaction of people you work with, who you know, who you play music with, when they find out how much you do with sumo?

They all give me the phone numbers of the nearest institution! Always! They say, “it’s right around the corner, they’ll be happy to have you. Shall I make the phone call?”  Everyone thinks I’m nuts. 

So they find out that you’re interested in sumo, and then…

They know! I came from Japan. There’s not many people in Israel who can say, “I grew up in Japan.” And nobody calls me between 9 and 12 in the morning, at all, because I don’t answer.

I don’t talk with my friends about sumo, unless they ask me. The guys in my band, they know nothing. They know about sumo stuff, but they don’t know how deep I’m involved, or what I do on the channel. I don’t tell them, because they think I’m crazy anyway. So, more than that, that’s institutionalised madness! But I really couldn’t care less. My [family] knows. My daughters grew up on this, they know everything.

I don’t think anybody knows the extent of my involvement, that’s for sure. It borders on crazy, so I’d rather it’s “maybe he has a passing interest, whatever.” I really don’t tell anyone.

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.

Banzuke Weekend!

The Mole Boss Is Ready – Banzuke Weekend Is Here!

That’s right sumo fans, the long drought is nearly at an end. The rikishi has been training, healing and having some nice adventures during the last 6 weeks while there was no jungyo. But now many of the heya are in Nagoya to get used to the heat and prepare for the basho that starts on July 7th.

We will, of course, be all over the banzuke when it drops Sunday evening US time, though we are planning to do our podcast next weekend.

Sumo Retrospective Video

Herouth (@sumofollower on Twitter) found and shared this retrospective from YouTube. With all of the hype around our up-and-comers, it’s cool to go back a decade and see who the up-and-comers were back then. It’s great to see Ama during the good ole days. It also opens with a bout in that long Kisenosato vs Kotoshogiku rivalry.

Nagoya Banzuke Crystal Ball

Tochinoshin will be an Ozeki again. Image from Japan Times.

It’s time for me to try to predict the sumo rankings for the Nagoya basho ahead of their official release on June 24th. The rankings represent a substantial reshuffle, with 3 new San’yaku rikishi, 3 predicted exchanges between Makuuchi and Juryo, and several big moves up or down the ladder.

Biggest Rises

I have Takagenji jumping 9 full ranks, from J2 to M9, after his 13-2 performance at Natsu, though you should take this with a grain of salt, as my forecasts have been known to be overly optimistic about the Makuuchi ranks of high-performing Juryo rikishi. [EDIT: In the spirit of learning from my mistakes, I’ve bumped Takagenji down a rank to M10w in my final prediction, with Daishoho and Yoshikaze each moving up half a rank.] Surprise yusho winner Asanoyma leaps up 8 ranks, from M8 to Komusubi. Another Juryo promotee, Kotoyuki, rises 7 ranks from J6 to M15. Rising 6 ranks each are Shodai (M7 to M1), Shimanoumi (M12 to M6), and Daishoho (M16 to M10).

Biggest Falls

There were not a lot of disastrous performances at Natsu, and some of them were cushioned by banzuke luck. So the only notable drop belongs to Kaisei, who is projected to fall 8 ranks from M8 to M16 after racking up an injury-marred 3-5-7 record. How do you go from East maegashira one to the bottom of the rankings in two tournaments? By posting a total of 6 wins. Kaisei is actually lucky to escape demotion, as staying in the top division with 3 wins at M8 has been a 50:50 proposition in the modern era. The last person in this position? None other than Kaisei, in March 2017, when he was demoted to M15 after going 3-7-5, posted a 7-8 record in May, and dropped to Juryo for July.

Best Banzuke Luck

As mentioned above, Kaisei is lucky to stay in Makuuchi, and Terutsuyoshi is even more so with a 6-9 record at M15, assuming that I am right about him not getting demoted. Interestingly, the last two rikishi with this rank and record also escaped demotion (Myogiryu a year ago and Ishiura last basho), but before that, it hadn’t happened since the 1950s.

But the best banzuke luck is to be found at M10-M12. Natsu performances left a giant hole at these ranks, with no rikishi “deserving” to be ranked there, and yet the ranks had to be filled, so they contain a combination of extreme over-promotions and under-demotions. The “ridiculously generous promotion” awards go to Daishoho (M16 to M10 with 9 wins) and especially Kotoeko (M15 to M11 with only 8 wins). For Kotoeko, this big bump comes after he managed to stay at M15w for 3 straight basho despite 7-8 records in the first two, so he is enjoying quite a run of luck.

The “extremely lenient demotion” award recipients are Yoshikaze (M6 to M10 with 4 wins), Nishikigi (M9 to M11 with 5 wins), Tochiozan (M11 to M12 with 6 wins), and Kagayaki (M10 to M12 with 5 wins). In particular, two-rank demotions after 5-10 records are very rare, but I can’t find more deserving candidates to fill these slots.

Worst Banzuke Luck

In the upper maegashira ranks, there were too many deserving rikishi to squeeze into the available slots. Ryuden did enough (10-5 at M5) to be ranked Komusubi, but will have to settle for the top slot in the rank-and-file. Similarly, Endo, Daieisho, Ichinojo, Kotoshogiku, and Takarafuji all ended up half-a-rank lower than their rank and record would suggest.

Biggest Question Marks

From the top of the banzuke:

  • Which Komusubi will be ranked on the more prestigious East side? Abi (M4w, 10-5) has higher rank and strength of schedule going for him, while Asanoyama (M8w, 12-3) sports the gaudier win total and the yusho. A toss-up in my opinion.
  • Will Aoiyama and Ichinojo receive milder-than-predicted demotions because of their San’yaku status?
  • What will be the relative ordering of the following pairs: Hokutofuji-Meisei, Myogiryu-Tomokaze, and Okinoumi-Onosho?
  • How high will Takagenji actually debut?
  • What will they really do with the mess from M10 down, and especially from M11w down? My forecast includes several rank-record combinations that have never occurred in the modern era, but I couldn’t come up with a better scenario that doesn’t involve promoting rikishi with losing records. With 14 rikishi all deserving to rank no higher than M13, something had to give.

With all that out of the way, here’s the guess: