Yokozuna Hakuho Granted Japanese Citizenship

Today, September 3rd, Yokozuna Hakuho has been granted Japanese citizenship, according to multiple news sources, including Sponichi. Hakuho was granted special permission by the government of Mongolia to seek Japanese citizenship earlier this year, as part of the process to prepare for his eventual retirement, and transition to oyakata status.

While Team Tachiai firmly believes that Hakuho won’t retired before the 2020 summer olympics in Tokyo, he is clearly looking ahead and planning to continue to be a part of the sumo world for decades to come. As the greatest rikishi of modern times, this is good for Hakuho, good for the NSK, and great for sumo.

Congratulations to Hakuho!

Satoyama’s Upcoming Danpatsushiki

Satoyama / Sanoyama and Josh at Natsu 2019
Satoyama meets Tachiai, likes the t-shirt

Small man sumo is very much in vogue at the moment, with rikishi like Enho and Terutsuyoshi capturing the imagination of fans. But sumo has a rich history of smaller rikishi and one of the more notable names of recent times, Satoyama, recently retired at the end of the Kyushu basho in November. He then became Sanoyama oyakata, having borrowed his kabu from Chiyootori. He spent much of his sekitori career in juryo – where I personally especially enjoyed his matches with Asahisho (even if he didn’t always come out on top).

He is one of two new oyakata in the Onoe stable, a stable I recently had the chance to visit for morning keiko – an exercise which I will detail further in a future post on the site.

Visitors to recent basho since Satoyama’s retirement have seen the friendly former rikishi staffing the NSK’s official merch booth at Kokugikan and the other venues. Usually, he is one of three or four oyakata working the booth and interacting with fans, along with his stablemate and fellow new coach Hidenoyama, the former Tenkaiho.

I said hello to Satoyama/Sanoyama during the recent Natsu basho, and told him I had seen keiko recently at his stable (he was not present that day), and that it was a cool experience. He inquired about my Tachiai t-shirt, and when I told him it was an English sumo website, he handed me a flier in the hope that I would share some news with you all. Here is that flier:

Satoyama Danpatsushiki Flier
Satoyama’s Danpatsushiki takes place on September 28

Satoyama/Sanoyama has been spending most of his time during the basho interacting with fans and working hard to advertise his forthcoming danpatsushiki, where his hair will be cut and his retirement process will be complete.

As a former top division rikishi, this event will take place at Kokugikan on September 28. The day will consist of Makuuchi and Juryo matches as well as, of course, the ceremonial cutting of Satoyama’s top-knot.

If you buy tickets direct from the NSK, the ticket prices are as follows:

  • ¥2000 for Arena C seats
  • ¥4000 for Arena B seats
  • ¥8000 for Arena A seats
  • ¥36000 for Masu (box) C seats
  • ¥42000 for Masu (box) B seats
  • ¥46000 for Masu (box) A seats

Bear in mind of course that the boxes seat four people (and comfortably seat two people).

In addition to Satoyama’s sake sponsor, the flier also includes an outline of Amami Island in the Oshima district of Kagoshima prefecture, from where Satoyama hails. I wasn’t familiar with it before discovering the island through this flier, but it does look like a very lovely place. Having recently visited Okinawa for the first time, I’m intrigued that there’s quite a bit of content on youtube (such as this video) playing Amami up as an alternative, desirable Japanese island destination.

Our friends over at buysumotickets.com are currently selling tickets for this event. Tickets will come with a markup over the face value prices, but I have found this to be an acceptable price to pay in exchange for the ease of securing good tickets. Additionally, the event has an official website at satoyama.basho-sumo.jp, where an order form has been set up in Japanese (along with additional event details).

If you have plans to attend the Aki basho and will be extending your stay in Japan (or are a local), this event could be a good opportunity to not only see sumo but enjoy a unique milestone in the career of a former popular sekitori!

Hakuho Renouncing his Mongolian Citizenship

Sports media outlets in Japan have been reporting that Hakuho has filed the documents to renounce his Mongolian citizenship with the Mongolian President’s office earlier this month.

Report and video at NHK World

This has been reported in the Mongolian press and from there it spread to the Japanese media. Hakuho was asked to comment on it today, but was very guarded. “I’m surprised it made the news at this early stage. This is a matter relating to both countries, so we’ll have to wait and see what happens. I can’t say anything one way or the other at the moment.”

That is the raw story, and here are my comments on it.

It is clear that Hakuho does not renounce his citizenship because he has something against Mongolia. Quite the contrary. This is simply a necessary step in order to obtain Japanese citizenship, as Japan generally does not allow dual citizenship.

Hakuho has permanent residence status in Japan, and does not need citizenship to live and work there. There are only two main differences between his current status and citizenship. One is the right to vote or be elected, and the other is the right to become a member of the NSK. And I think we can safely disregard the idea that he decided to enter Japanese politics.

Hakuho has been talking about becoming a toshiyori (oyakata) for a long time now. And not just talking – he has taken four uchi-deshi already. Uchi-deshi are recruits scouted by someone who aspires to create his own heya. While he is still attached to his original heya, those recruits also belong to that heya. Once he is eligible to form his own heya, however, his uchi-deshi are allowed to leave the original heya together with him. Hakuho’s Uchi-deshi include Yamaguchi, Ishiura, Enho and the most recent addition, Toma from Okinawa.

To become a toshiyori, one must have Japanese citizenship. And one must have it by the time one retires from active sumo. Get the citizenship a day after you have filed your retirement documents – and it’s too late.

However, due to the strong sense of patriotism most Mongolians share, and Hakuho especially so, due to being the son of a national hero, he has been putting it off. His father’s death last year removed one obstacle, at least as far as filial piety is concerned. However, he did not make the move in the months that followed.

All this inclines me to believe that he determined to start the process only when he feels his retirement is imminent or at least highly likely. That is, I believe the fact that he has taken this step now means that he is preparing to retire soon, or at least acknowledges a strong possibility that he will have to.

Of course, we are not talking about forced retirement due to any scandal. Even if any of the little things that he does that annoy the NSK so much drive them to force him to retire – he wouldn’t be needing that citizenship in such a case, as of course he wouldn’t be able to continue as a member if that happened.

So my own interpretation of the situation is that the injury he suffered at the end of Haru basho, snapping his coracobrachialis at the tendon it shares with the biceps, may be at the bottom of this move. He has opted not to have surgery for it. Although he says that this should not affect his ability to grab a mawashi, he knows full well that a Yokozuna can only avoid retirement by winning 10 bouts or more every basho, and there is a limit to the number of kyujo he can enjoy – especially if there is no prospect of improvement following them. I believe he hopes he can still win those 10 bouts for a while yet, but he is sensible enough not to bet his future career on it.

Learning the Lingo: Episode Two

Hello sumo fans. Today I’m back with another addition of learning the lingo, a series where I briefly break down sumo terms in a way that will be accessible for all fans of this wonderful sport. Today’s episode will cover Oshi-zumo, Yotsu-zumo, Oyakata, and Heya.

Before you go, I wanted to make a special announcement. The Liam Loves Sumo channel has officially surpassed 200 subscribers, and I owe each and every one of you a huge thank you for helping me reach this milestone! Thank you for watching and supporting the channel, and I will see you all soon!