Kotoyuki: One for the Fans

In an era where sumo commentary frequently makes reference of those rikishi who stay in the sport past their expiration date, some eyebrows were raised this week at the news that Kotoyuki had retired at the age of just 30.

Of course, anyone who’s seen the Sadogatake man on the dohyo over the past few years would find it hard pressed to dispute that perhaps he might struggle to regain the kind of form that would make him competitive even at sumo’s second highest division, never mind return to the top division as a makuuchi regular. Newer fans will need reminding that this was a man who will retire with a san’yaku rank as his career high.

And yet in light of the heroics of Terunofuji, and mid to late 30s comebacks from the likes of Aminishiki, Toyonoshima, Akiseyama and so on… it does feel a bit underwhelming to see the man from Shodoshima take his leave. Maybe this is in no small part owing to his status as somewhat of a non-traditional fan favourite.

If you looked around Kokugikan – back in the days when it would be full of sumo fans – Kotoyuki isn’t a name that you would see flying on cheer towels, at least not in recent years. But here’s a guy who was a fixture in the torikumi. In the beginning, he was notable for his “hoot” and clap, his method of psyching himself up for matches. It marked him out as perhaps someone in a line of sumo eccentrics, somewhere in between Takamisakari’s Robocop antics and Takayasu’s now-retired gorilla grunt in the Audio division (similar lineage of course existing within the Sodium Conference from Mitoizumi through Kitazakura and now Terutsuyoshi). Cheers to YouTube’s “Sumotori” channel for this edit:

Afterwards, he switched to his “helicopter” manoeuvre before matches which, as noted by venerable sumo laureate Kintamayama when we spoke on these pages, never really got the fans going in the same way.

Of course, on the dohyo in these later stages he also became a bit of a figure of fun, his absurdly serious demeanour in the pre-match pageantry giving way to this oversized bowling ball normally taking out several rows of poor civilian onlookers, tanimachi, shimpan and anything else in its way as he usually careened off the dohyo – winning or losing, though in later years more of the latter – at pace.

It’s also worth noting that in terms of his sumo form, Kotoyuki was, in his day, an oshi-zumo force, with an incredible amount of power generated in a pushing/thrusting attack from a body type that while optimal for that type of sumo, of course also perhaps contributed to his career’s early end. But what fun he was when he got going – we laud the technicians and tacticians of sumo on these pages, but he was at his best an all out attacking force.

He retires, per SumoDB, with a career record of 480-430-70. Record wise, his undoubted pinnacle would have been five years ago in Osaka, a tournament where he ran riot over the joi-jin and in an era where his 12-3 performance at Maegashira 1 sadly wasn’t even good enough for the jun-yusho (those were the days!). He snatched his only career kinboshi from the Yokozuna Harumafuji in that tournament:

I probably came around to Kotoyuki when I was last able to attend the Haru basho in Osaka. Keen fans will know that rikishi must pass right through the fans in the hallways of the Edion Arena as they make their way to and from the shitakubeya. I camped out in the dark recesses of the venue, attempting to get any usable photos of rikishi that we could use on this site – most of which were pretty terrible as the sekitori exited the venue with haste after their bouts. Kotoyuki, however, marked himself out as someone with a soft spot and a heart for the fans. He took his time to graciously meet children, sign autographs and speak at length with supporters on his way out of the building. Perhaps Osaka was somewhat of a “home” basho for him, being nearest his shusshin, and I don’t know if he approached fans at other tournaments with the same warmth, but it was notable in a sport that is known for its stoicism that he made time for those who came to support and cheer for him.

All in all, it is not an exaggeration to say that the highest (and sometimes even the lowest) moments of his time in service to the sport were to the great benefit and enjoyment of the fans.

What’s next? For now, he’s taken Okinoumi’s Kimigahama myoseki on loan, one of several hot seats on the kabu market as he settles into oyakata life. Hopefully over the coming months or years, sumo’s youngest elder – and first oyakata born in the 1990s – will find a name to make his own. 

As he enters the first of potentially 34-plus years as an oyakata, we can and should hope that he passes some of that same fun, that ability to entertain, and most of all that same reverence for the fanbase to those who will follow under his tutelage.

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.