Winter Jungyo 2023: Week 1

For the last week the tour has been island hopping, counter-clockwise, around Kyushu. It started in Kumamoto before heading for Miyazaki, Oita, and Fukuoka before capping off this weekend with two dates in Nagasaki. Next week, the tour will head to Shikoku before landing on Honshu and heading back toward Tokyo. For those wrestlers collecting manhole cover trading cards, these tours give an awesome opportunity to check out their favorites!

Fuyu 2023: The first seven tour dates

Bad news hit the Winter Tour early as both Kirishima and Takakeisho went to the hospital and were forced to limit their participation with flu-like symptoms. Terunofuji was already kyujo. Hoshoryu then also fell victim at the Kikuyo stop. As they say in show business, “The Show Must Go On.” And for the time being, the stars of the show are the native Kyushu wrestlers, such as Sadanoumi, Hiradoumi, and everyone’s favorite Emo-zeki, Shodai.

While researching these venues, I was particularly struck by Yatsushiro’s Myoken Festival featuring a procession of horses and a half-turtle/half-snake called a “ga-meh.” Much of the festival actually occurred during Kyushu basho, and the highlight was on November 23rd — just before the basho’s final weekend as the drama was building between Kirishima and Atamifuji. Nonetheless, Yatsushiro may have been chosen as the first stop on the tour because of the importance of this festival, which concluded on December 1, as well as being Takakento’s hometown. If you have a spare 4.5 hours (since there is no hon-basho, I know you do) there is great footage of the 2019 event to see above. Better yet, if you are ever in Kyushu for the tournament, you might want to check out the Yatsushiro Myokensai for yourself!

Miyazaki-city food porn

On December 4, the tour stayed in Kumamoto prefecture but shifted over to a town called, Kikuyo. and then headed down to Miyazaki. Judging by the short video above, our favorite wrestlers were able to enjoy amazing food, especially wagyu beef. Miyazaki prefecture awards the Makuuchi yusho winner (Kirishima) with a head of their famous cattle as well as a ton of fresh produce.

In Oita, visitors would also be able to check out the Oita Prefectural Art Museum (OPAM). Running from November to January 21, is a very interesting exhibition, “Thermae: Ancient Rome, Japan, and the Joy of Bathing.” I am sure Takakeisho checked it out while they were in town. Guided tours on some days are offered but likely in Japanese, only. From here, it’s back to Kasuga in Fukuoka. I imagine that is to pick up more Amaō strawberries and mentaiko (presented as yusho prizes from the prefecture and city of Fukuoka).

Sasebo basho highlights

The wrestlers ended up this weekend in Nagasaki for two tour dates, Sasebo-city and Omura-city. Unfortunately, a few wrestlers are kyujo from the final Nagoya event, including Kinbozan, Takakento, and Chiyosakae. Hopefully everyone’s health cooperates as we enter another week of this tour. Sasebo city has an Open Data portal which I will be exploring for the next week, as well as Hirado. As I mentioned before, Ehime in Shikoku is next on the Jungyo calendar. The tour will then head toward Osaka on its way back to Tokyo.

Kyushu Honbasho Wrap-up

The tournament is over but we know that the Makuuchi yusho is not the final sumo thing for the year. There was still quite a bit of news coming out of Fukuoka this week and I wanted to take a moment to cover that in this news brief. Yes, we had the final tournament results and top division special prizes but we also had a group of retirements, Juryo promotions, and we now turn to Winter Jungyo!

Kyushu Hardware Distribution

As far as the yusho, we got a thrilling showdown between Kirishima and Atamifuji on Day 14, which Kirishima won, convincingly. Then he defeated Takakeisho on Senshuraku to seal his 13-2 title and claim the Golden Macaron. Ichiyamamoto, Kotonowaka, and Atamifuji won Fighting Spirit prizes. No technique prize was awarded and only Atamifuji had a shot at Outstanding Performance but he would have had to win the yusho.

In the lower divisions, we have an interesting group of yusho winners. As Leonid covered previously, the Juryo title was claimed by Kotoshoho. He had a tough go of things in the top division but has surely reclaimed a spot there with an exciting victory over Onosato (actually two). The video below has a replay from their playoff, as well as footage from the yusho award ceremony. As Leonid also covered, Satorufuji won the Makushita yusho. Daishoryu, Dairinzan, and Aonishiki won the Sandanme, Jonidan, and Jonokuchi titles, respectively.


The Kyokai announced seven wrestlers who retired during the tournament.

Daijo debuted in 2007 and reached Makushita for the first time in 2013 before falling back into Sandanme. He climbed back into Makushita two more times, in 2017 and 2018, peaking at Makushita 43. Kototakuya debuted in 2018 and cracked into Makushita in the summer of last year, spending much of his career in Sandanme, and much of that career in the wild pandemic era. Kirizakura called “time” on a career that began in the Spring of 1999. At 176cm and 92kg, he fought his entire career in the lower divisions, peaking at Sandanme 69 in May of 2011 (a rather contentious time).

Chiyoshishi‘s retirement was known prior to the basho as a result of the unfortunate underage drinking scandal during the Aki Jungyo. Tamanowaka began his career in 2018, peaking in Jonidan. Young Itoga had a short sumo career, starting in May of this year, and retiring after clinching his first kachi-koshi in September, and promotion to Jonidan. Similarly, Raikisho made a short effort, spending much time banzuke-gai and peaking in Jonidan.

Juryo Promotions

Leonid was spot on with his predictions for the Juryo promotions. Takerufuji and Oshoumi have earned their first-time promotions while Hakuyozan and Tochimusashi return.

Winter Jungyo Preparations

The winter jungyo tour kicks off tomorrow in Yatsushiro, Kumamoto. This first week of the tour will hop around Kyushu with dates in Kumamoto, Miyazaki, Oita, and Fukuoka prefectures before spending next weekend in Nagasaki. Afterwards, they will pop over to Shikoku in Ehime, before going back to Honshu at Hiroshima and spending a few days around Osaka, Hyogo, and finally closing out the tour on Christmas Eve in Tochigi. From there, we’ll surely see a lot of New Year holiday events back in Tokyo. I’ll give weekly updates of the tour events and the holiday happenings leading into Hatsu basho!

Kokonoe-oyakata and Wrestler Disciplined for Underage Deshi Drinking

An underage rikishi from Kokonoe-beya was transported by ambulance after drinking alcohol. In Japan, the official drinking age, and the age of adulthood, is 20. The rikishi is a minor and ranked below Juryo, so his name was not released. Some sleuthing has been done and the name is likely known but I’m not going to report it. The Kyokai suspended both the rikishi and Kokonoe-oyakata, though the total length of the suspensions have yet to be released. It seems the wrestler’s name has been removed from the Kokonoe-beya website, suggesting he is out of the sport.

This thread from Herouth has many great details. (I will curse Elon forever for breaking the Twitter embeds.) An important detail is the fact that minors and most non-sekitori are restricted from attending Jungyo, except for cases where they are tsukebito of sekitori, specially requested by the Jungyo site (like hometown boys), or, as in this case, accompanying their oyakata. Since Kokonoe-oyakata is (was?) the deputy chief in charge of the Jungyo, all of his charges were there. In his case, that’s some twenty-five wrestlers to monitor. Even with the assistance of the other three Kokonoe-beya oyakata, that’s a big task.

Let’s be practical here. When I was in high school, our senior class was a little smaller than this stable. In spite of the fact that we had several chaperones for our three-day class camping trip, some of my classmates decided to smoke weed one night and they got busted. Our class was the last to have that Senior Class trip, among other consequences. The Junior class wasn’t much better. They were an even smaller bunch but a young lad and lass were able to escape their supervision at their trip and…well…this isn’t that kind of website; and future classes did not have that Junior Class trip.

When I was in Ecuador with an even smaller group of high school students, two lads and a lass evaded chaperones and…well…this isn’t that kind of website. About a week later, several kids got caught smoking cigarettes and one was sent home. When we were in Quito, we sneaked out and went to a bar. Somehow, I was the only one carded, despite the fact that I was the only one who was actually 18, and thus legal in Ecuador. Oh, and then our sailboat ran aground and sank in the Galapagos. Hey, at least one thing wasn’t the kids’ fault.

“So, Andy, where are you going with this?” People are going to blame Kokonoe-oyakata, as they should. He’s the boss. You have to be able to watch these kids like a hawk. And when you can’t, which is often, bad things will happen. My only point here is that while there are few details about what actually happened, responsibility will certainly lie with more than one person here. There were 24 other stablemates and I’m sure at least some could have/should have intervened. “Dude, you shouldn’t drink that,” or at least “You’ve had enough.” Who knows if a supporter had funded the outing and prompted or encouraged some of the misbehavior, a la Santuary and Enō’s patron?

In the end, the Kyokai are going to need to adjust their policies. I would be surprised if large stables will bring the entire stable, including minors, on Jungyo. Alcohol use is common place in Japan, even among the under-20s. Street vending machines sell beer and flavored highballs. Izakaya, karaoke boxes, and other restaurants — even kissaten — entertain groups of high schoolers. My wife just gave me a juicy anecdote about when she was in middle school and her class of middle schoolers all went out drinking at an okonomiyaki restaurant. I can honestly say, I have been to easily a hundred bars and restaurants in Japan and I was carded once, at GasPanic in Yokohama — and that was the crazy night I got roofied.

As others have noted, many of the sumo world scandals result from nights out drinking like this. There’s the sexual harassment scandal which led to the quasi-ban on minors at Jungyo, Harumafuji’s karaoke remote, Asashoryu’s brawl…the list goes on, and it goes back. Even further back than Futahaguro. Wrestlers, yobidashi, gyoji, oyakata,… all of them, individually, are going to need to realize that yet another drink might cost them, or their friend, their career. Sadly, this won’t be the last time this happens (thus the scandal counter). But hopefully it will happen less and less frequently.

When I see more updates on punishment/consequences, I’ll post them here.

Sumo World Reforms Announced

The pandemic presented the sumo world with tremendous challenges, notably maintaining wrestler’s health and fitness, and their mental health, within an enterprise with deteriorating financial health. The world has reopened but the impacts have yet to shake their way out of the system. A day after announcing that a total of nineteen rikishi had retired during (and after) Aki Basho, we have heard news that the Kyokai decided to eliminate the height and weight restrictions on new recruits. It is hoped this will allow more wrestlers to join. Previously, most shin-deshi had to be 167cm and 67kg (middle school recruits needed to be 165cm and 65kg).

The Kyokai will also end the practice of granting some top amateur recruits preferential placement in the middle of Makushita division, at Makushita 10 or 15. Instead, Makushita tsukedashi will be limited to Makushita 60. That will probably be revisited if the division is expanded back to 90 ranks. Recent university phenoms, like Hakuoho and Onosato, as well as veterans like Endo and Mitakeumi, benefited from this. Both of these changes will be effective in January 2024.

Of Weights and Measures

Eliminating the height and weight restrictions for rikishi seems like an act of desperation, a way to throw open the doors to any Japanese male teenager. This is not necessarily the case. Several smaller wrestlers have been hampered by the restrictions. Famously, Mainoumi failed the height restriction (which at that time was higher than the current standard) so he had silicone implanted in the top of his head! The picture in this article announcing the change, is of Baraki* (Thank you, Sarah) standing on his tip-toes. I’m not sure if that’s how he reached 168cm. Anna Erhard’s recent hit, “170,” springs to mind when hearing of these shenanigans.

It’s not apparent how many wrestlers have been denied entry to professional sumo because of their height over the entire time frame that the restriction has been in place. It’s also not clear if there are any up-and-coming amateurs who are in danger of failing to meet the legacy threshold. However, what is clear is that the Kyokai is not going to disappear anytime soon. When I saw the list of 19 retiring wrestlers, that seemed like a lot to me until I started going through the historical data. The blue line in the chart below shows the total number of annual intai, according to data pulled from the SumoDB.

The spike in recruitment after Takanohana’s first yusho is apparent. However, that boom was followed by several years where retirements exceeded the number of inbound recruits. The massive recruitment drives of 1992 and 1993 are probably not repeated for many reasons, not just declines in popularity of the sport. The recent dip from Covid is bad news, sure. But the declines from the yaocho and bullying scandals of 2010-2011 appear to have been worse.

Along with the elimination of the height and weight requirements come some wishful thinking that the limitations on the number of foreigners in stables should/could be relaxed, too. Undoubtedly that would increase numbers. I’m not convinced that is what the Kyokai is really after here, though. I think they want quality wrestlers, yes. But they want quality Japanese wrestlers. I have always viewed the sumo world as a social welfare program for young men and I think that is why they will not cave to calls for more foreigners. Not many social benefits programs allow foreigners to get a visa and a path to citizenship.

The sport is subsidized by the government and has deep cultural and religious significance. “Foreign” membership will always be very small. That said, many wrestlers have found ways to skirt those rules, just as Mainoumi found ways to skirt the height requirements.

Slow Down the Hot Shots

The elimination of higher-level Makushita tsukedashi, at the 10 and 15 ranks, may have more of an impact on the quality of Top-Division Sumo than the height and weight reforms. Promising amateur recruits may decide that they would rather forgo their shot at professional sumo if they have to grind it out and fight their way through from the bottom of makushita. However, even this may be of limited real impact.

All of the current sanyaku wrestlers fought their way from Jonokuchi. The top tsukedashi wrestlers are Asanoyama and Gonoyama, both of whom started in Sandanme. University champions have not been the dominant force which I, personally, would have expected. Is Daiamami on any of your top watch lists? Mitakeumi and Ichinojo have probably been the most successful from that cohort. But there are so many other talents out there that come up from the bottom that I am starting to think that we should look in Jonokuchi for our next Yokozuna.

Anyway, they are very interesting reforms and time will tell how wrong I am on both of these. I’m curious what you all think.