Kanji Used In Shikona

The NHK has a great video (#43) about shikona in its “Sumopedia” but I thought I’d dive a bit into the statistics on the usage of various characters. Why? Because I’m always trying to improve my Japanese and the kanji is the most impenetrable part for me.

The Japanese Language is one of the biggest hurdles facing any sumo fan. If you’re just trying to catch up on news, few media outlets outside of Japan cover the sport on a regular basis and the Japanese Sumo Association often offers its press releases only in Japanese. There’s a whole other world to sumo fandom if you can learn the language. However, we don’t need to learn THE WHOLE LANGUAGE. We need to learn SUMO Japanese. It’s still a difficult prospect but it seems the best place to begin is with the shikona and just a handful of shikona can take us a long way.

First of all, a brief detour. The word Shikona is 四股名. Shiko, the “sumo stomp” excercise is the first two characters, with the character for name at the end. Memorize that last character if you hope to learn Japanese. You’ll see 名前 (na-mae) everywhere for “name.”

Back to the topic of characters used in shikona. This is a list of the Ten most frequently used characters, counting by the number of rikishi. Koto, for example, is used by Kotoshogiku (aka Kotokikutsuki) twice but I only count him as 1 distinct rikishi. One little side note is that characters used in Shikona include a few hiragana and katakana, not just kanji. Hiragana and Katakana are kind of inescapable and are crucial to anyone learning Japanese.

Character# of Uses# of Rikishi
114531243
2730683
3747650
4571510
5523458
6524430
7439380
8382353
9374349
10390336

The good news is, there’s only 223 or so kanji that are used in 25 or more shikona since the 1950s. The bad news is, there are 1028 characters used 24 times or fewer. This includes the 隠 (O) from 隠岐の海 (Okinoumi).

Yama, the character for “mountain,” is a wildly popular character not just because of all of the Asanoyama’s and Tochiozan’s, but also many Japanese surnames like Yamaguchi and Yamada — the latter which combines our Top 2. Yamadayama goes even further by surrounding the rice field with two mountains. Yamamotoyama, who even made an appearance in John Wick 2, bookends a book with two mountains.

Andy made another data viz? Oh, crap. There’s another 15 min down the tubes.

But mountain it’s not the most popular for rikishi from all prefectures. It’s in 3rd place after 土 and 佐 for rikishi from Kochi and fifth place after 安, 芸, and two versions of the possessive “no” (ノ and 乃) while the hiragana “no” is just after yama. This is because of the historical domain of Tosa (土佐) in Kochi and many location names within Hiroshima, including Aki (安芸). If you click on Shizuoka prefecture, the characters for Fuji (富士) bubble up to the top.

There’s another interesting, but predictable, aspect to kanji pairs like Tosa, Aki, Fuji, and Chiyo (千代). Shikona which use those characters are longer, on average, so the bars are orange to red while greener colored characters are used in shorter shikona (on average).

It’s also just interesting to see where wrestlers are coming from. Along with Tokyo, Osaka, Aichi, and Fukuoka (sites of the big tournaments) many wrestlers come from Hokkaido, including several yokozuna like Taiho, Chiyonofuji, Hokutoumi, Kitanoumi. Neighboring Aomori, home of Wakanohana I & II is also up there, along with Hyogo (next to Osaka and Kyoto), and Kagoshima have been hotbeds of sumo talent and the geography offers clues to the origins of many of their shikona.

In the past, I’ve had articles which tried to help decipher Japanese headlines, short articles, and tweets to try to help readers (and me) gather just a bit more information about sumo. Let’s face it, Shikona and sumo jargon (and medical/injury terms) are where Google Translate breaks down into word salad. If you can pick out the shikona and place names from headlines and articles, we can start diving deeper into the articles and tweets. This visualization and some of the others I’m working on will try to break down the hard part and help sumo fans focus on Sumo Japanese.

Sumo Stables For Beginners

If you’re like me, the sumo stables (heya) are a rather daunting mystery. There are so many of them that even after all of these years, beyond a few famous ones, I still can’t tell my Futagoyama from my Nishikido. After all, there are 45 active stables and there have been significant changes in the past couple of years. There are also many former and a few active wrestlers, ready to spread their wings and set up their own new stables.

There are great resources online to help out. First, the Sumo Kyokai’s website has the Sumo Beya Guide with a list of the wrestlers and staff. In a pinch, it’s a great, current roster. Then, of course, the SumoDB has a ton of information on the stables of each wrestler and does a great job tracking the history of changes; wrestlers do move from one heya to another — usually because a stable closes and its wrestlers are absorbed by a second stable, or a new stable opens and rikishi follow their recruiter to his new home.

Excellent Heya Roster and Sumo Reference

Hat-tip to Bruce for this excellent reference book. It has a complete roster with mugshots of all the wrestlers at the time of printing, grouped with their heya. It also has the staff, including coaches, hair dressers, gyoji, and support staff…my go-to reference, especially when watching those lower division matches because it includes the all-important furigana to help me penetrate some of the more bewildering shikona.

To add to these resources, I put together a little dashboard that I hope you will find as helpful as I do. This helps me get even more of a sense of not only which wrestlers are in which stable but also where the stables draw their wrestlers from. I can also drill into the kimarite (or winning techniques) the rikishi prefer, as well as what they fall victim to.

Feel free to click around. You can select a heya from the radio buttons on the right on either tab and the banzuke will filter to only those wrestlers from your selected heya. On the first tab, you can also click on a shusshin to have the banzuke filter to the wrestlers from that shusshin and on the second tab, click on the individual wrestler’s name to filter the kimarite chart. The kimarite includes each wrestlers’ career record — not just Osaka.

Oitekaze: A Southern Stable

As an example, let’s take a look at Oitekaze-beya, home of Endo, Daieisho, and just about everyone else named Dai~~ and Tsurugisho. Curiously, Oitekaze oyakata seems to recruit exclusively from the southern half of Japan. Tatsunami-beya, on the other hand, picks guys from the far north, the far south, and around Kanto…skipping over much in between.

Daiei-oshi

On the second tab, you can see how well each wrestler did in Osaka in the top graph. In the bottom chart, you can discern his strengths and weaknesses. For Endo, we’ve got a clear preference for yotsu techniques while Daieisho prefers an oshi-battle, win or lose. You can get a sense that he will force the issue and not allow anyone near his belt while Endo is not quite as able to assert his preference.

I’m eager to hear what you discover about your favorite stables…or if it helps you find a stable to investigate further. I’ll update this with the current banzuke as we get closer to Nagoya Tokyo.

Get To Know a Shusshin: Kochi-ken

For the second installment of this G2KS series (catchy acronym), I cast about far and wide, from Hokkaido to Mongolia to Bulgaria, and even next door in Yamaguchi and Tottori. I am hesitant to do two in a row so close to each other so I really wanted to hop to a different region without hitting any of the big name locations* or any which I’ve previously written about just yet. However, the clincher was the recent news of Toyonoshima’s retirement so I have decided, yet again, to visit Kochi.

* 都道府県- Not all of the locations are “prefectures”. Tokyo is a “TO”, Hokkaido is a “DOU”, Kyoto and Osaka are “FU”, and the rest are “KEN”. So, we get Tokyo-to (東京都), Hokkaido (北海道), Osaka-fu (大阪府) and today’s topic, Kochi-ken (高知県). This doesn’t count foreign wrestlers whose shusshin are announced as the name of the country.

I have written about Kochi before because I have visited there and loved it. The people we met there were warm and hospitable and the scenery was beautiful. Since my wife and I were traveling with our son we didn’t have a chance to check out the nightlife but they had great restaurants, markets, and several attractions. Kochi was supposed to host an Amateur Sumo Tournament in March but it was cancelled due to the evolving SARS-CoV-2 (d.b.a. Coronavirus) situation. See the linked article for a rundown of all the Amazumo cancellations so far.

Geography

Heading south of our original stop in Shimane prefecture, we cross over the Inland Sea to the island of Shikoku. Kochi prefecture covers the southern portion of the island, is mountainous, and draped in forests. It is a narrow prefecture with a large coastline bounding Tosa Bay.

Sites

Prior to the Meiji Restoration around 1870, the province was home to the Tosa Domain. Though Commodore Perry’s black ships arrived off the coast of far off Shimoda, the event sent shock waves throughout Japan’s politics…kinda like how the Coronavirus is today. Debate raged around the nation and threatened to split it apart as loyalties for the Emperor in Kyoto and Shogun Tokugawa in Tokyo divided families. Many people wanted to keep the foreigners out while others saw no choice but engagement. The Shogun’s regime was referred to as the bakufu (幕府). Many of you kanji learners will recognize “幕” as the same character for “maku” as in makuuchi (幕内) and makushita (幕下), sumo’s top division and third division…and “fu” from our above discussion of “Osaka-fu.”

Many heroes of the period were from the area, most famously the pistol-packing ronin, Sakamoto Ryoma. There are several statues of him around Kochi city, the capital, including this big monument down along the shore, looking out at the sea. While he died a hero in Kyoto, assassinated at the Omiya Inn, others have less savory reputations and are remembered as brigands. In Kochi, aside from the monument there are a couple of great museums which explores his life, his role in the Meiji Restoration, and his legacy — which includes founding the first corporation in Japan, the Kaientai, which would become part of Mitsubishi which itself was founded by another famous man from Tosa, Iwasaki Yataro.

Andy and his son stroll along the Shimantogawa

Another key figure of the time, and as we will see someone with more relevance to sumo, was the head (or 大名 – lit. “great name”) of the Tosa Domain, Yamauchi Toyoshige (山内豊信). You will recognize the first character of Toyoshige (豊) from many shikona, including Toyonoshima and his former Tokitsukaze stablemate, Toyoshimizu. The characters for “Tosa” (土佐) also feature prominently in shikona for men from Kochi.

An interesting boat in the Shimantogawa

With all of this history rooted in Kochi, there are several museums to go visit, as well as statues. The monument to Ryoma, shown above, is at the Katsurahama beach south of downtown. Kochi Castle is considered one of the finest in the country. Nearby markets provide amazing fresh local fruit, vegetables, and fish since agriculture and fishing are two of the prefectures’ largest industries. Shishito, okra, and citrus fruits like yuzu are among the crops grown. I love yuzu. I eat it, I drink it… If I could take a bath in yuzu, I would….oh, wait, that’s a thing!!

Shimantogawa, or Shimanto river, is a brilliant blue river that snakes through Kochi’s forest-shrouded mountains. The river is the source of local shrimp, crabs, and other freshwater seafood while Tosa Bay and the surrounding ocean are a rich fishery. Kochi is famous for Katsuo tataki which is a seared bonito. The tataki method of cooking supposedly originated in Kochi. Okinoshima Suizan corporation on the island of Okinoshima offers what looks like amazing examples of katsuo tataki seafood.

Wrestlers

Newly retired Toyonoshima and his Tokitsukaze stablemate, Toyoshimizu, are from Kochi. Both are from the southern tip of the prefecture. Toyonoshima is from Sukumo while Toyoshimizu is from Tosashimizu. I wonder where they got their shikona from? Tosayutaka is another former makuuchi wrestler from Tokitsukaze. And, for a brief period in 2011, Tokitsukaze-beya had another Kochi native, Takanoumi.

Tochiozan is currently Kochi’s highest-ranking wrestler. He debuted in 2005 and blazed a trail through the lower divisions, not registering a make-koshi record until he reached the rank of Maegashira 4 in 2007. For much of his career Tochiozan had another Kochi-born stablemate with him at Kasugano named Tochinohama, until 2018. Both are listed as from Aki city in eastern Kochi-ken.

Takasago-beya features another collection of Kochi-born wrestlers: Asaazuma, Asanojo, and Asanotosa. Asanotosa is from the city of Tosa and Asaazuma is from Susaki, both near the center of the prefecture, close to the capital, Kochi city. Asanojo, on the other hand, is from Aki in the eastern portion of the prefecture. The kanji for Aki is 安芸.

Onomatsu-beya has another trifecta of Kochi prefecture wrestlers, Tosamidori, Tosaeizan, and Genki. Herouth has a great set of videos from Tosamidori’s Jonokuchi yusho. He had fallen to Ura in his last bout meaning 6-1 and three-way play-off, which he won. He’s been climbing through Jonidan so far this year with solid kachi-koshi records. Tosaeizan made his return to Sandanme during fan-less Haru, and after his own 4-3 kachi-koshi will climb a few ranks when the banzuke is released this weekend. Genki, on the other hand, hit the Makushita joi wall hard and is sliding back down into the meat of the division.

Chiyonoumi is Kochi’s young gun. The Kokonoe stable stud began his career with yusho in the first three divisions before an injury setback…right after I wrote this article. Have I found the first victim of the Andy-hype curse? I am glad to see he is back on track and he should be a regular in the salaried ranks. Nankairiki, from Kise stable, had a great Haru going 7-0 in Sandanme, only losing in the playoff…to Ura. Lastly, Wakakaneko is a new recruit from Kochi city for Nishiiwa stable. At 15 years old and 95 kg, it will be interesting to see where he is seeded this weekend.

There will be a lot of banzuke drama in Kochi this weekend. Tochiozan faces certain demotion into Juryo and Chiyonoumi may fall out of the salaried ranks altogether but will likely just hang on to the bottom rung. Will Wakakaneko be ranked near Hattorizakura?

A Glimpse Into Heya COVID-19 Precautions

Shikihide beya’s Okamisan, Megumi, offers followers a description and a few pictures of the precautions their stable takes daily to clean and disinfect the communal to protect wrestlers from the Coronavirus.

They emphasize hygiene practices of hand-washing, gargling and use of hand sanitizer. Trips outside are restricted to essential tasks like shopping for food. Shopping is done with masks, eye protection, hair caps, and gloves. Back at the stable, things like the soles of slippers, handrails, TV remote, and switches are sanitized frequently. Chanko is prepared and served with masks and gloves.