Sokokurai Danpatsushiki

Yesterday, it was Kotoshogiku. Today, Sokokurai had his danpatsushiki. He also retired back in 2020 but has already made a very quick, successful transition into running his own stable. Arashio-oyakata has ushered the younger Onami brothers, Wakatakakage and Wakamotoharu, into the top of Makuuchi. Josh recently wrote about his success in more depth, here.

Sokokurai Prepares for His Bout

This is quite the transition since he had to lawyer up and fight just for the right to continue his career. He’d been caught up, wrongfully, in the match-fixing scandal and banned from the sport in 2011. While that all worked its way to a decision, he sat out of the sport for more than two years, staying in shape the whole time. When he won in 2013, he didn’t get to ease his way back in from Jonokuchi…they threw him back in with the wolves of Makuuchi, giving him the rank he had earned back in 2011.

Their success featured highly in the retirement ceremony with a bout between the brothers — something we won’t see in a tournament unless they’re somehow both vying for the title in a playoff. Wouldn’t that be exciting?!?!

He’s setting up a real family operation with his nephew and the Tanji brothers joining the Onami brothers. We’ve seen several other stables pick up brothers as recruits, like Gaia and Byakuen at Tatsunami-beya and I wonder if it’s a growing trend in order to increase recruitment.

Kotoshogiku Danpatsushiki

Hidenoyama-oyakata and his family

Kokugikan hosted the retirement ceremony for Ozeki Kotoshogiku on Saturday. His 18-year career started in maezumo back in 2002, along-side his buddy and high school sumo rival, Toyonoshima. (Toyonoshima actually claimed the Jonokuchi title in their debut, with a win over Kotoshogiku along the way. Toyonoshima then beat Kotoshogiku in the Jonidan playoff to earn that yusho.) His career as an active wrestler came to an end near his Fukuoka hometown in November 2020. But his career as a coach has just begun, using the name Hidenoyama-oyakata.

We can blame the pandemic for the nearly two-year delay in getting his haircut, so newer Tachiai readers may not have seen Kotoshogiku compete at all, much less during his prime. On the dohyo, he was known for his sujo-pleasing “gabburi-yori,” hip-thrusting technique. What it boiled down to was this: he’d wrap his opponent up, ideally with a firm belt grip but sometimes just a big ole bear hug, and use those massive thighs to basically hop his opponent out of the ring. He also had a signature component of his pre-bout ritual where he would do this deep back-bend, the Kiku-Bauer (菊バウアー), his version of the イナバウアー.

(There was a famous German figure skater named Ina Bauer-Szenes who was known for deep back bends in the late 1950s. Her signature move, the “Ina Bauer”, was adopted and popularized by Japanese Olympian, Arakawa Shizuka in the early 2000s.)

The Chrysanthemum, featured here on his kesho mawashi, is a motif tied closely to Kotoshogiku because it comes from his surname, Kitutsugi (菊次) . The kanji character, 菊, is the character for Chrysanthemum and is pronounced either Kiku or Giku. It resonates with Japanese because of the symbolism of the Kiku and its ties to the Emperor. The Chrysanthemum Throne refers to the Japanese monarchy. Those learning Japanese will be familiar with how sometimes pronunciation changes, often to make it a bit easier to say, so Kiku becomes Giku. Try to say “Kotoshokiku” three times fast and you’ll see it’s just a bit easier to say, “Kotoshogiku.”

The Ozeki

In a testament to his longevity, his Ozeki run actually dates way back in 2011 as sumo returned to action after the match-fixing scandal forced the cancellation of the Osaka tournament and the calamitous Tohoku earthquake. That May, Hakuho was the lone Yokozuna while the Ozeki ranks were full with the likes of Kaio, Kotooshu, Baruto, and Harumafuji. Three tournaments and thirty-three wins later, Kotoshogiku debuted as Ozeki in front of his home-crowd in Fukuoka in November 2011. Kisenosato was promoted to Ozeki at the next tournament, and the two rivals would fight it out as fellow Ozeki for the next six years, until Kisenosato was promoted to Yokozuna and Kotoshogiku was demoted to Sekiwake.

I would be remiss not to mention his demotion and the grudge some sumo fans hold toward Terunofuji because of it. At the Haru-basho of 2017, he had already been demoted to Sekiwake after a terrible 5-10 showing in January. With five losses and three days remaining in the tournament, Kotoshogiku had to win out in order to reclaim his Ozeki rank. On Day 14, Kotoshogiku faced Terunofuji. The henka resulted in Kotoshogiku’s sixth loss making the demotion permanent.

Kotoshogiku continued to fight for nearly four years as a rank-and-file wrestler. There were some hopes that Toyonoshima, then down in Makushita and fighting to regain a slot in Juryo, might be able to rise high enough back into Makuuchi for the two rivals to fight again. But it was not to be. Toyonoshima was demoted back into Makushita in early 2020 and retired early in the pandemic, his last competitive bout during the Silent Basho. Kotoshogiku stayed until November when he closed out his career back in Kyushu.

The Delayed Retirement

A retiring Ozeki deserves a party. So Kotoshogiku waited until he could throw a proper party at Kokugikan. That means jinku singing, hanazumo, and hair-dressing demonstrations. It’s helpful to be a part of a storied stable like Sadogatake where there are three Makuuchi wrestlers so that no matter where you were in the audience, you got a pretty good view. Each of them also did their own versions of the Kiku-Bauer backbend as tribute to Kotoshogiku.

The Kotoshogiku flags were out, the crowds were packed to the rafters, and various momentos of his career were out on display.

The retirement ceremony also featured a host of his old friends and rivals taking turns cutting his hair, including Toyonoshima, Kisenosato, Hakuho, and yes…Vader (aka Terunofuji). [Vader’s helmet was supposed to evoke a Japanese kabuto and I think of it every time I see Terunofuji’s oicho-mage.] His sons faced him on the dohyo for his final bout. His home Sadogatake beya also featured an 8-way round robin among their Sandanme and Makushita wrestlers, won by Kotohaguro. Up-and-comer Kototebakari lost to Kotohaguro in the first round.

I was glad to see a fitting tribute to Kotoshogiku’s great career. There’s quite a lot of coaches there at Sadogatake, with a couple of high-rankers, so I am curious if he will be able to wait to inherit the stable or whether he will have to branch out on his own, sooner. If anyone has any insight into the the future of Hidenoyama, please drop some knowledge in the comments. Tomorrow, we will see another retirement ceremony, this time for Sokokurai.

Shohozan: A Brawler We Will Miss

We’ve often talked about our uncertainty of the legacy and achievements we will see from the current crop of sekitori. A large part of the reason for that uncertainty is that we were blessed by a group of rikishi for much of the previous decade which provided us with plenty of undercard excitement and intrigue. When someone like Bruce or Andy knocks out 21 previews of matches every day over the 15 days of a basho, generally the hope is that there are 21 matches that are going to be worth writing about.

I’m not saying there hasn’t always been the odd M12 vs M15 dud. Of course, throughout the years, there are matches every day that just flat-out aren’t exciting or interesting. But for many fans who got into sumo during the 2010s, they could be thankful for the guys up and down the makuuchi rankings who put on a hell of a show every time they crossed the tawara. One of those, without question, was Shohozan, who announced his retirement this past week.

The storylines that permeate most tournaments are: who’s going to win the yusho? Who’s going to be the next Ozeki/Yokozuna? Who’s this new top division debutant and how is he going to fare?

But it’s a real credit to the Shohozans of the world, the Yoshikazes of the world, the Chiyonokunis of the world (yes I know, he’s still going… kinda) that there’s a lot of sumo that doesn’t necessarily generate the headlines that inspire NHK to invest in luxurious half-an-hour-long special programming, but that still captures the excitement and the essence of what sumo is. Sumo that makes the whole of the product, and not just the top six bouts of the day, worth our time.

I’m not going to sit here drunk on nostalgia and pretend that the retirement of Shohozan gives me #allthefeels that I had for the retirement of Ikioi. Shohozan wasn’t my favourite rikishi. But he might have been yours. And his permanent scowl on screen, and his unmistakeable all-out brawler style cast him as a vital character in the recent, if now-bygone, era of this centuries-old saga that we all can’t stop watching.

Here, in a raucous – if half full – Kokugikan (calling back to the times in which you could go to Japan to watch sumo and the atmosphere was amazing), a fan captured Shohozan’s first kinboshi from 2013. It was the first of five in total and three which he took from from Yokozuna Harumafuji:

His stern on-dohyo demeanour always seemed all the more stark in contrast – to my poorly educated ears anyway – to the apparently eloquent and articulate way in which he spoke off the dohyo. In a world of mumbling Endos, here’s a guy who looked like he may go on to really do things in a future career in the kyokai.

This made it all the more shocking to sumo fans when, after a string of popular sekitori of the last decade had seemingly little trouble succeeding to their oyakata careers, the kyokai announced simply that Shohozan had retired with no mention of the elder name he would be taking. Because he wouldn’t be taking one.

SumoForum’s Akinomaki quotes a news article from PostSeven postulating that he was unable to remain in sumo due to a poor relationship with his oyakata, and that he will move on to a career in the food & beverage industry in his second life (and that the former Matsugane/Nishonoseki oyakata, former Ozeki Wakashimazu, preferred Ichiyamamoto as the eventual successor to his stock). This is a real shame if it is true, with Shohozan having been the oyakata’s finest product as a shisho. [updated to add: Akinomaki now reports (via ZakZak and recommended for the full quote) that Shohozan stated at his intai press conference that he did not have an intention to remain as a coach anyway.]

But we can’t possibly know or cast a value judgement on what goes on behind the scenes. You may already think I’ve spilled too many words in an opinion piece eulogising the career of someone who posted a 46% win rate in the top division and never found success in five tries at his career high rank of Komusubi.

Shohozan’s best wasn’t really about winning or losing though, at least not to me. It was about his contribution to enthralling battles, such as his epic late career encounters with Enho, or this bloody tsuppari special from Aki 2017 that ends in a loss to Yoshikaze (courtesy of Jason’s channel):

The man himself would surely prefer this example of a signature victory, his tsuppari giving way to the oh-so-satisfying bodyslam into the gyoji of Chiyonokuni at Haru 2012 (video courtesy of Maarike11):

The other day when reading quotes of interviews that Kintamayama had transcribed, I noted that rikishi are often reported with a desire “to go all out.” I asked our friend what the Japanese term for this actually was, and he said it’s “Ishoukenmei” (いしょうけんめい), and used in almost every interview to the press by rikishi. Lots of them may say it, but perhaps few actually deliver on the concept in the way that Shohozan did. Cheers to him for that, and best of luck to the man from Fukuoka in his second life.

News Round-up 1/30/2022

Lots of sumo news to cover this week.

Promotions

Atamifuji and Shimazuumi were newly promoted to Juryo, while Takakento and Ryuden will make their returns. There is some intrigue still involving the placement of Shiden from Kise-beya, who we believe may retain his Juryo rank. He had been caught up in Hidenoumi’s gambling scandal. The two were shown to have visited an illegal casino so Kise-oyakata had pulled both from the Hatsu tournament, which was also to-be Shiden’s first in Juryo.

After the investigation, the Kyokai decided Shiden’s participation had been only in his capacity as Hidenoumi’s tsukebito, he had not gambled and therefore there would be no suspension. Since they can’t exactly rescind a suspension which has already been served, we think his rank will be retained. For his part, Hidenoumi’s suspension was the one tournament. He will likely fall into Juryo for the Osaka tournament.

Shimazuumi’s Career-Tracker

Shimazuumi, formerly known as Nakazono, is from the new Hanaregoma-beya, pictured below with his dapper-looking shisho. He’s the third sekitori at the stable, joining Ichiyamamoto and Shohozan as a full-time, salaried wrestler. He’s been near the promised land for over a year and finally punched his ticket after three consecutive kachi-koshi basho.

You may remember the shifting of stable names after the Kyushu tournament which saw former Kisenosato acquire the name Nishonoseki from the retiring oyakata. The new Araiso has stayed on in a post-retirement sanyo position in the new Hanaregoma-beya. Hanaregoma-beya is now run by the former Tamanoshima who won five fighting spirit prizes and one technique prize in a career that reached Sekiwake.

Atamifuji, on the other hand, has had a swift rise from his Jonokuchi debut at the start of 2021. When Shimazuumi (then Nakazono) was already Ms4, Atamifuji won his first yusho in a playoff with Arauma and then followed it up with another in Jonidan. He has not had a make-koshi losing record, yet, and will hope to continue that streak.

Danpatshushiki

This weekend has been jam-packed at Kokugikan with retirement ceremonies for Goeido (now Takekuma-oyakata) and Tochiozan (Kiyomigata-oyakata). The two came up together in amateur sumo before being rivals in Grand Sumo, so it was quite fitting to share their retirement weekend. This upcoming week will be Yoshikaze’s turn.

Takekuma-oyakata will split out from Sakaigawa stable and take three wrestlers along with him next month. There have been a lot of name changes and new stables lately, so this graphic is very helpful that Herouth has been so kind to translate. In fact, Yoshikaze (whose retirement ceremony is this upcoming weekend) will also be moving. He’s going with Arai—oops—, Nishonoseki-oyakata, to that mega sumo church in Ibaraki.

Stay tuned! We’re very eager to see this troupe make its way to Osaka for Haru basho.