While the sumo world can still be a bit shy about social media, we do get occasional glimpses into their lives through platforms like Twitter and Instagram. This morning, the former Hamatensei shared photos from his private danpatsushiki ceremony. The youngster, still just 23 after an 8 year sumo career at Shikoroyama beya, expressed his appreciation to his supporters, his oyakata, family, and anideshi and ototodeshi (fellow wrestlers).
He had quite an injury plagued career, never escaping Jonidan division and dropping off the banzuke a couple of times before, according to his statement on Twitter, the doctors have finally put a hard end to his career. Aside from a neck hernia which limited his arm motions, he suffered multiple knee injuries. After the third surgery his doctors told him they could do it again but he probably wouldn’t be able to walk or would find it extremely difficult to do basic things.
In his final year at the heya he was able to graduate from high school and, interestingly, started driving lessons. That is very unusual because rikishi are not allowed to drive. However, driving school in Japan is quite intensive so there is a substantial amount of classroom training and videos. Perhaps that’s how he got around the prohibition. Bottom line, the guy was 23 with no high school education or skills beyond what he learned in the heya. So it would not surprise me if he got an exception for his second career. He mentions many times struggling with the heya lifestyle and the rigid social structure.
Orora, Anatoliy Mikhakhanov, famously was the largest rikishi ever, at just under 300kg just before his retirement. The “get your hands down” rule did not apply to him. Since retirement he’s been working to get in shape. If I were to replicate this particular exercise, I would lose my big toe.
The Japanese Sumo Association has announced a date for former Takekaze’s danpatsushiki at Kokugikan. For those who will still be around Tokyo for the week after Hatsu basho, which runs through Jan 27, the retirement event would be a great way to see some more action. There will likely be hanazumo and shokkiri, and sumo culture demonstrations that are more familiar scenes in Jungyo tours rather than hon basho.
The ceremony will culminate in the hair cutting for the former Sekiwake. For Takekaze this will surely have participation from former Oguruma stablemates Yoshikaze and Yago, and likely contemporary Yokozuna or two.
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/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!
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.
Today, Takanoiwa’s danpatsu-shiki, the ceremonial cutting of the top-knot, took place on the dohyo at the Ryogoku Kokugikan. Sumo fans who did not read about the reconciliation between Harumafuji and Takanoiwa, may have been surprised to see this:
And even those who knew about the reconciliation, may have been surprised at another consequence of it:
And, perhaps less surprisingly, Kakuryu was there as well:
Indeed, it seemed every Mongolian sekitori showed up: Tamawashi, Arawashi, Chiyoshoma and, of course, Ichinojo, all snipped a strand of hair, as did members of Takanoiwa’s own heya:
As has been speculated, Takanoiwa’s original stablemaster, Takanohana, absented himself from this ceremony, and chose, instead, to show up for an assembly of his support group in Nagoya. Comedian Kunihiro Matsumura, known, among others, for his impressions of the former Takanohana, filled in:
About 370 people participated. This may seem a small number for the 12,000 seat Kokugikan, but it should be noted that the tickets sold for this event all included both the ceremony itself and the party that followed it, so the limiting number was the capacity of the banquet hall, not the Kokugikan itself – and the tickets sold out. The other day I reported that only 90 tickets were sold – but in fact, whatever was allotted was sold. Here is a summary of the ceremony:
A quick shave-and-a-hair-cut, and I give you Takanoiwa in his new form:
The party after the ceremony included a Mongolian band:
As well as karaoko! Here is the man of the hour:
And I’d be remiss if I didn’t give you Chiganoura oyakata’s karaoke, because he is one of the best singers in the Sumo world.
And so, it appears that the reconciliation indeed helped the ceremony become a respectable, well-attended occasion.
But it may have done more than bring Hakuho to softly lay his hands on Takanoiwa’s shoulders.
Meet Takanoiwa’s nephew, Sukhbat
In March 2018, Takanoiwa’s nephew, Sukhbat, son of his second eldest brother (Takanoiwa is the youngest of five siblings) was looking for a heya.
Sukhbat was 19 at the time, graduating at the same time as the famous Naya, and from the same school, Saitama Sakae, which has a very strong sumo program. This is the same school Takakeisho graduated from.
This was before Haru 2018. The boy was practicing with his uncle at Takanohana beya’s Osaka facility, but of course could not join that heya, as Takanoiwa himself occupied the foreigner slot. So he was looking for a heya that was willing to take someone who finished third in the inter-high sumo tournament, in time for the new recruits exams of the haru basho… but there were no takers.
This was in the middle of the Harumafuji scandal. Haru 2018 was the first basho Takanoiwa was to attend after the “incident”. And heya were distancing themselves from the matter, apparently.
But he didn’t find one in Natsu, and in Nagoya, and in Aki… you get the drift. With his uncle’s own retirement, it seemed that the world of sumo was willing to give out on this supposedly talented wrestler.
And then we had the reconciliation. Then suddenly…
Sukhbat is going to join Onoe beya. He will probably undergo the new recruit examination in Haru, but will only be able to do his mae-zumo in Natsu, as is usual for foreign recruits.
So, of course, temporal succession does not necessarily imply causation. But with foreigner slots being a limited resource, and the Japanese natural suspicion of anything foreign, it makes sense that any foreigner wanting to join the world of sumo would need an intercessor or sponsor to speak for him. Apparently the well-oiled Mongolian recruiting machine was not working for Sukhbat until just recently. He is now 20 years old. Let’s hope he has kept himself in shape!