Takanoiwa’s Danpatsu-Shiki

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:

Harumafuji, participating as promised in the hair cutting ceremony

And even those who knew about the reconciliation, may have been surprised at another consequence of it:

Yokozuna Hakuho, also cutting a strand

And, perhaps less surprisingly, Kakuryu was there as well:

Kakuryu: “Thanks for the hard work. Let’s see each other again”.

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:

Spitting image

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:

Adiya Baasandorj, formerly known as Takanoiwa

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…

Left: Takanoiwa. Right: Sukhbat

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!

Takekaze decides to retire

Meet Oshiogawa oyakata

39 years old veteran Takekaze, after having finalized his make-koshi on day 9, was faced with a drop to Makushita (which would have been all but certain with a 9th loss).

Yesterday he said “I didn’t get here alone so I cannot make the decision alone”, but apparently he consulted with the powers that be, and came to the decision to retire.

Takekaze joined sumo in Natsu 2002 as a Makushita tsukedashi. He made his debut in Makuuchi in Haru 2003 and had no less that 590 wins there.

Takekaze owns a kabu, and will remain in the NSK as Oshiogawa oyakata.

It is not clear as yet whether he will retire immediately or at the end of the basho.

Source: Sports Hochi

A Word On Kisenosato

Farewell

As Liam reported, Kisenosato has finally put an end to the drama and announced his retirement. Herouth explained how we got here and Bruce did a great job pointing out why this was what needed to be done. Minutes before the announcement came down, I had retweeted survey results from Sponichi that 78% of respondents thought he should retire, belying the idea that he had a groundswell of fan supporting the idea that he should continue. We could hear it in the crowds’ reaction to each of his three losses.

The great thing is, that drama is over now. Kisenosato will continue his sumo career as coach, then as head of his own stable of wrestlers. And there really was no other way forward. If he had lost again, the howls would grow along with the discomfort of the Sumo Kyokai and Yokozuna Deliberation Council. If he won, the inevitable may be delayed by a day or two. But with more wins, or some dream (fantasy) comeback kachi-koshi record, surely questions would arise about their legitimacy given his recent poor results. Perhaps this is where the idea of yaocho, that it’s all fixed, can finally be put to bed.

The second thing that I hope comes out of this is a real reform within stables regarding the treatment of wrestlers’ injuries, if it hasn’t started to happen already. We’ve seen some chronic injuries rested, but others continue to come back, tournament after tournament, only to finish with 1, 2, or at max 4 wins and never really healing completely…I’m looking at you Ikioi…not to mention the entire Ozeki corps. It would be a slow change but hopefully the days are over where a shattered arm would be patched up with an expectation of continuing with keiko bright and early the next morning.

I look forward to seeing Kisenosato wearing a blue jumpsuit of the NSK during future basho, in a hakama and presiding over mono-ii as shinpan, or in jeans, laughing with fans during jungyo in Ibaraki as he guides his own deshi through their own careers. Undoubtedly, he’s now free from the pressure to perform that has been hanging over his every appearance over the past year.

And a final note: Kisenosato owes Nishikigi a beer. Odds of a second kinboshi have now surely plummeted. If Nishikigi gets a kinboshi against Hakuho this tournament, I’ll eat my hat — with a special wasabi marinade — during the next podcast.

I wish Kisenosato well as he begins the next chapter of his sumo career as Araiso oyakata (荒磯親方).

Breaking: Yokozuna Kisenosato Announces his Retirement

Kisenosato Retire

According to the NHK, the news everyone was expecting but nobody wanted to hear has broken: Yokozuna Kisenosato will retire. This is a very sad day for sumo, as is any day that one of its grand champions and longtime stars steps away from competition. However, I’m sure many will agree that this development has been a long time coming.

For those who have only seen Kisenosato compete in the last few basho, what you saw was only the ghost of a man who lived and breathed this incredible sport. Yet for much of his seventeen-year career, Kisenosato was an incredibly successful athlete, as well as one of the sports most dedicated proponents. Kisenosatos ascension to Yokozuna was an incredible celebration for a nation looking for a champion of their own, and the fact that his time at the top was so short makes writing this article that much harder. So too, was watching the shell of this very same man trying in vain to claw his way back to active duty after his debilitating injury. Much has been said about Kisenosato and how he should have called it quits long ago and how he’s bringing disgrace to the rank. But I can’t really fault him for trying everything in his power to hold on to his career, his life’s work, until the very last, even when everyone else could see the writing on the wall.

Reason has finally prevailed though, and now Kisenosato can look towards the next chapter of his life. He can take what he’s learned and pass it on to the next generation. And if his future disciples show even the slightest bit of skill, determination, and dignity of their Oyakata, then the sport will be better for it.

Takanoiwa retires

Takanoiwa with Chiganoura oyakata in retirement press conference

As previously reported, Takanoiwa has decided to hand in his retirement forms.

On the previous night, he had a talk with his new stablemaster, Chiganoura oyakata. The stablemaster tried to dissuade him from retiring, saying “You can still gambarize. There is still a lot that you can do. Let’s gambarize!” – but Takanoiwa’s mind was already made up. The head of the NSK board, Hakkaku, also asked him if he was sure this was the path he wanted to follow. Again, his mind was made up.

The NSK has therefore accepted his resignation. In a press conference earlier today, Takanoiwa expressed his apologies to his family, his stablemaster and okamisan, the rikishi, supporters and fans, as well as to his tsukebito.

A short Q&A session followed this announcement:

Q: Describe your current state of mind.

A: I feel deep responsibility for what I have done.

Q: When did you decide to retire?

A: Yesterday night.

Q: Have you spoken to your tsukebito?

A: Yes, I have.

Q: Have you weighed any options other than retiring?

A: Yes, but the feeling that I had to take responsibility and retire was the strongest.

Q: Only a year ago you were in the position of a victim.

A: This is a weakness of my own attitude.

Q: Have you learned anything from Sumo?

A: I learned how to put effort into hard work.

Q: What is the strongest memory you have from your life in sumo?

A: There are many memories, but I will remember sweating it together with my mates in practice sessions.

Q: If the gods of sumo turned back time, what time would you want to go back to?

A: I would go back to being a new recruit.

(Mostly based on Nikkan Sports)


So the three people most closely involved in the Harumafuji incident – Harumafuji, Takanoiwa and Takanohana – are all out of the sumo world.

A question sumo fans repeatedly ask is whether this will affect the banzuke for Hatsu. The answer is – based on past experience – it won’t. The banzuke will remain as it is, with either a blank or Takanoiwa’s name appearing in whatever position they have set for him. Changes to the banzuke after it has already been set down (and written out by the gyoji) are rare.

Loose ends:

  • Stablemasters are usually punished for their deshi’s misdeeds. It’s still unclear how Chiganoura will be sanctioned, especially given that he has been in charge of Takanoiwa for only a very short time.
  • What will the NSK decide to do about Takanoiwa’s retirement funds? In the Harumafuji case, some part of them has been docked.

I will keep my eye on this story for a while, to see how Takataisho, the victim of this violent incident, is holding up in the sumo world. If you recall, the victim of Takayoshitoshi has retired from sumo a short while after the incident. I hope Chiganoura and his okamisan will be able to provide better protection for the young wrestler.

I will also watch out for word from the Imperial Household. Last year, following the cluster of scandals, the Emperor decided not to hold his yearly sumo viewing. The 2019 Hatsu basho is his last opportunity to view sumo as an emperor, and it would be sad if he missed out on that as well.