Asahisho Retires & Becomes Kiriyama Oyakata

Somewhat lost in the sumo news cycle this past week was the announcement of the retirement of popular former sekitori – and erstwhile Tachiai t-shirt wearer (via The Japan Times) – Asahisho of Tomozuna (originally Oshima) beya. His sixteen year career in sumo led him to a peak of Maegashira 11. Like many folks who entered sumo fandom at a similar time as myself, I actually discovered him as the low-ranking senpai to a disillusioned Kyokutaisei in the film ‘A Normal Life.’ Asahisho was well known throughout the sport as an affable and hilarious character and gregarious personality. What struck me while watching that film was the fact that if not for his good nature, perhaps another eventual top division rikishi-to-be might never have made it. In hindsight, it is a good testament to the stable, their hard work and friendship that they both did.

Of course, it’s a bit remiss to boil down a cool guy’s career to a cameo in an indie film loved mostly by hardcore devotees of the sport. John Gunning’s column from a few years back in the Japan Times goes far more in depth, as least as far as his personality and contribution to the sumo-as-entertainment landscape is concerned. Reading columns like these, with hindsight, makes me rue the social media ban even more, as we miss the opportunities to see little bits of day-to-day humour that special characters can contribute to what is a difficult daily grind.

Asahisho was recruited into the famed Oshima stable – a stable run by the former Ozeki Asahikuni and which produced big names such as, to name just a few, the Yokozuna Asahifuji (now influential oyakata Isegahama), the first Mongolian into the sport Kyokushuzan, the current Tatsunami-oyataka and former Sekiwake Asahiyutaka, and of course, the stablemaster to whom Asahisho has reported for the past several years, Tomozuna-oyakata, the former yusho-winner Kyokutenho.

Asahisho was one of the former Oshima-oyakata’s final products to reach the top division, coming shortly before his retirement and the stable’s transition through its merger with Tomozuna-beya and new leadership under Kyokutenho. While the latter years added the likes of long-time makuuchi man Kaisei to his daily training alongside Kyokushuho and Kyokutaisei, Asahisho never made it back to the top division after the stable’s change of leadership. Injuries and loss of form meant that after several years in Juryo, he dropped to Makushita where he spent the last four years languishing. He does, however, retire with winning records against san’yaku veterans Miyabiyama, Yoshikaze and Wakanosato, all of whom he now joins as an elder of the Kyokai, and all of whom he beat in his sole kachi-koshi basho in the top division (Kyushu 2012).

It’s likely the popular pusher-thruster will be more remembered for his non-sumo activity. However, though he was a noted member of a long line of “salt shakers” (see the video of this loss to Ishiura as a thoroughly impressive example, hat tip to YouTube’s Hokkaikochan) – a mantle these days taken up by ichimon-mate Terutsuyoshi, many fans around the internet remember his dame-oshi on a young and controversial Takagenji in a Juryo match that perhaps set the then ill-tempered prodigy straight after the youngster had made a name for himself with a string of disrespectful appearances in the second division (a comment noted both within Sumo Forum discussion of his retirement as well as his wikipedia page).

While that was to be one of the final acts of Asahisho’s sekitori career, his death metal appearance as a guitar player with Gagamaru, Tenkaiho and Toyonoshima in support of the “Move Band” fitness tracker still stands as one of the most iconic sumo brand partnerships of the decade (if not all-time!). No doubt he’ll be on screens and in the commentary booth plenty over the coming years (and it would be no surprise at all to see him team up again with the popular Tenkaiho, a longtime rival, as a host of the Kyokai’s YouTube features), but now that all four members of sumo’s “Move Band” are now retired, perhaps they can get the band back together!

Tachiai congratulates Kiriyama-oyakata on a notable career and looks forward to both seeing his impact on his stable’s recruits and hearing him in the broadcast booth!

Video News Update – Yokozuna Kakuryu Retires

Of course, we had a video version of this session, so if you want to watch us sort through the legacy of Kakuryu, and the future of a solid Yokozuna, do click below!

Team Tachiai back for another 15 minutes of sumo fandom. We discuss Kakuryu’s retirement, his legacy and his future. We also handicap who is in the running to be the next Izutsu Oyakata….

Tachiai News Update (Audio) – Yokozuna Kakuryu Retires

Josh, Andy and Bruce discuss the retirement of Yokozuna Kakuryu in March, and what it means for his future as an Oyakata and the Izutsu kabu. In fact, we spend a fair amount of time speculating what is to become of Kakuryu’s former stablemaster’s elder stock, and run down a list of who might be the next Izutsu Oyakata. The answer may be shocking and surprising for some.

Another 15 minutes of three sumo fans sharing their love for the sport with humor, insight and opinion.

Kotoyuki: One for the Fans

In an era where sumo commentary frequently makes reference of those rikishi who stay in the sport past their expiration date, some eyebrows were raised this week at the news that Kotoyuki had retired at the age of just 30.

Of course, anyone who’s seen the Sadogatake man on the dohyo over the past few years would find it hard pressed to dispute that perhaps he might struggle to regain the kind of form that would make him competitive even at sumo’s second highest division, never mind return to the top division as a makuuchi regular. Newer fans will need reminding that this was a man who will retire with a san’yaku rank as his career high.

And yet in light of the heroics of Terunofuji, and mid to late 30s comebacks from the likes of Aminishiki, Toyonoshima, Akiseyama and so on… it does feel a bit underwhelming to see the man from Shodoshima take his leave. Maybe this is in no small part owing to his status as somewhat of a non-traditional fan favourite.

If you looked around Kokugikan – back in the days when it would be full of sumo fans – Kotoyuki isn’t a name that you would see flying on cheer towels, at least not in recent years. But here’s a guy who was a fixture in the torikumi. In the beginning, he was notable for his “hoot” and clap, his method of psyching himself up for matches. It marked him out as perhaps someone in a line of sumo eccentrics, somewhere in between Takamisakari’s Robocop antics and Takayasu’s now-retired gorilla grunt in the Audio division (similar lineage of course existing within the Sodium Conference from Mitoizumi through Kitazakura and now Terutsuyoshi). Cheers to YouTube’s “Sumotori” channel for this edit:

Afterwards, he switched to his “helicopter” manoeuvre before matches which, as noted by venerable sumo laureate Kintamayama when we spoke on these pages, never really got the fans going in the same way.

Of course, on the dohyo in these later stages he also became a bit of a figure of fun, his absurdly serious demeanour in the pre-match pageantry giving way to this oversized bowling ball normally taking out several rows of poor civilian onlookers, tanimachi, shimpan and anything else in its way as he usually careened off the dohyo – winning or losing, though in later years more of the latter – at pace.

It’s also worth noting that in terms of his sumo form, Kotoyuki was, in his day, an oshi-zumo force, with an incredible amount of power generated in a pushing/thrusting attack from a body type that while optimal for that type of sumo, of course also perhaps contributed to his career’s early end. But what fun he was when he got going – we laud the technicians and tacticians of sumo on these pages, but he was at his best an all out attacking force.

He retires, per SumoDB, with a career record of 480-430-70. Record wise, his undoubted pinnacle would have been five years ago in Osaka, a tournament where he ran riot over the joi-jin and in an era where his 12-3 performance at Maegashira 1 sadly wasn’t even good enough for the jun-yusho (those were the days!). He snatched his only career kinboshi from the Yokozuna Harumafuji in that tournament:

I probably came around to Kotoyuki when I was last able to attend the Haru basho in Osaka. Keen fans will know that rikishi must pass right through the fans in the hallways of the Edion Arena as they make their way to and from the shitakubeya. I camped out in the dark recesses of the venue, attempting to get any usable photos of rikishi that we could use on this site – most of which were pretty terrible as the sekitori exited the venue with haste after their bouts. Kotoyuki, however, marked himself out as someone with a soft spot and a heart for the fans. He took his time to graciously meet children, sign autographs and speak at length with supporters on his way out of the building. Perhaps Osaka was somewhat of a “home” basho for him, being nearest his shusshin, and I don’t know if he approached fans at other tournaments with the same warmth, but it was notable in a sport that is known for its stoicism that he made time for those who came to support and cheer for him.

All in all, it is not an exaggeration to say that the highest (and sometimes even the lowest) moments of his time in service to the sport were to the great benefit and enjoyment of the fans.

What’s next? For now, he’s taken Okinoumi’s Kimigahama myoseki on loan, one of several hot seats on the kabu market as he settles into oyakata life. Hopefully over the coming months or years, sumo’s youngest elder – and first oyakata born in the 1990s – will find a name to make his own. 

As he enters the first of potentially 34-plus years as an oyakata, we can and should hope that he passes some of that same fun, that ability to entertain, and most of all that same reverence for the fanbase to those who will follow under his tutelage.