Nishiiwa-Beya Welcomes Four Staff

Four staff members from Minezaki-beya transferred to Nishiiwa-beya at the beginning of this month (4/1/2021), due to the closure of Minezaki-beya. There were two yobidashi, one gyoji, and one tokoyama.

Photo from Nishiiwa Beya’s Line Blog

The two yobidashi are both Juryo yobidashi. Masao (back row, second from left) hails from Yokohama while Hiroyuki (back row, second from right) comes from Aomori. Kimura Kazuma (back row, far left) is a Makushita-level gyoji from Osaka.

Tokoaki, a fourth level tokoyama, is in the back row, on the far right. He’s no slouch in the gym, having a max bench press at 140kg. You read that right. He can bench Kiribayama. That’s more than 300 pounds or 22 stone. He’s a good cook, too. Apparently, he cooks tons of spinach.

Looks like a lot of happy dudes there. Tokinosato is the current heyagashira, the only wrestler in Sandanme. All of the others are in Jonidan.

Rethinking the Heya Power Rankings

It’s been a bit since we published the heya power rankings.

This feature started off several years ago when I – and others! – were interested in the idea of ranking the performance of a stable.

Now, to be clear, this concept is not central to the idea of sumo at all. Heya do not compete with each other. Nor do they probably want to be told they are better or worse than another stable: they all have their own mostly distinct cultures, histories, chanko recipes, traditions, personalities, etc. While I also wanted to see performance of the various ichimon (the groups of stables organised largely for administrative and also historical purposes with many cross-stable relationships, training partnerships and links among oyakata and elder names), the idea was that perhaps training partnerships could show a correlation of performance over time and a rise in performance of associated stables under certain leadership.

It’s kind of an interesting concept, but I think the presentation was a bit ham fisted and while it was a good thought exercise, I’m sure there were plenty of number crunching people dwelling in the dark recesses of the sweat stain encrusted corners of the mawashi that is global sumo internet fandom slamming their faces into keyboards at the idea of measuring this kind of thing based off sekitori kachi koshi and various prizes.

Admittedly, when you follow the sport more on a personal level and also over a longer period of time you start to understand nuances that appear: Scouting partnerships, relationships, connections to the amateur world, details of the specific oyakata and so on.

For me the most problematic thing, if you look at the old model, is how we would have handled a stable like Michinoku: having a yokozuna and a high ranking maegashira, it would have scored high in 2020. But the reality is that the perma-kyujo yokozuna was transferred there against his interest, and apart from Kiribayama, almost everyone the stable has put into the salaried ranks over 20+ years have been inherited from other stables (and number of those guys were even bounced in the yaocho scandal, truncating their sumo careers significantly). So our old model would have given very inaccurate portrayals of a stable like that, and its development relative to the rest of the sumo world.

The series also spilled a lot of words on these pages about the supposed “fall” of Isegahama beya, as our model showed its numbers going ever lower, to the depths of some stables like (for example) Isenoumi. Again this is a misrepresentation. While Harumafuji’s retirement, Terunofuji’s injury driven fall out of the top ranks and Aminishiki’s intai certainly impacted the stable’s impression on the sport in the short term, this model did not take into account the incredible stream of talent coming up toward the top two divisions while this was occurring. Nishikifuji and Midorifuji have since impacted the top two divisions while Terutsuyoshi has turned himself into a makuuchi regular and even handed his stablemate Terunofuji an assist in his improbable yusho on his makuuchi comeback. This all while Takarafuji continues to be a solid fixture at the business end of the top division. There’s more that happened there in the fallow period following Harumafuji’s retirement than has happened in the total of Michinoku-beya’s 22 years, but our model won’t have seen it that way.

So the question is: how to measure the success of a heya on an ongoing basis? Is it a body of work that can only be measured when an oyakata retires, like a ramen chef who has spent a lifetime perfecting the craft? Or is it fair that like a baseball farm system, we can identify, analyse and grade new recruits and their potential impact on the top end of the sport? Similarly, while the banzuke shifts largely on numbers alone (apart from some strange whims of a group of old men and the interference of a pandemic), the performance and projection of recruits needs context: a 7-0 in Jonokuchi is more impressive from a fresh 17 year old than it is from a 23-year old with university sumo pedigree. Numbers might be able to project a sekitori (as some folks on the Sumo Forum exhibited years ago), but the eye test and other factors are probably required to determine the quality that can lead to improved performance across the board.

I think the answer is somewhere in the middle. But unlike those who find it a pointless exercise, I do think there is value in doing the analysis. There just needs to be a better way. I’d love to hear some thoughts from the community. To what extent should data factor into this? Should we be taking more advantage of Andy’s data visualisation tools (trick question, the answer is yes)? Should it contain large amounts of subjectivity from experts with potentially differing opinions, like farm team rankings? Let us know what you think.

JOINT PRACTICE!

“No Kensho…no Jungyo…no degeiko…no…”

This song has been playing on a loop inside my head since March, as events and gatherings that I had taken for granted were ripped away.

 

Slowly, activities are coming back in our own lives. And today, the sumo world took another step back to normalizing as several heavyweights gathered for the first joint practice session in half a year. No name is bigger than Hakuho, obviously. Kakuryu was not there, but stablemate Kiribayama was, along with Mitakeumi, Takakeisho, and yusho holder, Shodai.

Hakuho didn’t just sit on the sidelines, hamming for the camera, either. He got in a little action, here doing butsukari with Shodai and practicing his tachiai with Ikioi. It’s great to see the Boss back in a mawashi, offering his chest and a few pointers to up-and-comers. But now that he’s gotten a few pictures in it, hopefully he folded it neatly and left it in a corner to gather dust for a few more weeks. There’s no need to push it.

Shikihide Stable Scarpering Scandal

Nine wrestlers from Shikihide Stable have left the heya, appealing to the Kyokai for help from moral harassment. The wrestlers left claiming that the stable’s okamisan had imposed and enforced unacceptably strict rules in the absence of Shikihide-oyakata due to an unspecified illness.

There are nineteen total wrestlers at Shikihide stable. The identities of the wrestlers involved have not been disclosed. The nature of Shikihide’s illness has not been disclosed, either, but he has been kyujo from tournaments this year. He usually manages the jungyo tours which have been cancelled due to the pandemic. Tachiai wishes him well and hopefully he will recover soon and hopefully some arrangement and solution can be found for the stable.

I would like to note the close timing with the friction between Nakagawa Oyakata and a group of wrestlers, Abi’s Cabaret Club visit with another unnamed wrestler, and Tagonoura oyakata’s own dinner out where he was caught intoxicated on social media. Apologies for the massive run-on sentence but there has been almost as much drama off the dohyo as on it.

Sadly, we may have lost Abi. If he’s out, surely one must wonder about the lower-ranked wrestler who went with him…and now almost half of Shikihide beya? The heya life has become exceedingly difficult under COVID restrictions. Wrestlers have been virtually cloistered for months. It is understandable and perhaps predictable that tensions are high and tempers have flared. I hope these little fires can be contained, perhaps by loosening of these restrictions on movement and social media before it’s too late.