Get To Know a Shusshin: Kochi-ken

For the second installment of this G2KS series (catchy acronym), I cast about far and wide, from Hokkaido to Mongolia to Bulgaria, and even next door in Yamaguchi and Tottori. I am hesitant to do two in a row so close to each other so I really wanted to hop to a different region without hitting any of the big name locations* or any which I’ve previously written about just yet. However, the clincher was the recent news of Toyonoshima’s retirement so I have decided, yet again, to visit Kochi.

* 都道府県- Not all of the locations are “prefectures”. Tokyo is a “TO”, Hokkaido is a “DOU”, Kyoto and Osaka are “FU”, and the rest are “KEN”. So, we get Tokyo-to (東京都), Hokkaido (北海道), Osaka-fu (大阪府) and today’s topic, Kochi-ken (高知県). This doesn’t count foreign wrestlers whose shusshin are announced as the name of the country.

I have written about Kochi before because I have visited there and loved it. The people we met there were warm and hospitable and the scenery was beautiful. Since my wife and I were traveling with our son we didn’t have a chance to check out the nightlife but they had great restaurants, markets, and several attractions. Kochi was supposed to host an Amateur Sumo Tournament in March but it was cancelled due to the evolving SARS-CoV-2 (d.b.a. Coronavirus) situation. See the linked article for a rundown of all the Amazumo cancellations so far.

Geography

Heading south of our original stop in Shimane prefecture, we cross over the Inland Sea to the island of Shikoku. Kochi prefecture covers the southern portion of the island, is mountainous, and draped in forests. It is a narrow prefecture with a large coastline bounding Tosa Bay.

Sites

Prior to the Meiji Restoration around 1870, the province was home to the Tosa Domain. Though Commodore Perry’s black ships arrived off the coast of far off Shimoda, the event sent shock waves throughout Japan’s politics…kinda like how the Coronavirus is today. Debate raged around the nation and threatened to split it apart as loyalties for the Emperor in Kyoto and Shogun Tokugawa in Tokyo divided families. Many people wanted to keep the foreigners out while others saw no choice but engagement. The Shogun’s regime was referred to as the bakufu (幕府). Many of you kanji learners will recognize “幕” as the same character for “maku” as in makuuchi (幕内) and makushita (幕下), sumo’s top division and third division…and “fu” from our above discussion of “Osaka-fu.”

Many heroes of the period were from the area, most famously the pistol-packing ronin, Sakamoto Ryoma. There are several statues of him around Kochi city, the capital, including this big monument down along the shore, looking out at the sea. While he died a hero in Kyoto, assassinated at the Omiya Inn, others have less savory reputations and are remembered as brigands. In Kochi, aside from the monument there are a couple of great museums which explores his life, his role in the Meiji Restoration, and his legacy — which includes founding the first corporation in Japan, the Kaientai, which would become part of Mitsubishi which itself was founded by another famous man from Tosa, Iwasaki Yataro.

Andy and his son stroll along the Shimantogawa

Another key figure of the time, and as we will see someone with more relevance to sumo, was the head (or 大名 – lit. “great name”) of the Tosa Domain, Yamauchi Toyoshige (山内豊信). You will recognize the first character of Toyoshige (豊) from many shikona, including Toyonoshima and his former Tokitsukaze stablemate, Toyoshimizu. The characters for “Tosa” (土佐) also feature prominently in shikona for men from Kochi.

An interesting boat in the Shimantogawa

With all of this history rooted in Kochi, there are several museums to go visit, as well as statues. The monument to Ryoma, shown above, is at the Katsurahama beach south of downtown. Kochi Castle is considered one of the finest in the country. Nearby markets provide amazing fresh local fruit, vegetables, and fish since agriculture and fishing are two of the prefectures’ largest industries. Shishito, okra, and citrus fruits like yuzu are among the crops grown. I love yuzu. I eat it, I drink it… If I could take a bath in yuzu, I would….oh, wait, that’s a thing!!

Shimantogawa, or Shimanto river, is a brilliant blue river that snakes through Kochi’s forest-shrouded mountains. The river is the source of local shrimp, crabs, and other freshwater seafood while Tosa Bay and the surrounding ocean are a rich fishery. Kochi is famous for Katsuo tataki which is a seared bonito. The tataki method of cooking supposedly originated in Kochi. Okinoshima Suizan corporation on the island of Okinoshima offers what looks like amazing examples of katsuo tataki seafood.

Wrestlers

Newly retired Toyonoshima and his Tokitsukaze stablemate, Toyoshimizu, are from Kochi. Both are from the southern tip of the prefecture. Toyonoshima is from Sukumo while Toyoshimizu is from Tosashimizu. I wonder where they got their shikona from? Tosayutaka is another former makuuchi wrestler from Tokitsukaze. And, for a brief period in 2011, Tokitsukaze-beya had another Kochi native, Takanoumi.

Tochiozan is currently Kochi’s highest-ranking wrestler. He debuted in 2005 and blazed a trail through the lower divisions, not registering a make-koshi record until he reached the rank of Maegashira 4 in 2007. For much of his career Tochiozan had another Kochi-born stablemate with him at Kasugano named Tochinohama, until 2018. Both are listed as from Aki city in eastern Kochi-ken.

Takasago-beya features another collection of Kochi-born wrestlers: Asaazuma, Asanojo, and Asanotosa. Asanotosa is from the city of Tosa and Asaazuma is from Susaki, both near the center of the prefecture, close to the capital, Kochi city. Asanojo, on the other hand, is from Aki in the eastern portion of the prefecture. The kanji for Aki is 安芸.

Onomatsu-beya has another trifecta of Kochi prefecture wrestlers, Tosamidori, Tosaeizan, and Genki. Herouth has a great set of videos from Tosamidori’s Jonokuchi yusho. He had fallen to Ura in his last bout meaning 6-1 and three-way play-off, which he won. He’s been climbing through Jonidan so far this year with solid kachi-koshi records. Tosaeizan made his return to Sandanme during fan-less Haru, and after his own 4-3 kachi-koshi will climb a few ranks when the banzuke is released this weekend. Genki, on the other hand, hit the Makushita joi wall hard and is sliding back down into the meat of the division.

Chiyonoumi is Kochi’s young gun. The Kokonoe stable stud began his career with yusho in the first three divisions before an injury setback…right after I wrote this article. Have I found the first victim of the Andy-hype curse? I am glad to see he is back on track and he should be a regular in the salaried ranks. Nankairiki, from Kise stable, had a great Haru going 7-0 in Sandanme, only losing in the playoff…to Ura. Lastly, Wakakaneko is a new recruit from Kochi city for Nishiiwa stable. At 15 years old and 95 kg, it will be interesting to see where he is seeded this weekend.

There will be a lot of banzuke drama in Kochi this weekend. Tochiozan faces certain demotion into Juryo and Chiyonoumi may fall out of the salaried ranks altogether but will likely just hang on to the bottom rung. Will Wakakaneko be ranked near Hattorizakura?

Fuji TV 44th Annual Sumo Tournament 2/9/2020

During the week after a tournament, sumo withdrawal symptoms usually begin to set in. Goeido’s retirement has dampened that a bit with his dramatic impacts on the March banzuke. Takekaze’s intai and the Hakuho Cup will give us a bit of a fix this weekend.

Well, mark another sumo event on your calendars! The Kokugikan will host Fiji TV’s 44th Annual Sumo Tournament on February 9. This tournament is a one day, single-elimination tournament, featuring our top Makuuchi and Juryo wrestlers. If you’re planning to be in Tokyo that Sunday, tickets are available at this site. Tickets in the upper deck start at about $10 and run upwards of $400+ for a box of four cushions down in front. Zabuton Naganaide Kudasai! Enjoy chanko and Shokkiri, as well!

Takayasu won last year’s event and Tochinoshin won the year before though I will be surprised if either participates. It will be interesting to see how well our Ozeki prospects perform as a warm up for Osaka. In the Juryo event, Azumaryu beat out Tokushoryu and Daieisho.

Tokushoryu will obviously be eligible for the Makuuchi tournament this time around. Participation in this event, and no Jungyo tour may help keep him focused, but some yusho winners have done poorly in the subsequent tournaments, like Tamawashi’s 5-10 last March. Tamawashi defeated Kaisei but lost to Ryuden in the third round. Might Tokushoryu pull off another yusho? (No, this will not make him a Yokozuna.)

Musashikuni Returns with Konishiki to Sumo & Sushi

Musashikuni on the dohyo at Kokugikan, Natsu 2019
Former Makushita rikishi Musashikuni in his previous life. Photo credit: @nicolaah for Tachiai.

Longtime followers of Musashikuni were disappointed to learn of his recent intai. Long touted as a great hope of Musashigawa-beya, the former Yokozuna and stable master’s nephew vacated the banzuke after struggling with injury in recent months.

His intai ceremony was performed at his heya, and left the Texan Wakaichiro (whose shusshin is technically Nagasaki) as the sole American competitor in the sport.

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【武蔵國 引退のご報告】 武蔵川部屋再興当時より皆様に応援して頂いて参りました武蔵國でございますが、今場所をもって引退する事ととなり、本日たくさんの方々に見守られる中、断髪式を行いました。 昨年より体調を崩したまま回復に至らず、親方と話し合いをした結果、今後はハワイに帰り第二の人生を送ります。 来日してから七年間、大相撲の世界で努力して参りましたが、皆様のご期待に応えることができないまま引退となりました事を大変申し訳なく思っております。 これまで、武蔵國の応援をして頂き、誠にありがとうございました‼︎ #武蔵川部屋 #武蔵丸 #大相撲 #sumo

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Musashikuni has now resurfaced in America, taking part in the curious “Sumo & Sushi” tour, which will be hosted by the legendary former Ozeki and popular cultural tarento, musician and plate lunch grillmaster Konishiki. These events have taken place on a smaller scale at various cultural festivals across America, and allow people who might be completely unfamiliar with the sport to see some of the traditions and the rikishi up close and personal. Often, the events even offer local customers the chance to get in the ring with a former rikishi, and we had the privilege of speaking to one such punter not too long ago.

(The competing rikishi’s status in the sport is perhaps played up for the benefit of customers who may never be the wiser – we also spoke to someone who was under the impression that former Maegashira Yamamotoyama had in fact been a Yokozuna.)

Musashikuni will be on tour with three other retired rikishi: Bungonishiki (Makushita 16, Dewanoumi beya), Kumago (Sandanme 38, Takasago beya), and Tooyama (Makushita 7, Tamanoi beya)

The events will offer varying degrees of tickets for fans in the Seattle (Oct 31-Nov 2), Los Angeles (Nov 10) and New York (Nov 16 & 17) metropolitan areas over the balance of 2019. Viewing-only tickets range between $50 and $70, Sushi dinner ticket packages tend to run around $100, with front row seats and fights against the rikishi running $100 and $200 more, respectively.

While those ticket prices do compare somewhat unfavourably with even Kokugikan honbasho tickets purchased through third party sites which apply a fee, it does of course seem fair to mention that these events not only may serve to bring new fans to sumo, but can offer intimacy on a tangential level with the sport for fans who may not be able to travel (for time or budgetary reasons) all the way to Japan. Of course, the events can also help provide a source of income for former rikishi who may not have achieved sekitori status and the accompanying salary in their career in Ozumo. And you certainly wouldn’t get the chance to dance with a current rikishi at Grand Sumo’s hallowed home.

Tickets can be purchased at sumoandsushi.com. We would certainly look forward to any feedback from readers of the site who may be in attendance. We will also be tracking these events and keeping a close eye on other lower division favourites who may be making their way around the world with similar tours in the future.

A Day Out at the Yokozuna Deliberation Committee Soken: Aki 2019 Edition

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The sekitori do their rounds before the Yokozuna Deliberation Committee at the Soken

It’s always rare, and cool, to get a chance to watch an open sumo practise session. While I was denied a visit to the Yokozuna Deliberation Committee’s soken earlier this year, as the event was closed to all non-NSK/YDC/media members, today’s session in advance of the Aki Basho was once again open to the public. And so with that in mind, I headed East across the Sumida River to Ryogoku.

For the uninitiated, the soken is essentially a modified open keiko session in front of a considerable number of oyakata, as well as the esteemed and yet also sometimes puzzling Yokozuna Deliberation Committee. Many members of the sports and mainstream media are also in attendance, and today’s event was filmed by at least six different entities. After the workout, various luminaries will voice their opinions on the state of the sport’s top rankers.

Food is an integral experience of sumo, especially when sitting around for hours. I picked up an onigiri beforehand in the konbini at Ryoguku JR station, as I wasn’t sure what food might be available at Kokugikan. I needn’t have worried, as the venue had two small stalls selling both onigiri and tamago sandwiches.

The event started at 7.20am, and I arrived a shade before 9. Having arrived earlier in the morning on my last visit to the soken in 2018, I was shocked to arrive to see open masu box seats as the various Juryo men took their turns in the moshi-ai (winner stays on, picks next opponent). Unlike the event preceding the 2018 Natsu basho when I was relegated to the upper deck, plenty of lower deck boxes were still available as I entered to watch Sokokurai go on a several bout winning run. Indeed, the attendance peaked with about half of the lower deck being full, but it’s worth bearing in mind that the last time this event was open to the public, it was very much in a period where the public was eager to the see the condition of beleaguered hero and 72nd Yokozuna Kisenosato.

The soken does give a different atmosphere to a day at Kokugikan during the basho. While it is more sparsely attended, it’s almost exclusively attended by die-hard sumo fans, which provides a unique experience. It was a pleasant surprise to see a few foreign faces in the venue as well. I took up a position in front of the various camera crews and next to some veteran connoisseurs of sumo who themselves enjoyed a plethora of snacks and sake throughout the morning.

The soken really isn’t too difficult to follow. As the day progresses from moshi-ai to butsukari and san-ban and back to butsukari etcetera and so on, the announcers do a great job of very quickly announcing who has been selected next to mount the dohyo for various activities. Even without any kind of dedicated torikumi, it is quite an easy event both for new fans as well as those who are very familiar with the sport to understand. 

In terms of the matches themselves, one should bear in mind that these are all training bouts, and it is important not to put too much stock into wins and losses but rather the nature of performance, the apparent health of the rikishi, and any discernible genki factor heading into the upcoming tournament.

Please bear in mind also that these notes from firsthand viewing are simply based on what I saw in the arena with the naked eye, without the benefit of replay or video footage.

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The Kokugikan Shop sold a limited selection of goods during the Soken.

Juryo Notes

It was notable to see most veterans staying on the periphery of the Juryo action. As mentioned above, Sokokurai took a lengthy winning run in the moshi-ai until relative newcomer Irodori finally dealt with him. Kizakiumi and Kyokushuho vied for the chance to get dispatched by the veteran Chinese rikishi, but the latter was very much the exception. Other rikishi with Makuuchi experience such as Kaisei, Chiyoshoma, Kyokutaisei and Yago stayed very much on the periphery of the day’s action, choosing not to even venture near the dohyo for most of the day.

Kiribayama was a popular staple in the moshi-ai mix, a grappler in an age of slappers. He has adjusted well to life in the second division and I have high hopes for him as he enters the upcoming basho in the upper third of the penultimate tier.

We were afforded first proper look at shin-sekitori Kaisho, who was handled pretty easily by Wakatakakage, the Arashio-beya man appearing quite genki. Kaisho did however later give the business to fellow newcomer Asagyokusei, who also looked in good shape.

Recent birthday man Midorifuji of the Makushita division was invited to play with the sekitori and I thought he looked impressive, although he was no match for Kotonowaka. He’s added some heft in the previous few months, and whether or not he achieves his promotion after the upcoming tournament, it is clear he is destined for a good run as a sekitori. As a smaller rikishi, he reminds me far more of the likes of Wakatakakage than Enho or Ishiura.

In the transition between the Juryo and Makuuchi portions of the day’s events, a pair of Ozeki took time to work with Juryo youngsters. Tochinoshin lent his chest to Kaisho, then later Kizakiumi. Takayasu, meanwhile, worked with Kotonowaka. Tochinoshin’s knees appeared taxed by the workout – though it’s very possible that may have been part of the purpose of the activity for him.

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Hakuho gives Takakeisho butsukari…

Makuuchi notes

During the Makuuchi moshi-ai, popular man Endo had a good winning run that was of course very much enjoyed by the crowd. He appears to be someone who trains well, but I didn’t feel there were too many clues with regard to how he may take his second bite at Komusubi in a few days’ time.

Ichinojo looked fairly genki. He had a spirited and victorious battle with Okinoumi, in particular. Of course, ever the inconsistent puzzler, Ichinojo was then bundled out by Nishikigi. It’s worth noting that Okinoumi was picked a few times during the moshi-ai. I think that as a tactically aware and technically capable veteran, he’s a great opponent to train against, especially if you’re a rikishi who may not have access to him all that much.

I felt Mitakeumi looked awful against the lower rankers, but that’s not really a surprise given his reputation of being a poor trainer. He could barely deal with a visibly tired Okinoumi before getting beaten in a yotsu-zumo match by famed slap artist Shohozan of all people – although it should be noted that Shohozan’s mawashi technique has improved notably as he has aged.

There were mixed results for Terutsuyoshi, who looks like he is honing his very compact style of sumo. He seems content to rely more on his strength than the wild trickery of the likes of Enho, Ishiura or Ura.

It was also a mixed bag for Takakeisho, who gambarized and was clearly intent to show his progress in his rehabilitation from recent injury, but he looked well short of match fitness. Video has circulated already of an impressive match of his with Aoiyama, but then the resurgent Yutakayama had Takakeisho all wrapped up and figured out. He largely disappeared after that match until the end of the day.

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… Hakuho leaves a disheveled Takakeisho writhing on the floor and poses for the cameras.

High Rankers

The men at the very top of the banzuke do not participate in the moshi-ai, and simply pick their partners and play with them until they decide they are finished. Unfortunately, like Tochinoshin, Ozeki Takayasu was not fit for bouts, just butsukari. Fellow Ozeki Goeido was rather more active, taking on Shodai for a number of matches. Shodai seems like an odd partner as his tachiai leaves so much to be desired that it’s difficult to tell whether Gōeidō has recovered his trademark speed or he’s just taking advantage of a weak opponent. In any case, he dominated the Maegashira.

Mitakeumi was a rather more robust opponent for Goeido in a matchup of men with rather different training reputations. Surprisingly, this is where Gōeidō came unstuck a bit and simply didn’t have his all-action high-octane offense. But after one win against the Ozeki, Mitakeumi crumbled, his overall performances on the day showing that while he has great ability in one-off matches during tournament play, his stamina for san-ban is rather diminished.

Gōeidō finished the day’s work with some lengthy battles against Daieisho. I felt his choices of opponent were curious. I understand that the three men offer different styles, levels, and are likely the type of opponents he will need to beat to get 8 wins. But I would have wanted to see someone in decent form like Ryuden (last basho’s results aside), Endo or Hokutofuji take him on – as I suspect they would have handled him quite differently, and that might have given more of a clue as to Goeido’s outlook for the basho.

Yokozuna Kakuryū ended up picking Endo off the bat, followed by Mitakeumi for a lengthy battle. The reigning yusho winner was very composed against both. Mitakeumi didn’t offer a whole lot and Kakuryū frequently picked the lock straight from the tachiai against the serial san’yaku challenger.

After a lengthy stretching routine during which a parade of tsukebito and lower rankers offered various greetings, gifts of chikara-mizu, towels, and so on, Hakuhō finally made his first appearance on the dohyo. Rather than taking on multiple challengers, he decided to give the fans a thoroughly entertaining set of matches against fun loving Komusubi Abi.

I felt both the Yokozuna made wise selections in light of their respective issues. Kakuryū, in good form, picked decent all rounders. Hakuho’s choice of Abi gave him a series of matches against a wild pusher-thruster with excellent mobility. He dispatched the Komusubi in a variety of manners, almost using a different technique each time, albeit with several thrust-downs. Hakuho’s main mission here seemed to be to blunt the two hand tsuppari, lock up the Shikoroyama man, and test various finishing manoeuvres against him.

Hakuho, as we know, is the consummate entertainer. I’d pay to watch him against Abi all day, but with the soken being a free event, it was even more of a treat. Abi did not try to use too much yotsu-zumo against the Yokozuna, which would have been intriguing, but facing the Yokozuna may not be the best time to try tricks you haven’t mastered. Abi did defeat Hakuho once, after which he holds his head in his hands looking like he can scarcely believe the level of work it took.

The relentlessness of Hakuho is such that surely when you believe Abi can’t take any more, Hakuho just continues to bring him back. Clearly, there is much to look forward to about Hakuho’s future as a stablemaster. Abi looked absolutely wrecked by the end of the day’s events, although he’ll come off better for it.

The finish to the day was mostly notable for Hakuho giving butsukari to Takakeisho, the only high ranker to the on the receiving end of any kind of brutal training. Takakeisho didn’t look great, although maybe didn’t have the most obliging partner in Hakuho, who would simply pull up and let the ozekiwake fall to the floor if he wasn’t delivering enough to push the Yokozuna across the dohyo. Indeed, most of the time, Takakeisho only had enough power to get the dai-Yokozuna to the shikiri-sen. A Hakuho butsukari session is always an entertaining watch.

As a thoroughly filthy Takakeisho exited the dohyo, that wrapped the day’s proceedings. Next up on the schedule is the dohyo consecration next weekend, and then we’ll be ready to kick off the Aki basho!