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!

Scoring a Kinboshi at Azasu in New York

Sumo Merchandise at Azasu New York
Merchandise on display at New York’s popular Lower East Side izakaya Azasu

The growth of sumo in the western world has led me to a few interesting and exciting spots over the years. Here at Tachiai we have covered the Sumo Stew event that has dotted various parts of America – so when a friend asked if I’d like to check out the sumo-themed izakaya Azasu on a recent trip to New York, I jumped at the chance.

Banzuke at Azasu New York
A framed banzuke from a past Nagoya, on display at Azasu

Azasu is located on Clinton Street in NYC’s Lower East Side, and is the sister restaurant to New York sake bar Yopparai. A fairly unassuming locale from the outside, one step inside vaults you into a world of ozumo-related goodness. The walls are covered in tegata from famous rikishi past and present – including famed Yokozuna such as the great Takanohana – and the front of the store boasts a merchandise store that practically doubles as a sumo shrine.

Tegata at Azasu New York
Just some of the many tegata on display at Azasu in New York

The restaurant presents ample opportunity for novice banzuke-readers to practise locating the names of favourite rikishi. An old banzuke from a Nagoya basho past hung framed in the front of the venue, which provided a nostalgic moment to see retired Yokozuna Haramafuji’s shikona on the rankings list once again. But even the toilets at Azasu provide this unorthodox type of reading material: indeed, the bathroom walls are lined with old banzuke!

Banzuke Bathroom at Azasu New York
Old banzuke line the walls of the toilets!

I’ve been told that Azasu also doubles as a venue for viewing live sumo. Unlike the Sumo Stew events which sometimes display replays (owing to the hour of the event), Azasu apparently has a commitment to live sumo for patrons. During my visit, the restaurant happened to show highlights from the latest Nagoya basho – which was a great time to discuss the physics of Enho and Chiyomaru with fellow diners.

As for the menu staples, I have to say I walked away impressed. While I swerved on the chankonabe options, this izakaya offers a number of hot pot selections to cater to punters with various dietary needs and restrictions, and the nabe comes recommended for parties of 3 or more.

Kinboshi Tofu at Azasu New York
A real treat: Azasu’s “kinboshi tofu”

My dining companions and I opted for a kushikatsu-forward selection and were not disappointed by the perfectly grilled and fried skewers which came accompanied by a heavy miso-dipping sauce which reminded me of the famous Osaka chain Daruma. We topped it off with the restaurant’s “chanko salad” – a very liberal interpretation on the “everything but the kitchen sink” concept that was notable more for its sumo size, and the intriguingly named “kinboshi tofu,” a wonderful tofu dish topped with an egg yolk and copious piles of bonito shavings.

Visitors who enjoy engaging in alcoholic delights will also be keen to note the izakaya’s extensive library of whiskey, shochu and sake.

All in all, as somewhat of a washoku connoisseur and a committed sumo fan, I have to say I walked away impressed and fulfilled by the visit. If I’m ever in New York during a basho I plan to make Azasu a staple of my trip – and our readers would be remiss not to do the same!

Azasu is located at 49 Clinton Street in New York City. Hat tip to Tachiai reader Lydia for the recommendation!

Satoyama’s Upcoming Danpatsushiki

Satoyama / Sanoyama and Josh at Natsu 2019
Satoyama meets Tachiai, likes the t-shirt

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 Danpatsushiki Flier
Satoyama’s Danpatsushiki takes place on September 28

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!