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!

President Trump’s Senshuraku Visit

File Photo

As senshuraku approaches and the yusho race heats up, I wanted to take a minute to summarize what we know (and some speculation) about President Trump’s scheduled visit to Japan. The purpose of the visit is to be the first foreign leader to meet with the popular new Emperor, Naruhito. Along with the aircraft carrier visit, a golf outing, and dinner at a robatayaki restaurant, the trip will include a chance to watch sumo at Kokugikan and award a new trophy to the makuuchi yusho winner.

Already, there is one positive thing to come from this trip. Despite having studied Japanese in college, lived and worked in Tokyo, visited numerous times since I moved back to the States, and having married a Japanese woman…I had never heard of robatayaki until an hour ago. Apparently it’s grilled on skewers, like yakitori, but it’s usually seafood and veggies. My wife really likes scallops done in this way. How am I just now learning of this? Bruce, did you know of this? I’ve eaten shirako, fugu, bonjiri and basashi for Christ’s sake. I thought my palate was rather sophisticated with my fondness for yuzu and preference for anago over unagi. I guess not. I’m going to need to hit up a robatayaki joint next time or else I’ll only feel worthy of KFC…or maybe Skylark.

Back to the President’s trip, my wife also offered an interesting justification for the golfing trip, one that is apparently common sense among Japanese executives but not mentioned much in the American press. She says her former bosses, executives at a Japanese chemical company, used to golf the next day after traveling back to Japan from the US to help deal with jetlag. Something about being out in the sun helped them recover quickly from the time change. My shusshin is Pinehurst, NC and have played and worked on some of the country’s best golf courses. But I’ve never heard of this rationale. I will be making some marketing suggestions next time I’m home.

The visit comes at an important time with a number of policy issues; the failure of the TPP is firmly in the rear view mirror but there’s a hot trade war with China and the threat of new tit-for-tat trade tariffs with Japan itself, over cars and agriculture, as well as the usual diplomatic tensions with North Korea. However, according to Time magazine, this is a “policy free” trip…which means our posts get to be policy-free (and humor-filled) posts! This is a friendly networking visit and an exciting chance to have the US offer a prize to the yusho winner.

We know the Emperor, and his father, are sumo fans. Naruhito’s daughter was also a big fan of sumo when she was growing up. They stepped back a bit in light of various scandals but the sport still draws the imperial presence. So, as the two parties hope to signal their strong ties and the importance of the alliance in the Pacific, it makes a lot of sense that they would take in some sumo. They are currently scheduled to watch the final three bouts and then present an official trophy to the yusho winner. Trump is a noted teetotaler, so I doubt there will be any drunken antics like when the mayor of Nagoya awarded Harumafuji his trophy back in 2016.

The Japanese press has indicated American stable master Musashigawa (former Yokozuna Musashimaru, uncle of Musashikuni, oyakata of Wakaichiro) will be on hand to assist with translation and answer questions, offer explanations of the sport. I do not know the President’s knowledge level of the sport – or Prime Minister Abe’s – but it would be awesome to sit and watch with a former Yokozuna. If it were me, he would be asked a bunch of silly questions, such as, “what do the four colors of the tassels mean?” However, if Trump is a more seasoned, knowledgeable fan, it would be fascinating to just sit back and listen to them discuss the finer points of yotsu grips and kimarite.

Foreign dignitaries have visited Kokugikan before. Above are some pictures of Prince Charles and Princess Diana. Their son, William, is also a fan. As we can see, though, they sat in the box. There is speculation, and some consternation, about why Trump will be seated ringside but I believe the VIP box will be full and Hakkaku will have a lot on his plate entertaining his own guests. He’ll probably be quite happy passing off some duties to Musashigawa oyakata.

The President and Prime Minister will be seated by the dohyo. This will likely be on the 正 side, facing the gyoji, so a bit off camera (below the bottom of the screen) for that main shot we’re all used to from NHK and AbemaTV coverage. I’m sure the camera between bouts will cut to some of the commotion but I’m not entirely convinced the guests will show up in time for the last three bouts. It may be the DC traffic, but it’s been my experience that things with VIPs seem to run quite a bit behind schedule sometimes, especially after a round of golf. I swear, I’ve been behind some five hour rounds of golf before and it is torture. My bet is, they’ll show up, still in spikes, just in time to hand Kakuryu his trophy.

Natsu Basho 2019 Dohyo Matsuri

Natsu basho Dohyo Matsuri

Today, I headed back to Ryogoku to witness the dohyo matsuri – the ceremony in which the dohyo is consecrated ahead of the new basho. As Bruce related, the dohyo is broken down and rebuilt for each tournament. The start of the tournament begins with this ceremony, which in a way officially declares the sacred ring open for the business of sumo.

The event was set to start at 9.50am, so I arrived in Ryogoku around 9.30. Apparently the event has become better attended in recent years, as the portraits for the two most recent yusho winners are also unveiled, but I did not expect to see a line wrapped literally around the block from Kokugikan:

Ryogoku Kokugikan - Crowd outside Dohyo Matsuri

In all, I would say around 2,000 people attended the ceremony, which was free for the general public. The weather was fantastic and warm, and the crowd was generally in a very good mood. Seats inside the venue were available on a first come first serve basis.

For someone like me who doesn’t typically have access to the lower bowl of Kokugikan to sit in box seats during a basho, it was a great opportunity to get to see the new dohyo up-close. As fans piled in behind the san’yaku rikishi who were in attendance, I did an end run around the perimeter of the venue so that I could land a seat about 5 boxes back from the dohyo and get closer to the action.

A yobidashi called the event to order at 9.58pm, and the total time of the event was about 25 minutes. Three gyoji entered the room to announce and administer the ceremony, during which a number of rituals were observed. The gyoji all wore enormous white (linen?) gowns over the top of the usual dress.

About 30 elders from the NSK were in attendance on the side of the dohyo (10 per side), with the san’yaku rikishi minus the injured Hakuho behind one set of elders. I’m not sure exactly who gets to attend but from the faces I was able to scan, it seemed to be a strong overlap with the shimpan department (if anyone knows if is or is not true, feel free to correct me in the comments).

San'yaku Rikishi at Dohyo Matsuri

I am not yet an expert in these rituals, but a branch was waved from the dohyo on all three sides in which the elders were sitting, a ceremonial cup was poured for each of the elders, and stakes were placed in all four corners of the dohyo. A scary moment did occur when the chief gyoji missed his chair entirely when sitting back down, and tumbled to the ground. He was helped back up by an attending yobidashi.

Natsu basho Dohyo Matsuri

Taiko drummers finished the ceremony by parading a lap around the outside of the dohyo. I saw them enter the room, but was still startled by the sound, which reverberated around the mostly empty Kokugikan.

Natsu basho Dohyo Matsuri - Taiko drums

The ceremony ended with the declaration that the dohyo matsuri had been completed and the basho could begin.

As I – as well as other fans – scampered forward from the box seats to attempt to get a photo of the newly consecrated dohyo, men with bullhorns shouted to the audience that the event was over and to leave the arena.Natsu basho consecrated dohyo

The work of setting up for the basho to begin on Sunday was already underway, and team members were milling to and fro around the venue to get things ready for showtime. While the torikumi for Day 1 had already been announced, it was not yet listed on the scoreboard in the venue, for example.

As I walked back outside, I noticed newly minted Komusubi Aoiyama doing an interview with local media:

Aoiyama interview at Dohyo Matsuri

We can presume he will be working hard this basho to do his style of sumo. Later, I was also passed by a quick moving Sekiwake Tochinoshin, who also had a reporter in tow:

Tochinoshin outside Dohyo Matsuri

He really is an enormous man.

Exiting the arena, I discovered the answer to one of our burning questions before every basho: which stable would be providing the chankonabe which is served every day at the tournament? The answer is as old as a thousand generations: a beaming Chiyomaru told us that this tournament’s “Variety Chanko” comes from the legendary Kokonoe-beya.

Kokonoe beya Variety Chanko featuring Chiyomaru

I made it back to the front of the arena just in time to see a group of workers taking down the massive yusho portraits which had been presented to Tamawashi (for winning the Hatsu basho) and Miyagino oyakata (for Hakuho winning the Haru basho). Unfortunately owing to the size of the crowd I wasn’t able to witness their actual presentation, but it was cool to be able to marvel at the portraits which we only see hanging from the rafters in Kokugikan (or in a few cases, in the nearby Ryogoku JR train station).

Yusho portraits at Dohyo Matsuri

And with that, the basho is underway. We have plenty of treats lined up at Tachiai this month – let’s get into the coverage!

Kisenosato Exhibit at Ryogoku Kokugikan

Sumo Museum - Kisenosato Exhibit Banners
Banners outside Kokugikan advertising the Kisenosato Exhibit in the Sumo Museum

While the name Kisenosato may have disappeared from the banzuke, the man himself continues to still be very much present in the world of sumo. Whether it’s making TV appearances or being visible at training in his new role as Araiso-oyakata, the man whose elevation to Yokozuna took sumo popularity to new heights continues to be a central figure within the sumo world.

Accordingly, merchandise and social media activations continue to be popular at honbasho, and the NSK has pulled another big look into the career of the 72nd Yokozuna out of the hat with a collaborative exhibit now taking place in the Sumo Museum inside of the hallowed walls of Ryogoku Kokugikan.

The Sumo Association has worked with the former Kisenosato to take items from his storied career on loan so that fans can get an up close look. The Museum is located near the entrance of Kokugikan, and is open from 10am to 430pm with free entrance on non-basho days (last entrance 4pm), and all day while the tournament is in session, with entrance restricted to ticket holders.

Unfortunately, photos are extremely prohibited inside of the museum. However, I went to Kokugikan today to have a look. With another sold-out tournament on the horizon, I figured this would be the best chance to savor the experience without having to battle the match day crowds.

Sumo Museum - Kisenosato Exhibit entrance
This is as far as you can get while taking photos – they are banned in the Sumo Museum

Items on Display

There’s no question the Association has done a great job working with Kisenosato to curate this exhibit. Those able to get to the exhibit will have a chance to see the following:

  • Kisenosato’s Unryu-style tsuna rope.
  • An akeni lacquer wicker trunk used by the Yokozuna.
  • A purple hikae-zabuton used by Kisenosato during a basho – these are the large cushions which you’ll see the rikishi sit on at the side of the dohyo while they await their turn to take the ring. Assistants take to make sure each rikishi’s personal hikae-zabuton is transported in and out of the main room of the arena before the rikishi enters from the shitakubeya dressing room.
  • Five sets of kesho-mawashi all used by Kisenosato and his attendants during honbasho and other events where he performed his dohyo-iri (ring entering ceremony). Some of these were quite stunning to see up close, particularly those that had one consistent design woven as a triptych across three aprons. Kisenosato’s collection featured a beautiful landscape scene, a striking red Mt Fuji against a black background, manga heroes, and more.
  • Tachi swords and kimono used by the Yokozuna.
  • A filthy old training mawashi, tabi (japanese style socks) and setta (sandals).
  • Photos from throughout his career:
    • His debut in sumo
    • Kisenosato with his former stable master Naruto (ex-Yokozuna Takanosato).
    • Kisenosato snapping Hakuho’s 63-match winning streak.
    • Deploying a kotenage while injured to beat Terunofuji in the epic playoff to seal his second and final yusho in Haru 2017.
    • His retirement and ascension to Araiso-oyakata
    • Visiting his supporters in Ibaraki Prefecture to thank them for their support during his career, and more.
  • Banzuke from throughout key moments in his career:
    • His banzuke debut in Jonokuchi, with a helpful arrow pointing out the tiny writing where he is listed under his original name Hagiwara.
    • His first banzuke at Maegashira, Ozeki and Yokozuna level, along with photos of him receiving those promotions.
  • A dark maroon shimekomi including the stiffened sagari cords with his shikona embroidered on the top – the craftsmanship that goes into even the small details is really amazing.
  • Goods and merchandise from throughout his career.

Visitors to the Sumo Museum at Kokugikan will know there is typically a TV in the room playing highlights of great moments from past basho. During the exhibit, this TV is playing all Kisenosato highlights, from his earliest moments before his hair was long enough for a top-knot all the way through to his retirement press conference.

Kisenosato/Araiso continues to be a hugely popular figure in the sumo world, so it is really great that the Association has continued to make efforts to curate events like this in order to provide moments for fans to connect with the sport.

The sport does and always will evolve. To be sure, not every retiring rikishi or even retiring Yokozuna will be afforded the treatment given to the 72nd Yokozuna Kisenosato, but the current exhibit is a fitting testament to his contributions to sumo. I would certainly encourage anyone visiting Tokyo in the near future to get over to the Kokugikan and check it out.