I think I’ve mentioned before how I found sumo. Late at night during the Akebono, Taka/Waka days, ESPN used to broadcast highlight shows of tournaments. The sport caught my eye back then and I remember actually showing my cousins and doing a few bouts with them in the living room. It struck me as a pure sport for a sportsman. No need for balls or goals and it’s about skill more than pure force. You’re not trying to pound the opponent to a pulp, just tip them over or push them out of a ring.
But enough about me. I started this blog because I get to talk about sumo to people, fan to fan. I realized the other day that Twitter has this Spaces feature and I’m curious about whether anyone wants to chat about sumo. I am usually on conference calls all day when I’m not trying to build dashboards, develop risk models, or update the website, so I’m not hoping for another conference call where I’m lecturing or the only one talking but I know it can’t be a free-for-all. So I figure if we keep this on point: “How did you get into sumo?” it will work. If we keep it limited to that and maybe shared our first live experiences at a basho, it won’t turn into conference call hell and can be a fun dialog.
I’m going to schedule one for 6pm Eastern on Thursday, 8/12. I’m eager to hear your stories. If this goes off well, I’d like to host them more often. Especially as things open up and when we get to go over to Japan again, I think Tachiai readers will like to hear about what it’s like and what to do from fellow fans.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!!
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?
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.)
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.
Yesterday, my dearest Anideshi Musashikuni retired. He has been always cool to me from day 1. I’ll miss him a lot. I wish him the best for new endeavors. あにでしの武蔵国が今日いんたいしました。あったときからいつもやさしかったです。とてもとてもさみしくなります。 pic.twitter.com/dmYgFHervl
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.