Our sharp-eyed readers have noticed by now that the scandal meter has been reset recently, with a title “Takaganja scandal”. I did not want to let this matter overshadow Terunofuji’s promotion or the other good news coming from the banzuke committee, but here is the story.
Before I go on, a note: this story is not about sports doping. This is not a Sha’Carri Richardson kind of controversy about whether or not cannabis should be banned in sports. Cannabis is simply a banned substance according to Japanese law, so read the title as “Takagenji caught committing a criminal offense”.
Two more points to bear in mind:
Japanese law has penalties for possession or trafficking, but not for use of cannabis.
CBD products are sold legally, and even promoted by the former Kisenosato, Araiso oyakata (fun fact: the yokozuna’s rope is made of hemp).
So here is the story.
On Saturday, July 17, day 14 of Nagoya basho, a report came to the NSK officials, saying that “rumors among the rikishi say that Takagenji has been using cannabis, and two of the NSK employees in the heya know about it”.
At around 8pm the same day, Tokiwayama oyakata and other employees in the heya were summoned for inquiry. One of them said that he heard such a rumor once in the past, but did not hear it again.
On the 18th (senshuraku), after his bout was over, Oguruma oyakata, who is the head of the compliance department, questioned Takagenji about those rumors. Takagenji claimed that he was using CBD oil for pain relief, as well as gummy drops to prevent stage fright, which are said to contain CBD, and that this was the source of the rumor. He was asked if he would agree to be tested, and gave his consent.
On the 19th, around 3PM, under supervision from the Compliance Committee’s lawyer, a urine test was held, and Takagenji came out positive.
When questioned about this, Takagenji admitted to having smoked one joint while taking a walk on a road near the heya’s lodging during the basho.
Following its own regulations, the NSK referred the case to the police. He was questioned by the police and then released. He is now back home (in Tokyo), confined to his house under instructions from his oyakata.
Once the police completes its investigations (which it may have already done) and the compliance committee hands in its report, the board will decide on an appropriate punishment.
The prospects do not look good for Takagenji, and it appears he will be joining his older twin in the world outside sumo.
Following the cannabis scandals in the early 2000s, the NSK regulations have been revised, and although the police does not penalize people for positive THC tests or for smoking a doobie, the NSK regulations forbid drug use and the penalty is dismissal. Insiders tell the press that Takaganja is facing either a “recommendation to retire” or a straight up dismissal.
This is not the Juryo man’s first involvement in scandal. He was involved in the same scandal that saw his twin brother ousted from the sumo world, although he stopped short of using physical violence then, and was reprimanded for “power harassment” only.
When the Aki Jungyo hits the road this weekend in Ishikawa, Takagenji will be a welcome part of it but his brother, Takanofuji (formerly Takayoshitoshi) will be left behind in Tokyo. Takagenji’s involvement in the scandal has so far been limited to allegations of instituting collective punishments, name-calling, and forcing one tsukebito to call himself stupid while recording it on cellphone video.
As he has yet to be accused directly of assault or more serious bullying, and expressed regret for his past misdeeds, he has escaped suspension. He stated that moving forward, he is not starting back from zero but “from minus.” He also distanced himself from his brother, stating that while they came from the same upbringing, they have different ways of thinking. When Takanofuji had his press conference, Takagenji stated that he tried to convince him to cancel, to no avail.
Takagenji will be demoted into Juryo after this latest tournament but should consider himself lucky as he sees his brother drummed out of the heya life, entirely. Since the scandal broke just before the tournament started, it surely impacted his performance so one hopes that he has learned his lesson, can redeem himself in the eyes of his stablemates, and can recover.
To summarize coverage on his twin brother, Takanofuji:
It was a tadpole playoff for the cup, and you know I was overjoyed. Well done to all competitors who made the final weekend of the basho one to remember. Congratulations Mitakeumi on his second yusho!
Thus ends Aki 2019, which many fans (myself included) will consider a departure from what we have come to accept as normal. As the team at Tachiai have written in the past, in absence of strong ur-Rikihsi such as Hakuho in a basho, new heroes shall rise. If nothing else, the past 18 months in sumo has taught us that. Today we saw the second yusho for Mitakeumi. As with his prior yusho, he is on the path toward Ozeki again, and maybe this time he can finish the evolution. The departure of the “old guard” is accelerating now, and the field is being swept clean for a new order that will bring with it new rivalries, new defeats and new triumphs. It’s a great time to be a sumo fan.
It will come to no surprise to the readers of Tachiai that out of the new leaders, we find Asanoyama, Yutakayama, Takakeisho and Mitakeumi. These are rikishi we have been watching evolve, coming into the power band where youth, strength, stamina, skill and sheer determination create legends. But don’t expect the fading kings of sumo to go out without a fight. In fact I had expected this basho to be the one where Kakuryu and Hakuho were both genki and brutally beat the new generation at every turn. But perhaps the fade is harder and faster than I assumed, or maybe my timing is off.
Tachiai congratulates Mitakeumi on his second yusho, it was masterfully done, and your sumo continues to energize.
Kagayaki defeats Azumaryu – Kagayaki stayed as low as he could, and stayed focused on center mass. Kagayaki really has not had his sumo “together” this basho, so I am wondering if he’s got some kind of injury that is disrupting his normally excellent form. The Azumaryu nostalgia effect is gone, and I think he’s going to be a candidate rebuild in Juryo.
Yutakayama defeats Shohozan – Yutakayama wins a yotsu match! Sort of an unusual form for these two to take, but I loved it. Check out Yutakayama’s footwork! He was employing almost a gaburi-yori attack there.
Onosho defeats Tsurugisho – I love the Onosho story for this basho. He came in still hurting from his surgery, his balance was poor, his sumo was disorganized. He put on his classic red mawashi that led us to label him on his first run up the banzuke “The Tadpole Red Menace”. After a fairly cold start, he closed with 6 straight wins to go 9-6. No knock against Tsurugisho, who opened 10-5 in his debut Makuuchi posting.
Enho defeats Sadanoumi – Enho tries, and eventually succeeds in getting a left hand inside grip, and uses that to run the table. What’s fun about Enho’s size is that he is small enough that his hips are about 4″ lower than Sadanoumi’s, so cocking the eventual shitatenage is rather simple mechanics for him. Enho will be mid-Maegashira for Kyushu, so some new opponents to test against, I can’t wait.
Terutsuyoshi defeats Nishikigi – Nishikigi tries for his favored arm-bar, but finds that the “death clench” works both ways. Terutsuyoshi grabs an arm and pulls him into a rarely seen sakatottari. Even if he is relegated back to Juryo, it’s wonderful to see Terutsuyoshi close out the basho with a great win and a great move.
Kotoshogiku defeats Tochiozan – Aannnnnd HENKA! Well, but it does not work, as Kotoshogiku is waiting for it. I don’t blame Tochiozan for trying it, he has to know he is facing demotion to Juryo, and would rather not end up there. And indicator of how hurt Tochiozan is would be how weak that henka attempt was.
Shimanoumi defeats Daishoho – Daishoho opened strong early, but Shimanoumi rallied and put him down. Both end with a miserable 5-10 recored for Aki.
Kotoyuki defeats Shodai – Shodai gets an opening to win a couple of times, but can’t make any of them pay out. Really sad to see him close out 3-12, but it was quite impressive sumo form Kotoyuki today, who threw everything he could at Shodai, and took the match.
Ishiura defeats Tamawashi – The first of our Darwin matches features a false start, as both want this one badly, and both suspect the other of a henka at the tachiai. Ishiura gets inside quickly, and robs Tamawashi of his mobility, and rapidly focus his pressure on his abdomen and advances. It’s over in a hurry, and Ishiura manages his kachi-koshi, and rescues himself from the growing log-jam of Juryo-qualified Maegashira.
Tomokaze defeats Chiyotairyu – I apologize dear readers, but am I ever tired of the reverse-gear sumo from Tomokaze. A win is a win, but it’s a shame to see so much talent and so much potential sidelined for this kind of sumo. Chiyotairyu ends with 2-13, the lowest finishing score for any man who fought day 15.
Daieisho defeats Kotoeko – Second Darwin match, and boy did these two really turn up the power. It’s a full hybrid battle-plan as they swap between yotsu and oshi at will. But Daieisho prevails and takes his 8th win. Fantastic sumo from both today.
Meisei defeats Asanoyama – Meisei surprises Asanoyama with his first ever win, and I can tell he put a lot of thought and prep into this match. Meisei when right hand inside at the tachai, and kept himself close to 90° to Asanoyama, not allowing Asanoyama to advance and push Meisei back. Of course Asanoyama pivots to correct that, and Meisei uses this rotational force to whip Asanoyama around and put him on the bales. As Asanoyama is focused on rescuing himself from that mistake, Meisei goes mae-mitzu, and goes in for the kill. Nice sumo Meisei!
Ryuden defeats Aoiyama – Aoiyama fires up the big V-Twin power today, but he is lacking the forward pressure from his lower body to make it work. Ryuden figures this out and steps to the side, grabs an arm and pulls Aoiyama to the clay. Tough basho for Big Dan the man-mountain. I hope he can get his health back soon.
Hokutofuji defeats Takarafuji – Here it was again, it’s as if Hokutofuji’s lower body is working on its own. After grappling at the tachiai, Takarafuji actually defeats the upper body of Hokutofuji. But Hokutofuji’s lower body is not conceding a thing, and keeps him in the fight, off-balance with arms spread at the tawara. Takarafuji assumes that’s the end, but that lower body is still fighting, turns more or less on it’s own to square Hokutofuji’s hips against Takarafuji and drives. A moment later the upper body catches up and puts both hands on Takarafuji’s chest. Odd but amazing sumo from Hokutofuji today. He won the last 8 matches in a row.
Myogiryu defeats Abi – First match was inconclusive as they touched down / out together, and a torinaoshi was called. The second match, Abi tried to pull as Myogiryu went inside and pushed, giving the match to Myogiryu. Congrats to Myogiryu for coming back from kyujo and picking up 8.
Takakeisho defeats Okinoumi – Takakeisho goes for the armpits at the tachiai and never gives up the hold. Sort of a different attack style from the “wave action” one might expect, but it got the job done smartly.
Mitakeumi defeats Endo – Endo tried for a left hand inside grip at the tachiai, but quickly discovered this was a denshamichi match, Mitakeumi was in Shinkansen mode. The Tadpole playoff is a go!
Goeido defeats Tochinoshin – Goeido gets a excellent left hand outside grip and exploits Tochinoshin’s knee-less left leg with great effect. Tochinoshin has no power to stop the spin and push into the west side zabuton. I am really worried that Tochinoshin has nothing left in that knee, and we may not be seeing a graceful decline like we saw with Kotoshogiku.
THE PLAYOFF – Takakeisho’s propensity to push then pull at the tachiai has become easy to predict. Clearly Mitakeumi did, and figured if Takakeisho was going to give up forward pressure, he could take a trip to the tawara. Takakeisho realizes his opening gambit failed spectacularly, and tries to hold back Mitakeumi at the edge. But Mitakeumi lowers his hips and pushes, and wins.
Thank you dear readers for sharing your Aki Basho with us. We have had an absolute blast covering this tournament for the past two weeks. Be sure to stay with us as we cover the weeks leading up to the next tournament, November’s Kyushu basho.
Welcome to the final day of this year’s Aki basho, the Autumn Grand Sumo tournament.
I will be returning to Kokugikan for the final day’s matches, and will look forward to sharing my thoughts on the experience on these pages and upcoming podcast(s). Thanks to everyone for joining us for this wild and unpredictable tournament.
We enter the final day with no fewer than three rikishi still very much in contention for the Emperor’s Cup (and the macaron, and that enormous trophy that the USA created, and beer and gasoline and lots of other prizes besides).
Leaders: Mitakeumi, Takakeisho, Okinoumi
What We Are Watching Day 15
Takagenji vs Chiyoshoma – Neither of these guys have looked fit for their rank over the past two weeks and will probably be grateful to see the back of this tournament. Both men are makekoshi, and in the case of Takagenji, heavily so. Takagenji needs a win only to cushion his fall into Juryo. There’s not a lot in this.
Kagayaki vs Azumaryu – Another makekoshi pair, Azumaryu probably needs a win here to confirm his spot in the division next time out. Neither showed much to dream on in this basho. This is their first meeting for three years, with the head to head rivalry being even at three apiece.
Shohozan vs Yutakayama – I think Yutakayama has performed much the better of these two over the tournament, in spite of their equal 9-5 records. Both can be happy with that return, though I think Shohozan has just about scratched out some of his wins to get there. This will be an oshi-zumo match, and I think Yutakayama’s pushing attack is the more dominant of the two at the moment, despite his flaws. I’ll tip him to upset the form guide and get his first win over the veteran at the third time of asking.
Onosho vs Tsurugisho – Tsurugisho really deserves our applause after keeping himself in the yusho race until Day 14. Onosho has really grown into the tournament and while he looks some way short of the strength he has displayed in the past, it looks clear that his fiery red mawashi has brought some of his sumo back. I don’t think Tsurugisho was expecting to be in the yusho race but it will be interesting to see how his elimination will affect him. Onosho has won 5 from 8, has the stronger thrusting attack, and I think he’ll finish strongly and win this.
Sadanoumi vs Enho – Enho will be relieved to get his kachi-koshi after a thoroughly entertaining tournament in which he has fully captured the imagination of the public. Sadanoumi’s mobility is still a bit hobbled and I can see Enho targeting the much taller man’s bad leg for a possible leg pick or tripping move. Losing this match wouldn’t be the worst thing for Enho as a succession of 8-7s is probably best for him to acclimate to the higher levels of competition anyway. But I think he’ll win it and finish strongly.
Terutsuyoshi vs Nishikigi – The manner of Terutsuyoshi’s defeat on Day 14 was actually more worrying for me than any of his prior defeats, in so much as he had the match won several times over and couldn’t actually finish it. Unfortunately for him, Nishikigi, while make-koshi, brings a lot more to the party than Takagenji. If Terutsuyoshi is unable to commit any power moving forward with his thrusting attack, Nishikigi should simply be able to wrap him up and contain him.
Kotoshogiku vs Tochiozan – It’s the 40th meeting of these two beloved veterans, and it brings a chance for the former ozeki to level the scores at 20 apiece. That shows just how even this matchup has been. I don’t think the Kyushu Bulldozer has been as bad as his 5-9 record suggests, but he has faltered in the second week and will be happy to welcome the next tournament on home soil. Tochiozan probably needs a win here to keep himself in the division – although as lksumo has noted there aren’t too many folks from Juryo banging down the door. I think this match all comes down to whether Kotoshogiku can set the “hug and chug” and execute his gaburi-yori. Look for Tochiozan to accept the grip but then attempt a throw to toss him aside.
Shimanoumi vs Daishoho –
I stand amid the roar Of a surf-tormented shore, And I hold within my hand Grains of the golden sand — How few! yet how they creep Through my fingers to the deep, While I weep — while I weep! O God! Can I not grasp Them with a tighter clasp? O God! can I not save One from the pitiless wave?
Daishoho leads the lifetime series.
Kotoyuki vs Shodai – Sometimes it’s easy to forget that Kotoyuki – yes that Kotoyuki, the one who rolls around and goes flying off the dohyo and into people’s bento boxes in the fifth row of the masu seats – is a former sekiwake. He’s gone a long way to making us remember in the last couple of tournaments. His pushing and thrusting attack has largely been good this basho, and he’s coming up against an opponent who will probably let him execute it given Shodai’s lack of tachiai. Shodai may have found some kind of inspiration with his much needed Day 14 win, but I’d imagine Kotoyuki will be gunning hard to finish strong and find his way as far up the banzuke as he can.
Tamawashi vs Ishiura – Finally, ten matches into the day’s events we find our first “Darwin” matchup of a pair of 7-7 rikishi. Tamawashi is probably in slightly the better form although he did get manhandled on Day 14 by a resurgent Hokutofuji. This is where the banzuke will probably tell the story as Ishiura has been in and around the top division for quite a while now, but these two have never met as they’ve largely stayed at opposite ends. Assuming the Angel of Henka doesn’t try anything wacky, he’ll look to get in very low at the tachiai and get a frontal grip on Tamawashi’s mawashi. The Mongolian will just look to pummel him out, though whether and how exactly he raises up the much smaller man with his trademark nodowa is going to be an interesting tactical question. Advantage is very much with the decorated veteran, though I wouldn’t rule out a shock totally.
Chiyotairyu vs Tomokaze – This is another match where mental strength will be as important as anything technical, as we get to see how Tomokaze reacts to his first ever make-koshi. Tomokaze fought with more heart that we have seen from him most of the basho on Day 14, but it was too little too late when coming up against a highly skilled opponent who was in the middle of a yusho challenge. Chiyotairyu has been more or less buried, and Tomokaze should seize the opportunity to minimise his demotion and keep himself among the high level competitors next time out – that is what will continue to improve him.
Daieisho vs Kotoeko – Our second and final “Darwin” match sees this pair go head to head. I’m running out of superlatives for Daieisho, and the way he has continued his remarkable comeback to .500 by executing his strong pushing and thrusting attack really deserves credit. If there’s any justice, he will get it here. Kotoeko has faced poorer opposition over the course of the tournament to end up in the same place, and if Daieisho can come out of the blocks strong and keep his centre of gravity low while aiming his thrusts upward to raise his opponent, he’s got a good chance of completing a magnificent comeback.
Meisei vs Asanoyama – I think this might be a challenge too far for Meisei, who has stumbled badly in the second week after an incredible start to the basho that saw him atop the leaderboard at points. Asanoyama will not win this tournament, but has again raised his stature with double digit wins in the joi, regardless of the volume of opposition. I don’t think this tournament will end up factoring into an ozeki run, but it will be curious if an 11th win here changes the calculus for the banzuke committee as has happened before. Meisei will do best to utilise a pushing and thrusting attack – of which he is very capable, but if Asanoyama gets on the mawashi then the gunbai will fall to him.
Ryuden vs Aoiyama – After losing his first six, Aoiyama’s done well to at least stabilise himself and minimise his fall down the banzuke in the next tournament. Ryuden was moving along at a decent clip until getting drawn in to face much higher level opposition in the last three days. Both are make-koshi, and having seen what the last few days have taken out of Ryuden, and with him facing an opponent who won’t be entertaining a mawashi battle, I have to slightly favour Big Dan. Aoiyama should not be throwing henkas especially in matches with nothing to lose, and he will have an opportunity to bust out his pushing attack in this match.
Hokutofuji vs Takarafuji – It’s a Fuji battle, which has gone 3 times from 5 prior meetings to the man from Aomori. Nonetheless, Hokutofuji has stormed back with seven consecutive wins and his opponent has faded in the last couple of days in which he has shown weakness against a strong pushing attack (Abi). So I’m going to tip Hokutofuji to continue his incredible final weekend form and finish strong.
Abi vs Myogiryu – In normal circumstances, Abi would be facing Takakeisho and Myogiryu would probably have had a “Darwin” match against someone nearer his own rank on the final day. So that’s bad luck. Abi had some good fortune in week 1 but has followed it up with some impressive second week performances to grab his kachi-koshi and more besides. There’s nothing (apart from pride and kensho) at stake for him in this match, as he will end up K1E next tournament regardless of results here or elsewhere. Myogiryu has done admirably in adverse circumstances after his return from kyujo and his hope here will be to get inside and get a grip on Abi’s mawashi while his opponent is pummelling away at him. Myogiryu has the throwing ability to use the taller man’s momentum against him, especially given the high centre of gravity which Abi sustains through most matches. Whether he can actually execute that however, is another matter entirely.
Okinoumi vs Takakeisho – The first truly momentous bout of the day. The schedulers broke with precedent and brought up M8 Okinoumi to face Ozekiwake Takakeisho on Senshuraku and hopefully deliver the climax that this basho deserves. These two 11-3 rikishi facing off means that a 12th win is guaranteed to someone, and so all of the 10-4 chasers are thus eliminated. Okinoumi could do worse than reference some of the video of Goeido’s win over Takakeisho earlier in the week. He won’t be able to account for differences in the tachiai, but he can at least look to Goeido’s quick movement to get over the top to land a belt grip. I think Takakeisho will be too fast for him, however. Takakeisho’s pushing and thrusting attack to me has almost looked effortless in the second week, and it’s been astonishing to see how many matches he’s been able to win with three thrusts off the tachiai. Takekeisho is unquestionably the favourite here, though Okinoumi has beaten him once in four previous tries.
Mitakeumi vs Endo – There will be a lot of kensho on this one. Mitakeumi must win in order to force a playoff against the winner of the previous match. 8-6 Endo will be fighting for nothing apart from pride and money. This has been a closer rivalry than it might seem, Mitakeumi having won 5 out of 9. Endo is a hugely underrated technician and Mitakeumi will do well to keep this match away from the belt. While Endo does occasionally engage with and disarm oshi-zumo battles, the laconic pin-up is also prone to a quick blowout loss and so Mitakeumi will want this over with before Endo can find a way to execute a counter-attack.
Tochinoshin vs Goeido – It’s quite possible that this will be the last bout of Tochinoshin’s Ozeki career, and unfortunately it’s a match with little overall meaning. Fortunately, it may not be a down note that ends the basho in the likely event that there is, in fact, a playoff. This is the 28th matchup of these two Ozeki, with Goeido leading 17-10. It’s a match of “what if’s” for both men. Goeido, as the highest placed rikishi in the competition, could – and probably should – have won this basho. Tochinoshin needed some luck in this tournament to get the 8 wins needed to retain his rank, but none of the breaks have fallen his way. The neutral here might be rooting for the Georgian to give both something to cheer as well as some hope that he can make his second Ozekiwake campaign in November at least competitive and interesting.