Nagoya Day 1 Preview

Photo Courtesy Of The Japan Sumo Association’s Twitter Feed

After a long, very dry spell, its once again time for sumo! Earlier on Saturday, the Dohyo Matsuri was conducted, and everything is now ready for the first matches on Sunday morning. There is a somewhat clearer picture of who is genki and who is not as we count down the final hours to the start of the basho. Some headlines

  • Hakuho – The right arm is advertised to be back to full power, and he seems healthy and ready to go.
  • Kakuryu – His chronic back problems seem to have returned, so it may be a less than average performance from Big K
  • Goeido – No word at all. I am going to guess is has been practicing like a maniac as he always does.
  • Takayasu – Also reported to be having body issues, but Andy maintains we will see his best sumo ever this July.
  • Tochinoshin – Possibly jet lagged, some reports of injury, but I am going to expect him to be back to fighting like a bear that has the strength of two bears.
  • Takakeisho – Sitting out Nagoya, he will be Ozekiwake in September with a 10 win mountain to climb. A tough outcome for the most successful of the tadpole clan.
  • Yoshikaze – Injury to a ligament on his right knee, with a mandatory 2 month rest period. I would guess this is probably an intai situation, as he has a kabu and is going to make an outstanding sumo elder.
  • Enho – Shoulder, thigh, whatever – this guy is banged up but has enough heart to fight anyhow.

To fans new to Tachiai (and welcome, we are glad you are here!) – we tend to talk about any basho as a series of 3 acts, each of which are constructed to have specific tone and desired outcome. Each act lasts 5 days, and their job is to take us from a wide open field of eager, healthy competitors to a lone champion on day 15.

  • Act 1 – We knock the ring rust off of the rikishi and see who is genki and who is not. I expect a great deal of ring rust in the first 3 days.
  • Act 2 – We can finally start thinking about a leader board as we head into the middle weekend, and we start to sort the competitors from the survivors from the damned.
  • Act 3 – The intimate sumo test of endurance sorts the make/kachi koshi roster, pits the upper ranks against one another, and crowns a yusho winner.

With that, it’s on day 1!

What We Are Watching Day 1

Kotoyuki vs Terutsuyoshi – Mr 5 x 5 (so named because he is about as wide as he is tall) managed to wobble his way back to the top division. He starts the tournament against pixie salt-blaster Terutsuyoshi, who is at the bottom rung of Makuuchi with another chance to stay in the top division. After a great run in Juryo, Terutsuyoshi looked a notch less genki in May – will the heat of Nagoya bring him back to life?

Kaisei vs Yago – Is Kaisei healthy this time? His big body is more than adequate to just out-jumbo most rikishi in the bottom of Makuuchi. But I think we are going to see massive ring-rust this match, with both Kaisei and Yago likely looking clumsy, slow and uncertain.

Toyonoshima vs Enho – Welcome back to the top division once again to former sekiwake Toyonoshima, who refuses to give up and keeps fighting onward. His first match is against an injured Fire-Pixie Enho, who holds a 4-0 lead over Toyonoshima. This match will give fans some idea of how banged up Enho really is.

Chiyomaru vs Sadanoumi – I expect this match to be extra rusty, as both men tend to have slow starts to any tournament, historically the advantage goes to Chiyomaru (9-3), but big Chiyo is also typically one of the most rusty fellows on the banzuke.

Tochiozan vs Kagayaki – Both of these rikishi suffered terrible performance in May, and find themselves in the bottom third of Makuuchi for Nagoya. Both of them are technical rikishi, but Tochiozan’s vast experience and superior range of technique will probably prevail over Mr Fundamentals, Kagayaki.

Nishikigi vs Takagenji – Takagenji’s first match ranked in the top division. He’s had a tough fight to get here, but he’s ranked all the way up at M10 – a testament on how jumbled the promotion / demotion graph was at the end of Natsu. Nishikigi is still smiling and looking at photos of his magical holiday in the joi-jin, but his sumo seems to have faded a bit. This is their first ever match up.

Kotoeko vs Daishoho – After displaying Shodai level banzuke luck (he held M15W for 3 tournaments with losing records), he is finally ranked a bit further up the roster and finds himself in a test of who is ready to rumble against Daishoho. Two of a handful of lower Maegashira rikishi to kachi-koshi in May, Kotoeko and Daishoho get a chance to tune up on day 1.

Shohozan vs Okinoumi – By accounts on social media (thanks Melissa), Shohozan broke his phone this week, and the typically dour faced rikishi is possibly even more sour than ever. This is actually an interesting match as both rikishi are highly skilled veterans. Shohozan will try to keep things mobile, and Okinoumi will want to go chest to chest. With ring rust and the traditionally slippery Nagoya dohyo, it could be messy.

Onosho vs Tomokaze – Still no make-koshi for Tomokaze, who is now the senior ranked rikishi from Oguruma (Yoshikaze fans like myself note this with sadness). Now the lowest ranked tadpole, Onosho is still struggling to get his sumo back following an extensive kyujo for knee repairs, an even that his friend Takakeisho is sadly suffering now. I predict that both of these men will be in the joi-jin for September, and today is all about getting the ready for that duty in 60 days.

Myogiryu vs Shimanoumi – Shimanoumi had a slow start to his debut Makuuchi tournament, but rallied and finished strongly, earning him a Maegashira 6 slot. Myogiryu spent all of Natsu fighting well but losing, a sad form of sumo that sadly too many rikishi adopted in May. This is their first ever career match.

Chiyotairyu vs Takarafuji – If Takarafuji can keep the match going longer than 20 seconds, he can take Chiyotairyu down when he loses stamina. But of course we will see Chiyotairyu trend towards his canon ball tachiai. Mix with a liberal dusting of ring rust and it could make for some very sloppy sumo.

Kotoshogiku vs Ichinojo – I think a big question for a lot of sumo fans is what kind of state is Ichinojo in? The Mongolian Monster is hot or cold, and when he’s hot he’s not beatable without some kind of sorcery. We get our first peek today when Kotoshogiku is going to have to try something other than his traditional hug-n-chug. Ichinojo is just too enormous.

Meisei vs Daieisho – Daieisho followed the Myogiryu pattern of fighting well but losing during Natsu, while Meisei battled to a 10-5 win, and I expect that we may see Meisei pick up where he left off. He is not prone to ring rust, and I would guess he spent the intervening 8 weeks training hard and getting ready.

Shodai vs Tamawashi – I really want to see Tamawashi bundle, tape and Fedex Shodai back to Kumamoto for Monday AM delivery, but when Shodai gets in trouble with an oshi-zumo specialist, he turns on some kind of chaos-generation engine that causes all kinds of odd things to happen. I tend to call this Shodai’s “Cartoon Sumo”, and it means Tamawashi needs to be careful.

Mitakeumi vs Aoiyama – Aoiyama tends to get quite rusty, but so does Mitakeumi. We can be certain Mitakeumi will try to dodge the nodowa at the tachiai, and close the distance to Aoiyama’s enormous pasty chest in an effort to shut down the haymakers from Aoiyama. If he can get close enough, it’s Mitakeumi’s match.

Endo vs Tochinoshin – I expect Tochinoshin to be extra rusty, as he traveled back to Georgia during the break, and I think he’s not quite a tuned up as he would normally be. This is dangerous when facing Endo, who is an extremely technical rikishi who likes to pre-visualize his matches. Tochinoshin will go left hard at the tachiai, and I expect Endo to use this to his advantage.

Hokutofuji vs Takayasu – We will get an early read on how healthy Takayasu is, when he takes on the highly maneuverable Hokutofuji on day 1. These two are evenly matched, and their 4-4 career records underscores that. If Takayasu wants to win his first yusho, he needs to rack up the white stars week 1 against his lower ranked opponents.

Goeido vs Asanoyama – As stated above, Goeido’s condition is unknown, and presumed genki. Meanwhile we know Asanoyama suffered a concussion during a training session with Yokozuna Hakuho. This either left him somewhat impaired in action speed and reflex, or really motivated him apply maximum beat-down on everyone. I expect Asanoyama will go for the mawashi early, but I am sure Goeido knows that, and I think he will go for a frontal (mae-mitsu) grip during the tachiai.

Abi vs Hakuho – I am sure Abi is coming into this one excited to take on the dai-Yokozuna. I am also sure that this is the absolute best chance anyone is going to have to drop Hakuho. While Abi-zumo is not going to do much to phase Hakuho, with an extended kyujo, I expect Hakuho’s reflexes to be off. Good luck Abi.

Kakuryu vs Ryuden – A first look at Kakuryu, and to what extent (if any) his back is going to impact his performance. If we se him moving in reverse, it’s going to be a short basho for sumo’s other Yokozuna.

Takakeisho kyujo for Nagoya

Chiganoura oyakata has decided today to block Ozeki Takakeisho from entering the Nagoya basho, in which he will be in kadoban status.

This means that in Aki, Takakeisho will drop to what we call “Ozekiwake” status, and will have to win 10 bouts to regain his Ozeki rank. Takakeisho now ties for the shortest new Ozeki term in modern times with Musoyama. That precedent is a source of optimism, though: Musoyama succeeded in winning those 10 white stars, and had a long Ozeki career following that.

This decision follows a conflict of opinions between Takakeisho and Chiganoura, which Chiganoura elaborates on in this video:

Takakeisho was very optimistic once he renewed his keiko. He said every day, in every way, he was getting better and better. However, he only started having man-on-man training a couple of days ago, and while those bouts and butsukari were successful, they were against wrestlers from lower divisions. Takakeisho pleaded that he wouldn’t have come to Nagoya if he didn’t intend to participate, and that he might as well have stayed in Tokyo for care and rehab, but Chiganoura was a lot less sanguine about his progress. He was not practicing with sekitori, though his heya has no lack in available men. Chiganoura felt that going into battle unprepared might end up like it ended last time. Eventually, he asserted his authority, and the Ozeki will have to wait for Aki.

Nagoya Storyline #2 – Four Ozeki

The July bashso marks the first time since Hatsu 2017 that the banzuke features 4 Ozeki ranked rikishi. Hatsu 2017 was a tumultuous basho, featuring both the demotion of kadoban Ozeki Kotoshogiku after his dismal 5-10 record, and elevation of Kisenosato to Yokozuna following his 14-1 yusho.

Prior to that, there had been 4 Ozeki on the banuzke starting in July of 2015, which Terunofuji appeared at the rank of Ozeki for the first time. For many modern fans, this was the “Good” era of sumo, with a strong group of high performance rikishi in the named ranks who kept the rank-and-file sufficiently crushed to the point there was little possibility of anyone else contending for promotion.

While having 4 Ozeki on the banzuke could make for some great sumo in week 2, fans have their doubts that we will actually see 4 compete. Shin-kadoban Ozeki Takakeisho has been slow to start training for the basho, and he may not be genki enough to effectively compete. Fans cheered Tochinoshin’s return to Ozeki following his 10-5 score in May, but as one reader correctly labeled him, he is a “Glass Cannon” that is prone to performance limiting injuries.

We are in a different era than the days of summer in 2015. Hakuho is reaching the end of his magnificent reign as dai-Yokozuna, and Kakuryu is always hit-or-miss. Fans are right to look to the Ozeki ranks for signs of another Yokozuna in the future, but with Goeido closer each tournament to aging out, Tochinoshin struggling to keep his body healthy, and Takayasu seemingly stuck in his sempi’s habit of jun-Yusho, there are no likely candidates.

Things to watch for:

  • Goeido is probably genki this July. With no jungyo he probably trained a lot, and will show up fast, strong and ready. I like his chances this time.
  • Takayasu is back to marathon training sessions with Araiso Oyakata. Will it help? I think it left his sumo at Natsu vague and confused.
  • Tochinoshin looked strong, confident and brutal at Natsu, but his stamina was only just enough to get him to 10. I would expect him to rack another 10 in Nagoya as long as that foot stays healthy.
  • Takakeisho, as reported above, is not healthy yet. Coming in kadoban means he needs 8 or face demotion to Ozekiwake for Aki, and a mandate to win 10. A healthy Takakeisho can win 10, but it’s a gamble on how long it will take that knee injury to resolve.

Takakeisho’s Bento Box: A Tachiai Review

Takakeisho's Bento Box at Kokugikan
The Takakeisho Bento Box

The last day that I visited Kokugikan during the recent Natsu honbasho was actually also the first day I had ever had the fortune of sitting in one of the “masu” boxes on the ground floor. It felt appropriate to celebrate the moment by engaging in one of the time-honored sumo and uniquely Japanese experiences: purcashing a proper bento box for lunch and enjoying a meal while watching some feisty lower division matches.

Given that Natsu was the first basho following the promotion of Takakeisho to Ozeki, it was a good moment to explore the Takakeisho bento box. As covered previously on the site, there are bento boxes for sale which contain selections from all of the Ozeki and Yokozuna (as well as some other generic boxes). This also means, that following the demotion of Tochinoshin to Sekiwake before the Natsu basho, that the previously available Tochinoshin bento was no longer available (and presumably, as the man himself resumes Ozeki duties, will be making a return for Nagoya).

Takakeisho Bento Box Interior
Takakeisho’s bento is rich with both flavour and detail

The Takakeisho bento included the following:

  • Umeboshi rice with black sesame seeds
  • Katsu pork with sauce and mustard
  • Soy sauce egg hard boiled
  • Tempura thing which seemed to be a fish cake
  • Broccoli and corn
  • Mushrooms (buried under the egg – they really pack a lot of stuff in there)
  • Carrot cut into the shape of a flower

At ¥1150, it’s an insane bargain (as much food is at sumo), especially by western standards. The box feels like it would easily be a $20+ package here in the States.

It should be pointed out that if you want to get your hands on one, then you’d better arrive well before Juryo: all of the sekitori bento typically sell out on a normal day at the basho, and the new nature of the Takakeisho box and popularity of its curator meant that his were flying off the shelves quicker than usual. A further pro tip for our readers: if you’re seated on the ground floor and all of the bento have sold out, more may be available in the gift and snack stands on the second floor of Kokugikan.

Takakeisho has done a great job on the whole of choosing very attractive – especially for sumo – and filling ingredients. As a very hearty bento, I actually think it is a box that would be very suitable especially for the Hatsu basho in January.

Katsu, Tempura and Egg inside Takakeisho's Bento Box
Beside the katsu and underneath the perfectly cooked egg, delicious mushrooms are revealed

Let’s get into the taste. The dried marinated fish element is probably better suited to the start of the meal. And if we’re talking tactics, I’d probably eat this from the left, the right then the center.

The broccoli and corn were surprisingly flavorful – moist and incredibly well seasoned, very peppery. These were among the standout items of the dish. Conversely, if I have one complaint, it would be that the rice was somewhat cold and hard, although I don’t know that that can be helped in the bento format. The egg was extremely delicious and a perfect caramel shade.

It was a bit a bit early in the day for me to imbibe when I was eating it, but Takakeisho’s bento would be a very nice accompaniment for any beer. The tempura item was a bit bland, but the mustard packet helped.

Four very generous cuts of katsu were included, and the accompanying sauce was very rich. I recommend using it sparingly.

No wonder Takakeisho came back early from kyujo! if I knew this was at Kokugikan…

Tachiai’s Rating: ⚪️⚪️⚪️⚪️⚫️