Takanoiwa’s Danpatsu-Shiki

Today, Takanoiwa’s danpatsu-shiki, the ceremonial cutting of the top-knot, took place on the dohyo at the Ryogoku Kokugikan. Sumo fans who did not read about the reconciliation between Harumafuji and Takanoiwa, may have been surprised to see this:

Harumafuji, participating as promised in the hair cutting ceremony

And even those who knew about the reconciliation, may have been surprised at another consequence of it:

Yokozuna Hakuho, also cutting a strand

And, perhaps less surprisingly, Kakuryu was there as well:

Kakuryu: “Thanks for the hard work. Let’s see each other again”.

Indeed, it seemed every Mongolian sekitori showed up: Tamawashi, Arawashi, Chiyoshoma and, of course, Ichinojo, all snipped a strand of hair, as did members of Takanoiwa’s own heya:

As has been speculated, Takanoiwa’s original stablemaster, Takanohana, absented himself from this ceremony, and chose, instead, to show up for an assembly of his support group in Nagoya. Comedian Kunihiro Matsumura, known, among others, for his impressions of the former Takanohana, filled in:

Spitting image

About 370 people participated. This may seem a small number for the 12,000 seat Kokugikan, but it should be noted that the tickets sold for this event all included both the ceremony itself and the party that followed it, so the limiting number was the capacity of the banquet hall, not the Kokugikan itself – and the tickets sold out. The other day I reported that only 90 tickets were sold – but in fact, whatever was allotted was sold. Here is a summary of the ceremony:

A quick shave-and-a-hair-cut, and I give you Takanoiwa in his new form:

Adiya Baasandorj, formerly known as Takanoiwa

The party after the ceremony included a Mongolian band:

As well as karaoko! Here is the man of the hour:

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t give you Chiganoura oyakata’s karaoke, because he is one of the best singers in the Sumo world.

And so, it appears that the reconciliation indeed helped the ceremony become a respectable, well-attended occasion.

But it may have done more than bring Hakuho to softly lay his hands on Takanoiwa’s shoulders.

Meet Takanoiwa’s nephew, Sukhbat

In March 2018, Takanoiwa’s nephew, Sukhbat, son of his second eldest brother (Takanoiwa is the youngest of five siblings) was looking for a heya.

Sukhbat was 19 at the time, graduating at the same time as the famous Naya, and from the same school, Saitama Sakae, which has a very strong sumo program. This is the same school Takakeisho graduated from.

This was before Haru 2018. The boy was practicing with his uncle at Takanohana beya’s Osaka facility, but of course could not join that heya, as Takanoiwa himself occupied the foreigner slot. So he was looking for a heya that was willing to take someone who finished third in the inter-high sumo tournament, in time for the new recruits exams of the haru basho… but there were no takers.

This was in the middle of the Harumafuji scandal. Haru 2018 was the first basho Takanoiwa was to attend after the “incident”. And heya were distancing themselves from the matter, apparently.

But he didn’t find one in Natsu, and in Nagoya, and in Aki… you get the drift. With his uncle’s own retirement, it seemed that the world of sumo was willing to give out on this supposedly talented wrestler.

And then we had the reconciliation. Then suddenly…

Left: Takanoiwa. Right: Sukhbat

Sukhbat is going to join Onoe beya. He will probably undergo the new recruit examination in Haru, but will only be able to do his mae-zumo in Natsu, as is usual for foreign recruits.

So, of course, temporal succession does not necessarily imply causation. But with foreigner slots being a limited resource, and the Japanese natural suspicion of anything foreign, it makes sense that any foreigner wanting to join the world of sumo would need an intercessor or sponsor to speak for him. Apparently the well-oiled Mongolian recruiting machine was not working for Sukhbat until just recently. He is now 20 years old. Let’s hope he has kept himself in shape!

What You Need To Know After Act One

Photo courtesy of the official NHK twitter account

The curtain has dropped on Act One of the 2019 Hatsu Basho, and what show stopper it’s been! With major developments happening on and off the dohyo, here’s a quick update to catch you up on everything you need to know before Act Two.

Leader Board

It’s very early days in the Yusho race, but we already have a small quartet of 5-0 rikishi separating themselves from the crowd. The Brazillion behemoth Kaisei, Onosho, Mitakeumi, and Yokozuna Hakuho have all avoided defeat (some more closely than others) and remain perfect after Act One. A mob of chasers is right on their heels, with Chiyonokuni, Yago, Aoiyama, Nishikigi, Ichinojo, and Takakeisho all ending Day 5 with 4-1 records. Act Two will undoubtedly separate the boys from the men in what should be an interesting Yusho race.

Not Looking So Hot

At the far end of the standings is another race to determine who will be the last winless rikishi of Hatsu. The contenders are Daishomaru, Asanoyama, and Yoshikaze, who have yet to pick up their first win. Not doing much better is the fivesome of Kagayaki, Tochiozan, Komosubi Myogiryu, and Ozeki Goeido. As for the rest of the sanyaku, there are some big names who haven’t been looking their best this January. Kakuryu and Takayasu have both dropped three early matches, and as for Tochinohsin? Well, we’ll get to him in a bit. All of these rikishi will need to make some serious adjustments during the remainder of Hatsu.

Kyujo and Intai

For the first time since Act One of the 2017 Aki Basho, I’ve had to add  Intai heading of this section, and it won’t be the last time in the coming months and years if Bruce is correct. Much has already been said about the retirements of Takanoiwa and Kisenosato so I won’t go into detail here. As for injuries, the only man to bow out of competition during Act One was Tochinoshin. Leg injuries have robbed the Georgian of his forward movement and strength which resulted in him going winless after four days. Hopefully, Tochinoshin will get the rest and recuperation he needs to clear his kadoban status come March.

Kinboshi

Prior to his retirement, Former Yokozuna Kisenosato gave up two kinboshi to Ichinojo and Tochiozan respectively. Ichinojo picked up a second gold star off of flagging Yokozuna Kakuryu. This was the second kinboshi Kakuryu has coughed up this January, as he also lost one to Nishikigi on Day 3. With Kakuryu looking precarious, and Hakuho off his game, we may come out of Act two with a few more kinboshi winners.

Hatsu 2019 Banzuke Published

 

Attention all sumo fans! The Japan Sumo Association has published the banzuke for the January basho. Due to the holidays around New Years in Japan, the Hatsu banzuke tends to show up early, and for sumo fans in the western world, it makes a great Christmas gift. Some notes:

  • Believe it or not, Kisenosato got Yokozuna 1E for showing up and winning zero matches.
  • Sekiwake ranks are Takakeisho on the east, and Tamawashi on the west.
  • Ichinojo dropped completely out of San’yaku down to Maegashira 1W
  • Nishikigi is at Maegashira 2E, good luck sir, you continue to surprise.
  • Kotoshogiku returns to the joi-jin at Maegashira 4
  • Takanoiwa holds Maegashira 9E in spite of leaving the sport after roughing up a tsukibeto.
  • No new shikona for Yago for his Makuuchi debut, though many anticipated he would get his “kaze” name.
  • Ura launches to Makushita 23 following his Sandanme yusho in November.
  • Terunofuji down to Sandanme 88, rumors are that he is training and may enter the tournament.
  • Wakaichiro down to Jonidan 36

We may put together a news update later today or early tomorrow to discuss the banzuke and the upcoming January tournament.

Takanoiwa retires

Takanoiwa with Chiganoura oyakata in retirement press conference

As previously reported, Takanoiwa has decided to hand in his retirement forms.

On the previous night, he had a talk with his new stablemaster, Chiganoura oyakata. The stablemaster tried to dissuade him from retiring, saying “You can still gambarize. There is still a lot that you can do. Let’s gambarize!” – but Takanoiwa’s mind was already made up. The head of the NSK board, Hakkaku, also asked him if he was sure this was the path he wanted to follow. Again, his mind was made up.

The NSK has therefore accepted his resignation. In a press conference earlier today, Takanoiwa expressed his apologies to his family, his stablemaster and okamisan, the rikishi, supporters and fans, as well as to his tsukebito.

A short Q&A session followed this announcement:

Q: Describe your current state of mind.

A: I feel deep responsibility for what I have done.

Q: When did you decide to retire?

A: Yesterday night.

Q: Have you spoken to your tsukebito?

A: Yes, I have.

Q: Have you weighed any options other than retiring?

A: Yes, but the feeling that I had to take responsibility and retire was the strongest.

Q: Only a year ago you were in the position of a victim.

A: This is a weakness of my own attitude.

Q: Have you learned anything from Sumo?

A: I learned how to put effort into hard work.

Q: What is the strongest memory you have from your life in sumo?

A: There are many memories, but I will remember sweating it together with my mates in practice sessions.

Q: If the gods of sumo turned back time, what time would you want to go back to?

A: I would go back to being a new recruit.

(Mostly based on Nikkan Sports)


So the three people most closely involved in the Harumafuji incident – Harumafuji, Takanoiwa and Takanohana – are all out of the sumo world.

A question sumo fans repeatedly ask is whether this will affect the banzuke for Hatsu. The answer is – based on past experience – it won’t. The banzuke will remain as it is, with either a blank or Takanoiwa’s name appearing in whatever position they have set for him. Changes to the banzuke after it has already been set down (and written out by the gyoji) are rare.

Loose ends:

  • Stablemasters are usually punished for their deshi’s misdeeds. It’s still unclear how Chiganoura will be sanctioned, especially given that he has been in charge of Takanoiwa for only a very short time.
  • What will the NSK decide to do about Takanoiwa’s retirement funds? In the Harumafuji case, some part of them has been docked.

I will keep my eye on this story for a while, to see how Takataisho, the victim of this violent incident, is holding up in the sumo world. If you recall, the victim of Takayoshitoshi has retired from sumo a short while after the incident. I hope Chiganoura and his okamisan will be able to provide better protection for the young wrestler.

I will also watch out for word from the Imperial Household. Last year, following the cluster of scandals, the Emperor decided not to hold his yearly sumo viewing. The 2019 Hatsu basho is his last opportunity to view sumo as an emperor, and it would be sad if he missed out on that as well.

Takanoiwa Intends to Retire

Takanoiwa will announce his retirement from sumo following the latest beating scandal. Former Takanohana oyakata stated his disappointment with Takanoiwa. 言語道断 (gon’go do dan) is a four-character phrase that approximates “speechlessness” because it’s so outrageous that it’s difficult to express. There is an intense irony that Takanoiwa is the first case to be pursued after the Kyokai’s October implementation of its new anti-violence policies. Perhaps this finally draws a line in the sand for the Harumafuji incident?