Don’t Pin The Blame On Alcohol


On the third day of the Kyushu basho, when the news hit us that Harumafuji had beaten up Takanoiwa, I – like many sumo fans around the world – was shocked to the core.

harumafuji-press-conference

There are not many rikishi at the top of the sport whose perceived character is so far away from “violent drunkard” as Harumafuji’s was. This man was known for helping old ladies with their baggage, for being nice to children, for making himself available to fans. He was known for his habit of embracing his opponents after a yori-kiri, to prevent them from injuring themselves falling off the dohyo, and for being generous with his advice to young wrestlers as well as tough opponents. And he was also known for his responsibility to his rank, as demonstrated when he persisted in the Aki basho despite injuries and serial losses, because he was the sole Yokozuna in attendance.

How does one reconcile this image with that of a violent rampage in a bar? Many of us assumed that it was the alcohol. It’s not unheard of for people with good self-control to become violent under the influence. In one of my comments, I compared Harumafuji to Hercules: Hercules, who was a strong but gentle person, was struck by madness and killed his wife and kids. When the madness left him, he had to face what his own hands had wrought.

This was a fine picture to paint, but it left us with the puzzle of why the Yokozuna did nothing once the hangover was gone. Where was that famous sense of responsibility? How could he proceed in doing Yokozuna dohyo-iri while he knew that he committed an act of violence that was no less severe than the one that caused Asashoryu to retire? Was Harumafuji really such a cynical hypocrite?

Bruce suggested that the Yokozuna offered to resign but was denied until the NSK could think of the best solution. This, too, didn’t feel right to me. The worst time for any scandal to break is in the middle of a basho. If he had reported it at the end of the Jungyo, I would have expected the NSK to handle matters at least partially before the basho, and to at least instruct him to go kyujo and make himself scarce from the beginning to the end of the basho.

Another puzzling aspect was that it seems his answers to the police questioning were detailed and coherent. To me that seemed beyond the capability of a brain soaked in so much alcohol as to cause a man to entirely forget his values.

Earlier today, the Yokozuna and his visibly weeping stablemaster held a press conference, which shed some light on some of these questions.

When asked about the reason for the violence, Harumafuji said: “I feel that it is the duty of a sempai and a Yokozuna to correct low-ranking rikishi’s manners and conduct. In scolding him, I injured him, and this brought mayhem and trouble for everybody involved.”

When asked why he then continued in his daily life as if nothing has happened, he replied “I didn’t know that this would get to the papers. Takanoiwa came later to apologize. I told him to be thankful he has a big brother to guide him, and told him to take care and work hard, and we parted with a handshake. I didn’t think the matter would go any further than that.”

Both Isegahama and Harumafuji stressed that this was not caused by drunkenness. Isegahama said that he has never seen or heard rumor of Harumafuji being violent when drinking. Harumafuji repeated the same: “I have never hurt anybody or acted violently when I drank, and I have never been told that I act badly when drunk.”

Later the same day, Demon Kakka was asked to comment to the press about the Harumafuji resignation.

demon-kakka

Demon Kakka (formerly Demon Kogure) is this flamboyant rocker, who is known for always being in character, and for being a huge sumo fan. He is a popular sumo commentator. Some of you may have seen him in various sumo TV shows, including the “Sunday Sports” program in which he interviewed Harumafuji after the yusho he won in the last Aki basho.

Kakka gave the press the straight dope:  After saying that in his personal opinion, he would have preferred Harumafuji not to retire, he then continued: “In the sumo world the tradition of ‘spare the rod, spoil the child’ is still entrenched. Harumafuji must be thinking: ‘Why am I being singled out about something everybody is doing’? The fact that this tradition is considered obvious in the sumo world makes the current problem a structural issue. Times have changed. The Yokozuna’s retirement is not going to solve the problem. The sumo world needs to think up ways to bring up its rikishi other than the current merciless system”.

Kakka has a point there. Take the case of Kasugano oyakata, who disciplined Tochinoshin and two other wrestlers by beating them with golf club in October 2011, for repeated violations of the dress and curfew code. After matters became public (because of an anonymous tip to the police), he admitted to “going to far”, apologized, got severely reprimanded by the NSK… And Tochinoshin and the two others apologized and were disciplined (in a more humane manner). He now serves as the head of the NSK public relations department.

Why should Harumafuji have thought that he would end up any differently? The picture now becomes much clearer. He didn’t actually think he did something as bad as Asashoryu. Asashoryu attacked a man who was not related to the sumo world. This is something that Harumafuji would never do. But Harumafuji thought that he was “doing it for Takanoiwa’s own good”. It’s not violence if it’s education, and it’s not education without violence, as Kakka said. And apparently Takanoiwa also accepted those terms. The Yokozuna did not think he did something a Yokozuna shouldn’t do until the matter hit the papers. Even after that, he was quoted as saying that “the one thing that he didn’t want to do was to retire”, continued to practice every day, and even announced that he will be kyujo for the jungyo. These are the acts of someone who believes he has at least some hope of keeping his rope and his hairdo.

It was not until the YDC made its “dealt with with utmost severity” statement that the Yokozuna realized that his act is not going to be treated like the Kasugano case, and had to offer his resignation hurriedly before the deliberations of the Banzuke committee.


Details of the press conference: NHK (Japanese)

Demon Kakka interview: Sponichi

 

Harumafuji Retirement – Early English Media Coverage


harumafuji

Following Bruce’s post earlier today, it has been confirmed that the 70th Yokozuna Harumafuji has submitted his resignation, which has been announced by Isegahama-oyakata and the Yokozuna himself, in a press conference at 2pm Japan time today. While undoubtedly more coverage and analysis will follow here at Tachiai, the news has already received worldwide coverage, and so here is a quick round up of English-language media announcing the end of the 9-time yusho winner’s storied career:

NHK World has been running a one minute segment every hour as part of their NHK World Newsline coverage. This segment was online but has since disappeared from their general online statement, which can be viewed here. NHK World also covered the Press Conference with live translation for 15 minutes of the 2pm hour of Newsline and we can expect that coverage to repeat in edited pieces throughout the coming hours (Edited to add – the 15 minute segment is now viewable by clicking here).

NHK World added a second press hit within the last hour linking the news to the past abdications of Asashoryu and Futahaguro. Additionally they have coverage of the timing of the retirement as well as a chronology of the incident.

The Japan Times have also updated their article announcing the retirement, within the last few hours, which is running on their front page.

The Guardian (UK) is running a piece, quoting from Isegahama-oyakata’s announcement that Harumafuji has “caused great trouble” to the NSK and the sport. Fox Sports, Reuters, Deutsche Welle and more are also running coverage, largely syndicated across Associated Press outlets.

Kyushu Day 1 Torikumi Forecast


We have less than a week left before the Kyushu basho, and I’m starting to get excited! I’m also impatient, and the Day 1 torikumi won’t be posted for a few days yet, so I figured I’d try to forecast it based on past patterns. Specifically, I looked at the Day 1 torikumi from Haru, which had all four Yokozuna start the tournament, and also had 3 Sekiwake, and assumed the same ranks would be matched up at Kyushu. One could use the same approach to look at the first few days, but let’s get pumped for the tournament by looking at likely Day 1 bouts!

Y1e Harumafuji K1w Onosho
K1e Kotoshogiku Y1w Hakuho
Y2e Kisenosato S2e Terunofuji
M1e Tamawashi Y2w Kakuryu
O1e Goeido M1w Takakeisho
M2e Chiyotairyu O1w Takayasu
S1e Mitakeumi M2w Tochiozan
M3e Shohozan S1w   Yoshikaze
M4e Chiyonokuni M3w Hokutofuji

From there, simply fill in alternating East-West maegashira rikishi in order.

A few bouts that jump out at me: we’ll find out a lot about the health and fitness of both Kisenosato and Terunofuji if those two match up on Day 1. Chiyotairyu will be a big test of Takayasu’s recovery. In grudge matches, Onosho got his first kinboshi at Aki courtesy of Harumafuji during Onosho’s red-hot 5-0 start and Harumafuji’s run of 3 straight losses, while Goeido’s loss to Takakeisho on Day 13 at Aki set up his ultimate loss of the basho on Senshuraku. Hakuho and Kotoshogiku have faced each other 57 times, with Hakuho winning 52! And ShohozanYoshikaze is always a war.

Kisenosato Excited for Kumamoto Temple Dohyo-iri


Kisenosato returned to perform a yokozuna dohyo-iri ceremony at the Rengein TanJyoji in Kumamoto prefecture. Kumamoto is on the island of Kyushu and borders Fukuoka prefecture where the Kyushu tournament will be held. His former Naruto-oyakata, ex-yokozuna Takanosato had performed a dohyo-iri at this same Temple. Kisenosato had also participated in such ceremonies as a sword-bearer and as a dew sweeper. He was particularly excited to be here as a yokozuna this time.

According to the website, the temple is dedicated to the memory of the Buddhist Saint Koen. The original temple was built in 1177 but was burned to the ground in a war in 1582. It was rebuilt in 1930.

Kyushu Banzuke Crystal Ball


image

Like every tournament, Wacky Aki will have reshuffled the wrestlers’ ranks. The new banzuke for Kyushu won’t be announced until October 30, two weeks before the start of the basho on November 12. But if you want to get a good idea of where your favorite rikishi will end up being ranked, without having to wait a month, you’ve come to the right place. The banzuke forecast below should be accurate to within one or at most two ranks. There’s one real wildcard this time around, where the forecast might miss wildly, but we’ll get to that later in the post.

Upper San’yaku

Y1 Harumafuji Hakuho
Y2 Kisenosato Kakuryu
O1 Goeido Takayasu

As the only Yokozuna to start, finish, and win the tournament, Harumafuji takes over the top spot, switching places with Hakuho. The other three Yokozuna retain their rank order relative to each other. As the only Ozeki to finish Aki, as runner-up no less, Goeido takes over the O1e rank, switching places with Takayasu, who will be kadoban at Kyushu. And of course, we are down to two Ozeki: Terunofuji will drop to Sekiwake for Kyushu, with one chance to reclaim Ozeki status with double-digit wins. Whether or not he’ll be healthy enough to participate, much less get double-digit wins, is an open question; the same goes for Takayasu, who will need 8 wins to retain his rank.

Lower San’yaku

S1 Mitakeumi Yoshikaze
S2 Terunofuji
K Kotoshogiku Onosho

Mitakeumi and Yoshikaze both did just enough at Aki to retain their rank, each going 8-7. They will return as Sekiwake 1e and Sekiwake 1w, respectively. Terunofuji appears at the slightly unusual rank of S2e. Both Tamawashi (7-8) and Tochiozan (6-9) will vacate their Komusubi slots after failing to get their kachi-koshi. Among the higher-placed rank-and-filers, only Kotoshogiku and Onosho earned double-digit wins, and will take over the Komusubi slots.

Upper Maegashira

M1 Tamawashi Chiyotairyu
M2 Takakeisho Tochiozan
M3 Hokutofuji Shohozan
M4 Chiyonokuni Ichinojo
M5 Takarafuji Arawashi

This group is a mix of upper-ranked rikishi who are dropping in rank, but not very far (Tamawashi, Tochiozan, and Hokutofuji) and those in the upper half of the maegashira ranks with the strongest performances at Aki. Depending on the health and participation of the San’yaku ranks in Kyushu, some or all of this group will make up the joi. A case can easily be made for switching the positions of Hokutofuji and Shohozan.

Mid-Maegashira

M6 Chiyoshoma Daishomaru
M7 Tochinoshin Shodai
M8 Takanoiwa Chiyomaru
M9 Endo Ikioi
M10 Daieisho Kaisei
M11 Aoiyama Asanoyama

Twice as many kachi-koshi as make-koshi records in this group. Daishomaru, Endo, and Asanoyama make big jumps up the banzuke after earning double-digit wins at Aki. Conversely, the injured Tochinoshin and Aoiyama take big tumbles. This group also contains the underperforming Shodai and Ikioi. A case can be made for dropping Shodai (and, less likely, Tochinoshin) below Takanoiwa and Chiyomaru, and for dropping Ikioi below Daieisho and Kaisei.

Lower Maegashira

M12 Kagayaki Takekaze
M13 Okinoumi Aminishiki
M14 Kotoyuki Ura
M15 Nishikigi Myogiryu
M16 Daiamami

This group contains one of the worst performers at Aki, Kagayaki, as well as two rikishi who narrowly held on to their places in Makuuchi: Okinoumi and Nishikigi. It also contains the four rikishi who should be promoted from Juryo: top-division returnees Aminishiki, Kotoyuki and Myogiryu, as well as the amusingly named newcomer Daiamami Genki—may he live up to his family given name in his Makuuchi debut. These four take the places of rikishi demoted to Juryo: Ishiura, Tokushoryu, Yutakayama, and Sadanoumi.

Now, the wildcard: our favorite pink-sporting rikishi, Ura, who badly aggravated his already injured knee and had to drop out after two days and only one win. Based on a very limited history of similar cases, I placed him at M14w. I’d be surprised to see him ranked much higher, and he could be ranked as low as M16e, or even demoted from Makuuchi altogether, in favor of marginal promotion candidate Homarefuji. Of course, Ura’s participation in Kyushu is a huge question mark at best, but being ranked in the top division would limit the rate at which he drops down the banzuke if he sits out one or more tournaments.

For a Juryo forecast, I don’t think I can do any better than point you to predictions made on SumoForum by frequent Tachiai commenter Asashosakari and others.

YDC Soken – Facing No-Kozuna


Soken

On Friday the Yokozuna Deliberation Council held one of their periodic reviews of up and coming sekitori. These training sessions are called “Soken” and in the past have been fascinating looks at the state of the wrestlers, and the opinions of the council.

The headline coming from the Soken today is that all 4 Yokozuna appeared, but only Harumafuji did any sumo. This should give sumo fans globally some pause. Out of the 4 top men in sumo, only one was healthy enough to actually engage in any matches. For Kakuryu and Kisenosato, they were present but did not face off against any opponents, they simply performed training exercises. Hakuho arrived in the final minutes, and did not even join in training.

The Council chief, Masatoshi Kitamura, remarked that the situation was “Not satisfactory”, and expressed his disappointment that 3 of the Yokozuna did no sumo.

At this point fans are beginning to worry about the Aki tournament, and with good cause. With few headliners likely to appear and fewer still to make it to day 15, the upcoming Aki basho likely represents a turning point for the current crop of sumo’s best.

Some specifics

  • Hakuho – Knee problems, fans may recall that last year he missed Aki for surgery on his toe, but they also did work on his knee. That the knee is once again bothering him is troublesome
  • Kisenosato – Has not been healthy enough to train up for Aki. As always everyone is being very vague about his actual condition and holding out phony hope for some miraculous improvement over the course of a few hours that will allow him to compete.
  • Kakuryu – Still barely able to walk, has practiced no sumo, faced no opponents in test matches. He is benched for Aki, as it has been made clear he must be fully healthy and highly competitive in his next basho or he is done.
  • Harumafuji – He continues to have problems with his knees and elbows, but he is one tough rikishi. He will give it his best shot, and I expect him to at least start Aki.

More details via NHK

Aki Banzuke Crystal Ball


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My Nagoya banzuke predictions turned out to be reasonably accurate. This last basho created quite a mess, and a less predictable banzuke––I don’t envy the guys who have to make the real thing, which we will get to see on August 28. I’m going to take a crack at it anyway.

Upper San’yaku

Y1 Hakuho Harumafuji
Y2 Kisenosato Kakuryu
O1 Takayasu Goeido
O2 Terunofuji  

No change in the Yokozuna pecking order after Nagoya. The real question is whether we will have more than one Yokozuna start, much less finish, the next basho. Takayasu takes over the top Ozeki spot after putting up the only reasonably solid Ozeki performance at Nagoya. Goeido and Terunofuji are both kadoban, and I hope Terunofuji can recover from his persistent injuries.


Lower San’yaku

Usually, this part of the banzuke is relatively predictable. Not so this time. Kotoshogiku drops out of San’yaku for the first time since 2010. The only certainties are that Mitakeumi will hold the S1e slot, and that Yoshikaze will remain in San’yaku after going 9-6 at Komusubi. Otherwise, there’s quite a logjam for the remaining slots, and a lot of uncertainty as to who will end up where. The contenders:

Tamawashi, who went 7-8 at Sekiwake and will drop at least to Komusubi after four tournaments at the higher rank.

Tochiozan, who had a great tournament at 12-3 as maegashira 5, defeating an Ozeki and both Sekiwake along the way.

Aoiyama, the Jun-Yusho and special prize winner, who went an amazing 13-2 as maegashira 8, but didn’t beat or even fight anyone of note until his defeat of a fading Yoshikaze on the final day.

Tochinoshin, who more than held his own in the meat grinder as maegashira 2, fighting all the big guns and defeating a Yokozuna, an Ozeki, both Sekiwake and a Komusubi on his way to a 9-6 record.

By the numbers, I would rank-order the 5 contenders for the 3 slots behind Mitakeumi as  Tochiozan, Yoshikaze, Aoiyama, Tochinoshin, Tamawashi, placing Tochiozan in the S1w slot, Yoshikaze and Aoiyama in the Komusubi slots, and leaving Tochinoshin and Tamawashi out in the cold. However, being in San’yaku confers certain privileges: Yoshikaze probably gets first dibs on the Sekiwake slot, and Tamawashi is unlikely to drop lower than Komusubi despite coming in last on the list above. Judging by past history, none of the performances were sufficiently strong to “force” the creation of extra San’yaku slots. So I’m going to go with the prediction below, much as it pains me to leave out Tochinoshin.

S Mitakeumi Yoshikaze
K Tochiozan Tamawashi

The Meat Grinder

I’m going to include the M1-M4e ranks here. Along with the San’yaku, this group makes up the “joi” or upper ranks, and regularly faces San’yaku competition (as we saw in Nagoya, the exact “joi” boundary is fuzzy, and changes during the tournament after withdrawals and, to some extent, based on performances to that point).

The meat grinder ranks actually acquitted themselves relatively well in Nagoya, unlike the disasters of the previous two basho. Tochinoshin and Hokutofuji both earned their kachi-koshi, and each deserves to be one rank higher up the banzuke, but there isn’t room. Onosho should find himself at M3 after two extremely impressive 10-5 tournaments following his Makuuchi debut. He seems unintimidated by anyone, and may hold his own despite his lack of experience. Chiyotairyu and Shohozan put up the only other solid records in the mid-maegashira ranks, and find themselves vaulting up the banzuke from M10.

M1 Tochinoshin Aoiyama
M2 Hokutofuji Kotoshogiku
M3 Onosho Chiyotairyu
M4 Shohozan

Mid-maegashira

The rest of Makuuchi was a mess of of make-koshi records, ranging from bad to worse, and some weak kachi-koshi performances among the lower ranks. This makes it difficult to come up with a fair and consistent rank order. Rikishi with 7-8 records in a weak field are especially hard to place, as their computed rank may suggest a promotion, which as far as I know is never done for kachi-koshi records. One can start by dividing the rikishi into groups of similar projected rank, and then worry about the order within each group.

Group 1, M4w-M5w: Ura, Shodai, Takakeisho.

Everyone’s favorite Ura managed a 7-8 record at M4e despite being thrown into the meat grinder prematurely and getting injured as a result. Shodai and Takakeisho each went 5-10 at M1. It would be reasonable either to place Ura at M4w, with the other two at M5, or to flip this order. Given that Ura went make-koshi, that he was under-ranked last basho, and that Shodai tends to get over-ranked, I have a feeling NSK will do the latter, despite Ura’s slightly higher computed rank.

Group 2, M6: Ichinojo, Kagayaki.

Ichinojo put up another lackluster performance, going 7-8. He should drop in rank, but there are no other reasonable contenders for M6e. Kagayaki has the best claim of the rest to M6w.

Group 3, M7-M9: Ishiura, Ikioi, Chiyoshoma, Takanoiwa, Chiyonokuni, Takarafuji.

A mix of poor records higher up the banzuke and better records quite far down the banzuke. Ikioi, Chiyoshoma, and Takanoiwa deserve bigger drops in rank, but Chiyonokuni and Takarafuji did not earn this much of a promotion. Ishiura actually has the best computed rank, and deserves the M7e slot, but since he went make-koshi (7-8) at M8w, he can’t be ranked any higher than that. The main question in this group is whether to place him at M8w, or move him below the two kachi-koshi guys, Chiyonokuni and Takarafuji. As with Ura, I’m opting for the lower rank.

Group 4, M10: Arawashi, Takekaze.

This is straightforward: M12 guys both went 8-7 and move up to M10.

Group 5, M11-M12: Daieisho, Chiyomaru, Daishomaru, Kaisei.

This order drops Daishomaru (M11w, 7-8) below Chiyomaru (M15w, 9-6), but keeps him above Kaisei, the top Juryo escapee.

M4 Shodai
M5 Takakeisho Ura
M6 Ichinojo Kagayaki
M7 Ikioi Chiyoshoma
M8 Takanoiwa Chiyonokuni
M9 Takarafuji Ishiura
M10 Arawashi Takekaze
M11 Daieisho Chiyomaru
M12 Daishomaru Kaisei

Lower maegashira, promotions, and demotions

Sadanoumi and Nishigiki earned Makuuchi stays by going kachi-koshi. Endo and Okinoumi suffer big drops but should be safe. Gagamaru earned a quick return to Juryo and should fall far down the Juryo banzuke, while Kotoyuki also definitely earned a demotion. Yutakayama and Asanoyama should definitely join Kaisei in Makuuchi, one of them at the expense of Sokokurai. This would mark a Makuuchi debut for Asanoyama. I think that Myogiryu will claim the last promotion slot, which will be vacated by Tokushoryu, and that Aminishiki will just miss out on promotion.

M13 Sadanoumi Endo
M14 Okinoumi Nishikigi
M15 Yutakayama Asanoyama
M16 Myogiryu
J1 Aminishiki Tokushoryu
J2 Sokokurai