Haru Banzuke Crystal Ball


Unlike the Hatsu banzuke mess, the Hatsu results should make for a fairly predictable Haru banzuke.

Upper San’yaku









The rankings aren’t in doubt, but nonetheless there are many questions about this group. Which if any Yokozuna will show up? Kakuryu (ankle) and Hakuho (toes) are nursing injuries. Kisenosato has declared that the next tournament he enters will be his make-or-break one—perform at Yokozuna level for 15 days or retire. My guess a month before the basho is that Hakuho is very likely to participate, Kakuryu is also likely to compete, and Kisenosato will most likely sit this one out.

Lower San’yaku







In the upper ranks, a kachi-koshi (winning record) is no guarantee that your position within the rank won’t change: witness the Yokozuna and Ozeki getting reshuffled based on their performances at the previous basho. This used to be the case for Sekiwake as well, with 8-7 East Sekiwake frequently moving to West Sekiwake for the subsequent tournament when a more deserving candidate for East Sekiwake existed. However, this seems to have changed about ten years ago (perhaps someone can shed light on the history), and an 8-7 record at Sekiwake (or Komusubi) now appears to guarantee retention of rank and side. A recent example of this is S1e Tamawashi not switching sides with S1w Takayasu even after their respective 8-7 and 12-3 performances at last year’s Haru basho. Long story short, 8-7 Mitakeumi will retain his S1e rank, with 14-1 yusho winner Tochinoshin joining him at Sekiwake on the West side. Ichinojo and Chiyotairyu, the highest-ranked maegashira with winning records at Hatsu, should take over the Komusubi slots vacated by Takakeisho and Onosho.

Upper Maegashira
















Endo has been ranked M1 twice before, but has never broken through to San’yaku. Is this his time? Arawashi would similarly tie his highest rank, while Chiyomaru has never been ranked above M8. Everyone else in this group has been ranked in San’yaku, most of them within the last couple of years.




















A mix of rikishi in a holding pattern in this part of the banzuke (Kaisei, Chiyoshoma, Chiyonokuni, Tochiozan), higher-ranked rikishi dropping down after rough Hatsu performances (Hokutofuji, Yoshikaze, Okinoumi), and up-and-comers making a move up the banzuke (Kagayaki, Abi, Daieisho, Yutakayama, Ryuden). Three of the rikishi promoted from Juryo for Hatsu put up good numbers and find themselves here.

Lower Maegashira


















Predicted demotions to Juryo: Terunofuji, Aminishiki, Takekaze. Predicted promotions: Myogiryu, Hidenoumi, Aoiyama. Often, this area of the banzuke contains a bunch of poor performances from the previous basho, but the only one who really fits that bill is Ikioi, who is dropping from M6 after putting up a 4-11 record. Kotoyuki, Daishomaru, and Sokokurai put up mediocre numbers, but Ishiura, Asanoyama, Nishikigi, and Daiamami all earned kachi-koshi records at Hatsu. Nevertheless, they’ll be fighting for their Makuuchi lives again in Osaka, as everyone in this group needs a minimum of 6 wins (more for those closer to the bottom) to be safe from demotion.

Hatsu Basho Wrap Up and Predictions


What a great basho with an unexpected champion. Below, I will go through the various tiers of Makuuchi (and upper Juryo) and assess the performances, as well as what they likely mean for the Haru banzuke reshuffle (as usual, a full “banzuke crystal ball” post will follow once I’ve had a chance to more carefully digest the results).

The Yokozuna

At Haru, we should see Kakuryu atop the banzuke, followed by Hakuho and Kisenosato. Although he faded with 4 straight losses after a 10-0 start before recovering to beat Goeido on senshuraku, Kakuryu did enough to justify his rank. I would give him a solid B. Hakuho (re)injured his toes, and gets an Incomplete. Kisenosato had to pull out due to underperformance rather than injury after racking up 4 losses in 5 days and handing out 3 kinboshi. It’s not clear what the way forward is for him. A generous D–.

The Ozeki

The two Ozeki will swap sides in Osaka, with Takayasu fighting from the more prestigious East side. His 12-3 record is by far his most impressive in 4 tournaments as Ozeki, although he has to wonder what might have been in this wide-open basho. Any tsuna talk is highly premature, but if he can build on this performance, we may hear it in the near future. A–

The other Ozeki, Goeido, looked strong out of the gate but then went 4-7 over the last 11 days, ending with a minimal kachi-koshi. He avoided going kadoban by the narrowest of margins. A gentleman’s C.

The Old Lower Sanyaku

This highly touted group did not exactly distinguish itself, only managing 23 wins among the four of them. As a result, we should see almost complete turnover in the Sekiwake/Komusubi ranks. The one holdover is Sekiwake Mitakeumi, who started 7-0 but then went 1-7 the rest of the way to maintain his rank by the narrowest of margins. Some of this can be chalked up to tougher second-week opposition, but it’s hard to excuse losses to Arawashi, Shodai, and Okinoumi. This is Mitakeumi’s 6th consecutive tournament in Sanyaku, all of them alternating 9-6 and 8-7 records. He will have to find another gear before the often-mentioned Ozeki run can materialize. Still, he stays at Sekiwake. B–

The rest of the group put up disastrous performances. Instead of starting his own Ozeki run, Sekiwake Tamawashi went 6-9 and will drop out of Sanyaku. It’s not clear what was wrong with his sumo, as he looked like his own formidable self on some days, and went meekly on others. The good news is that he should only drop to M1, and will have a chance to fight his way back up with a solid record in Osaka. C–

Shin-Komusubi Takakeisho had a typical shin-Komusubi rough tournament, going 5-10. He should stay in the joi in Osaka, falling to around M3. C– His friend and fellow Komusubi Onosho faired even worse in his second go-round at the rank, picking up only 4 wins before withdrawing with an injury. No miracle kachi-koshi finish this time. He should drop to around M5. D+

The New Lower Sanyaku

Joining Mitakeumi at Sekiwake will be the yusho winner, Tochinoshin. While there are many reasons to doubt he can replicate his amazing performance going forward, I’ll go out on a limb and say that if he accumulates 11-12 wins in each of the next two tournaments, we’ll see him at Ozeki. A+ Also rejoining the named ranks with a bang at Komusubi is Ichinojo, who really turned things around in the last two tournaments. If he can continue to bring convincing sumo to the dohyo, his size and skill could also see him at Ozeki before too long, although of course this is what was said about him after his amazing Makuuchi debut in 2014. A

Who gets the other Komusubi slot? The man who probably gained the most on senshuraku, sumo Elvis, Chiyotairyu. The big guy needed to win on the last day and have both Kotoshogiku and Endo lose, and this is exactly how things played out. The last and only time Chiyotairyu was ranked this high was also in 2014, and he’s spent most of the intervening time among the lower maegashira ranks, with 3 Juryo stints, so it’s good to see him climb the mountain again. A

The Joi

The upper maegashira ranks in Osaka will see more permutation than turnover. Based on the thinness and health issues of the Sanyaku, I’m going to generously extend the joi boundary down to M5. These ranks should look something like this:

M1 Tamawashi (S) Endo (M5)
M2 Arawashi (M4) Kotoshogiku (M2)
M3 Takakeisho (K) Takarafuji (M6)
M4 Shodai (M4) Shohozan (M9)
M5 Chiyomaru (M9) Onosho (K)

In addition to the aforementioned fallen Sanyaku rikishi, we have Kotoshogiku and Shodai treading water with their minimal make-koshi records and a pair of C‘s. Endo (A–) and Arawashi (B+) move up within these ranks. Takarafuji (B+) moves up from just below the joi, while Shohozan (A–) and Chiyomaru (A–) make some of the biggest moves up the board.

Dropping out of these ranks are Hokutofuji and Yoshikaze, who both had disastrous 4-11 tournaments, good for a pair of D‘s, along with Okinoumi (C–).

Makuuchi Promotions and Demotions

As has already been mentioned, the 8 lowest-ranked rikishi all earned winning records. For Ishiura, Asanoyama, Nishikigi, and Daiamami, this saved them from demotion to Juryo, but without much of a cushion for Haru. Daieisho, Yutakayama, and the newcomers Abi and Ryuden should move up into solid mid-maegashira territory. Yutakayama in particular is to be commended for turning things around in his third Makuuchi tournament by going 9-6, after his previous two appearances each ended in 4-11 records and quick returns to Juryo.

Dropping down into the M13-M17 ranks and fighting for survival in Osaka will be Ikioi and Sokokurai, who narrowly staved off demotion.

As a result of the solid performances at the bottom of the banzuke, not a lot of slots will be open for promotion. Dropping down to Juryo are Terunofuji, who desperately needs to take a page from Tochinoshin’s book, and Aminishiki. Also joining them will be Takekaze, the only rikishi among those who desperately needed a senshuraku win to not get it. Their slots should be taken by Myogiryu, Hidenoumi, and most likely Aoiyama, with Kyokutaisei just missing out on making his Makuuchi debut despite doing enough for promotion in most tournaments.

Everything You Need to Know After Act One


With Day 5 in the books, the curtain has dropped on Act One of the 2018 Hatsu Basho. We’ve seen some spectacular sumo so far, especially from many of the young up and coming rikishi on the Banzuke’s undercard. Although the Basho may have just begun, already so much has happened. Here is everything you need to know to get you up to speed after Act One.

Yusho Race

While the Hatsu Basho may have just begun and a lot can still change, five days of sumo has whittled the leaderboard down to just four men, all with perfect records going into Act Two. Starting at the bottom, these rikishi are Maegashira 16 Asanoyama, Maegashira 3 Tochinoshin, Sekiwake Mitakeumi, and at the very top and looking unstoppable, Yokozuna Kakuryu. Trailing them with four wins are Daieisho, Kotoyuki, Shohozan, Tochiozan, Chiyoshoma, Endo, Takayasu and Goeido. With so much sumo left the Yusho is just starting to heat up!

Kachi Koshi and Make Koshi

Again, it’s too early to tell who will be leaving Hatsu with their kachi koshi and who won’t, but after five days we have a pack of rikishi who are halfway to their coveted winning record. Asanoyama, Daieisho, Kotoyuki, Shohozan, Tochiozan, Chiyoshoma, Endo, Tochinoshi, Mitakeumi, Takayasu, Goeido, and Kakuryu all have at least four of the necessary eight wins and could pick up their kachi koshi by the end of Act Two. On the other side of the coin, there is a large group of rikishi halfway to receiving a make koshi. Takekaze, Aminishiki, Chiyonokuni, Ikioi, Okinoumi, Chiyotairyu, Ichinojo, and Hokutofuji all ended Act One with four or more losses and will have to get their sumo into top gear if they want to avoid a losing record.


There have been five kinboshi awarded to Maegashira rikishi so far this Basho. Yokozuna Hakuho gave up kinboshi on Days 3 and 4 to Hokutofuji and Yoshikaze respectively. Kisenosato has relinquished the most kinboshi so far with three, going to Ichinojo on Day 3, Kotoshogiku on Day 4, and Yoshikaze on Day 5. Kakuryu is the only Yokozuna who has not yet caused a zabutan storm at the Ryōgoku Kokugikan.


Since the Tournament opened, only two men have withdrawn from competition. After suffering a defeat on Day 3, former Ozeki Terunofuji went kyujo citing health issues related to diabetes. His Basho may not be over, however, as his medical certificate only recommended take one week off so there is a possibility we will see his return sometime next week. The other man to officially withdraw from the competition was Yokozuna Hakuho, who appears to be suffering from a fractured big toe in addition to other old foot injuries. Fans will remember that these are the same injuries that caused him to miss the 2017 Haru Basho. There is a possibility that another two men will join the kyujo list by days end. Uncle Sumo Aminishiki’s participation tomorrow is questionable after he hit the clay hard during his bout with Chiyonokuni. The veteran rikishi has well-known knee issues, and needed assistance to leave the dohyo. The other man who may forgo competition tomorrow is Yokozuna Kisenosato, who after five days only has one win. With every loss he draws closer to a make koshi, which for a Yokozuna is extremely taboo, and Kisenosato will most likely pull out before that happens. We will have a better idea of their status this evening.

Update: Both Kisenosato and Aminishiki have officially withdrawn from competition, bringing the total number of kyujo rikishi up to four. However, depending on the severity of Aminishiki’s injury, we may see him make a return later on in the Basho.

The stage is set for Act Two, and the playing field is wide open. The next two acts look like they are going to be some of the best sumo we’ve seen in a while, and a great way to start 2018!

Hatsu Story 3 – Harumafuji’s Long Shadow


With the new year’s basho about to begin, many sumo fans may feel the controversy around former Yokozuna Harumafuji is in the distant past. (In case there is one fan out there who does not know, Harumafuji was at the center of a controversy stemming from a night out with other rikishi in which he repeatedly struck Takanoiwa with his fists and a karaoke machine remote. The reaction to this regrettable incident included Harumafuji’s resignation from the sumo world.)

As the first five days of the basho unfold, we will see a new dynamic at play, as Harumafuji previously played a large role in shaping each tournament’s pace and outcome. True, he was usually good for a handful of kinboshi, but Harumafuji was a relentless competitor who delivered massive offense each time he mounted the dohyo. Without his participation in this tournament, we may see several differences even in the early days.

  • Increased Tadpole Dominance: So far, the league of up-and-coming rikishi has been storming the gates of the old guard. While four healthy Yokozuna would make life very hard for the younger Rikishi, many fans think that we may only get Hakuho for the full 15 days of Hatsu, and possibly not even that. This means that we may once again see the youngsters turn in solid, double-digit records from high Maegashira or San’yaku ranks. In the past, Harumafuji would tough it out and cull the next generation as much as he was able.
  • Increased Pressure on Hakuho: As noted in the earlier commentary, Kakuryu and Kisenosato are “on the bubble”. While both of them have put forth a mighty effort to be ready for Hatsu, there is a real threat that either or both of them are simply too hurt to continue. This could possibly leave Hakuho as the only Yokozuna for this tournament, or the only Yokozuna period. This would have the effect of motivating “The Boss” to continue to compete in spite of injuries that in the past would have put him to kyujo, knowing that Harumafuji would carry on. If that should happen, it might hasten the end of Hakuho.
  • The Battle For The Next Ozeki: The fight for the next Ozeki slot is already underway, with Tamawashi and Mitakeumi clear front-runners. But with the Yokozuna ranks thinned and possibly thinning more, Takakeisho and Onosho are primed to step up their sumo. Both Goeido and Takayasu have stabilized their performance somewhat, but neither of them are clear favorites to begin a campaign for the tsuna.

YDC Keiko-Soken

Before every Tokyo basho, a special training session takes place at the Ryogoku Kokugikan, called the YDC “Keiko-Soken” (Group observation of keiko). Members of the YDC and the NSK board watch the sekitori practice. This allows the YDC to assess the situation of the Yokozuna, potential Yokozuna, and Grand Sumo in general.

This month’s Keiko-Soken took place earlier today.

Kakuryu vs. Kisenosato

The one who drew the most positive attention was Yokozuna Kakuryu. He first took up Onosho and Mitakeumi. Out of 10 bouts with these lower san-yaku, he won 9. After a bit of rest outside the dohyo, he called upon Kisenosato and Takayasu for four bouts, all won by the Izutsu Yokozuna. He was pleased: “Not bad. One worry less”.

Kisenosato and Goeido

Kisenosato, on the other hand, was lacklustre. Despite practicing with Takayasu like he was on fire for the past few days, he ended up with a miserable 2-6 balance in his bouts with Kakuryu and Goeido. His stance was too high and he couldn’t force his opponents to retreat. As Goeido shook off his left arm and threw him with a kotenage, the Yokozuna sighed.

This performance caused considerable worry among the members of the YDC. Kitamura, the head of the YDC, said that “I have the impression that his strength has not come back. He had some good tachiai, but when pushed, his ability to return the push has not come back. At this rate, he should take another basho off”. When asked whether his “life or death” basho can still be put off he said “Well, five consecutive kyujo is not unprecedented”. Indeed, Takanohana in his day took seven consecutive full kyujo.

Kisenosato was not happy, either: “Oh, that was not good. I have less than two weeks to correct what needs to be corrected”.

Hakkaku, chairman of the NSK board, commented: “He is still too light. If he doesn’t do more bouts, this will not improve. But if he does too many bouts, he may injure himself. There is also a problem of age. If he overdoes things, he will injure some other part. It’s hard to adjust around all that”. [In this context, “light” doesn’t refer to physical mass; rather it’s a description of how easy it is for the other rikishi to push him around. –PinkMawashi]

The third Yokozuna, Hakuho, seems unable to go through an interaction with the YDC without friction.

Hakuho stretching. In the background, his favorite towel rack, Enho.

This public practice was, in fact, Hakuho’s first keiko since the beginning of the year. Actually, the first since the banzuke was announced on December 26th. He started the day doing stretches, shiko, and suri-ashi, while the other Yokozuna and Ozeki were doing actual sumo inside the dohyo. That appeared to be his plan for the day, but Hakkaku was having none of that. “Hakuho!” he snapped at the dai-yokozuna, and instructed him to mount the dohyo. The yokozuna entered the dohyo without even taping himself up, and named Shodai as his partner. Unsurprisingly, he won all seven bouts with the Maegashira.

Shodai was not the partner Hakkaku wanted him to engage, though. “I meant for him to engage an Ozeki if he can. He must have misunderstood.” said Hakkaku.

Furthermore, one of those bouts with Shodai included his now-infamous harite. This caused Kitanofuji, the commentator, to say with a bitter smile: “That man is a scoundrel. He was warned about that by the YDC. Is he trying to start a fight with them?” The members of the YDC, however, avoided criticizing Hakuho for this, perhaps because it was only a single one in a series of 7 bouts. Nevertheless, they did say that “His performance was uninteresting. He just drove Shodai to exhaustion”.

Takayasu vs. Goeido

Goeido was performing well in this keiko-soken. In his engagement with Kisenosato, he won three and lost two bouts, and against Takayasu he won three and lost 1. He was showing his Goeido 2.0 power-tachiai and relentless forward motion.

While Takayasu had a less than brilliant tally of wins vs. losses, he was showing no signs of favoring his right thigh, and was performing his usual powerful rushes. Hakkaku commented: “I have a good feeling about Goeido, and Takayasu is back. I have high hopes from both Ozeki.” Takayasu himself was not too happy, but still hopes to be in the yusho run in Hatsu.

Finally, here is a short video from NHK where you can see some of the aforementioned action:


From Four Yokozuna To None In A Year

There have been a number of times in history when four Yokozuna reigned together. The NSK is always proud to show pictures of four Yokozuna in full regalia standing in a row. But when looking closely, those idyllic pictures may reveal the cracks of impending doom.

From the top left: Chiyonofuji, Onokuni, Hokutoumi, Asahifuji

On senshuraku of the Nagoya basho, 1990, Ozeki Asahifuji faced Dai-Yokozuna Chiyonofuji. Chiyonofuji was 12-2. Asahifuji was 13-1. There was no one else in the yusho run. This was a decisive bout.

The Yusho went to Asahifuji. There is nothing unusual in an Ozeki beating a Yokozuna on senshuraku. But for Asahifuji, this was an extra special bout. It was his second consecutive yusho.

And though I don’t have access to press and media from the 1990s, you can all imagine what followed. The next day, the YDC convenes, and decides to recommend promoting the Ozeki to Yokozuna. Representatives of the NSK visit Oshima-beya, with the stablemaster and the okami-san (stablemaster’s wife) flanking the Ozeki, all dressed in the most formal mon-tsuki kimono, and the Ozeki accepting the new rank and vowing not to shame it. The whole heya gathers together to braid a rope. The shin-yokozuna spending the night learning his dance from a predecessor in his chosen style, and performs it for the first time at Meiji Jingu.

Asahifuji performing Dohyo-Iri at Meiji Jingu

We have seen all of this following Hatsu 2017. The only difference is that Asahifuji’s rope and dance were Shiranui-style, whereas Kisenosato’s are in Unryu-style.

And so, a new Yokozuna was born. 63rd Yokozuna Asahifuji was joining Dai-yokozuna Chiyonofuji, Yokozuna Hokutoumi, and Yokozuna Onokuni. A new four-Yokozuna era was celebrated.

It may come as no surprise to anybody here that this deciding yusho came with one of the three Yokozuna being kyujo. It’s pretty hard to win a yusho, let alone two consecutive ones, when you have three Yokozuna at peak performance. A fourth Yokozuna almost always comes on the back of injuries at the top of the banzuke. Onokuni, in this case, was absent from the tournament.

The Shin-Yokozuna made his debut in Aki 1990. For a new Yokozuna, it was a pretty solid performance, but this came with Onokuni still absent, joined by the dai-Yokozuna. With only two Yokozuna presiding, Yokozuna Hokutoumi grabbed the Yusho, defeating the Shin-Yokozuna on the last day.

Kyushu 1990 was the only tournament in which all four Yokozuna participated from day 1 to day 15. This was the kind of tournament fans love: all Yokozuna (except Hokutoumi with 9-6) and both Ozeki having a powerful performance with double figure standings.

In Hatsu 1991,  the tournament, which started with all four Yokozuna present, lost the Dai-Yokozuna after only two bouts. The three surviving Yokozuna had solid enough performances, but the Yusho went to Ozeki Kirishima. Chiyonofuji’s kyujo continued for the full length of the 1991 Haru basho, so this time there was not a single day in which four Yokozuna dohyo-iri were performed.

Things started rolling downhill faster from there. Natsu 1991 saw both Hokutoumi and Onokuni full kyujo. But the worse part was the attempted return of Chiyonofuji. The Dai-Yokozuna lost his first bout to the up-and-coming Maegashira 1 Takahanada (later Dai-Yokozuna Takanohana), and after losing on the third day to Komusubi Takatoriki, tearfully announced his retirement.

Chiyonofuji announces his retirement

This meant the still-fresh Asahifuji was left all alone at the top in this tournament (and accordingly, won the yusho – in a playoff with Ozeki Konishiki). But it also meant that the “four Yokozuna era” was over in 5 tournaments.

In the next tournament, Nagoya 1991, the top of the banzuke was still suffering from the after-shock of the highly popular and admired Dai-Yokozuna. None of the remaining Yokozuna was performing well. Asahifuji finished with a dismal 8-7. Hokutoumi with an only slightly better 9-6. Yokozuna Onokuni tried to make a comeback, after his absence due to a skin infection in the previous tournament. But he lost four of his first eight bouts and decided to join Chiyonofuji and declare his own retirement.

Onokuni announces his retirement

The yusho in this tournament, by the way, went to Maegashira #13 (!) Kotofuji, who impressively beat two Ozeki and the unfortunate Yokozuna Asahifuji, as well as Sekiwake Takatoriki. His only loss that tournament was to Takahanada, then Komusubi.

So then there were two… but once again Asahifuji found himself as the sole Yokozuna with Hokutoumi fully absent from Aki 1991. Asahifuji himself injured his shoulder and pulled out of the tournament on the sixth day. The Yusho once again fell in the hands of a Maegashira, this time M5, Kotonishiki. The banzuke was leaking Yokozuna, but the Ozeki seemed to shy away from the rope.

Asahifuji was kyujo from Kyushu 1991 as well, with pancreatic problems. Hokutoumi attempted a return but went tochuu-kyujo, again leaving the Fukuoka crowd without a single Yokozuna dohyo-iri. This time Ozeki Konishiki took the Yusho.

The hapless Asahifuji found himself the third of the four Yokozuna to retire, in Hatsu 1992. Only the ailing Hokutoumi was left to shoulder the duty, with Konishiki unable to follow up with a second Yusho (which went to, you guessed it, Takahanada at M2) or even a jun-yusho. Haru 1992 saw the last Yokozuna lose two bouts and go kyujo. Konishiki won his second yusho, but not consecutively.

Hokutoumi officially retired in Natsu 1992. The last of the four Yokozuna was down, only one year after the first of them retired. Within a year, Grand Sumo went from four yokozuna to no yokozuna at all.

🔷 – full participation; 🔹 – partial participation; ◆ – retirement
Chiyonofuji Hokutoumi Onokuni Asahifuji
Sep 1990 🔷 🔷
Nov 1990 🔷 🔷 🔷 🔷
Jan 1991 🔹 🔷 🔷 🔷
Mar 1991 🔷 🔷 🔷
May 1991 🔷
Jul 1991 🔷 🔷
Sep 1991 🔹
Nov 1991 🔹
Jan 1992
Mar 1992 🔹

It took five tournaments from that point for Ozeki Akebono to string together two consecutive Yusho. Of course, there was a little problem: he was not born in Japan. However, faced with a long period without any Yokozuna, the NSK decided that Hinkaku (the Yokozuna’s spirit of dignity) could, sometimes, also be discerned in people born outside of the Land of the Rising Sun. And so, following Hatsu 1993, for the first time, an American was wearing a rope and performing the dance at meiji jingu. That same Akebono would survive long enough to take part in another four Yokozuna era – also known as the Waka/Taka boom – but that’s a story for another time.

Many years later, Asahifuji, now Isegahama Oyakata, teaches a shin-yokozuna the Shiranui dance

Can we draw any conclusions from this story about the four Yokozuna era that ended just now with the Harumafuji retirement? As Leo Tolstoy said, “All happy families are alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”. Every four Yokozuna era crumbles in a different way. Unlike that time, the Dai-Yokozuna was not the first to retire. And none of the four Yokozuna of the early 90s retired over a scandal. Hakuho is such a statistical anomaly he may yet live to see another roost of Ozeki and Yokozuna around him.

One thing to learn, though, is that it’s not easy for the Ozeki to fill in the gap when Yokozuna go under. The Ozeki themselves may belong to the same crumbling era. It is also not easy for up-and-comers to become Ozeki. Takanohana, who was the first punch in the one-two sequence that ended Chiyonofuji’s term, took a very long time to become the formidable Dai-Yokozuna he ended up being. And that bright meteor, Kotofuji, ended up with no further achievements after getting that Yusho. You need to be able to deliver a string of double-figure tournaments, be stable at that level, and not fall into the comfortable “Just get a kachi-koshi” mood when you are an Ozeki. The fact is that only 9 men were roped in the years that passed between the young Asahifuji’s promotion in 1990 and Kisenosato’s in 2017.

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.


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 (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