The Case For Yokozuna Takakeisho

With the tournament now complete, I am eager to see what becomes of Takakeisho. There was a thought at the beginning of all of this, that he might begin March as the second Yokozuna alongside Terunofuji. Most likely that would have been contingent on a strong performance and a yusho. Some readers have pointed out that at 12-3 yusho against a Maegashira 13 is not at all strong. They are correct, but allow me to present the case why he many get the rope anyhow

Merit – At the end of Hatsu, Takakeisho had earned his third yusho, he had also just had a yusho doten, and the jun-yusho in July of 2022. Is that Hakuho level? Of course not, but it’s pretty close to Kakuryu level. But looking across the landscape of ozumo right now, who else is dominant in any sort of consistent fashion? No one, that’s who. There was a time a few tournaments ago, where it looked like Wakatakakage was going to hit and sustain a higher level of dominance, but he has since receded closer to his averages. Which takes us to our next point.

Safety – The Sumo Kyokai has a kanban rikishi problem. They have a Yokozuna, for as long as they can keep him going. There are likely regular update from Isegahama on his status, and they are well aware how his recovery is going. For a time they thought they might mint a new Ozeki this basho, and it would solve a thorny issue for them. Right now, they need Takakeisho if they are going to uphold the tradition of having at minimum 2 Ozeki on the banzuke. It may seem odd to westerners, but the sumo world really does love their traditions. There is a risk that Takakeisho might become injured in training, or worse yet in a match, and be 2 tournaments away from following Mitakeumi and Shodai down the banzuke. With no successor yet apparent, they need to give themselves some time should that happen. So, make Takakeisho a Yokozuna, and he can be on the banzuke even if he is taking a few months off to recover from some injury. Problem solved. It could also bring some beneifts…

Support – Sumo is largely a Japanese sport made for Japanese speaking fans living in Japan. Those who know and love Japan, understand that having a Japanese yokozuna is a big deal for the popularity of the sport nationally. Minting a new Yokozuna would boost interest and visibility of the sport, as it increasingly competes for attention of fans in a crowded media market. Simply put, it may be worth some much needed cash to mint a Japanese Yokozuna right now.

So there are my three points, I think he’s earned it, it solves a problem with the banzuke until such time as one of the next generation can get their sumo together, and it will be good for business. Feel free to chime in in the comment section below.

UPDATE: The Yokozuna Deliberation Council has now met, and while some members felt there should have been a promotion discussion by the JSA (there wasn’t one), most members believed that it wasn’t a high-level yusho, so there wasn’t much to discuss. The run is on for Haru, with promotion conditions unspecified. -lksumo, via Kintamayama over on Sumo Forum.

Terunofuji Granted Japanese Citizenship

I miss the crowds (photo: NicolaAnn08)

The good news continues for Terunofuji. Yokozuna promotion last week, Japanese citizenship this week. This clears the way for him to become oyakata upon retirement. Isegahama-oyakata will is building an incredible legacy, with beloved disciples in Ajigawa-oyakata and some day, Terunofuji-oyakata. After watching the Kakuryu citizenship drama drag on, this must present a bit of a relief.

After some of the news stories and drama over the past week, this really presents a great surprise. While we hope his reign at Yokozuna is a long and successful one, today’s announcement means we can also look forward to his second career, molding the next generation of young Kaiju. He came through the storied sumo program at Tottori Johoku High School and might use that connection to usher more champions through that dohyo. But I do wonder if he will look to a certificate or other program at Waseda when his active career draws to a close. Either way, I’m eager to see him guide young deshi. This week, we saw Araiso-beya open and Hakuho is already leveraging his GOAT-status to bring in talent and wonder whether Terunofuji will start bringing his own class through Isegahama.

Sometimes events come around that make you look forward to the future, you know?

A day of ropes at Isegahama beya

Image: Ajigawa oyakata

Yesteday, Ajigawa oyakata tipped us off about a tsuna-uchi taking place at Isegahama beya.

But – except to those who can estimate it by the amount of hemp – we were completely unready for two ropes in the same day!

Rikishi from Isegahama beya, with some assistance from Asakayama beya, started by rubbing the hemp with rice bran.


And then, under the watchful eyes of supervisors from the NSK, who were there to make sure tradition does not drift, the hemp was laid on the long sheets of white cotton:

Image: NSK Twitter

Tied off and anchored to the teppo pole:


But… more than one rope was being made. The other rope was red!

Image: Ajigawa oyakata

A red rope can only mean one thing: A Yokozuna is about to celebrate his 60th birthday.

Or, because this is the world of COVID, A Yokozuna is about to celebrate his 60th birthday a year or two after the fact.

In Japan, the 60th birthday, called “kanreki”, is a special occasion, and it is usually celebrated wearing something red – typically a red vest and big beret. But former Yokozuna get to celebrate it in a unique way – wearing a red tsuna, in their old style, and performing a dohyo-iri. Their assistants, the dew gatherer and sword bearer, are not mere rank-and-filers, but Yokozuna themselves, wearing their own tsuna. Most of the times, they are former Yokozuna, but on rare occasions, the 60-year old will have the privilege of being accompanied by active Yokozuna, as did the late Chiyonofuji in his kanreki dohyo-iri:

Isegahama oyakata turned 60 last year, and is now 61, and like all the oyakata who are waiting for their hair cutting ceremony, he is waiting for his kanreki dohyo-iri to be held, hopefully with spectators, as befits the occasion.

Back to Isegahama beya:

Video: Ajigawa oyakata

There is still no official date for Isegahama’s big event, but the rope is now ready.


And I think I will not be way off mark to think that at least one of the Yokozuna accompanying him there will be an active one.

Ah, yes. The white rope.

That one is actually the center of today’s attention. Here is a short video from the NSK summarizing Terunofuji’s big day:

Yeah, learning that dance isn’t easy.

Video: Ajigawa oyakata

Isegahama oyakata is apparently the only oyakata to have guided two of his own deshi in the Yokozuna dohyo-iri (Harumafuji and Terunofuji, in addition to Hakuho who is not his own disciple). Two Yokozuna from the same heya are relatively rare. Two Yokozuna from the same heya whose master was a Yokozuna is even rarer. Kitanofuji raised two Yokozuna, but his first (Chiyonofuji) was the one to guide his second (Hokutoumi).

It’s still unclear when Terunofuji’s first official dohyo-iri – the one performed at the end of the “suikyoshiki” ceremony at Meiji Grand Shrine in Tokyo – will take place. Those of you with sharp eyes may have noticed that Terunofuji was wearing one of his own Ozeki-era kesho-mawashi for this practice. And also, that Isegahama has borrowed one off of him. This means they have not as yet gone into the vault where, presumably, Asahifuji’s old kesho-mawashi sets are kept, and have not yet prepared a set for the suikyoshiki.

Congratulations to both the new and the old Yokozuna, may Terunofuji’s career be serene and his health as good as possible, and may Isegahama live a long and healthy life after his kanreki dohyo-iri, at least as long as Kitanofuji, and see more of his deshi and grand-deshi reach the highest rank of sumo.

Terunofuji’s Tsuna-uchi takes place today

Yesterday, Ajigawa oyakata, from Isegahama beya, gave us the heads-up tweeting this “riddle”:

“Well, what is this then?

Tomorrow we’ll be using it

It’s something that goes inside something”

The answer to the riddle is, of course, that this is raw hemp. And it goes inside a Yokozuna’s rope. So today is Terunofuji’s tsuna-uchi – the preparation of a Yokozuna’s rope.

A tsuna-uchi is always a festive occasion, even for veteran Yokozuna. But a Yokozuna’s first one is even more festive. Expect to see Isegahama’s practice ground walls draped in white and red, and the rikishi preparing the rope to be wearing a twisted red and white headdress called nejiri-hachimaki.

The hemp is rubbed with rice bran to soak out the remaining oily essence. it is then lain in the middle of a long sheet of white cotton, together with a copper wire which help retain the rope’s shape. Three of those are made, and then twisted together into the Yokozuna’s rope. It takes an entire heya to braid a rope, and sometimes the heya needs external assistance.

At the end of the tsuna-uchi, the Yokozuna wears his rope over his kesho mawashi. Veteran Yokozuna simply check it fits. But for a new Yokozuna, this is where work start. A former Yokozuna (or even an active one) teaches him to do the dohyo-iri in the style that he has chosen.

Hakuho and Harumafuji have been taught by Isegahama oyakata. Kakuryu has been taught by Takanohana. Kisenosato learned his dance from Shibatayama oyakata.

The first tsuna-uchi is done soon after promotion, and therefore there is no time to wait for the Yokozuna’s first set of three kesho-mawashi to arrive from the artisan’s. Why three? Well, the Yokozuna wears one, and his two assistants, the sword bearer and the dew sweeper, wear the other two.

So for the first dohyo-iri, the new Yokozuna will wear some other Yokozuna’s set of kesho-mawashi. This is often a set on loan from the Sumo Museum. Kisenosato performed his first dohyo-iri in a set that belonged to the “Demon of the Dohyo”, the first Wakanohana. Kakuryu performed in a set that belonged to the late Kitanoumi.

But if you happen to have access to another set, you may use that. And of course, it’s usually a great pleasure to a heya’s master who is a former Yokozuna, to bestow both his set of kesho-mawashi and his guidance upon his deshi.

Terunofuji has chosen the Shiranui style. The difference between the two Yokozuna styles are in the shape of the rope, and in the way the Yokozuna positions his arms when he rises during the dohyo-iri. Here you can see, on the left, Kakuryu performing the Unryu style, and on the right, Hakuho performing the Shiranui style.

And here is the distinct shape of the ropes – on the left, the Shiranui rope, which has two loops. Remember that copper wire? That’s what makes the loop and the tail stay firm. On the right is the Unryu rope, which has a single loop. The Unryu rope is asymmetric – one side of it is much longer, to form that loop. The Shiranui rope is symmetric.

It is the tradition of Isegahama ichimon for its Yokozuna to perform the Shiranui style. And it is also almost unheard of that a new Yokozuna will choose a different style from his master, if that master is a former Yokozuna.

So Isegahama oyakata will be teaching Terunofuji the performance today. In addition, it’s highly likely that Terunofuji will be wearing one of Asahifuji’s old kesho mawashi sets (Asahifuji is, of course, Isegahama oyakata), as Harumafuji did before him.

We still don’t know when the first official dohyo-iri will take place. During normal times, the tsuna-uchi comes the day after the promotion ceremony, and the ceremony and dohyo-iri at Meiji Grand Shrine takes place the next day. But currently Tokyo is under a state of emergency due to COVID, and of course, the Olympics are taking place there. So the tsuna-uchi has been postponed a few days, and it’s likely that the ceremony and dohyo-iri will be postponed further.

Will we get to see any of the Tsuna-uchi? Many Japanese fans have been hoping that the NSK will stream the event live on its YouTube channel, but so far there is no indication of such a stream. If it suddenly materializes, we’ll publish a link here.