Nagoya ’18 Banzuke Crystal Ball

Meisei_banzuke

Don’t want to wait for the official banzuke announcement on June 25th? The Crystal Ball is here to give you a good idea of how it’s likely to play out.

Upper San’yaku

Y1

Kakuryu

Hakuho

Y2

Kisenosato

O1

Goeido

Takayasu

O2

Tochinoshin

Natsu saw Kakuryu take the yusho, Hakuho put up a creditable performance, and Kisenosato sit out. As a result, there is no change in the Yokozuna rankings. Goeido at least showed up, unlike Takayasu, and as a result, he takes over the O1e slot, with the shin-Ozeki Tochinoshin entering the upper ranks at O2e.

Lower San’yaku

S

Ichinojo

Mitakeumi

K

Tamawashi

Shohozan

Ichinojo did just enough at 8-7 to stay at Sekiwake, and Tochinoshin’s promotion allows him to move over to the East side. Mitakeumi moves up to West Sekiwake. Both Komusubi slots are open, one by promotion and the other by demotion, and should go to M1e Tamawashi and M2e Shohozan, the two highest-ranked maegashira to earn winning records.

Upper Maegashira

M1

Shodai

Chiyonokuni

M2

Kotoshogiku

Ikioi

M3

Abi

Kaisei

M4

Kagayaki

Takakeisho

M5

Daishomaru

Yoshikaze

Due to the depletion of the San’yaku ranks by injury, everyone ranked in this part of the banzuke at Natsu took a turn in the meat grinder. Most actually held up pretty well, with Tamawashi and Shohozan earning San’yaku promotions, and 5 others (in bold) holding on to the upper maegashira ranks. M3e Daieisho and M4e Chiyotairyu only managed 5 and 6 wins, respectively, and will fall out of this group. Falling the hardest will be M3w Yutakayama, who could only eke out 2 wins in his first tournament in the joi.

The opposite outcome in this games of chutes and ladders belongs to Chiyonokuni, who earned 12 victories from M11w and whom I have moving all the way up to M1w. His career-high rank, M1e, was at Natsu 2017, and ended in a 2-13 beating, from which it took him a year to work his way back. Taking lesser jumps up the banzuke are those from the mid-maegashira ranks with positive records (in italic): Kagayaki, Takakeisho, Daishomaru, and Yoshikaze.

Mid-Maegashira

M6

Chiyotairyu

Takarafuji

M7

Daieisho

Endo

M8

Chiyoshoma

Kyokutaisei

M9

Myogiryu

Onosho (J)

M10

Chiyomaru

Aoiyama

M11

Nishikigi

Sadanoumi

Being in this relatively safe part of the banzuke represents a promotion for Kyokutaisei, Myogiryu, Aoiyama, Nishikigi, and Sadanoumi and a demotion for Chiyotairyu, Daieisho, Endo, and Chiyomaru. Chiyoshoma and Takarafuji are treading water. Takarafuji, in particular, is forecast to benefit from good banzuke luck and hold on to his ranking at M6w despite a losing 7-8 record. He should be demoted, but the three guys I have ranked right below him all had worse make-koshi records and receive fairly lenient demotions as it is. Also making his Makuuchi return here is recent mainstay Onosho, who we hope continues his rapid re-ascent of the rankings.

Lower Maegashira

M12

Kotoeko (J)

Arawashi

M13

Asanoyama

Yutakayama

M14

Tochiozan

Okinoumi

M15

Ryuden

Hokutofuji

M16

Ishiura

Meisei (J)

Here we have the second-strongest promotion candidate from Juryo, Kotoeko, making his Makuuchi debut after narrowly missing out in the previous tournament. Kotoeko, 26, started in sumo in 2007, under a name which I kinda wish he’d kept just so we could listen to announcers trying to get it right—Kotokashiwadani. He’s been in Juryo for the past 12 tournaments.

The only Makuuchi holdover in this group with a kachi-koshi is Tochiozan, who moves up from M15e to M14e after going 8-7. Arawashi and Asanoyama each went 7-8 and get minimal demotions due to good banzuke luck, Yutakayama lands here after plummeting down the banzuke, while Okinoumi and, especially, the trio of Ryuden, Hokutofuji, and Ishiura are lucky to remain in the top division.

I have the last spot going to another rikishi making his Makuuchi debut—Meisei—who takes the place of Takekaze, the last man I have going down to Juryo. Meisei is only 22, having started in sumo in 2011. He’s had 7 fairly strong consecutive tournaments in Juryo, going 9-6, 9-6, 9-6, 7-8, 8-7, 7-8, and 10-5, so hopefully he’ll be ready for his first taste of the big leagues.

Genki Report – Yokozuna & Ozeki

tsuna

With the Nagoya basho behind us, we welcome a new Ozeki into the top two ranks of sumo, and reinforcements could not come at a more important moment. In a continuation of a trend Tachiai has been following for some time, the continued weakness within the Yokozuna and Ozeki ranks is causing significant distortions in sumo. Thus it is time for another of our periodic genki reports, looking exclusively at the world of the top two ranks.

Yokozuna - Ozeki Participation

From the chart above, we can see that since this time in 2016, the participation rate of the total Yokozuna and Ozeki corps has been on a steady downward trend. This is computed as a percentage of the number Yokozuna & Ozeki that could participate compared to the number who did participate on day 15. Clearly the men in sumo’s top two ranks are finding it difficult to show up and participate in tournaments on a regular basis.

Sumo is a combat sport, and people who reach the top two ranks have had to battle for every promotion, and every kachi-kochi they have ever achieved. Along the way they have accumulated injuries that range from annoying to severe, but still attempt to find some way to show up and compete.

Let’s take a look at the rikishi:

Yokozuna Kakuryu
Genki: ✭✭✭
Notes: After taking almost a year to recover from a suite of injuries, Kakuryu may in fact be the genkiest of the Yokozuna. He exited Natsu with the Emperor’s Cup, and his first back to back yusho in his career. The injuries sustained during Hatsu have either been mitigated, healed or he is just ignoring them. Clearly he is the man to beat for Nagoya, but odds of him taking 3 in a row are rather thin.

Yokozuna Hakuho
Genki: ✭✭
Notes: There were a number of red flags for Hakuho going into Natsu. His father, who was a driving force in his life, had just recently died. He had sat out Osaka due to re-injured big toes. While it may seem a trivial complaint, the big toe of each foot is massively important to both offense and defense. Hakuho’s sumo depends greatly on his mobility and speed, and injured feet rob him of a significant advantage. I think that going to Nagoya we are going to see a greatly improved Hakuho, as long as he can keep those feet healthy.

Yokozuna Kisenosato
Genki: ✭-
Notes: Tachiai has written extensively about the nature and severity of Kisenosato’s injured left pectoral. While we were controversial in our early call that it was surgery or the scissors, the rest of the sumo world seems to have come around to our point of view. The guy’s Yokozuna career is a tragedy worthy of a new Kabuki story. Our opinion is that there is no road back for him, and the only question now is does he just admit defeat, or does he enter one more basho and go out guns blazing?

Ozeki Goeido
Genki: ✭✭
Notes: Where to start with this guy. First off, we complain a lot about Goeido and his flaky sumo. We have likened him to a faulty consumer gadget in dire need of software fixes. In truth, he has been hurt quite a bit in the past two years. None of those injuries are necessarily healed properly, and each time he re-injures himself in a basho, his sumo goes into the toilet. It’s actually quite easy to detect. When his ankles are working and not hurting, he is a fast, aggressive Ozeki who will take you down or out before you can finish your tachiai. You never give him an opening or you are on your face in the clay, and the fat stack of kensho is headed towards his bank account. When he’s hurt he’s vague, he pulls, he moves backward, he loses a bit over half the time. Given that a proper repair job would require about a year of healing, it’s unlikely he will take that step while he is still active.

Ozeki Takayasu
Genki: ✭✭
Notes: This guy is a favorite of mine. But once Kisenosato got hurt, and he earned Ozeki, his sumo took an unfortunate turn. He came to rely on an increasingly chaotic style that places a big bet up front on a massive, brutal forearm or shoulder hit at the tachiai. Now it comes as no surprises he is having upper body problems, especially with his leading shoulder. This man is a powerhouse of sumo, and an excellent rival for Tochinoshin if he is healthy. I wish he could take after his senpai a bit more now. Kisenosato’s Ozeki sumo was frequently low, powerful and relentless. I fear until he fixes his sumo, he will continue to suffer.

Ozeki Tochinoshin
Genki: ✭✭✭✭✭
Notes: Though I have my concerns about this guy, thank the Great Sumo Cat of the Kokugikan that he has shown up. Though his injuries may come to ruin him at any time, he’s clearly strong, enthusiastic and competing flat out 15 matches each basho. I hope he throttles back on his “lift and shift” kimarite, as it’s rolling the dice on that bandaged knee each time. As mentioned above, a solid Tochinoshin / Takayasu Ozeki rivalry would electrify the sumo world, and might be a catalyst to drive either or both to higher rank. But it requires both of them to find a way to avoid further injuries. No easy task in the current sumo world.

Natsu Banzuke Crystal Ball

I started writing these prediction posts exactly a year ago, so this will be my seventh banzuke forecast for Tachiai. The accuracy has varied from basho to basho, though I think it’s fair to say that the forecasts give a very good idea of roughly where each rikishi will land—in most cases, within one rank or closer.

Upper San’yaku

Y1

Kakuryu

Hakuho

Y2

Kisenosato

O1

Takayasu

Goeido

No changes here from the Haru banzuke.

Lower San’yaku

S

Tochinoshin

Ichinojo

K

Endo

Mitakeumi

With his 7-8 record, Mitakeumi will lose his Sekiwake rank, but should only fall to Komusubi. Tochinoshin moves over to the East side, while Ichinojo moves up to Sekiwake. Endo finally gets his San’yaku promotion, and is a sufficiently strong candidate with his 9-6 record at M1e that I have him on the East side, although the banzuke committee could certainly switch him and Mitakeumi.

Upper Maegashira

M1

Tamawashi

Kaisei

M2

Abi

Shohozan

M3

Daieisho

Yutakayama

M4

Chiyoshoma

Ikioi

M5

Shodai

Kotoshogiku

What’s certain is that there will be a lot of turnover in this area of the banzuke, as with the exception of Shohozan, everyone in the M2-M5 ranks checked in with a losing record, and only Shodai limited his losses to 8. Many in the ranks immediately below this group also did not distinguish themselves, meaning that we have to reach far down the banzuke for viable promotion candidates. Exactly how this will play out is much less certain, as there are many possible scenarios, and the considerations going into them are complex.

Let’s start with the easy part. Both Tamawashi and Kaisei did well enough to earn promotions to San’yaku, but since there are no open slots for them, they will have to be content with the top maegashira rank. Abi and Shohozan are the only plausible candidates for M2, although their ordering is uncertain. Abi will jump 5 ranks, and will join the joi in only his third top-division basho after earning 10-5 records in the first two. Similarly, Daieisho is the only plausible candidate for M3e. He will also jump 5 ranks, matching his highest career rank.

From here, things get complicated. The next best numerical score belongs to Shodai, but he can’t take the M3w slot due to his make-koshi record at M4w. The best he could do would be to remain at his current rank, though it’s more likely he gets a minimal demotion to M5e. Kotoshogiku could technically  be only demoted from M3e to M3w, but given his 6-9 record, this seems overly generous, and he should really be ranked below Shodai. The next best candidate for M3e is none other than Yutakayama, whose 10-5 record could vault him 8 ranks up the banzuke, all the way from M11.

If we put Shodai and M5e and Kotoshogiku right below him at M5w, who fills the M4 slots? The choice is between the next two strong kachi-koshi records, which belong to Chiyoshoma (9-6 at M10) and Ikioi (11-4 at M14), and the other two high-rankers due for big demotions, Komusubi Chiyotairyu (4-11) and M2 Takarafuji (5-10). My forecast favors the guys moving up the banzuke over those moving down. If the banzuke committee agrees, six out of the ten rikishi in this group would be moving up at least 5 ranks!

Mid-Maegashira

M6

Chiyotairyu

Takarafuji

M7

Chiyomaru

Ryuden

M8

Yoshikaze

Hokutofuji

M9

Kagayaki

Daishomaru

M10

Okinoumi

Daiamami

M11

Chiyonokuni

Takakeisho

At Natsu, this area of the banzuke will serve primarily as the landing zone for higher-ranked rikishi who achieved make-koshi records ranging from just below .500 (Yoshikaze, Kagayaki, Okinoumi, Chiyonokuni) to horrific (hello, Chiyotairyu and Takakeisho). The only bright spots are Ryuden, who moves up from M9 with a minimal kachi-koshi, and the Oitekaze stablemates Daishomaru and Daiamami, who vault up and out of the demotion danger zone with their 9-6 and 10-5 records.

Lower Maegashira

M12

Asanoyama

Arawashi

M13

Ishiura

Sadanoumi

M14

Takekaze

Tochiozan

M15

Aoiyama

Kyokutaisei

M16

Aminishiki

Kotoeko

M17

Gagamaru


The bottom of the banzuke is complicated by the fact that there are 6 Makuuchi rikishi who earned demotions by the usual criteria (in order from most to least deserving of demotion: Hedenoumi, Kotoyuki, Sokokurai, Onosho/Nishikigi, and Myogiryu), but only 3 Juryo rikishi who clearly earned promotion: Sadanoumi, Takekaze, and Kyokutaisei. Aminishiki is borderline, and the next two best candidates, Kotoeko (10-5 at J8) and Gagamaru (8-7 at J5), are ranked too low to be normally considered for promotion with those records. Obviously, the numbers moving up and down have to match. What to do?

My initial inclination was to demote Nishikigi in favor of Aminishiki, and save Onosho (who was kyujo) and Myogiryu. Over on the sumo forum, Asashosakari suggested that they could instead demote Onosho and save both Nishikigi and Myogiryu. The solution I’m currently favoring, given how poor their records were, is that both Nishikigi and Myogiryu will be demoted, as will Onosho. I’m guessing that the banzuke committee will be more likely to promote kachi-koshi Juryo rikishi with insufficiently strong records (after all, this has happened in the past) than to keep in the top division rikishi who failed to defend their places there. But I wouldn’t be surprised to see this play out in any number of ways. We’ll find out on April 26th!

 

Haru Banzuke Crystal Ball

Aminishiki

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

Upper San’yaku

Y1

Kakuryu

Hakuho

Y2

Kisenosato

O1

Takayasu

Goeido

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

S

Mitakeumi

Tochinoshin

K

Ichinojo

Chiyotairyu

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

M1

Tamawashi

Endo

M2

Arawashi

Kotoshogiku

M3

Takakeisho

Takarafuji

M4

Shodai

Shohozan

M5

Chiyomaru

Onosho

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.

Mid-Maegashira

M6

Kaisei

Hokutofuji

M7

Yoshikaze

Kagayaki

M8

Abi

Okinoumi

M9

Chiyoshoma

Chiyonokuni

M10

Daieisho

Tochiozan

M11

Yutakayama

Ryuden

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

M12

Kotoyuki

Daishomaru

M13

Ishiura

Ikioi

M14

Asanoyama

Nishikigi

M15

Myogiryu

Sokokurai

M16

Daiamami

Hidenoumi

M17

Aoiyama


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

Lift

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

Kisenosato-Yoshikaze

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.

Kinboshi

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.

Kyujo

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

Harumafuji

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
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-vs-goeido
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
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”.

takaiasu-v-goeido
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.

four-yokozuna
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-meiji-dohyo-iri
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-intai
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-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.


asahifuji-teaches
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.

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