The curtain has dropped on Act One of the 2019 Hatsu Basho, and what show stopper it’s been! With major developments happening on and off the dohyo, here’s a quick update to catch you up on everything you need to know before Act Two.
It’s very early days in the Yusho race, but we already have a small quartet of 5-0 rikishi separating themselves from the crowd. The Brazillion behemoth Kaisei, Onosho, Mitakeumi, and Yokozuna Hakuho have all avoided defeat (some more closely than others) and remain perfect after Act One. A mob of chasers is right on their heels, with Chiyonokuni, Yago, Aoiyama, Nishikigi, Ichinojo, and Takakeisho all ending Day 5 with 4-1 records. Act Two will undoubtedly separate the boys from the men in what should be an interesting Yusho race.
Not Looking So Hot
At the far end of the standings is another race to determine who will be the last winless rikishi of Hatsu. The contenders are Daishomaru, Asanoyama, and Yoshikaze, who have yet to pick up their first win. Not doing much better is the fivesome of Kagayaki, Tochiozan, Komosubi Myogiryu, and Ozeki Goeido. As for the rest of the sanyaku, there are some big names who haven’t been looking their best this January. Kakuryu and Takayasu have both dropped three early matches, and as for Tochinohsin? Well, we’ll get to him in a bit. All of these rikishi will need to make some serious adjustments during the remainder of Hatsu.
Kyujo and Intai
For the first time since Act One of the 2017 Aki Basho, I’ve had to add Intai heading of this section, and it won’t be the last time in the coming months and years if Bruce is correct. Much has already been said about the retirements of Takanoiwa and Kisenosato so I won’t go into detail here. As for injuries, the only man to bow out of competition during Act One was Tochinoshin. Leg injuries have robbed the Georgian of his forward movement and strength which resulted in him going winless after four days. Hopefully, Tochinoshin will get the rest and recuperation he needs to clear his kadoban status come March.
Prior to his retirement, Former Yokozuna Kisenosato gave up two kinboshi to Ichinojo and Tochiozan respectively. Ichinojo picked up a second gold star off of flagging Yokozuna Kakuryu. This was the second kinboshi Kakuryu has coughed up this January, as he also lost one to Nishikigi on Day 3. With Kakuryu looking precarious, and Hakuho off his game, we may come out of Act two with a few more kinboshi winners.
It has been a peculiar year in sumo – there’s no question about that. The Kyushu basho punctuated this in a number of ways.
We have often talked – on this site, onpodcasts, on social media – about the “changing of the guard” currently underway in the sport. The latest basho offered a delightful confirmation of this in the championship victory by Komusubi Takakeisho.
Takakeisho’s victory was a disruption of the normal order of sumo: young, talented prospects will move their way through the lower divisions – but the big prizes are almost always won by established superstars. Even Mitakeumi’s yusho this year was a victory – especially under the circumstances – by a rikishi with an enormous fanbase who was heavily favored to go on an Ozeki run even before Tochinshin’s surprise ascendance earlier in the year. This “disruption,” however, is what turns talented prospects into superstars in their own right – it’s just that it’s something we only get to see every few years – at most.
But there’s another half of that earlier point: that talented youngsters, college veterans and other hot prospects, will usually have their fun in the unsalaried ranks. Taking that into account, not only was Takakeisho’s top division championship in this tournament special in its own right – especially in the face of the heavily favored Ozeki Takayasu – it was actually unique because all of the yusho winners from the bottom four divisions were returning veterans. As a result, in a rare and incredible coincidence, Makuuchi division winer Takakeisho was actually the youngest winner of any of the six divisions at the Kyushu basho:
Jonokuchi: won by Hatooka, a 24-year old former Makushita mid-ranker of Kise-beya. He was making his 12th basho appearance, and first full basho in a year.
Jonidan: won by Mitsuuchi, a 22-year old former Sandanme mid-ranker of The Onomatsu Group Jazz Combo Onomatsu-beya. This was his second consecutive yusho on his 9th basho, though he needed to come through a playoff against one of Sadogatake’s myriad prospects. Mitsuuchi is 3 months older than Takakeisho.
Sandanme: won by Ura, a 26-year old past and present scientific marvel who has been apparently explained by Neil DeGrasse Tyson as “wow,” prompting Vegas bookmakers to slash the odds on the next discovered element to be named Uranon, but only because Uranium is already taken. This was his fourth spotless tournament and second yusho – having coughed up two in playoffs to fellow future funster Hokutofuji, and his stablemate Shiba, who is in the midst of making his third sekitori promotion challenge.
Makushita: won by Sokokurai, a 34-year old injury-and-drama survivor of Arashio-beya, who rescued himself from a future as tsukebito to the Onami brothers. Generally liked despite just a single winning record* north of Maegashira 10. This was his fourth lower-division yusho in a 15-year sumo career. * edited thanks to an error spotted by commenter Savaros
Juryo: won by Tomokaze, a 23-year old big bopper from Oguruma-beya, who likes to push and thrust more than twist and shout. This was his 3rd yusho in 9 tournaments.
Makuuchi: won by Takakeisho, a 22-year old tadpole from Chiganoura-beya, his 1st top division championship and 5th such success at all levels.
This coincidence is obviously a rarity because it requires a young champion. It’s the first time it has been seen in sumo in over 11 years, since the third yusho from another 22 year old: then-Ozeki Hakuho. The person to do it before that? Ozeki Hakuho, with his first championship, a year prior. Takakeisho – who like many was a much more promising recruit than the famously unheralded future dai-Yokozuna – will be hoping that his ability to turn his early career momentum into a title, like his predecessor, will bring him similar results.
The 2018 Kyushu Basho is officially in the hallowed record books of sumo. Komusubi Takakeisho Mitsunobu is now our newest champion, and before we turn our attention to the upcoming winter jungyo tour, let’s reflect on the incredible path that lead Takakeisho to the Emperor’s Cup and sumo glory! Here’s to a long and successful career for this promising young rikishi! Omedeto Takakaiso!!!
Personally, I was worried that once again the special prize committee would rule that “no one deserves a special prize” as they did at Aki. That decision was not popular in my circle of sumo fans, but as an outsider (which I assure you I am), you just shrug and go about your business. For Kyushu, the special prizes were a tadpole sweep:
I do wonder about consideration for Aoiyama and Okinoumi, who performed very well indeed. Then there is Nishikigi, who defied expectations and actually was able to put together 8 wins at a rank far above anything he has ever held before. Some additional information if you want to pick through he kanji here.
The final result is quite the signal for the road ahead. With Takakeisho winning the Kyushu yusho, we have 2 tadpole yusho this year (Mitakeumi and Takakeisho). Interestingly enough, it was Mitakeumi who sealed the deal with his win over Takayasu in the final match of the tournament. For Takayasu, he is forming a record surprisingly like his senpai, consistent good scores, but no Yusho to show for it. This is his 4th Jun-Yusho, all with a 12-3 finish.
At 22 years old, yusho winner Takakeisho continues on his meteoric rise. Over the past 3 basho he has racked 32 wins, over the past 4 that number goes to 42. In the past year he has honed his trademark attack, that we have taken to calling “Wave Action Tsuppari”. Where most rikishi land blows and thrusts in an alternating left / right arm cycle, Takakeisho works to set up a period group of double arm thrusts that arrive in waves. The net result is visually obvious, his opponent has just enough time to react just a bit before the next wave arrives. In many cases that reaction is to either escape or counter attack, and almost always leaves the opponent on less than excellent footing. If he can stay healthy, young Takakeisho has a lot to offer the sumo world.
Onosho defeats Yutakayama – Onosho picks up the Kanto-sho, and blasts Yutakayama out directly. Yutakayama finishes 5-10, and is in dire need of repair to his body. At one time a promising member of the Freshmen cohort, he has suffered greatly since posting to Maegashira 2 at Aki.
Kotoshogiku defeats Meisei – No special prize here, but it’s great to see Kotoshogiku shine again. Meisei’s hopes of double digits bit the clay with his first trip on the hug-n-chug Kyushu Bulldozer. Kotoshogiku is probably looking at a big lift in rank for January, and I am curious to see what he can do with it.
Chiyoshoma defeats Abi – Is it reasonable to consider the dominance of Abi-zumo is past its peak? Chiyoshoma dismantles the obligatory double arm attack and makes fairly easy work of Abi. Fans know Abi has a lot of potential, and are wondering when the next evolutionary stage will hit. Not that I think he will (or should) abandon the double arm attack, just as Tochinoshin will never abandon the lift and shift when he can get there. But we know Abi has more in his sumo book.
Aoiyama defeats Yoshikaze – Aoiyama has really gotten his sumo together this basho. He typically does quite well in the Maegashira 12-9 rank, but seems to falter more the closer he gets to the top. With a 11-4 finish, he’s headed for the joi-jin, and he will have another chance to demonstrate if his sumo is effective against the top rikishi. Yoshikaze make-koshi on the final day, he could not get close enough to the man-mountain to produce an effective offense.
Ryuden defeats Daieisho – Deeply make-koshi, Ryuden never the less continues to work on his sumo, and battles for every win. The guy’s work ethic seems solid, and at Maegashira 3, he was out-matched, even in a nokazuna tournament like Kyushu. All of the freshmen were make-koshi this time out, so it’s time for them to heal up and get ready for 2019. They are about 18-24 months behind the tadpoles in their evolution, so we should see them start to contend in a serious way late next year, early into 2020.
Okinoumi defeats Tamawashi – Matching his 11-4 from Kyushu last year (at about the same rank), Okinoumi seems to really improve in the western basho, and then pays for it in January. While I am sure Tamawashi would have rather closed with 10 wins, he is still in solid shape to return to the San’yaku for the New Years basho.
Shodai defeats Tochiozan – Tochiozan ends Kyushu with a kachi-koshi, but he certainly faded after a blistering start. Tochiozan opened the match in good position, but Shodai was able to break contact and recover, gaining the inside pushing position and focusing his force center-mass. Solid defense-offense change up combo from Shodai to pull a kachi-koshi out at the last minute.
Hokutofuji defeats Takanosho – I kind of feel for Takanosho, he got his head handed to him this basho, but kept his positive outlook. He’s going back to Juryo for January, but first he had the honor of being Takakeisho’s standard bearer for the yusho parade. I am going to guess that Takakesiho will have a happy, willing new Kouhai for his future career at Chiganoura. Hokutofuji finishes 7-8, and may get a chance to face more named ranked rikishi in January.
Myogiryu defeats Chiyotairyu – The Darwin match, where only one survives. After Chiyotairyu launches early and a matta is called, his primary offensive gambit, the cannon ball Tachiai, is defused and Myogiryu makes quick work of him.
Takakeisho defeats Nishikigi – For a brief moment, Takakeisho found himself perilously off balance as he yet again lost his footing near the edge. Nishikigi was not fast enough to put him away, and Takakeisho showed why he’s a force in sumo by rallying and taking the fight back to Nishikigi.
Kagayaki defeats Ichinojo – What should have been a gimme match for Ichinojo turns into a one-sided battle, with Kagayaki taking control and making surprisingly easy work of the ex-Sekiwake. A healthy Ichinojo is to be feared, sadly this Ichinojo needs recuperation.
Shohozan defeats Tochinoshin – One of the poorest run matches in memory, I have to wonder if the NSK is really going to promote Kandayu in 2019 after that mess. Tochinoshin spent his stamina in the first match, and maybe a bit more in the second. Shohozan had something left in reserve, and battled through a cut lip to win the 3rd and final attempt. Tough to describe the level of nonsense here, so please watch it via NHK, Jason or Kintamayama.
Mitakeumi defeats Takayasu – After some lackluster matches out of the future Ozeki, he rallies and brings his “A” sumo to Takayasu for the final match of the basho. When the match went to a leading contest, I thought it was Takayasu’s for sure, as he seems to have an almost inhuman endurance and can carry out a contest like this for a good long time. But Mitakeumi wore him down, and was able to find his time and make his move. My heart goes out to Takayasu, as a win at Kyushu would have been an important step towards supplanting Kisenosato, who may not be in sumo much longer. But that is for another day.
Thank to all our readers who spent part of their time enjoying the Kyushu basho with us. These nokazuna tournaments make for interesting contests, and November delivered an excellent fortnight of sumo. We count down the 49 days to Hatsu, and hope you will join us again when you think of sumo.
In 1987, American-Samoan Saleva’a Fuauli Atisano’e made history when he became sumo’s first foreign Ozeki. Now one of the sports most elite athletes, Atisano’e, better known as Konishiki Yashokichi, was the closest any gaijin had ever come to attaining one of Japans most hallowed titles: Yokozuna. But the road between Konishiki and the white rope would prove to be a long and difficult one.
Konishiki was on top of the world in July ’87. The Hawaiian born Ozeki had etched his name in sumo’s long storied history, and his supporters believed it wouldn’t be long until he took his place amongst the sports grandest of champions. Despite this optimism, Konishiki followed this achievement with one of the most mediocre periods of his career. With the exception of a fifth career Jun-Yusho, the American rikishi spent most of the next three years doing just enough to retain his spot at the top of the Banzuke. This mediocracy was primarily due to a vicious cycle of knee issues and weight gain that threatened to cut short Konishiki’s career just as it was taking off. Still feeling the lingering effects of a knee injury he suffered prior to his Ozeki run, the big man couldn’t train with the same intensity he had earlier in his career. As a result, the American rikishi had gained twenty-two kilograms and now tipped the scales at 252 kg (555 lb). In turn, this extra weight put even more stress on Konishiki’s ailing knees. Konishiki had begun the most important battle of his career, and if he couldn’t get his weight under control he would lose everything he had worked for. While the Ozeki’s success on the dohyo may have tapered off, so too had the criticism he faced from the Japanese public. Now wiser and more cognizant of his public reputation, the big man had learned to stick to the Kyokai’s script, for the time being at least. This new tune, coupled with the incredible gaman* he showed in battling back from his devastating knee injury, had earned Konishiki the respect of Japanese fans. But this was only the calm before the storm. The “Black Ship” was on a course towards turbulent waters.
Konishiki made headlines again at the 1989 Kyushu Basho when he captured the Yusho, making him the first gaijin to lift the Emperors Cup since Takamiyama in 1972. After getting his weight down, the Ozeki dominated his competition once more and finished one win ahead of fan favourite Yokozuna Chiyonofuji. Having won the Yusho, Konishiki was on the precipice of doing something many of the sports staunchest traditionalists thought was unthinkable and become sumo’s first foreign Yokozuna. His first chance at promotion came at the 1990 Hatsu Basho, but a five-day losing streak dashed any hopes of promotion. finishing with a 10-5 record, Konishiki had missed his chance at grasping that white rope, but the big man had bounced back from his shin-Ozeki slump and was about to enter the best years of his career. Talk of a Yokozuna run was reignited at the 1992 Kyushu Basho when Konishiki claimed his second Yusho. For the first time in sixty years, sumo was without a Yokozuna after Hokutoumi’s retirement in May, and many believed Konishiki’s accession to the top of the banzuke was more a matter of when than if. Just as before, Konishiki came up short at the following Hatsu Basho. However, this time he’d secured a much better 12-3 record, and while not a Jun-Yusho, just maybe he could salvage his chances of promotion as long as he took the championship in March. Konishiki did take the Yusho in March, and the many speculated if he had done enough to get the call that would see an American become the face of the sumo.
But the call never came. On paper, Konishiki’s record of two Yusho and thirty-eight wins over three tournaments was better than both Hokutoumi and Asahifuji prior to their Yokozuna promotions. However, sumo is about more than just numbers, and without that Jun-Yusho Konishiki did not receive the support of the Yokozuna Deliberation Council or the NSK. In addition to his unsatisfactory record, the NSK also sited Konishiki’s “ugly”, “undignified” sumo and his excessive weight, which had ballooned up to 264 kg, as reasons for not promoting him. furthermore, NSK Chairman Dewanoumi publically insinuated that based on his past, Konishiki lacked the hinkaku or noble character of a Yokozuna, and was not worthy of the rank. But perhaps the most severe criticism came from the Yokozuna Deliberation Council, specifically longtime member Noboru Kojima. In an article written by Kojima titled “We don’t need a Gaijin Yokozuna”, the author stated that “What makes sumo different is its own particular characteristics of civility, which is the basis of Japanese morals and values. I cannot agree with a school of thought that would make a gaijin Yokozuna.” In effect, Kojima had made a statement equivalent to sportswriters of the 40’s denying black baseball players a place in the majors because they lacked the character of white athletes. These sentimentss were not unheard of in a country as ethnocentric as Japan, and were made worse by the deteriorating Japanese-American relations at the time of Konishiki’s Yokozuna run. This political tension, the result of trade disputes, caused the Japanese to cast the United States and Americans as arrogant interlopers trying to dictate Japan’s culture and future. Once again, Konishiki was viewed as an invader. The criticism from the NSK, combined with Kojima’s racist statements and the ridicule of the Japanese public, had pushed Konishiki to his limit.
Besieged on all sides and denied a promotion by all rights he felt he’d earned, things only got worse for Konishiki when the New York Times published an article about his struggles in April of 1992. The article featured an apparent interview with the American Sumotori, who accused the NSK of racism and stated that if he were Japanese he would be Yokozuna already. The article caused an uproar in the NSK, who demanded an apology. Konishiki publically apologized for the article and claimed that unbeknownst to him one of his tsubiko had impersonated him during the call. Whether or not Konishiki made the statement is still a matter of debate (Konishiki’s tsubiko Eric Gasper has reportedly claimed to have imitated his sempai during the call) the New Your Times article still had a tremendous impact on sumo. In an attempt to quell the accusations of racism, the NSK decided to put Konishiki’s fate in his own hands, and if the American could win the upcoming Natsu Basho he would be promoted. For the first time, concrete requirements for an automatic promotion to Yokozuna had been laid out: back to back Yusho would seal the deal. But much like before, Konishiki buckled under the pressure and failed to take the Emperors Cup, in what would be his final chance at earning the white rope.
Following the 1992 Natsu Basho, Konishiki’s career gradually wound down until the sports first foreign Ozeki, now at the bottom of the makuuchi division, announced his retirement in 1997. While Konishiki may have been the victim of a system that persecuted him because of ethnic origin, the enormous impact he left on Japan’s traditional sport was felt not even one year after his failed Yokozuna run. In 1993, following the path blazed by Konishiki, fellow Hawaiian Akebono Taro secured his second consecutive Yusho, meeting the requirements to become sumo’s first gaijin Yokozuna. There is a saying that goes: Takamiyama cleared the ground, Konishiki built the stairs, and Akebono climbed them. Konishiki Yasokichi fought the good fight and forced the NSK to create a system where merit outweighed ethnicity, ultimately paving the way for men like Akebono, Musashimaru, and every other gaijin to do what Konishiki could not, and reach sumo’s most prestigious title.
Chiyonofuji (left) vs. Konishiki (right), Kyushu Basho, 1989.