A Sumo Fan Decides Which Stable to Join – Part 1

One of the most important but least seen aspects of sumo life is, well… your day to day life. It has been said that the daily activity, the keiko, the act of being a rikishi is what sumo is all about. The tournaments we see on television, on the internet or in person are simply the culmination of all of the processes, traditions and daily activities one must endure.

There can be a number of reasons why a new recruit joins a particular stable. Perhaps the stable master has a strong scouting network in his hometown, or there are links with the stable’s supporters group. Perhaps he was invited to spend time in the heya and loved it, went to the same school as the shisho, or simply idolised the stable master or had mutual friends with someone connected to the heya. Perhaps, as with Hokuseiho, the recruit had a chance meeting with the stable’s superstar rikishi in an airport. 

Let’s assume we have none of these personal connections, and decide to join a stable. Which one to join? In light of recent announcements heralding the future branch-outs of new stables from relatively recent top division names like Kisenosato and Takekaze, there’s much to be excited about in terms of the shifting landscape of sumo stables. Both of those guys have shared new ideas for their evolution of the place for which sumo’s lifestyle revolves – joining other recently minted oyakata such as former Kotooshu in attempting to push the sport forward. Of course, plenty of other stable masters have experienced incredible success with age old coaching methods or just good old-fashioned man management.

Our rikishi will be for all intents and purposes of average build and good (better than average but perhaps not superstar) ability. We can say they will be a little more technique driven than simply a pure pusher-thruster who relies on blunt strength and physicality. It will be someone for whom development will be required rather than being able to simply bulldoze the bottom four divisions and brute force their way to sekitori-hood. Like the author, this rikishi will be very handsome and surely will attract some of Endo’s brand sponsors should they ever make the top division. This is of course my analysis and these are my opinions, and yours may differ, and that’s okay. But if there were no subjectivity in sports, they probably would not be as interesting and we’d all have the same favourite teams.

With that preamble out of the way, we’ll start today with the smallest ichimon, Takasago, and work our way through the other four over the next few weeks before doing a deeper dive and settling on a final decision. Come with me on my journey!

Part 1 – Takasago Ichimon

Hakkaku: This stable is enormous (growing yet larger with the import of Azumazeki’s crew) and has quite a bit of upwardly mobile young talent. The influential and inspiring stable master – the current chairman of the kyokai – was a yokozuna, the coaching staff now includes the exciting former “Robocop” Takamisakari**, and in a few years, you probably report to Okinoumi, one of the more underrated technicians of the current time. While you’re probably starting your career scrapping for sleeping space with a large number of lower-rankers, the location of the stable in Ryogoku is also really good, about as good as it’s possible to get without waking up to the sounds of the JR line. There are no long commutes to Kokugikan from here. Verdict: On the shortlist.

Kokonoe: Chiyotaikai took over from an all-time legend in Chiyonofuji about five years ago, and has done well to develop many rikishi he inherited into mid-level sekitori. Additionally, various rehabilitative efforts have kept that impressive number of sekitori on the dohyo, or returned them to the salaried ranks after they’ve dropped out. Kokonoe-oyakata is a visible presence within the kyokai, but for all of the recruits he’s brought in, he hasn’t added a ton of quality since he took over a few years back. So when you see a stable of this size, you wonder whether the recruitment efforts are in service of a tsukebito factory. Verdict: This shikona won’t be joining the thousand generations of “Chiyos” – it’s going to have to be a pass.

Nishikido: An apparently dying stable with plenty of scandal in its history. It’s a hard pass.

Takasago: There’s some degree of uncertainty, following the retirement (and re-employement as consultant) of the former high-achieving shisho, who apparently still lives in the heya. The roster is a bit bottom heavy, but contains some inspiring talent to practise with (the soon to depart Ozeki, plus names like Murata, Asagyokusei and Terasawa), and the recent recruiting (Fukai, Osanai, Ishizaki) has been interesting. But it’s tough to go where you’re not sure what the future holds, especially with some degree of punishment awaiting the new oyakata for the Asanoyama scandal. Verdict: A reluctant pass.

** Azumazeki-beya would have been an intriguing option due to the legacy and heritage, but Robocop, lacking the support needed to run a heya, decided to move over to Hakkaku’s place and recently shut it down.

Checking in on the Waseda Sumo Club

This week there’s been a flurry of activity on the Waseda Sumo Club’s blog. Most are authored by the club’s manager, a junior named Yoshimura.

They have set up a YouTube channel with a couple of short test videos featuring some practice bouts between Hashimoto (橋本) and Igarashi (五十嵐). One looks like a yorikiri win by Hashimoto and the other a hatakikomi win by Igarashi. If UNC (my alma mater) had a keiko-ba like this, I would have jumped at the chance to join. It looks like fun!

Seeing a woman with a mawashi reminds me of Lisa, my roommate’s girlfriend, and a few of her friends — not because she wore a mawashi but she was a gymnast, and I swear she would have destroyed me. I seem to remember she won more than a few sparring sessions against Matt in the living room, come to think of it. Sorry, these were in the days before YouTube so I do not have footage of those classic bouts. I did have a digital camera back then (I’ve always been an early adopter) but it had a floppy disk inside of it and the image quality wasn’t even anywhere near what you could get with one of those disposable cameras. And it definitely would not have handled video.

Waseda Chanko — 美味しそう!

Now that I’m in undergraduate-nostalgia-mode, I recall my diet in college was probably not optimal for competitive sumo. I think I would have had fewer pizzas, fried chicken tenders, fries, and pancakes if I had a sumo club. Instead, perhaps I would have eaten better chanko like what we see from the other posts this weekend. What we see here from Waseda’s post is a simple dish but would have been better than most cafeteria food and certainly better than what I would have been eating.

Yes, those pork buns are THAT good

The shimeji mushrooms strike me, in particular, because for like 25 years I thought I hated mushrooms — until I had one of these. I was at an izakaya called Yume (夢) in Hodogaya, close to the station. I think it’s along the highway 第一京浜 or close to the big intersection there. Or at least it was. It’s been ages. I got the mushrooms as one of those little dishes that they serve you before your meal (前菜), kinda like an appetizer. I used to go there for the buta kimchi (pork with kimchi) and to be polite I ate what was given to me, and they were fantastic. That’s actually how this “Southern Boy” had okra for the first time, too. I think the okra was served simply with sesame or something. Delicious.

Anyway, until that day I had thought all mushrooms were those terrible, bland “button” things they put on pizza and in salads here in the US. It turns out they’re not all the same. (I know, shocker, right?) I like shimeji while my wife is more of a fan of enoki. There are so many different kinds of mushrooms and some are absolutely amazing (others aren’t) but there’s so much variety. Why don’t we learn this stuff in elementary school? This is basic. Nowadays I’m actually jealous of makuuchi yusho winners getting that giant container of shiitake. Mmmmmmm….

Back on topic, the pork here was a gift from Waseda supporters, along with rice, nikuman (pork buns) and protein supplements, given by family and other supporters. This environment would foster a bit more community and more of the atmosphere I missed out on in college by choosing to double major in MarioKart and Bond.

With Ajigawa and Araiso’s new links to Waseda, in particular, it would be great to see more attention to University sumo in general. We also learn from Yoshimura’s post that the sumo club would have normally eaten with their supporters but these COVID times are weird for everyone. This is their way of showing what they did with it and showing appreciation. Another post from this past week brings us back to that Zoom Roundtable which featured Ajigawa and Demon Kakka. That would be an awesome Chanko-kai.

Board Meeting News

On May 27th, a regular meeting of the NSK’s board has taken place. The main points of interest are:

Araiso oyakata to start a new heya

The board approved the request of former Kisenosato, now Araiso oyakata, to split away from Tagonoura beya, and start his own heya. Araiso beya will become reality as of this August. At first, it will take residence at Tsukuba city in Ibaraki prefecture (Araiso’s home prefecture), and a permanent one will be built in the city of Ami in Inashiki District of the same prefecture.

Araiso is to take 4 wrestlers and a gyoji with him. The wrestlers are freshmen Nishihara, Taniguchi and Kato, who have joined Grand Sumo in Haru, and set foot on dohyo for the first time in Natsu basho, and veteran Adachi, who joined at around the same time Kisenosato did.

(Usually an oyakata who splits off takes only his uchi-deshi – rikishi he recruited with the intention of establishing his own heya – together with him from his old heya. Adachi is an exception, and I think the reasoning behind it is that with three complete novices, a heya required a seasoned anideshi to teach them the off-dohyo “way of sumo”).

Decision about Asanoyama has not been made yet

Apparently, the investigation into Asanoyama’s shenanigans turned out to be complex, and is still on-going. Another board meeting is set for June, but Shibatayama oyakata, the NSK’s spokesperson, said the investigation will not necessarily be complete by then.

A decision has been made about Ryuden

Ryden has been found guilty of breaking the NSK’s COVID regulations, having gone on unnecessary outings 25 times between March 2020 and January 2021, for the purpose of seeing a woman who was not his wife. Those meeting happened mostly during basho, some just before it.

Ryuden’s punishment is a suspension for 3 basho, including Natsu basho, which he has already spent kyujo. He should be back by November, and will likely be ranked at Makushita by then.

Ryuden’s shisho, Takadagawa oyakata, has been punished with a reduction of 20% of his salary for 6 months.

Nagoya basho will be held without vaccinations

Although an earlier plan has been to vaccinate all the rikishi and staff in June, this seems to have been set aside, probably due to the slow progress of vaccinations in Japan.

The basho will still take place at Nagoya, and all involved will undergo a PCR test before traveling there. The plans are to:

  • Hold the new recruit checkup at the Kokugikan on June 18th
  • Publish the banzuke on June 21st
  • Hold PCR tests over the 23rd and 24th
  • Each heya will depart for Nagoya after completing the PCR test.

Natsu Kensho Report

Hello all! I compiled the kensho data collected by Herouth into an updated dashboard. Click on the “Read More” link because I didn’t want it to bog down your devices. We can make out the clear impact of having no fans on the kensho pledges during the first three days of the tournament. The sponsored bounties were paying out at a rate lower than November’s tournament. However, pledges clearly picked up when the crowd came back and with a full set of four Ozeki. There’s no surprise, then, that pledges dropped off a bit on Day 12. Still, it was encouraging to see a few days this tournament with payouts higher than January and March, especially as the drama built on the final weekend.

The clear leader over the past five tournaments in both kensho won and lost, is Takakeisho. He won a yusho in November and then followed that up with a disastrous Hatsu, only two wins and seven kensho stacks lost in that one tournament. Still, he has won nearly 900 envelopes. If I got my math right, that’s a quarter of a million dollars in cash bounties physically handed over to him on the dohyo, with a comparable amount set aside for his retirement.

Terunofuji, on the other hand, has had a much better ratio of kensho won. However, much of this time was actually spent in the lower ranks, one each as maegashira and komusubi, two at sekiwake, and then this last one at Ozeki. Hakuho has the best win ratio, with 27 kensho won and none lost. Note: the envelopes won and lost are fusen-adjusted while “pledges” are not.

An interesting trend here is the declining Musubi-no-Ichiban payout over these 10 months. Pledges have been rising for the other bouts, from 745 in September to 919 in May but pledges on the final bouts have decreased from 415 to 284. Much may be increasing payouts to Terunofuji as well as declining pledges for Takakeisho. In September, he and Asanoyama would alternate between musubi-no-ichiban but Takakeisho’s pledges were averaging a bit more than Asanoyama. Now there are more Ozeki in the cycle. We shall see what July holds for us.

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