Senshuraku: What’s at Stake?

The yusho race

The race for the Emperor’s Cup is going down to the wire! The sole leader, once-and-future Ozeki Terunofuji (11-3), can claim the title outright with a victory over Ozeki Takakeisho (10-4). Should the latter prevail, the pair will head into their second playoff in three tournaments, only this time joined by the winner of the bout between Komusubi Takayasu and under-the-radar contender M12 Aoiyama, both 10-4. Takayasu, loser of 3 of his last 4 bouts, has gone from leading the yusho race by 2 wins after Day 10 to trailing by a win after Day 14, while Aoiyama is riding a 6-day winning streak. Oh, and the lifetime series between the two is tied at 11 wins apiece!

The Ozeki

Terunofuji, with 13, 11, and either 11 or 12 wins in his past three tournaments, should now be an absolute lock to regain the second-highest rank in sumo. Shodai (7-7) must defeat fellow Ozeki Asanoyama (9-5) in the musubi-no-ichiban to avoid kadoban status in May.

The san’yaku ranks

East Sekiwake Terunofuji will free up his slot via promotion. Takayasu is guaranteed a Sekiwake rank, and may take Terunofuji’s spot on the next banzuke. West Sekiwake Takanosho (7-7) needs to win his “Darwin bout” against M7 Tochinoshin (7-7) to hang on to his rank, but he would only drop to Komusubi with a loss. That’s two san’yaku slots spoken for. The other two will go to the incumbent Komusubi, Mitakeumi and Daieisho, both 7-7, if they can prevail over M6 Ichinojo (7-7) and M12 Akiseyama (7-7), respectively, in their own “Darwin bouts.” Should one or both falter, any open slots will be fought over by the three upper maegashira with 9-5 records: M2e Hokutofuji, M2w Wakatakakage, and M3e Meisei. The M2’s are matched up in a first-ever meeting, and the winner of that bout will lead the promotion queue. Meisei can leapfrog the loser by winning what seems like an easy bout against M14 Tsurugisho (9-5), but suprisingly, the latter leads their head-to-head 6-1.

Makuuchi-Juryo exchanges

One extra slot in the top division is opened up by Kakuryu’s retirement. Two others will be vacated by Kotoshoho and Yutakayama. Conveniently, the three openings have now been claimed by J2e Ishiura (9-5), J3e Chiyomaru (9-5), and J1w Akua (8-6). The only other endangered incumbent in M10e Midorifuji (4-10), who will be safe if he can best the much-higher-ranked M5 Okinoumi (3-11). If Midorifuji loses, he should still be safe unless J4e Enho (8-6) wins; in that scenario, it’s not clear which of the pair would get the final spot.

Juryo-Makushita exchanges

There are two near-certain demotions from Juryo: Yago and newcomer Bushozan. Still looking for victories on the final day are Chiyonoumi, Nishikifuji, and Nishikigi. So that’s a least three openings in the salaried ranks, and possibly as many as six. Remember that fully half of the 10 rikishi in the Ms1-Ms5 promotion zone are absent due to virus precautions, so things are looking good for those competing and kachi-koshi. Ms2e Oho (4-3) should bounce right back up to sekitori, and he’ll be joined by Ms2w Daishoho (5-1) and Ms3e Kotokuzan (4-2). Ms4e Tochimaru (4-3) will be hoping for losses among the endangered Juryo incumbents, and should more than one of them stumble, slots may even open for men not normally in line for promotion: Ms6e Roga (4-3) and either Ms6w Murata (4-3) or Ms7w Kaisho (5-2).

Haru Day 14 Highlights

Day 14 was quite the gift to sumo fans. Just about everything that needed to happen to set up a chaotic and high-stakes final day came to pass. Terunofuji has sole possession of the lead, followed by 3 strong contenders. Should Terunofuji win his day 15 against Grand Tadpole Takakeisho, he takes home the cup. If he falls, there could be some kind of wild playoff. It is certain that the yusho winner will have no higher than a 12-3 record this March, and possibly a rare 11-4, should Terunofuji lose on the final day.

In addition to the yusho race drama to be settled in the latter half of the final day, there are 3 Darwin matches, where two 7-7 rikishi face off. The winner finishes kachi-koshi, and the loser make-koshi. There could have been 4, but the schedule just did not work out to set it up.

Yutakayama finally owned up to the severity of his arm injury and went kyujo. He will finish March 4-11, and be punted well down the banzuke deep into Juryo.

Highlight Matches

Kotoeko defeats Akiseyama – Kotoeko barrows Kotoshogiku’s gaburi-yori to belly-bump Akiseyama over the bails, and send him to a day 15 Darwin match. Kotoeko improves to 8-6 and is kachi-koshi.

Kaisei defeats Chiyotairyu – Kaisei avoids the Darwin match by taking Chiyotairyu into a belt battle, and wearing him down. Chiyotairyu had superior hand and body position through most of the match, but there was just too much Kaisei to move. There are in fact times when being enormous is a valid sumo strategy. Kaisei improves to 8-6 and is kachi-koshi for March.

Chiyoshoma defeats Kotoshoho – Chiyoshoma kept his focus center mass, and kept moving forward. Save the first win, Kotoshoho has had no success with his return from kyujo. Chiyoshoma ends 7-7 and will be part of the Darwin match series.

Tsurugisho defeats Midorifuji – Midorifuji was able to get a double inside grip, but is too hurt to do very much with it. Nothing Midorifuji tried, including a leg trip, had much of an effect. Tsurugisho’s win improves his score to 9-5

Daiamami defeats Hoshoryu – Daiamami avoids a Darwin match on Sunday. His left hand outside grip was the key to his win, as it shut down a number of Hoshoryu’s attack options. Both end the day 8-6.

Tochinoshin defeats Hidenoumi – Hidenoumi gave it his all, but was out powered by Tochinoshin. Tochinoshin had a solid right hand inside grip, but could not do too much with it, as his damaged right knee prevents him from pivoting with power to that side. He had to settle for a yorikiri, and improving to 7-7 to join the Darwin crew.

Terutsuyoshi defeats Kagayaki – Terutsuyoshi joins the crowd eligible for a Darwin match with his win over flagging Kagayaki. Kagayaki opened strong, and had Terutsuyoshi on the run. But Terutsuyoshi was able to apply just enough torque at the edge to send Kakgayaki to the clay first.

Meisei defeats Tamawashi – Their thrusting battle fell apart when Tamawashi’s volley went wide, and Meisei was able to quickly duck behind and run Tamawashi to the tawara, escorting him out. Meisei improves to 9-5.

Hokutofuji defeats Ryuden – Hokutofuji set up a strong right hand outside grip, and then used his body as a wall to incrementally reduce the ring for Ryuden, forcing him out step by step. Ryuden avoids Darwin by losing to Hokutofuji, and reaching make-koshi.

Aoiyama defeats Wakatakakage – Wakatakakage came in strong, but ran face-first into Aoiyama’s thrusting attack. Wakatakakage attempted to respond, but found his right arm entangled as Aoiyama pivoted and brought him to the clay. Aoiyama improves to 10-4, and remains in the yusho race.

Takarafuji defeats Okinoumi – Takarafuji set up a right hand frontal grip early, and rather than “defend and extend” he chose to close early, taking Okinoumi immediately out by yorikiri. Both end the day with 3-11 records.

Onosho defeats Shimanoumi – Onosho was again balanced too far forward on the second step out of the tachiai, but Shimanoumi was holding him up in an attempt to move forward. Onosho responded with a solid thrusting attack, and sent Shimanoumi back and out in 4 steps. Both end the day 4-10.

Tobizaru defeats Takayasu – Takayasu continues to crumble, winning just 1 of his last 4. Much as his day 13 match against Wakatakakage, there were multiple spots where he failed to exploit a route to finishing Tobizaru. Takayasu lost when Tobizaru was able to twist just enough during Takayasu’s oshidashi to bring Takayasu down first. Takayasu, man, you could have just kept him in the center of the dohyo and worn his ass down until he begged you to let him drop.

Kiribayama defeats Daieisho – Kiribayama was able to take this match chest to chest, shutting down Daieisho’s thrusting attack. The results were a well timed uwatenage that sends Daieisho to 7-7, and into the Darwin crew for day 15.

Mitakeumi defeats Myogiryu – Mitakeumi set up an armpit attack at the tachiai, and it instantly cut at least half of Myogiryu forward power. Feeling a lack of return pressure, Mitakeumi went forward, taking Myogiryu out, improving to 7-7. Mitakeumi gets to join the Darwin match group for day 15.

Takanosho defeats Ichinojo – Ichinojo, for reasons I am sure no one can explain, immediately tries to pull against Takanosho. Takanosho is Sekiwake for a reason, and reacts to the release of resistance, and rushes ahead, driving Ichinojo from the ring. Both end the day 7-7, and join the Darwin list.

Takakeisho defeats Shodai – Shodai, what the hell? He leaves his chest wide open, inviting Takakeisho to deliver maximum force. Of course, Takakeisho obliges, and the next thing you know, Shodai is tossed like a cork on a raging ocean and finds himself out and down. 7-7 record for Shodai, then. He does not get to join the Darwin group. As an Ozeki, he will determine his fate against Asanoyama on day 15. Good luck.

Terunofuji defeats Asanoyama – In the final match of the day, Terunofuji out-classes Ozeki Asanoyama to take sole possession of the yusho lead. This match beautifully demonstrates not only just how much Terunofuji’s sumo has evolved, but how Asanoyama is highly dependent on a narrow range of positions and grips. True, he is good at getting that set up most days. But Terunofuji overwhelms Asanoyama, and shows him out. With a win like that, there is zero chance they would not promote Terunofuji, he’s the strongest, most capable man in active competition right now.

Pandemic Claims NYC Sumo Hotpot Hotspot Azasu

Banzuke Bathroom at Azasu New York

As the world attempts to return to normal and the Haru basho rolls towards its dramatic conclusion, we’ve received word from New York City that famed sumo hotspot Azasu (the bathroom of which is pictured above) has pivoted amidst the continuing COVID-19 pandemic. We previously covered the location – a mecca for fans of Sumo in American’s northeast – on these pages, and are very sad to learn of its demise.

According to the restaurant itself, “we struggled with the impact of the pandemic, and we determined the need to reinvent ourselves and to adapt to a new environment.” Sadly, we have been informed by Tachiai reader Lydia that all of the sumo paraphernalia and decor has already been removed amidst the rebranding as Azasu now merges with sister shop Yopparai.

Azasu was previously a rare location in the States for sumo fans to not only enjoy food but also watch televised sumo. Hopefully, some of the staple food offerings will at least remain. While we wish the restauranteurs every success in their attempts to thrive in this unparalleled environment, we also hope that another sumo themed location will rise to provide fans outside Japan with an opportunity to enjoy the sport on a night out. As Japan remains closed to visitors and those of us outside its borders do not have the opportunity to visit Chanko Ho or Kirishima’s spot, fans need all the options we can get.


Safey First!

Sumo is a great sport. And as with any activity, there are a variety of risks involved. So, not to be hyperbolic, safety is ultimately all about reducing those risks. First Aid does not stop accidents from happening. They are just a series of procedures that help give the individual the best shot at recovery (or survival). Few of us who watched Takayasu writhe in pain last year, Kizakiumi’s dangerous fall, or any of the times that the big wheelchair is brought out, really feel that there is any process or standard procedure for dealing with any of these injuries.

Last week, Onaruto-oyakata was hit in the face (above) when two wrestlers tumbled off the dohyo. He was knocked backwards and did not move for several seconds. A few minutes later, he walked away back up the hanamichi to get treated. The tournament continued with only four shimpan until there was a shift chagne. It was later revealed he had suffered an eye injury and was treated at the sumo clinic. He has since returned to shimpan duties.

However, less than one week later, a very scary incident occurred involving a sandanme wrestler named Hibikiryu. Accidents happen. People fall awkwardly in sports or event in daily life. People fall while rock climbing, and ice skating, they fall off bikes, horses, or even when under stress on American Idol. A well-trained First Aid response can make a huge difference. While this experience would have been unexpected and very scary for those involved, I think we can have confidence in the treatment received by this American Idol contestant.

Kokugikan has a medical clinic. Yesterday, a doctor mounted the dohyo in consultation with the team of oyakata and yobidashi attending to Hibikiryu when it became apparent he would not be able to leave under this own power. But, I’m not sure if any of you can tell me who was in charge of the situation and I am very concerned by the fact that they did not stabilize his neck. I have read a witness account that Hibikiryu appeared to be speaking to those tending to him and may have asked to be turned over so that it would be easier to breathe. But that turn should have been performed very carefully with the assistance of several people.

It is acceptable to turn over someone with a spinal injury and may be quite necessary due to vomiting or difficulty breathing, as in this case. But do it carefully, usually with the help of four other people….but I admit, I don’t think they often think to train people on treating 150kg sumo wrestlers. That said, there are usually five former wrestlers surrounding the ring, four active wrestlers sitting around the ring, and several yobidashi.

I just think it could inspire a lot of confidence in the organization if there’s the same degree of planning and training present to help injured rikishi as is done before any JR train pulls out of a station. This is not about blame. I am not going to presume that prompt medical attention will always make a difference but prompt, competent attention will inspire confidence in the whole organization. We’ll never be able to eliminate the risk of serious injury. But we can provide those people who fall victim to tragic incidents with the best chance possible to get through it.

Hiring trained contractors is one route, but probably fairly expensive for a whole tournament. Rather, providing in-house training (such as the above) to NSK staff would not an insurmountable hurdle, especially as some staff are already CPR and AED trained. I mean, there is a clinic on the premises. With some foresight, this should be a relatively low-hanging fruit for modernization possibly career training for wrestlers after retirement, and certainly would help avoid scaring away fans…but most importantly for reducing the risks faced by every wrestler (and some of the bystanders).

Personally, I think the biggest hesitation is that it would require someone to be responsible for leading when such events happen. Who should it be? I have no idea and I don’t think it could be foisted on anyone involuntarily. And rather than trying to shame or blame and point fingers on the interwebs (that clearly doesn’t work as I’ve been apoplectic about this several times) I wonder what it would cost to get a plan going, and get some annual training, I would certainly contribute to that. Let’s get it done.