Musashikuni Returns with Konishiki to Sumo & Sushi

Musashikuni on the dohyo at Kokugikan, Natsu 2019
Former Makushita rikishi Musashikuni in his previous life. Photo credit: @nicolaah for Tachiai.

Longtime followers of Musashikuni were disappointed to learn of his recent intai. Long touted as a great hope of Musashigawa-beya, the former Yokozuna and stable master’s nephew vacated the banzuke after struggling with injury in recent months.

His intai ceremony was performed at his heya, and left the Texan Wakaichiro (whose shusshin is technically Nagasaki) as the sole American competitor in the sport.

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【武蔵國 引退のご報告】 武蔵川部屋再興当時より皆様に応援して頂いて参りました武蔵國でございますが、今場所をもって引退する事ととなり、本日たくさんの方々に見守られる中、断髪式を行いました。 昨年より体調を崩したまま回復に至らず、親方と話し合いをした結果、今後はハワイに帰り第二の人生を送ります。 来日してから七年間、大相撲の世界で努力して参りましたが、皆様のご期待に応えることができないまま引退となりました事を大変申し訳なく思っております。 これまで、武蔵國の応援をして頂き、誠にありがとうございました‼︎ #武蔵川部屋 #武蔵丸 #大相撲 #sumo

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Musashikuni has now resurfaced in America, taking part in the curious “Sumo & Sushi” tour, which will be hosted by the legendary former Ozeki and popular cultural tarento, musician and plate lunch grillmaster Konishiki. These events have taken place on a smaller scale at various cultural festivals across America, and allow people who might be completely unfamiliar with the sport to see some of the traditions and the rikishi up close and personal. Often, the events even offer local customers the chance to get in the ring with a former rikishi, and we had the privilege of speaking to one such punter not too long ago.

(The competing rikishi’s status in the sport is perhaps played up for the benefit of customers who may never be the wiser – we also spoke to someone who was under the impression that former Maegashira Yamamotoyama had in fact been a Yokozuna.)

Musashikuni will be on tour with three other retired rikishi: Bungonishiki (Makushita 16, Dewanoumi beya), Kumago (Sandanme 38, Takasago beya), and Tooyama (Makushita 7, Tamanoi beya)

The events will offer varying degrees of tickets for fans in the Seattle (Oct 31-Nov 2), Los Angeles (Nov 10) and New York (Nov 16 & 17) metropolitan areas over the balance of 2019. Viewing-only tickets range between $50 and $70, Sushi dinner ticket packages tend to run around $100, with front row seats and fights against the rikishi running $100 and $200 more, respectively.

While those ticket prices do compare somewhat unfavourably with even Kokugikan honbasho tickets purchased through third party sites which apply a fee, it does of course seem fair to mention that these events not only may serve to bring new fans to sumo, but can offer intimacy on a tangential level with the sport for fans who may not be able to travel (for time or budgetary reasons) all the way to Japan. Of course, the events can also help provide a source of income for former rikishi who may not have achieved sekitori status and the accompanying salary in their career in Ozumo. And you certainly wouldn’t get the chance to dance with a current rikishi at Grand Sumo’s hallowed home.

Tickets can be purchased at sumoandsushi.com. We would certainly look forward to any feedback from readers of the site who may be in attendance. We will also be tracking these events and keeping a close eye on other lower division favourites who may be making their way around the world with similar tours in the future.

Tickets Now Available for 19th Annual USA Sumo Open

USA Sumo - Konstantin Abdula-Zade vs Roy Sims
You don’t see many goatees in Ozumo

USA Sumo has announced that tickets are now available for the 19th Annual USA Sumo Open, which will be held on Saturday March 23, in Long Beach, CA.

The event, which coincides this year with the Haru honbasho in Osaka, consists of several weight categories (for both men and women), as well as a more traditional “Openweight” championship. This latter category is more in line with the type of competition of which most sumo enthusiasts will be familiar, with competitors of any size able to take the crown.

The event has been increasing in popularity, with NHK’s Hiro Morita having been dispatched to the States to cover the event last year for the Japanese broadcaster. Many sumo fans (and some Tachiai readers!) were able to meet one of the voices of Grand Sumo on that occasion – though it is unclear whether NHK will again have a presence, or how much of a presence they will have – given that the event falls in 2019 during one of the six main basho.

If you have not been able to make it to Japan for a tournament however, and have been looking for an opportunity to see live sumo – check out the tickets on offer at USA Sumo’s website. While the level of competition is obviously much different to the professional sumo that we cover here on the site, tickets start at a more affordable $25 (although ringside seats do approach the prices at Kokugikan).

The current men’s openweight champion is Russia’s Konstantin Abdula-Zade, and the reigning female openweight champion is the local favorite Mariah Holmes of California. USA Sumo has produced the following video of highlights from last year’s competition (although if I had to choose, I’d probably pick Abema TV’s choice of AK-69’s “Guess Who’s Back” as the better hype music):

What It’s Like To Face a Rikishi

Often, those of us who pontificate about the skills of those who mount the dohyo will throw in a few qualifiers about the strengths and weaknesses of said rikishi: “If they could just add a yotsu-element” or “if they could just set their feet” or “if they could just maintain composure in the vital moment” are all things you’ll sometimes hear in the context of the development of a sumotori.

It’s why being a pundit is great fun. But it’s also easy to say, because it ignores the fact that there’s a whole other person in the dohyo with that rikishi. And usually, that other person is a whole lot of man-mountain to move. And usually, most of us spilling the ink can’t say from experience exactly what that’s like.

But equally, all of this enthusiasm and desire for sumo analysis has brought a new enthusiasm for professional, amateur and exhibition sumo around the world – especially the English speaking world, as we here at Tachiai have been fortunate to experience. While NHK World recently covered the USA Sumo Championships – one of the larger events in the amateur calendar – in their latest Grand Sumo Preview, all around America there are plenty more sumo exhibitions, and many of them feature some familiar names.

Recently, the city of Grand Rapids, Michigan hosted its annual Asian-Pacific Festival. As part of the festivities, the popular Byamba (the 33-year old former Daishochi of Shibatayama-beya, now a multiple amateur title winner) and Yama (the 34-year old former Maegashira Yamamotoyama of Onoe-beya) descended on the town to take on each other as well as some locals.

Following the event, I connected with Christopher Acklin, a Grand Rapids local who was able to fight Yama in the ring. He was kind enough to answer a few questions for us about the experience:

Tachiai: How did you find out about sumo coming to Grand Rapids?

Christopher Acklin: I’m pretty lucky. At my firm, we have a fairly diverse crowd. One of the partners knows the organisers of [the event]. One day she said, “Hey! Would you like to go as our representative? You can invite some people and get to experience this event” So I said “Sure, I’ll go.” I was planning on going to Japan in September, so I felt this would be a great way to learn a little bit more about the culture and one of the more unique cultural aspects of Japan. Later, [the partner] said “they’re going to do celebrity matches – would you be interested?” And I said: “Why not?” If you’re going to go, you might as well go all the way. I started doing a little research and I watched some of the old Grand Sumo tournaments, which caught my eye, because it’s amazing – the tradition behind all of it, the preparation and effort that they take, and the style too. I do Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, where balance is important, and I was noticing that balance is so important for sumo. In an Americanized way you think “oh, well these aren’t athletes,” but then you see them in action and it’s not just their size, but their ability to balance and their speed – it’s pretty impressive, which I got to find out first-hand.

Tachiai: When you signed up, did you get to pick who you fought? How did that work?

CA: When I went up, they had three guys. So I said, “I might as well go for the gold” and go for the biggest guy they had there [which was Yama]. I’m about 300 pounds, I’m pretty strong… and when we actually faced off, it wasn’t even as much the size difference that got my attention – still, he’s twice my size – it was his ability to move with my movement that surprised me. I’m thinking, “he’s just a big guy, how much is he going to be able to move?” He shifted his feet immediately and so I instead of pushing just dead-on on him, I’m pushing off to the side, my force was going off to the right and I didn’t have a clean shot on him. And he was good about it after that, he just kind of let me push him out, but clearly this was only because he was allowing me to do it at that point.

Tachiai: What is that even like when you’re trying to push a guy like Yama – the biggest guy?

CA: The organizer explained to me later, that although there’s a lot of fat there, it makes it very difficult to get a solid hand hold or grip anywhere. I’m trying to push him and my hands are moving on me, so it’s hard to get force when your force is moving in different directions. Combine that with him being able to shift his feet, all of the sudden instead of trying to push a boulder, I’m pushing up against a pillow or a water mattress – I’m not getting anywhere!

Tachiai: So, when you step into the dohyo and you see that guy: what are you thinking? Like you said, he’s twice the size of you. What’s the first thought that comes to your mind?

CA: Actually, my first thought was that he was really cool. He gave me a handshake at first, he was chill. I like to push myself, so that made me feel that this would be a fun test, it would be exciting. Afterwards, he was very polite and very pleasant, but when you first see him, you’re like, “Man! What did I get myself into? Well… alright. Now I’m here, I might as well make a good show of it!” And he was cool: I didn’t see, because I was busy pushing, but apparently he was posing for people out in the crowd while I was pushing him. Which basically says he was very polite and it could have been much more difficult had he actually [had to try]. Even without him trying, trying to push him was incredibly difficult.

Tachiai: What else did they do at the event? Was there any kind of tournament?

CA: They had a mini-tournament with the three sumo wrestlers. They explained the rules with the scoring, and how that worked. Byamba ended up winning the mini-tourney, and they had a more traditional opening with the drums. They didn’t do the whole ceremony with with the [salt-tossing], and I liked that they explained that, and that you get a sense that this isn’t like [American] wrestling, there’s actually symbolism and history and tradition to it.

Tachiai: Thank you for sharing your story with us! I think you chose wisely – out of all those guys of course, Yama’s the one who made it to the top division.

CA: More than happy to. I was so excited just to get the opportunity – how often can you say that you’ve partaken in something like doing a sumo match, but to do it against somebody like Yama, who has the pedigree that he had. Now I can say that at some point in my life I stepped into the ring with somebody that big, who’s been that successful.

Check out some video of Christopher’s match against Yama below:

 

(video provided courtesy of Christopher Acklin)