Who will get the most wins in 2020?

The coming basho will provide us a fair dose of excitment and hot topics, as our Tachiai team rightly discussed in our podcast.

But the November basho – also known as Kyushu basho, until last year also marks sumo’s final tournament of the calendar year. It’s therefore possible to nominate sumo’s “MVP” right after it – that is, the rikishi who collected the most wins in the given year.

So, who’s still in contention for that honorific title ?

First of all, it’s worth reminding that this year’s numbers will be pretty low, since wrestlers will have competed in only five tournaments, instead of the usual six. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that we end up far away from Hakuho’s mouth-watering 86 wins out of 90, which we could witness in 2009 and 2010.

Last year, Asanoyama pipped Abi’s six kashi koshi and 54 wins overall, ending the year with 55 successful bouts. Hakuho came third with 51 wins, but, as we will see, the yokozuna is far from that standard this year.

Abi did a fine job last year, before 2020’s downfall

All in all, it has largely been Shodai’s year, and it’s no big surprise he leads the pack with 45 wins. Remarkably, Asanoyama is still in contention to regain first place, with 43 wins overall. Actually, he could very well pip Shodai here too, as Shodai spent some time parading after his promotion to ozeki. Can Shodai keep momentum and hold on to his two-win lead? We will soon get to know.

What about the rest of the field? There’s a small chance somebody else than Shodai or Asanoyama finishes first – but that would probably mean an unfortunate kyujo from both men. Indeed, Takakeisho is seven off the pace, having snatched 38 wins this year. And that allows us a fine statement: the three men with the most wins in 2020 compose in fact the ozeki triumvirat! Let’s hope the current state of affairs will lead to a fine 2021 year for all of three.

Last year’s “MVP”: ozeki Asanoyama

Also worth mentionning are Takanosho (37 wins), Mitakeumi (who, arguably, has not had a brillant 2020 year despite having collected 36 wins), Kiribayama (35) and even Tokushoryu (32 wins).

What about both yokozuna?

As mentioned earlier, Hakuho is far from the leaderboard, and even from decent Hakuho numbers. He actually has 24 wins combined, one more than his stable partner, Ishiura, but one less than his other partner, Enho!

Things are even worse for Kakuryu, who just announced his withdrawal from the November 2020 basho. That means he’ll end up the year with a forgettable 13 wins tally, which is actually just one win more than Tochiozan – who retired following the Haru basho, in March.

So, it’s Shodai to lose here. That should prodive us an interesting sub-plot while watching good sumo behind our screens – or live, for the luckiest of us!

Pre-basho warm up: a kanji review

A couple weeks ago, our reader Kiran asked me to write an article about usual kanji we see in the sumo world. What a great warm up idea, prior to the basho! I hope we’ll be able to translate a few new names without effort, come the last tournament of the year. I’d like to point out the fact that I’m no Japanese born speaker (actually, not a Japanese speaker at all), but did my best to produce a serious, reliable article. Please don’t recommand an intai, should you spot mistakes along the way!

Back to basics

A few kanji are not too hard to remember, I think:

  • 海 (“umi”, as in “Mitakeumi”) means “sea”
  • 風 (“kaze”, as in “Yoshikaze”) means “wind”
  • 竜 (“ryu”, as in “Kakuryu”) means “dragon”
  • 富士 is “fuji”, as in “Midorifuji”
  • 丸 (“maru”, as in Daishomaru”) means “circle”

Not as commonly seen, but not too difficult to remember are:

  • 若 (“waka”, as in “Wakatakakage”), meaning “young”, “youth”
  • 里 (“sato”, as in “Kisenosato”) refers to a small village, or “hometown”
  • 魁 (“kai”, as in “Kaisei”) means “pioneering”, “charging ahead” (thank you, @TheSumoSoul!)
  • 聖 (“sei”, as in, well, “Kaisei”) means “holy”, or “sacred”
  • 照 (“teru”), meaning “shining”, or, again according to @TheSumoSoul, “blasting”. Notable holders of that kanji are Isegahama beya rikishi: Terunofuji, Terutsuyoshi, etc.

Even less used, but as easy to spot are:

  • 碧 (“aoi”), meaning “blue”, as in “Aoiyama”
  • 翔 and 猿, giving the now famous shikona “Tobizaru”, meaning “flying monkey”!

Apart from the “Teru”, it has to be noted that these usual kanji do not give indication of the rikishi’s stable. Being common, they are used by everyone, so to say. For example, Mitakeumi and Okinoumi do not belong to the same stable; the same applies for Terunofuji and Hokutofuji.

Two kanji simply indicate the belonging: の and 乃, who both are pronounced “no”. More on that later.

Going further

What about 山 ? It means “mountain”, or “hill”. But here’s the first trick: it is pronounced either “yama”, or “zan”, like in “Asanoyama” or “Shohozan”, who share that kanji. That kanji is very interesting. It reminds us the fact that Japanese language has Chinese origins, which explains the fact that many words have at least two types of pronunciation. But both pronunciations refer to exactly the same thing – so it would be wrong to say that “yama” means “mountain”, while “zan” would mean “hill”, or the other way around.

Back to 山. Pronouncing it “zan” refer to ths Chinese origins of the kanji – where, by the way, it is rather pronounced “shan” (in Mandarin Chinese) or “san” (in Cantonese Chinese).

So, when should it be pronounced “yama”, and when is it “zan” (or “san”) ? Actually, the “yama” pronunciation is correct, only when the kanji is isolated. As a matter of fact, Mount Fuji (富士山) should be referred as “Fujisan”, not “Fujiyama”.

Less of a debate are:

  • 琴 (“koto”), actually a Japanese instrument, a kind of zither made of thirteen strings. That kanji is of course used by Sadogatake wrestlers: Kotoshogiku, Kotonowaka, etc.
  • 大 (“dai”, as in “Daieisho”; or “tai”, as in “Chiyotairyu”), meaning “large”, or “great”. Quite logically, a 大 横綱 is a “dai-yokozuna”, a great yokozuna. Contrary to common belief, it does not refer to each yokozuna who won at least ten yusho, but rather to one dominant champion, in a given period. For example, Harumafuji ended his career with nine yusho in his belt – but had he won a tenth, he would probably not have been given that title, as Hakuho naturally holds it.

Now let’s dig into the “taka” maze!

  • First of all, Takarafuji does start with “Taka”, but the first kanji, 宝 actually is “takara”, meaning “treasure”
  • 貴 (as in “Takakeisho”: 貴景勝) can mean “expensive”, “costly”, or can express nobility.
  • 隆 (as in “Takanosho”: 隆の勝) has a similar meaning: “noble,” “prosperity”.
  • 髙 (as in “Takayasu”: 髙安) means “tall”, “high”, and can only be used in first or last names.

If many rikishi possess another common kanji – the “Chiyo”, that one is fortunately easier to translate!

Indeed, 千 litterally means “thousand”, whereas “” refers to years, or eras. Put it together, the “Chiyo” – 千代 – is simply translated into “eternal”.

One kanji curiosities

  • 輝, Kagayaki’s only kanji, means “radiance”. That kanji is actually the last one of Kotoyuki’s shikona: 琴勇輝
  • 勢, Ikioi’s kanji, means “strength”
  • Sakigake’s kanji is actually the afore mentionned 魁 – “kai”!

A few entire translations

I hope not being miles off target with the last part of that article, but I think we have amassed sufficient knowledge for some not too difficult translations:

  • 碧山: “Aoiyama”, of course, means “blue mountain”.
  • Let’s try with former sekiwake Wakanosato: 若の里. We have 若, meaning “youth”, 里, the small village or hometown, and の, referring to the belonging. 若の里 could therefore be translated into something like: the hometown of the youth.
  • Nishinoryu is currently ranked sandanme 8. His shikona is written as follows: 西乃龍. 西 means “West”, 龍 is “dragon”, 乃 is also referring to the belonging. 西乃龍, hence, means “dragon of the West”.
  • Former komusubi Chiyotairyu: 千代大龍. 千代 means “eternal”, means “big”, means “dragon”: eternal big dragon!

Feel free to give it a try; there’s no nothing better than pre-basho practise! Hakkeyoi!

Quiz ! About shikona changes…

As we previously mentioned it, Shodai decided to keep his shikona following his promotion to the ozeki rank. Let’s try to figure out how much we know about rikishi’s shikona, shikona changes and real names…

As usual, try your best to get your kashi koshi!

1. Let’s start this quiz quietly. Ama became ozeki…

a. Goeido

b. Kakuryu

c. Harumafuji

d. Baruto

2. Which one of these wrestlers is currently fighting with his real name ?

a. Takarafuji

b. Takayasu

c. Takanosho

d. Takagenji

3. Who started wrestling using his real name – Fukuoka ?

a. Hokutofuji

b. Okinoumi

c. Ryuden

d. Daieisho

4. Who is the other Mr. Fukuoka in makuuchi ?

a. Abi

b. Terutsuyoshi

c. Meisei

d. Enho

5. Who started his sumo career with the shikona Wakamisho ?

a. Kiribayama

b. Tamawashi

c. Ichinojo

d. Terunofuji

6. The Bulgarian wrestler Aoiyama was given his current shikona after being asked a few questions about things he likes. What does “Aoiyama” mean ?

a. Red wind

b. Red mountain

c. Blue wind

d. Blue mountain

7. And by the way, Big Dan’s (Aoiyama) real name is…

a. Petkov

b. Dimitrov

c. Kotov

d. Ivanov

Big Dan: Aoiyama Kosuke.

8. Let’s now have some fun (and a few headaches !) with Sadogatake’s wrestlers. Who used to be called Kotokikutsugi ?

a. Kotoosho

b. Kotoeko

c. Kotoyuki

d. Kotoshogiku

9. Kotokamatani, on the other hand, is now known as…

a. Kotonowaka

b. Kotoeko

c. Kotoshoho

d. Kotoshogiku

10. Whereas Kotoenomoto has become…

a. Kotooshu

b. Kotoeko

c. Kotoshoho

d. Kotoyuki

11. And finally, Kototebakari is currently known as…

a. Kotoshoho

b. Kotoyuki

c. Kotonowaka

d. Kotoshogiku

12. Takanohana and Wakanohana are one of sumo’s most famous brothers. Their real name is :

a. Hanada

b. Koga

c. Sawai

d. Hagiwara

A sumo legend: former yokozuna Takanohana.

13. Which one of these rikishi used to be called “Sato” and changed his shikona as he got promoted to makuuchi ?

a. Takakeisho

b. Asanoyama

c. Mitakeumi

d. Shodai

14. Hanakaze is known for his incredibly long career, which started back in 1986 (!). Under how many names has he wrestled so far ?

a. One

b. Two

c. Three

d. Four

15. And finally, the great Hakuho has changed shikona :

a. Once

b. Twice

c. Thrice

d. He never changed his shikona

The answers :

1. Let’s start this quiz quietly. Ama became ozeki…

c. Harumafuji. Of course ! He took that name after his promotion to ozeki, following the Kyushu basho 2008.

Nine time grand champion: former yokozuna Harumafuji.

2. Which one of these wrestlers is currently fighting with his real name ?

b. Takayasu Akira.

3. Who started wrestling using his real name – Fukuoka ?

b. Okinoumi. He actually semmed to have some remorses after changing his shikona to Okinoumi, in March 2009. Two basho after, he went back to Fukuoka Ayumi, during just one basho. He then changed once again – for good – to Okinoumi Ayumi.

4. Who is the other Mr. Fukuoka in makuuchi ?

b. Terutsuyoshi. He has used only one shikona so far : Terutsuyoshi Shoki.

Terutsuyoshi Shoki, also known as Fukuoka Shoki.

5. Who started his sumo career with the shikona Wakamisho ?

d. Terunofuji. Terunofuji likes changes : he used to be called Wakamisho Yoshiaki, then Wakamisho Noriaki, then Wakamisho Yoshiaki again, then Terunofuji Yoshiaki, then Terunofuji Haruo.

6. The Bulgarian wrestler Aoiyama was given his current shikona after being asked a few questions about things he likes. What does “Aoiyama” mean ?

d. Blue mountain. Aoiyama likes blue color, and prefers mountain over sea.

7. And by the way, Big Dan’s (Aoiyama) real name is…

d. Ivanov. Daniel Ivanov, to be exact.

8. Let’s now have some fun (and a few headaches !) with Sadogatake’s wrestlers. Who used to be called Kotokikutsugi ?

d. Kotoshogiku. His real name is Kikutsugi Kazuhiro.

9. Kotokamatani, on the other hand, is now known as…

a. Kotonowaka. Outside the dohyo, he’s Kamatani Masakatsu

10. Whereas Kotoenomoto has become…

d. Kotoyuki, also known as Enomoto Yuki.

11. And finally, Kototebakari is currently known as…

a. Kotoshoho. His real name : Tebakari Toshiki

12. Takanohana and Wakanohana are one of sumo’s most famous brothers. Their real name is :

a. Hanada. Koga is Kaio’s name ; Sawai is Goeido’s name and Hagiwara is former Kisenosato’s name. Some great wrestlers down there.

13. Which one of these rikishi used to be called “Sato” and changed his shikona as he got promoted to makuuchi ?

a. Takakeisho. Asanoyama did change his shikona, but after promotion to juryo. Mitakeumi took just one shikona, whereas Shodai is fighting under his actual name.

14. Hanakaze is known for his incredibly long career, which started back in 1986 (!). Under how many names has he wrestled so far ?

c. Three. He started fighting under his real name, Yamagushi Daisaku, then switched to Tatsuyamagushi Daisaku, and to Hanakaze Daisaku. He holds that name since July 1999 !

15. And finally, the great Hakuho has changed shikona :

d. He never changed his shikona. Hakuho Sho. That’s the GOAT’s shikona.

Simply the best: yokozuna Hakuho Sho.

 

Tokyo July Basho Day 11 Highlights

As Bruce would say, Act Three is upon us. It’s been a long time coming but we are now in the final stages of the July tournament. We’ve got quite the horse race with Secretariat Hakuho out in front chased by Asanoyama and Terunofuji. Terunofuji’s early success here reminds me of Ichinojo’s debut run. I’m eager to see how far he can take it. Asanoyama’s form, with the one weak performance against Mitakeumi, has been excellent. The three champions start Day 11 in fine form.

Highlight Matches

Nishikigi (4-6) defeated Chiyoshoma: Chiyoshoma-induced matta meant a henka was coming. Nishikigi snuffed it out but appeared to go down first as Chiyoshoma pulled while Nishikigi dove into Chiyoshoma. Mono-ii. Nishikigi was shown to be driving Chiyoshoma out and Chiyoshoma touched down outside. Oshidashi. This is the rule set we’re used to.

Wakatakakage (6-4) defeated Chiyomaru (3-7): Chiyomaru-induced matta Wakatakakage drove Chiyomaru back immediately. Chiyomaru tried a trip at the bales but missed. Wakatakakage continued to apply pressure to Chiyomaru’s shoulders, and drove him up and over the bales. Yorikiri.

Terunofuji (9-1) defeated Tochinoshin (6-4): Dramatic staredown, and immediate engagement on the belt at the tachiai for both men. A stalemate at the center of the ring as each man’s attempts to get momentum started was met with fierce resistance. Tochinoshin applied Sky Crane power and backed Terunofuji half-way to the tawara before Terunofuji could stop their progress. Tochinoshin let go with the left to try a throw at the edge but Terunofuji pivoted, maintained pressure on Tochinoshin and walked an exhausted Tochinoshin over the bales. Yorikiri. What else?

Shimanoumi (3-8) defeated Shohozan (2-9): Shohozan kept Shimanoumi off the belt but Shimanoumi continued to advance, ushering Shohozan over the tawara and out. Shohozan was perhaps a bit preoccupied with trying to mold Shimanoumi’s face like Play-Doh rather than actually advancing his position. Oshidashi.

Kotoyuki (5-6) defeated Myogiryu (7-4): Kotoyuki advanced from the tachiai, Myogiryu in retreat. Myogiryu continued to rotate to his right but Kotoyuki stayed right with him, paddling Myogiryu over the edge. Tsukidashi.

Kotoeko (8-3) defeated Ikioi (2-9): Ikioi solid on the tachiai, drove Kotoeko back a step but Kotoeko applied pressure to Ikioi shoving Ikioi to the edge. As soon as Kotoeko got a hand on Ikioi’s belt, he was able to get the leverage to raise Ikioi over the edge. Yorikiri.

Tamawashi (8-3) defeated Kotoshoho (7-4): Kotoshoho abandoned any attempt at a yotsu battle, engaging in a slapfest, and advancing to the edge. An ill-timed pull attempt from Kotoshoho. Tamawashi followed, driving forward through the Sadogatake beya youngster. Tsukitaoshi.

Takayasu (6-5) defeated Chiyotairyu (5-6): Takayasu with a shoulder blast at the tachiai, tried once to grab Chiyotairyu’s belt with the left but was denied. A powerful blast to the face from the former Ozeki sent Chiyotairyu into reverse. Takayasu pursued, driving Chiyotairyu over the bales. Tsukidashi.

Sadanoumi (5-6) defeated Ishiura (4-7): Sadanoumi off-balance, matta. Sadanoumi strong with the tachiai, slid Ishiura back. A well timed pull, with the right-handed force down on Ishiura’s traps forced Sadanoumi to the floor. Hatakikomi.

Kaisei (5-6) defeated Tokushoryu (6-5): Superior balance from Kaisei today. Tokushoryu advanced only to attempt pulls but Kaisei was wise to Tokushoryu’s strategy so he maintained his balance during each attack. Tokushoryu tired after a few laps around the ring and Kaisei was able to drive Tokushoryu out. Yorikiri.

Halftime

Kotoshogiku (8-3) defeated Terutsuyoshi (5-6): Terutsuyoshi met Kotoshogiku head on but Kotoshogiku overwhelmed Terutsuyoshi with his power. He pivoted Terutsuyoshi north and drove through. No gabburi needed, just solid footwork. One foot in front of the other bulldozed Terutsuyoshi until he was over the edge. Yorikiri.

Ryuden (5-6) defeated Onosho (0-11): Onosho woke up, with a strong tachiai bloodies Ryuden’s nose and forced him back. Ryuden shifts a bit to his left but Onosho maintained pressure moving forward. As soon as Ryuden reached the bales, Onosho attempted a throw. This was a huge mistake as it allowed Ryuden to come back to the center of the ring. Ryuden with a forceful pull of his own, hands shoved on the back of Onosho’s head, and drove Onosho to the dirt. Hatakikomi.

Enho (5-6) defeated Takanosho (5-6): Matta from Takanosho. Enho got the jump after the reset, catching Takanosho unprepared. He drove his shoulder into Takanosho and thought about a belt grip but didn’t need it. With his leverage from below, he drove Takanosho up and out of balance. Once Tananosho’s momentum was in reverse, he could not get a solid grip on the dohyo, Enho shoving Takanosho out. Oshidashi.

Aoiyama (4-7) defeated Yutakayama (1-10): What? Aoiyama on the belt — voluntarily? What the hell was that? Yutakayama had the advantage at the tachiai. Powerful thrusts forced Aoiyama back to the bales but get this. Aoiyama secured a solid left-hand grip on Yutakayama’s belt, and with a right forearm in Yutakayama’s chest drove Yutakayama back. Aoiyama has lost more than twice as many yorikiri bouts as he’s won. But he’s got a solid yotsu win here. Do that from now on! Yorikiri.

Endo (5-6) defeated Kiribayama (4-7): A shift by Kiribayama but Endo stayed upright and pursued Kiribayama. Kiribayama drove forward into Endo, Endo sliding back, halfway to the tawara. But sensing Kiribayama is out of control, Endo thrusts down hard on Kiribayama’s back, once, twice, thrice, and Kiribayama is down. Endo wins an oshi battle with Kiribayama. Am I still asleep? It’s 4:30am here so it’s quite possible I’m still dreaming but I’ll roll with it. Tsukitotoshi.

Sanyaku

Okinoumi (6-5) defeated Takarafuji (4-7): Okinoumi with a strong tachiai, got Takarafuji back a step. Both men with solid holds of their opponent. Takarafuji with a right-hand grip on the belt while Okinoumi has his right firmly on Takarafuji’s torso. Takarafuji drove forward and a well-timed pull from Okinoumi paired with a strong shove down sent Takarafuji to the clay. Tsukiotoshi.

Hokutofuji (7-4) defeated Shodai (8-3): Hokutofuji’s strong charge into Shodai who’s back to his less-than-impressive tachiai. Shodai drove forward with Hokutofuji circling in retreat to his right, with his left elbow connecting with Shodai’s head as he pulled. Shodai driven down by Hokutofuji as he reached the edge, trying to force out Hokutofuji. But Hokutofuji was still standing in the dohyo when Shodai went down. Tsukiotoshi.

Asanoyama (10-1) defeated Kagayaki (4-7): Kagayaki thrust his right arm into Asanoyama’s face but the Ozeki powered forward. He secured his left arm under Kagayaki’s right arm pit and got Kagayaki going back to the Ozeki’s right. Once Asanoyama got his right arm in there, too, Kagayaki was toast. Yorikiri.

Takakeisho (8-3) defeated Mitakeumi (8-3): Mitakeumi was ready but Takakeisho rolling his head around didn’t want to go yet. Takakeisho drove forward, Mitakeumi in retreat pushing down on Takakeisho’s back. No mono-ii? The version of the rule book omitting the bit about “first one to touch down loses”, is still apparently in the officials’ hands. Takakeisho benefits from it, yet again. Mitakeumi was dead when he jumped back, despite the fact that he was simultaneously forcing Takakeisho’s head down. Oshidashi.

Daieisho (7-4) defeated Hakuho (10-1): Hakuho is mortal. Hakuho wanted to pull, going for a hatakikomi at the tachiai but his right foot looked a bit out of control, splayed out far from his body as he nearly slipped. He recovered and drove forward into Daieisho, securing (momentarily) a right-hand belt grip under Daieisho’s mawashi but Daieisho deftly rolled his left shoulder and stepped back, slipping behind the boss. Uh-oh. The Yokozuna circled back around to try to regain the offensive but Daieisho had pounced, driving Hakuho back and out. Oshidashi.

A wry smile from Hakuho and he stopped by the video monitors on the way out to see the replay. He will not want to make the same mistake as we now have a three-man race for the title: Hakuho, Asanoyama & Terunofuji. Three popular champions will duke it out in Act Three. And I’m sure we’ll have more to discuss about dead men.