Matsugane-Oyakata, Positive for COVID-19

According to a statement issued by the Japan Sumo Association, Matsugane Hideki, coach in the Nishonoseki Stable, tested positive for COVID-19. Nishinoseki is home to Shohozan and Ichiyamamoto, among others. According to the statement and as we learned from Herouth over on Twitter, Matsugane was out scouting new recruits and so was tested, despite having no symptoms. He has been admitted and is under observation.

With the Coronavirus, symptoms may take some time to develop. Hopefully this is a sign that the Kyokai has instituted an effective testing protocol for those who have to conduct business outside the stable. We’ve also learned that after the positive test, there’s a contact tracing investigation. In the case of Matsugane, he was not near the stable or in close contact with its wrestlers during the July basho. Perhaps this regimen can be adapted to loosen the restrictions on movement?

Herouth shared a tweeted video of yusho-winner Terunofuji visiting his former high school, where Ishiura’s dad is the principal. One wonders whether despite the mask and gloves, Terunofuji would have been tested and whether any sekitori who make public appearances would be now tested according to this protocol.

Natsu Basho Decision Day Looms (Monday, May 4)

In Tachiai’s unscientific fan poll, our readers were split right down the middle on whether Natsu should be cancelled. More than 21% of the fans who responded believed that the Nagoya tournament should also be cancelled because of the Coronavirus. The Nihon Sumo Kyokai will announce their decision on Monday. If the decision comes early in the morning, like the banzuke usually does, expect some sort of brief post Sunday night in the US.

Poll: Should Natsu 2020 Happen?

Simple question. Bruce’s article about 1918 begs the question, given this worst case scenario — fatalities — should Natsu 2020 happen? Has the NSK taken enough precautions to ensure the tournament can happen without spreading COVID-19 throughout the sumo world? They appear to have stopped the spread at one heya, which in my mind is remarkable given their communal living quarters.

I will ask this now…and at the beginning of May. I think it will be very interesting to compare the results.

Osaka Day 8 Highlights

Chiyomaru image shamelessly stolen from the NHK web site, to whom we apologize

There was excellent sumo action on the dohyo for nakabi, but there is no doubt the story with the most potential impact to the basho is that Chiyomaru (5-3) is kyujo due to a persistent fever. Word from the NSK is that he is being tested for influenza, and they will take appropriate action to treat him. What? Not COVID-19 you say? Japan is a very orderly place, and the current medical protocol states that they test for influenza first. A reminder to readers, if any rikishi pops positive for the dreaded corona virus, the remainder of the basho will be canceled. I hope for the sake of Chiyomaru, whatever he has is not serious, and not long lasting. It’s a shame because in spite of whatever encroaching illness, he was fighting better than any basho in the last year.

While we hope that Chiyomaru is comfortable in his quarantine cell at the local CoCo’s Ichibanya, showing them the terror of “Tabehoudai”, I was thrilled to watch a match I have been waiting more than a year to see – Asanoyama vs Yutakayama. There was a lot wrapped up into this match. The two of them had a fierce rivalry going as they climbed the sekitori ranks, and it was Yutakayama who broke into the joi-jin first. But an injury sent him back down the banzuke, and by all indication, it took a while for him to get his body back, followed by him recovering his sumo. The outcome of that match has serious implications for Asanoyama’s hoped for Ozeki bid, as the numerical count of wins matters, but the quality of those wins (and any losses) are considered as well. Fans will remember that the lack of “Quality” was the reason stated for rejecting Takakeisho’s first bid for promotion. In true Ozeki style, he shrugged it off and continued to dominate matches in the following tournament.

Highlight Matches

Meisei defeats Chiyomaru – Any virus that inhabits Chiyomaru must feel like the luckiest protein chain in the world. There’s just so much space for you and all the kids. Poor guy, please get better soon.

Shimanoumi defeats Kotoshogiku – Plain and simple, those knees just could not maintain the pressure against Shimanoumi. The Kyushu Bulldozer had an unaccustomed grip on Shimanoumi, and struggled to use any of his “quick kill” moves that could have saved the endurance check against what is left of his knees. Kotoshogiku fans worry, as we know that his knees get worse in week 2.

Aoiyama defeats Daiamami – Big Dan Aoiyama shrugs off the loss on day 7, and completely disrupts Daiamami. Normally pulling like Aoiyama did is a very risky move, but he just managed to execute and complete it before he ran out of clay. A win tomorrow and Aoiyama is kachi-koshi.

Ishiura defeats Nishikigi – Nishikigi has nothing to offer any of the top division rikishi this March, and as a Nishikigi booster its sad to see. While Ishiura could have half-efforted this match and probably still won, he yet against brings some solid sumo to the dohyo. I think with a bit of work, he could replicate the Harumafuji death-spin that I miss so much. I am starting to think Ishiura might be a serious rikishi. Nishikigi now one loss from an early and brutal make-koshi.

Ikioi defeats Azumaryu – Classic Ikioi densha michi-sumo. Azumaryu had zero chance today. Sadly there were thunderous roars for the home town hero, only heavy breathing.

Kotonowaka defeats Chiyotairyu – Soft tachiai from Chiyotairyu, with an early pull down attack that released forward pressure. My compliments to Kotonowaka for recognizing that gambit from Chiyotairyu and exploiting it to good effect. Kotonowaka improves to 6-2.

Kaisei defeats Terutsuyoshi – Much as I enjoy Terutsuyoshi, sometimes good old Newtonian sumo carries the day. Kaisei used his enormous body to overwhelm Terutsuyoshi’s offense, and kept him moving back, never giving him a chance to set his feet and attack. Kaisei improves to 4-4 after a rough start to Haru.

Shohozan defeats Tochiozan – The battle of sadness, it was make-koshi for Tochiozan. His sumo is still there, but it has no power to win. Each day that goes by, there is more tape on Tochiozan, and you have to assume that the injuries are accumulating. Painfully.

Takarafuji defeats Sadanoumi – Takarafuji did not engage in his “defend and extend” sumo today. In fact this bout could almost be considered hasty by Takarafuji standards. Sadanoumi charged in with energy, but Takarafuji defended well at the tachiai, and quickly found he could move Sadanoumi back. One final shove sent Sadanoumi down the hanamichi for a Takarafuji win.

Tochinoshin defeats Tamawashi – Did anyone else cringe when Tochinoshin pivoted on that bandage right leg? I admire that win, but good lord, I have no interest in seeing the big wheel chair again this basho. That injured looking hop to take weight off of the right leg following the shitatedashinage to win the match told the story for me.

Takanosho defeats Myogiryu – Takanosho continues to be overwhelmingly genki this tournament, as there is something physically amiss with Myogiryu. It’s the only way I can explain that he is just 1 loss away form make-koshi on the middle day of the bahso.

Kagayaki defeats Kiribayama – I loved that Kagayaki tachiai. He came inside with both hands from underneath, and completely shut down any attempt at offense from Kiribayama. To his credit he got a left hand inside grip while he staggered to regain balance. But Kagayaki’s stance was solid, and he forced Kiribayama down, back and out.

Enho defeats Onosho – Wow! Both of these rikishi exceeded expectations today. Enho finally cooked off his best sumo, and I was baffled that Onosho’s balance had improved enough that it took 3 high maneuverability, high energy attack sequences form Enho to finish him off. First off, that flying henka. Beautifully executed, but Onosho recovered well. The tottari almost finished him, but Onosho kept his feet! Onosho rallied and attack with power, but it only set up the katasukashi. Great sumo offense from Enho, and surprisingly good defense work by Onosho today.

Daieisho defeats Tokushoryu – Tokushoryu has reverted back to Juryo level sumo, and he’s really out classed by the upper echelons of the banzuke this March. One more loss for the Hatsu yusho winner, and its make-koshi for him.

Okinoumi defeats Endo – Endo was lower, stronger and inside at the tachiai. But Okinoumi got a strong right hand outside grip, and went to work. Again, some element of Newtonian physics was at play, as Okinoumi had better leverage, and much better foot placement. Both men end the match at 4-4.

Yutakayama defeats Asanoyama – Oh the match I was waiting more than a year to see. Welcome back Yutakayama, we need your sumo to drive Asanoyama to higher levels of performance. Yutakayama set the form and cadence of the match, Asanoyama tried for too long to drive the match towards something resembling yotsu, but Yutakayama tore him up. I personally think this impacts Asanoyama’s Ozeki bid, as he was ransacked like a fully stocked Walmart facing a horde of corona virus panic shoppers by a Maegashira 3. That loud, fleshy thud at the end of the match? That may have been Asanoyama’s Ozeki promotion for March.

Shodai defeats Ryuden – Much as I knock Shodai, I hope (as I do for all rikishi) that they can do well and win every time they step on the dohyo. One of Shodai’s biggest problems is that he lets his worries and his mind defeat him, rather than letting his frankly good technique take care of business. So I was delighted to see him shake off his losing streak today, and in very good form. He did not give Ryuden even a moment to get started, inside, back and out.

Takakeisho defeats Hokutofuji – I did enjoy watching Takakeisho deliver multiple volleys against Hokutofuji today, as Hokutofuji continues his trek toward “The most powerful make-koshi in sumo”. My only knock is that Takakeisho did not quite finish him on the 3rd volley and eased up. Follow through, Grand Tadpole.

Hakuho defeats Abi – After Abi jumps early for a matta, it’s over in a flash in what looks like at least 40% slippiotoshi. Abi got at least one good blast in, but nothing was stopping Hakuho today. The dai-Yokozuna racks yet another day 8 kachi-koshi in his somewhat unbelievable career.

Kakuryu defeats Mitakeumi – Our second delightful densha michi match today. For reasons I can’t quite fathom, Mitakeumi decided to try to pull Kakuryu straight out of the tachiai. I can’t recall the last time I saw Mitakeumi look more like a wheel barrow full of compost on its way to the garden. Wow.