Tachiai drops in on the YDC Soken

Kokugikan Interior - YDC Soken
The Makushita division moshiai during the Yokozuna Deliberation Committee’s soken

Once a year, the Yokozuna Deliberation Committee opens their soken to the public. Anyone can simply turn up to the fabled Kokugikan in the Ryogoku neighborhood of Tokyo and watch all the stars (and more besides) work out in front of the Committee and a selection of esteemed stable-masters, several of whom are also on the board of the Sumo Association. Oh, and by the way – it’s free.

The soken started from 7:30am and ran until just after 11am. The open training session and assessment contains a few features, the two most prominent being moshiai (where two rikishi fight and the winner stays on and picks his next opponent from an eager crowd) and butsukari (one rikishi holds firm while the other tries to essentially plow him across the dohyo). At the end of the day, each Yokozuna also picked a handful of friends to come up for some sanban (a series of 1 on 1 matches).

The crowd at this event was overwhelmingly elderly in nature, though there were a handful of families in attendance. Again, a gift shop was set up, and curiously, I spotted a rare piece of Harumafuji merch: a statue that retailed for about $120, a beautiful collector’s item for any super fan of the former champion. In the arena, the lower boxes were almost completely full, and the upper deck of Kokugikan was about 10% full. Owing to my vantage point, occasionally the odd punter walks in front of my camera, so please mind any interruptions in the videos below.

Juryo & below

Soken - Kaisho, Tomisakae, Enho
Kaisho and Tomisakae do battle as Enho awaits his turn. (Photo credit: @nicolaah)

Terutsuyoshi gave Enho butsukari, but the wee Miyagino man either really had some trouble pushing the wee Isegahama man across the dohyo, or Terutsuyoshi was digging in with some incredible strength. The soken is meant to be a quiet training session, but the first sign of the day that that clearly wouldn’t be the case was the big cheer given to Enho when he mounted the dohyo for this first practice.

Wakatakakage put a nice little run together when picked for moshiai, but got a little over ambitious in picking the experienced Azumaryu, as he was no match for the veteran on this day. Wakatakakage seems a little more ready than Enho was for the lower end of Juryo, and his promotion may be well timed.

Fellow Juryo promotee Hakuyozan was by far the most popular pick in the Juryo moshiai, and also the recipient of the most losses. That said, no one in the Juryo division was really able to put a run of more than 3 wins together in the moshiai. Rikishi were presumably getting tired quite quickly with so many repeated matches under the hot lights. Tokushoryu managed to stay up for 5 matches which seemed the longest run in the division.

Lower Makuuchi

Soken - Sumo Elders & Oyakata
Several oyakata look on as their charges mount the dohyo. (Photo credit: @nicolaah)

Uncle Takarafuji (the heir to the Uncle Sumo mantle whenever Aminishiki hangs em up) put together a nice run in the moshiai. He also called on shin-makuuchi man Kyokutaisei for his first moshiai in the top division. The Hokkaido movie-star gave him a good match before disposing the veteran. Kyokutaisei in turn then got even more ambitious and selected Mitakeumi, and… he learned a lesson.

Everyone wanted a piece of Tochinoshin. And a lot of them were able to get it, because he was an absolute monster on the dohyo. The only time the Georgian relented during a remarkable stretch where he laid waste to about 10 rikishi in a row was simply to get his man servants to come over and wipe him down from all the sweat he accumulated under the lights.

Chiyotairyu was the man to finally beat him, and must have enjoyed it so much that he then pushed the crowd away to give the Kasugano-beya star a rematch, which he also won. Chiyotairyu must make a great DJ because he was in a real crowd pleasing mood, and evoked a massive applause from the crowd by giving shin-Komusubi Endo his first outing of the day.

For those of you who haven’t been to Kokugikan, if you walk around the halls, the only non-yokozuna rikishi that you see anywhere is Endo. He’s on advertisements, he’s on cardboard cutouts where you can have your picture taken with him, he’s a bona fide sumo rock star. That said, his wins were far and few between today as he did not look particularly genki.

Here’s Endo knocking off Myogiryu before losing again to Chiyotairyu:

Chiyonokuni was tapped by Yoshikaze to take the stage and this was a brilliant street fight, with Yoshikaze getting dumped off the dohyo having been thrusted out by the man from Mie. I cursed myself for missing out on filming this (but an iPhone battery can only take so much abuse in one sitting), but I look forward to a rematch here in the Natsu basho, Great Sumo Cat-willing.

Maegashira basement-dweller Nishikigi was a popular selection for many rikishi in the moshiai. Here he is, taking on and defeating everyone’s favorite pony-tossing sekiwake:

Notable absentees included many of the same men absent from jungyo, as Ikioi and Aoiyama were nowhere to be seen. Injured men Takakeisho and Aminishiki were in attendance, and fan favorite Abi did not take the dohyo but performed stretching activities out to the side. Another man who didn’t spend much time on dohyo was Chiyomaru, but he was certainly a favorite amongst the fans gathered outside after the event: when the rikishi exited the soken, many of them had to walk right through the fans and over to the taxi rank outside Ryogoku station, and the hungry man had to stop to pose for more fan photos than anyone else I saw.

San’yaku

Soken - Kisenosato v Kakuryu
Kisenosato drives Kakuryu back. (Photo credit: @nicolaah)

The men of the top ranks mostly fought against each other, and this was prime fare for the sumo watcher. Luckily for you, dear reader, we’ve got lots of video!

Kisenosato was very active and got several rounds in, mostly against Goeido and Kakuryu. He snuck a couple wins but didn’t look great. Again, Goeido showed no mercy and looked like he had the beating of him. If this Goeido shows up to Natsu, it could be a really good basho.

Kakuryu looked really good. He looked like a yokozuna. Ichinojo was on hand for the san’yaku moshiai but didn’t as feature much either in the moshiai, or later, the butsukari, as the other men of the san’yaku.

Takayasu spent most of the day hanging out on the sidelines with his man-servant and doing stretching activities. It was clear before he even got on the dohyo that he was not in good shape, and his feet were heavily taped. Goeido wasn’t in the mood to show any man from Tagonoura-beya any mercy today: when Takayasu eventually did mount the dohyo, he was dispatched multiple times by his fellow ozeki. His final attempt at battle had the hairy man ending up howling in pain, grasping his right shoulder, and stumbling back to the corner to stretch out for the rest of the morning.

Hakuho showed once again why he is such great entertainment. As you can see from the videos, he waits off to the side for ages. After everyone has had their little fun, The Boss takes the stage and he is utterly and completely box office. It’s san-ban time and Hakuho goes several rounds with Mitakeumi, then Endo, then Mitakeumi again. Mitakeumi gives him more of a game than Endo, who just looks totally overmatched. Hakuho looked like he still had it in for Mitakeumi for breaking his win streak last summer. Towards the end it gets humiliating, like when Hakuho spins Mitakeumi around and just kicks his leg out from under him. The very next fight, Mitakeumi finally pushes his man out of the dohyo, only to be rewarded with yet more san-ban.

Soken - Hakuho & Endo
Hakuho and Endo in butsukari. (Photo credit: @nicolaah)

Hakuho later gave absolutely brutal butsukari to Endo that lasted at least 10 minutes. I captured perhaps the least humiliating parts of that encounter in the below video, because I didn’t want Endo to see much video evidence of what happened today on the internet. From time to time Hakuho threw a few kicks in for the dirt-covered star while he’s lying prostrate on the clay. Hakuho also took reverse butsukari from new maegashira Kyokutaisei, in what must have been another cool moment for the Tomozuna rikishi.

Tochinoshin and Kisenosato were butsukari bros for the day, alternating attacks. When Tochinoshin was on the offensive it looked like he was targeting Kisenosato’s injured left pectoral in particular, and I wondered if that might have been more with Kisenosato in mind than Tochinoshin, perhaps to show those in attendance (and perhaps the Yokozuna himself) how much the beleaguered Yokozuna could withstand from a strong Sekiwake at the peak of his performance. Tochinoshin was absolutely on fire all day, displaying a confident and authoritative presence, and if he turns up to the upcoming tournament displaying the form we saw today, then he will make a very strong case for a promotion to Ozeki.

Many thanks to Tachiai’s instagram moderator Nicola for many of the photos in this post. For more photos from the soken, head over to Tachiai’s instagram profile!

A Day Out at the Koshigaya Gymnasium: Spring Jungyo Finale

Koshigaya Gymnasium - Exterior
The Koshigaya Gymnasium

It’s been a month since the conclusion of the Haru basho, and if you’re like me, you probably really miss sumo right now. If you’re like me, you’re also in Japan for the next month and will be looking to cover some unique events for Tachiai. So, with that in mind, I headed up to Koshigaya today for the final date of the spring Jungyo tour. This is my first time covering Jungyo for the site, and I will do my best to do justice to the work of the mighty Herouth!

Getting to Koshigaya

From my base near Shimbashi Station in Tokyo, it took about an hour, two trains and around ¥600 to reach the town of Koshigaya in Saitama prefecture. Koshigaya Station is your typical Japanese suburban train station with a decent amount of amenities, and it was very handy that the station had a 7-11 ATM that supports international cards, as I didn’t have much cash on hand for food and/or souvenirs.

From the station, it’s about a 3km/35-40 minute walk to the Gymnasium (which is part of a sports complex in the town), and the alternative options are bus and taxi. I didn’t see any buses and there was one taxi nearby, so I grabbed that at the price of an additional ¥1450. Both the driver and I had a very limited grasp of each others’ languages, but I showed him where I wanted to go on the map and off we went.

The Venue

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The entrance to the Gymnasium was very festive, despite some scaffolding in front of the venue as you can see in the photo at the top of this post. There were a number of food stalls set up out front, and also some rikishi walking around (most prominently, in more ways than one, Chiyootori).

It is safe to say I have never been at a place in Japan where people were so happy to see me, at every stall. They were incredibly surprised to see a foreigner in their town (I saw, at most, 3 or 4 others in the venue), and everyone wanted to be very welcoming to me. An older gentleman at a noodle stall asked where I live, and when I told him that I live in Los Angeles, he was extremely excited to share that he spent time in Chicago in his younger days. He assumed I must have friends in Koshigaya and when I told him I was just visiting to come see the sumo, he shook my hand in surprise multiple times and very enthusiastically thanked me for supporting the town and his stall.

At the door, you receive a sheet with the day’s torikumi and a plastic bag for your shoes. Fortunately, our friends at BuySumoTickets.com alerted me when I purchased my ticket that everyone must remove shoes inside the venue and switch into your own slippers. If I hadn’t brought a pair with me, I probably would have been OK just wearing socks, as I saw a handful of people doing (the restrooms, if you’re interested, had a space outside for switching from your slippers into special provided shoes for the toilets). The whole floor inside the entry of the venue was covered with tarp. At the entry, it was quite easy to make this costume change, but the large group of (mostly elderly) fans exiting the arena at the end of the day led to quite a bit of a bottleneck.

The food and merch stands inside the venue had good, if limited selections. The best option at jungyo seems to be to take advantage of the numerous local vendors outside. I grabbed a box of karaage inside the venue which was tasty, if a bit fattier and greasier than you’ll usually find at the Kokugikan.

The Gymnasium layout consists entirely of floor seats on the main dohyo level, and a couple of sections of arena seats in the upper level. I had an Arena “A” seat, of which there were two rows up against the balcony wall in front of the corridor, so I had a view unimpeded by pedestrians.

The crowd on hand consisted mostly of the extremes of very young children and very elderly folks. There were a lot of grandparents on hand with their grandchildren. A very large group of school kids wearing yellow bucket hats filled out the room for the sekitori bouts. In all, the venue and events provide a great day for families and in the local community to connect with sumo, and I found that being there in person was an interesting counterpoint to how jungyo is often discussed: “that endless injury-causing tour that everyone complains about.”

The Events

I arrived just in time to see Hakuho engaging Ryuden for butsukari. Hakuho was playing up the crowd, who loved every appearance he made throughout the day. It was clear that his presence just electrifies the room, and this was made even more clear given that we were in a smaller, local gymnasium.

Kiddie sumo came up next, with a group of very eager kids pairing up to take on the three local Saitama-born rikishi Hokutofuji, Daieisho and Abi, as well as Endo and Ryuden. Endo led off, after which Hokutofuji and Ryuden took several rounds. Abi, who was unquestionably the star of the day, played up the local crowd by interfering with Hokutofuji and Ryuden’s bouts, coming up behind and helping the kids push/pull the big rikishi out. Ryuden looked absolutely exhausted and was still covered in dirt from the Hakuho treatment he had received moments earlier, but he still managed to give a pair of kids the helicopter treatment, grabbing one each by the mawashi and spinning them around in the air!

Finally, Daieisho and Abi got their turns to loud applause from the crowd. With Abi, the kids took the logical approach: trying to lift up those huge legs! And of course, shiko-wizard Abi took this as an opportunity to show off just how high he could raise his leg (answer: well over the head of a small child).

Abi with fans. Jungyo Koshigaya 27 April 2018
Local hero Abi: taking pictures and signing autographs for fans

There was a bit of a lull after the butsukari and kiddie sumo finished. While the jungyo events follow a different cadence to the relentless progression of a day at a honbasho, it’s still a long day, and plenty of folks were taking naps in the upstairs part of the venue while the sandanme and makushita wrestlers were having their bouts.

The shokkiri team of Sadogatake-beya’s Kotoryusei and Kotorikuzan definitely brought the comedy to their portion of the day’s events, and I’ve added the first 5 minutes of their performance here:

The performance was a real welcome moment to get everyone in good mood and ready to enjoy the stars as they prepared to mount the dohyo for their proper bouts. The only sad part of the shokkiri was that the crowd didn’t seem to recognise Kotoryusei’s impression of Kotoshogiku doing his famous belly bend. Is it possible that now that the former Ozeki has stopped doing his famous pre-match routine, some memory-challenged fans simply forgot it?

The Bouts

Touching on just one bout outside of the top two divisions, I will say that the Chiyootori comeback tour is looking good. He appeared mostly unbandaged apart from one foot, and created a thunderous tachiai that I actually felt in the second row of the upper deck, as it reverberated in the entire gymnasium. I suppose that is one benefit of the odd acoustic differences between a gymnasium and a proper arena like the Kokugikan.

Juryo

Enho easily dealt with Akua but came away with a bloodied face for his troubles. Here’s the video:

Terutsuyoshi deployed his heaping salt throw and had a decent start against Akiseyama as he worked to lock up his arms. But, when he shifted to get a mawashi grip, the big man took advantage and got two hands around the smaller rikishi, picking him up by the back of the mawashi and carrying him out spectacularly.

Billy no-mates Takagenji, the lone sekitori representative of his more isolationist stable at the jungyo, posted a good yorikiri win over a thoroughly exhausted Daishoho, after a prolonged grapple in the center of the dohyo. If Takagenji can continue that form, then he should have a good tournament at Natsu.

Tsurugisho is middling at the moment, but he absorbed Kotoeko‘s tachiai in an almighty clash and tossed him aside, laying waste to the notion that the Sadogatake man might be ready for a big promotion that it’s possible he will get this weekend.

Terunofuji beat Gagamaru, who showed up without any strapping, so I assumed he’d be in good health and genki. You wouldn’t have known that to be the case, as Gagamaru appeared to be so confused at the tachiai that he must have thought he was Shodai. He just stood up and took two blasts from Terunofuji, who promptly switched to plan B, turned the Georgian around and pushed him out. This was not really a match that will tell us much about either guy, and Terunofuji, who received a hearty applause in the dohyo-iri and then entering and exiting the arena floor, appeared a little disappointed in the level of opposition.

Kyokutaisei, who usually has an expression like someone ate his chanko, had a grin on his face all day, both in the dohyo-iri and before his match with Takekaze. It looked like Takekaze might get the better of him, but after a good grapple, the soon-to-be shin-makuuchi man pushed out his elder colleague.

Makuuchi

A number of infants made the makuuchi dohyo-iri and one man holding an infant was Saitama prefecture’s Abi who received an almighty ovation during the ring entering ceremony for the east rikishi of the top division. On the west, Tochinoshin seemed to receive the largest round of applause. I didn’t think there would be a louder cheer than we got for Hakuho‘s dohyo-iri, but the place exploded when Kisenosato walked in the room.

Asanoyama meant business and led with what appeared to be a Takayasu-style shoulder blast before leading Nishikigi to the bales and out.

Chiyoshoma vs Ishiura is a battle I want to see every basho. The Tottori protein spokesman and GQ model drew a nice round of applause, and this match also had a handful of sponsors. As for what happened, regular readers won’t need to guess: Even at jungyo, Ishiura tried a henka. He nearly pulled it off, as the Kokonoe man ran right through. Up against the bales, Chiyoshoma managed three times to pull the smaller rikishi up with his legs dangling horizontally in the air, but all of those protein shakes are working for the muscular man from Miyagino-beya, and Ishiura managed to put him over the the line. Then he threw a cool party on Instagram Live tonight, featuring Daishomaru, Terutsuyoshi and a very reluctant Akiseyama.

David Gray was a pop singer with a good run of success in the 2000s, and on stage, he became known for how his head would wobble from side to side when he played guitar. Ryuden has an oddly-similar pre-match demeanor, and suffered a fairly straightforward yorikiri loss to Yutakayama, whose technical ability has improved tremendously. Mawashi-watchers will note that Ryuden has switched from black to a new wine-colored mawashi.

Daieisho got a good round of applause from the locals as he mounted the dohyo. Okinoumi had him going backwards, but Daieisho turned the veteran around and got a yorikiri win for his troubles. Again, it’s tough to take a lot from this match, and I’ll just say it was probably not a match he would have won in a honbasho that wasn’t taking place in a gymnasium in his home prefecture against a perma-injured opponent.

Chiyonokuni is now sporting a blue mawashi. Not a vibrant Kotoshogi-blue but more of a soft Shodai blue. I don’t know what Kagayaki was doing engaging him in a high octane slapfest but Chiyonokuni loves a good handbags-at-ten-paces kind of encounter and ushered his opponent back and out.

Yoshikaze didn’t look great, and Hokutofuji grabbed him one-handed by the belt, pulled him around and shoved him out. I thought the winning technique was going to be called an okuridashi, but, perhaps charitably for the elder, losing rikishi, it was ruled uwatedashinage.

Kaisei v Chiyomaru: these guys are big enough to bring a small gymnasium down with a thunderous tachiai. The announcer gave Kaisei’s shusshin as Sao Paolo rather than Brazil, which I hadn’t heard before, and thought was cool. Chiyomaru dropped the pretense he has sometimes flirted with of trying to be a mawashi guy, and relentlessly thrusted Kaisei out. Chiyomaru reminded me of a smaller, rounder Aoiyama in this match. Kaisei (who has been giving great face lately) walked away toothily grimacing and clutching his stinging chest.

Kotoshogiku and Takarafuji engaged in a battle of the vets. Takarafuji is always technically very sound, but this time he was clinical as well: he wrapped up his man, and escorted him out. Takarafuji has also switched to a soft matte blue mawashi from his previous wine blend.

Big Guns Shohozan took on Tamawashi, who also has given up his signature teal mawashi for the very in-vogue soft matte blue. This was a street fight that I wish I caught on video. Both men bounced off each other and then stood a few paces apart, seemingly egging the other to bring it on. Shohozan threw a right hook which Tamawashi ducked, then both men traded attempts at a roundhouse and missed before Tamawashi just shoved Shohozan into the crowd. This was another matchup I hope to see again soon.

Endo was wearing a dark purple mawashi, and took on local man Abi, who got an enormous applause. Endo got the better of the tachiai and moved Abi back, but of course the local hero danced his long limbs out of danger and recovered to put Endo away. Abi exited to huge cheers from the crowd. Watch the match:

Ichinojo smacked into Chiyotairyu in the matchup of the two current komusubi, and had him out within seconds.

I’m not sure where the version of Mitakeumi we saw today has been. He charged into Tochinoshin, moving him back. But then, Tochinoshin lifts him off his feet, and as his feet are wiggling in the air, you think: “oh no, he’s going to get embarrassed again.” But he recovers, turns the Georgian and lifts the Hatsu yusho winner off his feet and out.

Goeido beat Kisenosato in a lengthy match where it looked like he was going to snap the Yokozuna’s left arm in half probably 2 or 3 times. It was clear even in an exhibition contest that Kisenosato has very limited ability to do much with that injured left side. Let’s cut to the VT:

In the musubi-no-ichiban, Hakuho has a good match against a Kakuryu who fought hard. Kakuryu moves Hakuho back, but this crowd is here to see The Boss win and he delivers them the victory. As Kakuryu moves to pin him back, Hakuho lifts up his fellow Mongolian yokozuna in the air, spins and deposits him out of the ring.

After the event ended, there were long lines on hand for buses and taxis in a suburban town which perhaps wasn’t used to holding large events. There didn’t appear to be enough buses or taxis, but the bus seemed my best bet to get back to the train station. In spite of the wait, the elderly crowd was very good-natured, and a nice old gentleman waiting next to me gave me a wrapped seat cushion from the event as a gift.

I can’t say enough about how friendly and warm and welcoming everyone in the Koshigaya community was, and I strongly recommend checking out a jungyo event if you ever get the chance.

Jungyo Newsreel – Days 15 and 16

Day 15

return-of-the-satonofuji-2
Ohisashiburi, Yumi-chan

🌐 Location: Takasaki, Gunma prefecture

Kiddie sumo – Abi purifies a scalp:

abi-purifies-boys-head

Trust Abi to be more childish than his child rival.

Shodai had to go kyujo due to an inflammation. This meant Kakuryu was a tachimochi short. So, for the first time in his life, Yutakayama bore the sword for the Yokozuna dohyo-iri.

yutakayama-the-tachimochi

In his bout with Tochinoshin, Mitakeumi had a wardrobe malfunction:

You can see the two in a mawashi-matta. Explanation to newcomers: if a mawashi knot comes undone and reveals the wrestler’s family jewels, he loses immediately by disqualification. For this reason, if the gyoji or someone around the ring spots an undone knot, the gyoji calls a “mawashi-matta”, signals the rikishi to freeze, ties back the naughty knot, then slaps the backs of both rikishi to signal them to continue from the same position.

The only bout I have is actually Takayasu vs. Goeido, but I warn you in advance that you probably want to silence your speakers. This was shot by a very enthusiastic Philipino patriot who seems bent on embarrassing Takayasu very loudly:

The Gunma prefecture locals who came to watch this day’s event got a rare treat – they got to see Satonofuji perform the yumitori-shiki again. Satonofuji is a Gunma native.

Satonofuji also got many requests for photographs and autographs from his enthusiastic neighbors.

Day 16

 

three-yokozuna-backs
Unryu, Shiranui, Unryu

🌐 Location: Yasukuni shrine, Tokyo

Today’s honozumo event (a sumo event performed in the precincts of a shrine) marked the rikishi’s return to Tokyo after a very long while – those who participate in the Jungyo have been on the road since before the Haru basho.

Here come the entire Makuuchi – gathering at the main yard for a purification ceremony.

It’s really hard to have an elegant walk in a kesho-mawashi, isn’t it? Myogiryu manages it quite well, though.

This event marked the return of Hakuho to the Jungyo. The Yokozuna reported to the NSK board and expressed his appreciation for receiving permission to participate in his father’s funeral.

I’m not really sure what that new adornment to his right ankle is supposed to mean.

The main event took place at an outdoors, permanent dohyo by the side of the shrine. As usual, they started with some keiko. Enho got lots of wedgies practice.

enho-wedgie

Especially from this guy:

Looks like despite his recent kyujo, Terunofuji is gaining some of his physical strength back. Aminishiki, by the way, is still MIA.

Kakuryu performed his dohyo-iri accompanied by a mini-yokozuna with a perfect little Unryu-style rope. The little tyke was none other than Kakuryu’s own son. Pay attention to Nishikigi-mama.

Please excuse the quality. The video shows the dohyo-iri of all three Yokozuna. I think both Hakuho and Kisenosato improved their shiko recently.

This has been Kisenosato’s first dohyo-iri at Yasukuni shrine.

This time I have several bouts to show you.

A few seconds of Enho vs. Akiseyama:

I guess all that practice pays.

Here – with a couple of glitches – is the Ichinojo-Tochinoshin bout, followed by the san-yaku soroi-bumi (synchronized shiko stomps – though the west side is a little disappointing):

Here is the Kisenosato-Goeido bout. What is Goeido doing there, exactly?

And here is the full Hakuho vs. Kakuryu bout.

Note how Hakuho, fresh off the dohyo, immediately switches to fansa mode.

Jungyo Newsreel – Days 2 through 4

Before I fall into too much of a backlog, here is a selection of events from the days 2 through 4. If you’re dying to read about the scandal of day 4, jump right ahead. Just remember, we’re here for the sumo, not for the sensation.

Nobori flags for a Jungyo event. Hakuho, Kisenosato, Takayasu, Goeido.

Day 2

🌐 Location: Nakatsugawa, Gifu prefecture

About 3000 people came to watch the event at Nakatsugawa. There were handshakes and fansa (Japanese shortcut for “Fan Service”).

The center of attention was Mitakeumi. Although he is not from Nakatsugawa or even from Gifu, he hails from the close-by Agematsu in the adjacent Nagano prefecture. So the locals were rooting for him.

Practices around the dohyo also included a komusubi doing stretches:

Ichinojo, and Ichinojo’s thighs, stretching

Day 3

🌐 Location: Sakai, Osaka prefecture

In this Jungyo tour, the shokkiri team consists of Kotoryusei and Kotorikuzan from Sadogatake. Every different shokkiri team changes the details of the shokkiri routine a bit and makes it its own. Notable elements – Gyoji very much a part of the show, and Kotoryusei doing the Kotoshogiku stretch. I guess he got permission from his senior heya mate.

Hakuho performed his dohyo-iri with a toddler:

You can almost hear the “there, there” (or “yosh-yosh” in Japanese). The toddler is the son of the leader of Japanese pop group ET-King, the late Itokin, who died in January of lung cancer at the age of 38. Hakuho promised him he’ll put his boy on the dohyo and this was the fulfillment of that promise.

Takayasu is aiming for the yusho in the next basho. He said that he doesn’t get enough practice, and accordingly, invited Abi, Shodai and Mitakeumi for san-ban – a series of bouts between the same rikishi – in which he won 11 of the 12 bouts. He followed that with butsukari-geiko for Mitakeumi, who himself aims to re-establish himself at the sekiwake position which he is certainly going to lose in the coming basho. Mitakeumi said Takayasu “was heavy”, but was thankful for the exercise.

As always in Osaka, Goeido is king, and participates in the kiddie sumo, something Ozeki only do if they choose.

Here is a rather shaky video of the musubi-no-ichiban, Hakuho vs. Kakuryu:

Day 4

🌐 Location: Maizuru, Kyoto prefecture

Jungyo tours are usually done by invitation from the town being visited. The town’s mayor usually opens the festivities with a speech. It so happened that the mayor of Maizuru (“Dancing Crane” – it could make a good shikona), who is 67 years old, suddenly dropped in the middle of his speech with his hands shaking.

A number of people, including yobidashi and people from the audience gathered around him, when a medical professional – first said to be a doctor, later a nurse – who clearly had experience in CPR climbed up the dohyo and gave the man a heart massage. She happened to be a woman. Women are not allowed on the dohyo, but the men on the dohyo gave way and let her do her thing. Another similar professional joined her. More people gathered, including a few other women, when the PA started calling “Ladies, please leave the dohyo”.

The additional women who came confusedly left the scene. The original professional stayed until the paramedics arrived. There is a fully staffed and ready ambulance in every Jungyo event, and the paramedics came in rather quickly. By this time a female usher was tugging at the lady professional to get off the dohyo. She only left when the paramedics took over.

The PA is always handled by a gyoji. His part usually comes down to announcements such as “On the west, Maegashira Kaisei, from Brasil, Tomozuna beya. On the east, Maegashira Takarafuji, from Aomori, Isegahama beya”, and “The kimarite is yori-kiri, Kaisei performs a yori-kiri and wins”. The standard formulae are always the same, occasionally peppered by kensho messages, requests from the audience not to throw zabuton and safety procedures.

The gyoji with the mike, shocked and confused by the emergency situation on the dohyo, for which he did not have a manual, reverted to first principles, and did what he knows best: stick to tradition. Unfortunately, this was the wrong choice, further complicated by being made in an age in which everything is being captured and uploaded within seconds.

Twitter basically burst into flames. “How can you put tradition ahead of human life?” was the main theme. Some, of course, blamed the NSK as a whole for this, as if this was done by official sanction. The situation reached such proportions that the chairman of the NSK, Hakkaku, had to issue a written press statement back in Tokyo. He said that the gyoji’s response was an inappropriate response when human life was at stake. He apologized to the women involved and thanked them for coming to the mayor’s rescue.

The next day the new Jungyo master, Kasugano – who, I believe, was in the restroom when the whole thing happened – also made a statement. He said that this was an unforeseen occurrence, and that since it may also happen during honbasho, the NSK will have to come up with a procedure for dealing with it.

So next time, the gyoji will have it in his manual.

The mayor, by the way, was diagnosed with a haemorrhage from a cranial blood vessel. So in fact the CPR was not pertinent to his situation. He is currently stable, and will need a month of hospitalization to fully recover.

Unfortunately, this event overshadowed the rest of the day. I could not find any photos of wrestlers or bouts. If any turn up, I’ll be sure to include them here.

Haru Day 10 – Kinjite, Henka, and a Lone Yokozuna

What a marvellous day we had today at the EDION arena in Osaka.

ikioi-yutakayama
Ikioi grabbing Yutakayama’s oicho-mage

The first bout in Makuuchi featured a visitor from Juryo, Takekaze, who seems to be quite on the genki side and ready to come back to the top level. He was faced with Aoiyama, still part of the Yusho arasoi.

This time, no Henka, and Aoiyama pulled away from the tachiai to give himself space for his usual tsuppari attack, then pushed Takekaze forward – but one advantage the little bullfrog has over Aoiyama is that he is much lighter on his feet. Lateral movement, and the Bulgarian’s inertia did the rest. Aoiyama now out of the yusho race, but he will get his kachi-koshi, and probably double digits.

Asanoyama faced shocking pink Hidenoumi, but was not blinded by his mawashi. He got a safe hold on Hidenoumi’s mawashi, tried a yori in one direction, then a yori in the other direction, then just pulled the man down. Uwatedashinage, and Hidenoumi is make-koshi and heading back to Juryo.

Ishiura didn’t do the most flagrant henka on the dohyo today. It was only a half-henka. Myogiryu managed to turn around at the edge, but not quickly enough to avoid the push.

Kotoyuki must be spending a large fraction of his keiko time perfecting his rolling technique. Even when he doesn’t roll off the dohyo, he still manages to roll. And today the bowler was Sokokurai, with a very typical uwatenage. Kotoyuki still winless.

Daiamami, who has had a strong basho this far, surprises by doing a henka. Still not the most flagrant one of the day. And also rather ineffectual. Tochiozan easily recovers and returns the favor, and it’s Daiamami who is on the receiving end of the hatakikomi, and off the yusho race.

Ikioi seems as good as he has been this basho. Pushes here and there, and then slams Yutakayama to the ground. Yutakayama’s hand goes straight to his topknot before he even rises, and for a good reason. His hair got pulled. Was it a forbidden hair pull or a hand accidentally getting caught in the elaborate hairdo? A monoii is called. The shimpan confer and decide: he pulled.

It’s worth noting that the point here is not so much if the hand in the hair is what caused Yutakayama to fall, and it’s also not whether it was intentional or not. Japanese culture regards people’s intentions and feelings as something that can’t be judged easily from the outside, so it tends to concentrate on observable behavior. The point is, therefore, whether Ikioi was grabbing the hair or not. And the replays show him bending his fingers as they get caught in the hair. This makes it a grab. Hatakikomi experts like Aminishiki know to keep their fingers straight when this happens. If your fingers are straight, you’re pretty much safe.

Ikioi, therefore, loses by hansoku – a disqualification – for using a kinjite – a forbidden technique. This is very rare in the top divisions. Ikioi says he thought his hand was already free of the mage when he pulled down.

Chiyonokuni gives Nishikigi his standard treatment. Forward attack with fierce tsuppari, and then a sharp pull. Nishikigi, as he has been for quite a few basho, is struggling to string wins together.

Kagayaki beats Daishomaru by a straightforward yori-kiri. Kagayaki has really improved his sumo style, and I would have expected him to be more than 5-5 at this point. Daishomaru missed his kachi-koshi opportunity this time.

Daieisho tries to develop an oshi battle against Chiyoshoma, but Chiyoshoma catches his mawashi and it turns into a yotsu battle. Chiyoshoma goes back and forth trying to create one of his favorite throws. He is having a hard time of it this basho, though. Eventually he gives up and completes this by a simple, straightforward yori-kiri.

The two rikishi who won the kanto-sho together last basho, Ryuden and Abi, are now being sorted into two different levels. Ryuden, though he is a very nice rikishi, will stay at the low to middle ranks, while Abi is definitely going places. Abi did his standard routine. Long hands landing a barrage of tsuppari, long legs moving forward fast. Ryuden could not withstand that attack or try anything. Abi, if he improves his footwork, may get to sanyaku in a couple of basho.

Something very strange is happening to Yoshikaze. Are we seeing the initial signs of concussion-related issues? He looks pretty much alright in his match with Okinoumi, when suddenly his left foot develops a mind of its own and he crumbles to the ground. The kimarite is kainahineri, but it doesn’t really look like one, and the only reason he escaped being sent off with a tsukihiza (which is a hiwaza – a non-technique, a default) is that Okinoumi was, in fact, applying some force to his body.

Takakeisho continues his weak, supposedly injury-related, sumo vs. the struggling Hokutofuji. For a couple of basho, the tadpoles have been the great hope for the future, and now they are all crumbling together.

Takarafuji showed today what he is really worth, in a patient and strong match with Kotoshogiku. He even attempts to gaburi the gaburi-master at some point there, but eventually finishes with a cleanly executed throw. The Isegahama man is a clear demonstration of the hardship of the joi. In the first week he got pummeled by much superior rikishi, and then, with low confidence and accumulated bangs, lost a couple of matches he should have won if they were in the beginning of his schedule. Thus, a make-koshi for an otherwise excellent wrestler. All he can do is try to pad his slide down the banzuke with a few wins.

Arawashi, whose left knee bandage seems to grow larger every day, is no real match for Endo, who gets him quickly out of the circle. Off-dohyo issues may also be affecting the injured Eagle, as apparently his tsukebito, Hikarugenji, is involved in yet another violence scandal and is kyujo as of today.

And now we come to the highlight match of the day. 420kg on the dohyo, not counting the gyoji. On one side, the new kaiju, Ichinojo, flexing his muscles and looking for young horses to toss around. On the other side, Kaisei, with a perfect 9-0 record, eyeing the yusho. Tachiai. Boom! The meeting of bodies nearly causes the seismographs in the Kansai area to send the signal for all shinkansen to stop in their tracks. It’s lucky that the honbasho dohyo is not made of beer crates like the jungyo dohyo are.

Kaisei takes the initiative and manages to get Ichinojo to the bales, but the Kyomusubi rallies and step by step pushes back to the middle of the ring. Then he sets his alarm clock for the next day, finds a soft spot on Kaisei’s shoulder to rest his head and goes to sleep. Remember, there are no wolves in Japan. Ichinojo can allow himself to sleep deeply, while Kaisei’s eyes start to bulge. The next day, Ichinojo wakes up, pushes a bit, sees that Kaisei still has some stamina left, hits the snooze button, and sleeps some more. Then he wakes up, picks the spent Brazilian up, and heaves him across the tawara.

Kaisei is too heavy to stop dead, and drops down, but Ichinojo still has enough stamina to pull at the Tomozuna man, enough to make him land lightly on his feet with little impact. Well done, Kyomusubi. Ichinojo is kachi-koshi, and Kaisei receives his first loss.

(OK, OK, I’m sure my Japanese jokes are lost on the crowd here. I’m calling him Kyomusubi because Komusubi – 小結 – means “little knot”, but 巨結 – Kyomusubi – giant knot – seems somehow more appropriate).

ichinojo-kaisei
Ichinojo, feeling refreshed after a long nap

But would you believe that this battle of titans, with immediate implications for the yusho run, was honored with not a single envelope of kensho? None. Zero. Ichinojo got to take home only his pride and the fans’ adoration.

Tamawashi has settled into a “one day sunshine, the next day rain” pattern. Where is the strong Tamawashi of yesterday? Chiyotairyu pushes him off the dohyo before the gyoji completes his first “hakkioi”.

The bout between Mitakeumi and Shohozan turns out to be a very nice piece of sumo. Shohozan goes for a harizashi but doesn’t quite gets the “zashi” part (slap-and-grab, but where’s the grab?). Then a slapfest ensues. Another harite! And another! And a body clash! Then Shohozan attempts to pull and sidestep. Mitakeumi keeps his balance and manages to re-engage. But Shohozan has now achieved the “grab” he was looking for, with a right-hand-outside. Mitakeumi’s left hand goes outside Shohozan’s grip, and he attempts to grab at Shohozan with his right, but this only ends with Shohozan having a tight morozashi with both hands firmly on Mitakeumi’s left back mawashi. Mitakeumi tries to do something with the arm he has on Shohozan’s neck, but Shohozan’s mighty pythons are doing their job, and Mitakeumi finds himself rolling below the dohyo.

Takayasu makes short work of Shodai. Kachiage. A couple of Nodowa, and good-bye. Takayasu is kachi-koshi, safe from kadoban, and looks pretty much like he did in the previous basho.

And now we come to the most flagrant henka of the day. By, you guessed it, Ozeki Go-Away-Do. And I don’t want to hear any complaints about me using that nickname when he does this. Are you under 170cm, Ozeki? Perhaps you weigh less than 100kg? Are you injured? Coming back from a long, rust inducing kyujo? In kadoban? Facing a man ranked 10 levels above you? Bah. Chicken. His home crowd at Osaka didn’t like it, either. There was a babble of disapproval where there should have been applause for their hero. The Osaka crowd are sumo aficionados. They know what’s right and what’s not. Tochinoshin managed to circle around in time, but couldn’t rally fast enough. He is now out of the yusho race. But I certainly hope he can continue the Ozeki run. Goeido, on the other hand, gets about 20 envelopes of kensho for this display.

Kakuryu, after his display of tawara-waltz yesterday, probably decided it’s time to show some Yokozuna-worthy sumo. He starts with a harizashi (which some argue is not yokozuna sumo. Well, at least not when the Yokozuna is Hakuho). Then gets his typical migi-yotsu, firmly holding to Chiyomaru‘s mawashi with his right hand.

This was, in fact, only the second time he used that grip in this basho. That’s the injured hand, and most of his bouts have been about working around it. He attempts to use it for the yori, but it’s actually Chiyomaru who advances. The yokozuna changes his overarm grip – the left hand – placing it closer to the front of Chiyomaru’s mawashi, and then uses it cleanly and efficiently and Chiyomaru finds himself outside in no time. This has been the first time for Chiyomaru to appear on the musubi-no-ichiban, or engage with a Yokozuna at all. He said “It was an atmosphere which I have never experienced before”.

chiyomaru-kakuryu
Sniff, sniff. Love your aftershave, Maru.

Kakuryu achieves his “Yokozuna kachi-koshi”. It now remains to see if his faith is going to be different than in the previous basho, as he goes into the last third where he faces the strongest opponents. And the first challenge is Kyomusubi Ichinojo!

Yusho Arasoi

  • 10-0 – Y1E Kakuryu
  • 9-1 – M6E Kaisei
  • 8-2 – OE Takayasu, KE Ichinojo

Juryo

As I said, I’m combining my coverages today, and here is the Juryo summary.

homarefuji-takanoiwa
Takanoiwa can’t find his sea legs as yet

At the very bottom, Enho is edging closer to a make-koshi, and his chance of winning all of his next five bouts are vanishingly small, much like himself. He will need to spend some more time at Makushita and get those kilograms rolling.

 

 

Tobizaru pretty much sweeps the floor with him.

Terutsuyoshi is not fairing much better, and I believe he is heading back to Makushita yet again, despite being stronger than Enho. He complains of various injuries on the Isegahama website.

 

The rest of the Isegahama sekitori surprisingly all won today, while all of Takanohana’s lost. In fact, Takanoiwa lost to Homarefuji.

Homarefuji got him into an oshi battle, which is clearly not his specialty.

Terunofuji got to meet the much higher-ranked Kyokutaisei. And once again, showed a glimpse of the old Terunofuji:

Harizashi, yotsu, yori-kiri. The former Ozeki and Kyokutaisei both hit the even 5-5 mark.

For some reason, One And Only seems not to like Aminishiki, and never posts a video of his bouts. So here is a time-stamped (46m 18s) full Juryo video from Miselet:

I have a hunch Aminishiki is going to announce his retirement soon – after this basho, or maybe the next. He is having a real hard time, and I suppose he is getting tired of suffering pain day after day and seeing not much in return.

But for the time being, he manages to scrape another win and break his fall down Juryo somewhat. Tokushoryu tries a tottari, but Aminishiki uses the same elbow to push him away and out.

Mitoryu and Sadanoumi are the only two Juryo wrestlers to achieve kachi-koshi by day 10. Tsurugisho and Amakaze are, alas, make-koshi.

Finally, at Jonokuchi, here is the Hoshoryu of the day. Congratulations, first kachi koshi!

Juryo: Haru Storylines Week 2

EDION Arena - Enho vs Wakatakakage - Haru 2018 Day 8 Juryo

As we’re midway through the competition and have already revisited our “Ones to Watch” from the bottom four divisions, let’s check in on the storylines facing the men of the Juryo division heading into the second week of action:

1. Can Kyokutaisei win promotion?

Needs for success: 8 wins

Second week prognosis: He’s on the right path, but has been tested. He sits 4-4 after 8 days. He’s at a rank where you’re going to be called up to makuuchi to get tested and make up the numbers, and he’s failed both tests so far (against Aoiyama and Ikioi). His day 8 loss was maybe a bit unlucky in that he nearly pulled out the win, but he’s going to have to find four wins from former top division men like Terunofuji, Gagamaru, and Chiyonoo in the coming days.

2. Golden Oldie Revival?

Needs for success: Old timers show results that state their case for a return to the big time in circumstances where more questions are being asked about how much longer they’ll remain in the sport.

Second week prognosis: Of the five rikishi we’re picking on, Takekaze, Sadanoumi, and Gagamaru look as though they are positioning themselves for quick and perhaps once thought improbable returns to the top flight. All men have six wins after 8 days. Aminishiki, meanwhile, looks set for a rather longer stay in the second tier, clearly hobbled by injuries and destined for a potentially brutal make-koshi. Tokushoryu looks like he might be treading water at his level with a 3-5 start.

3. Whither Kaiju?

Needs for success: passing expectations with a competent kachi-koshi, exceeding expectations with a thunderous yusho challenge and return to makuuchi.

Second week prognosis: Terunofuji is going to run into a handful of guys looking to state their promotion claim in the second week which he starts at a record of 4-4. It’s been a mixed slate so far: the technique is still there, but the strength has eluded him as he looks to rebuild his status following injury and diabetes related issues. Odds are he pulls out four more wins from seven, but he may need another tournament at this level in Tokyo this May before making his return to the big time. Curiously, when I attended Day 8, the applause for Terunofuji during both the Juryo dohyo-iri and his own match was muted compared to many other former makuuchi men in the Juryo division. I would have thought he’d get a least a little more love than he did, all things considered.

4. Takanoiwa

Needs for success: passing expectations with a competent kachi-koshi to knock off the cobwebs, exceeding expectations with a yusho challenge.

Second week prognosis: He won’t challenge for the yusho or even much of a move up the rankings list at Natsu on current form. He finds himself 4-4 and shouldn’t be in any danger of demotion, but he needs to find at least 3 wins to keep himself in the division and regroup for next time. At times the strength of the Takanoiwa we are used to seeing has shown up, but he’s found himself amidst a group of young, hungry rikishi who aren’t giving any quarter in their own efforts to establish themselves as sekitori. The rest of his matches should be against mid-Juryo veterans having middling tournaments, so there’s an opportunity at least to build momentum – after Mitoryu he’ll have faced all the fierce young talents in his way this tournament.

5. The Second Wave

Needs for success: These talented youngsters either need to: Cobble together enough wins to consolidate place in division (Yago, Takagenji, Daishoho, Terutsuyoshi), limit damage and try to avoid demotion if possible (Enho, Takayoshitoshi), continue progress with good kachi-koshi (Mitoryu)

Second week prognosis: Mixed bag, as expected.

Out of the first group (Yago, Terutsuyoshi, Daishoho and Takagenji), only Daishoho looks safe right now with a 5-3 record. Yago’s 2-6 tally leaves him in immediate danger of demotion, and the others are 3-5 and need to find 4 wins from somewhere.

Unfortunately for all of them, they won’t come at the expense of Takayoshitoshi as the kyujo man has faced all of them (except his brother), so none of them will pick up a helpful fusen-sho from his abdication in light of pummeling his tsukebito (instead it will be Ms1 Hakuyozan who picks up the win). Takayoshitoshi was 3-5 and likely heading for the demotion that has now been all but confirmed, and should he indeed remain withdrawn from the entire tournament then he will likely face a drop steep enough to leave him without a tsukebito for at least a couple more tournaments.

Enho, meanwhile, has delivered on his excitement, but hasn’t delivered in terms of wins. His overpromotion has left him a little exposed at the level as he’s even dropped 2 matches to visiting makushita men (and future sekitori) Hakuyozan and Wakatakakage. You can’t do that if you’re trying to stay in the division, and it’s likely that he may face an equally steep demotion as Takayoshitoshi: on current form both men will probably find themselves somewhere between Ms8 and Ms10.

Finally, if there’s a silver lining, it’s been Mitoryu. Much like his progress in Makushita, after taking one basho to settle, he’s really found his form and posted a 7 win tally over the first 8 days. Guys like Takanosho, Kotoeko and Gagamaru are in his future, and possibly if he continues to lead the yusho arasoi, potentially even Takekaze. So, it’s possible that this week we may already get to see what the talented young Mongolian can do against men with top level pedigree, and I’ll go out on a limb and say that on current form he will pass  his compatriot Terunofuji on the May banzuke.

Day 8 – The Lower Divisions

Short one today, as I really have to get going with my packing…

kotoeko-terutsuyoshi
Kotoeko toppling Terutsuyoshi

Let’s start with Takanoiwa vs. Yago. This was a lovely, prolonged bout, starting with a bit of tsuppari and continuing as a mawashi fight, with experience talking at the end.

A point to note on the sidelines: Takayoshitoshi arrives late and out of breath. His bout was the one after the next, and he should have been there on time in case his side lost, to give the chikara-mizu.

Josh included a video of Enho vs. Wakatakakage in his Ones To Watch summary, but Enho’s bouts are so entertaining, so here is the One-And-Only version, from a slightly closer angle:

Enho definitely needs to get himself at least a Terutsuyoshi body, and will need to do so in Makushita at Natsu, unless a miracle occurs.

Terutsuyoshi himself, as well as all the rest of the Isegahama Juryo rikishi, lost his bout today, to Kotoeko, whom he usually beats.

Yet another entertaining bout. I think they should create a division for rikishi under 175cm. It will be a marvel to watch.

At Makushita, the torikumi masters once again matched up zensho winners to test their strength and cull the race. Midorifuji met Nakazono:

The slight Midorifuji was no match for the massive Nakazono, and is now 3-1.

At Jonidan, I thought I’ll give you a glimpse of the oldest active rikishi – Hanakaze – who is nearly 48 years old – almost as old as myself! Here he is matched with Chida, a 20-year-old whose parents are probably younger than Hanakaze.

Nice to see his expression as he manages to escape the tawara that first time.

Finally, here are two Jonokuchi bouts, courtesy of the… Hattorizakura Channel… Yes, it’s a thing. And it features some darn high quality videos.

First, you won’t get away without Hoshoryu. Here he is pitted against one of the touchstones. That is, a rikishi who is extremely heavy, and whom you need good thinking and execution to beat. Kenho weighs 238kg, or so says the video title.

Hoshoryu tries a bit of tsuppari, then turns the big boulder around, and shows him the way out.

And since we are on the Hattorizakura channel, here is Hattorizakura’s 100th loss, at 4K, for your pleasure:

Note to lower division fans: I’m going to skip tomorrow, as I need to get ready for my trip. On Tuesday I’ll probably do a combined Juryo/Makuuchi post. After that, I’m on my way to Japan, and I hope I’ll be able to post stuff I have seen live on Saturday.

 

Day 7 – What’s Down?

 

Today has also been an exciting day in the divisions below Makuuchi. In particular, many rikishi at Makushita and below have achieved kachi-koshi today, with strong 4-0 records. But let’s start at Juryo.

terunofuji-tsurugisho
Terunofuji-Tsurugisho. The ex-Ozeki was happy with his sumo today

In the bottom battles, Hefty Smurf Terutsuyoshi got a rival from Makushita – Asabenkei – and should have been able to improve to 4-3, but fell victim to a slippiotoshi he was very unhappy about.

Takayoshitoshi was subjected to a nodowa treatment that seems to have limited his oxygen supply and stopped his win streak.

Enho got to face Yago. And as usual, this was an entertaining battle:

Enho goes for his usual maemitsu hold, and you can see how he keeps improving his underarm grip (technically, this is a hidari-yotsu but with his head buried in Yago’s armpit, it doesn’t look like it), inching towards Yago’s back. Then he performs a shitatenage. Here is the front side (from SumoSoul’s Twitter):

So Enho secures another win, and he’ll keep on providing us with entertaining sumo, but his chances of staying at Juryo are still very slim.

Mitoryu removes the blob-in-a-mawashi, Akiseyama, from the Juryo yusho run – at least for the time being:

It’s always fun to see one of the pixies beating someone 15cm taller, so here is Tobizaru vs. Takagenji for you:

Yes, also a shitatenage. Come to think of it, this was not a good day for the Takanohana beya gang. Takakeisho, Takanoiwa and both twins got a black star today.

Terunofuji got Tsurugisho today. Why was he happy with his sumo (on the Isegahama web site: “I’ll strive to keep fighting like I did today and get a kachi-koshi”)?

I swear, for a moment there I thought I saw Terunofuji! Oh wait.

I can’t find any video of Aminishiki’s bout at the moment, but he won by his typical hatakikomi. If a video surfaces, I’ll embed it.

Finally, Takekaze continues his journey back to Makuuchi, and Sadanoumi loses for the second time:

Quite powerful sumo from the veteran.

Let’s head down to Makushita.

The torikumi guys are starting to separate wheat from chaff, and matched Chiyonoumi against Hakuyozan, both lossless before today.

A fierce tsuki-oshi battle, that ended up, sadly, with Chiyonoumi landing on a lady in the third row. Hakuyozan secures his kachi-koshi.

They did the same thing with Murata and Wakamotoharu (one of the Onami (“waka”)  brothers, if you recall):

Murata very dominant, and kachi-koshi.

Wakatakakage and Akua were both 2-1 coming into the following bout.

Ah. Wakatakakage, do you really need that henka?

Down at Jonidan, once again zensho rikishi were pitted against each other. And finally I get an individual video of Yoshoyama. Thank you, One And Only.

Finally, we get to see some of the strength Yoshoyama was purported to have. Watanabe tries to make this an oshi battle, but most Mongolian rikishi don’t really go for that (Tamawashi is a notable exception) and Yoshoyama quickly secures a hidari yotsu and dances Watanabe to the edge. Yoshoyama is kachi-koshi.

Torakio has also been matched against another lossless wrestler, Nishiyama, but received his first kuroboshi and has yet to secure his kachi-koshi.

This was a lovely bout for such a low division, and Torakio looks just about to win it when Nishiyama converts it to a perfect utchari.

And finally, Jonokuchi, and the famous grandchild Naya goes against Kotomiyakura, once again, in a bout of lossless rikishi. Guess who won.

I think Naya is starting to be frustrated at the lack of challenge. Wait, grandkid. Once you get to Makushita you’ll get to enjoy some real challenges.

Another similar bout between two lossless rikishi was the one between Shinfuji and Kayatoiwa, the Jonokuchi #1.

Of course I was rooting for the Isegahama man, but… what was that? Clear lack of experience, I’d say. Too bad. Kayatoiwa is a Sandanme regular who was kyujo for two consecutive basho and found himself back in Jonokuchi, and he has no intention of staying there. Kachi-koshi and a certain return to Jonidan.

 

Day 6 – The Lower Divisions

Once again, Kintamayama has been in a generous mood and provided us with a Day 6 Juryo digest. Head over there and watch the whole thing.

Now, quickly repeat this sentence five times in a row: Takayoshitoshi beats Terutsuyoshi by okuritaoshi. The winner gets a free Acme Tongue Straightener.

Terutsuyoshi tried to reverse the charges and perform an ipponzeoi, but this time it didn’t work – his toe eventually touched the soft earth around the tawara and the gunbai pointed to Takayoshitoshi.

Why “this time”? Because he did something very similar with Takayoshitoshi’s twin brother back in November.

Takanoiwa got to do the splits, courtesy of Tochihiryu, a guy coming up from Makushita to fill in the gaps. Ouch.

Akiseyama is back to being a blob in a mawashi. He starts by launching a convincing tsuppari on Takagenji, but an attempt to switch to the mawashi gives Takagenji the initiative, and Akiseyama somehow manages to waddle his way out of the mess, and keep his place on the leaderboard.

Enho said in an interview on NHK yesterday that he wants to be a rikishi who gives the spectators an interesting match to watch. And he is certainly doing that. Only… he is already 1-5, has the worst balance in the three bottom ranks, and looks well on his way to lose the “zeki” suffix from his name and his newly assigned tsukebito.

mitoryu-helps-enho-up
Mitoryu lends Enho a hand up

Amakaze grabs his first win of the basho. I like Amakaze, I wish he may get a kachi-koshi, but winning his first white star on the sixth day means this is somewhat unlikely.

Homarefuji sends Gagamaru out under his own inertia, and is the only sekitori from Isegahama to win a bout today. By which I’m spoiling the next bout, which is Kotoeko vs. Terunofuji who is back to haunting the dohyo rather than dominating it. Kotoeko gets inside and lifts Terunofuji up, and the ex-Ozeki sums it in his own words: “My worst executed loss so far. If I don’t move forward I’m toast”.

(Well, my free translation of his own words, that is. He never mentioned any actual toasts in the Japanese version on the Isegahama website).

Tsurugisho can open a school to teach henka technique. That was the hennest henka in Kawashiland. Excuse the Japlish.

Aminishiki continues to suffer. He tries a heroic throw at the edge but can’t keep himself in balance long enough.

Sadanoumi loses for the first time in this tournament, and now nobody has a lossless record in Juryo.

Finally, Azumaryu meets Takekaze, who seems to be the genkiest we have seen him in months. Unless he gets very tired by the second half, the bullfrog is leaping back to Makuuchi.

Makushita

Midorifuji continues his winning streak, this time facing Ichiki:

Midorifuji is yet another rikishi in the “angry pixie” class – 169cm including his chon-mage. Ichiki here is slightly taller and heavier, but the more explosive Midorifuji wins the day.

Toyonoshima faces Asahiryu, the Mongolian from Asahiyama beya, and pretty much overwhelms him:

That boy is already two years in Sumo. He should put on some more weight.

Sandanme

Let’s take a look at Hikarugenji – that’s the man I introduced in the Pearl of the Day a couple of days ago. He is Arawashi’s tsukebito, and like most tsukebito, seems to be a fixture at Sandanme:

Here he is facing Chiyodaigo, the 20-year-old from Kokonoe. Can’t say this was exactly a matta, but Chiyodaigo seems to be caught off-guard.

Jonidan

Yoshoyama faced Kotoharamoto. I don’t have an individual bout so again, here is the complete Jonidan recording, time stamped for Yoshoyama’s bout (25:36):

I’m still not loving his tachiai, but the guy has technique alright. By the way, as the wrestlers start doing their shikiri, the announcer and the guest are discussing Kotoharamoto’s good sumo body, when the guy turns and shows the camera his front side. The guest promptly says “Oh, he reminds me of Kagayaki”. Jee, I wonder why.

The announcer calls that an okuridashi, but the official kimarite is actually tottari. He first has that hand in an ottsuke, and then converts that into a tottai.

Jonokuchi

And finally, we can’t do without Hattorizakura and his continued Sisyphean sumo life:

Day 5 – Below the Curtain

Makuuchi, you may know, means “Inside the curtain”. This is a reference to days gone by, when the top level rikishi were curtained off from the mere mortals, named “makushita” (“below the curtain”). In those days, there was no separate “Juryo” division.

And so, let’s go below the curtain.

Juryo

Everybody’s favorite Uncle Sumo finally managed to pull his first win in this basho.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ah, yes, he-e-e-enka. But it’s really not clear what Aminishiki tried to do there other than confuse Azumaryu. Then followed a short oshi battle which Aminishiki, much to his relief, won.

Another Isegahama beya man who finally got a win after three consecutive losses was Homarefuji.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Both rikishi were patient and did a bit of leaning and thinking, but I think Takagenji should have reacted to Homarefuji’s grip change. He didn’t, and the circling continued, and eventually he found himself thrown.

On the other hand, Terunofuji and Terutsuyoshi, who were the leaders for Isegahama the previous day, had a bit of a reversal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Terunofuji opened well, but Takanosho managed to turn and put him between himself and the Tawara. Unfortunately, the ex-kaiju still has no staying power on the bales.

Terutsuyoshi had to face the mawashi-wearing-spud, Akiseyama. Actually, today Akiseyama looked a bit more like a sumo wrestler and less like a lucky blob:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

He doesn’t allow Hefty Smurf to get anywhere near the front of his mawashi, and eventually catches the little devil and throws him out unceremoniously.

Enho, the Less-Hefty Smurf, had to face Takanoiwa.

 

 

 

 

 

 

That was quite a match! Enho stuck to the front of Takanoiwa’s mawashi like bad reputation, and wouldn’t let go. Kudos to Takanoiwa for pulling Enho back from the edge of the dohyo after the yori-kiri.

The Juryo yusho arasoi looks like this at the moment:

5-0: Sadanoumi.

4-1: Takekaze, Gagamaru, Takanosho, Mitoryu, Akiseyama

If Takekaze keeps that up, we’ll see him back in Makuuchi by Natsu.

Makushita

Wakatakakage and Hakuyozan were both 2-0 before their bout today.

 

 

 

 

Hakuyozan denies Wakatakakage any access to his mawashi with a barrage of tsuppari. I think Wakatakakage was just a bit too slow today.

For those who were wondering how Chiyootori looks following his injury:

 

 

Well, there is a slight limp there at the end, but generally, despite losing this particular match, he seems to be in a reasonable state to do sumo. Whether he’ll be able to get his sekitori status back is another question. Rumor has it that he has been set as Chiyotairyu’s tsukebito, by the way. Former komusubi, I must remind you.

I’m skipping Sandanme, as I don’t have any quality video to share, noting only that finally Terunohana got his first win.

Down at Jonidan, Torakio continues his decisive race back to the next level. Yusho potential here.

By the way, Torakio may be the star of his heya, but the little smurf, Oshozan, is doing nicely this basho at Jonidan, despite being a rather self-effacing guy (based on his Twitter account, that is).

Finally, the great rivalry developing down at Jonokuchi: Naya, the grandson, vs. Hoshoryu, the nephew.

This is a bad angle for it, so you may want to watch the same bout at Miselet‘s channel, where the entire Jonokuchi broadcast is available. Naya has Hoshoryu in a firm grip and there is really no way for the lighter Mongolian to get away from that grip. I can well imagine these two in three years, throwing a spanner into each other’s Ozeki runs.

Day 4 – Juryo and Below

Not all divisions covered this time.

enho-terutsuyoshi
Terutsuyoshi picks on someone his own size

In the battle of the muscular pixies, the more muscular and experienced pixie, that is, Terutsuyoshi, had the day.

Enho has given Terutsuyoshi all kinds of trouble there, but eventually, the Isegahama man just grabbed his head and didn’t let go. Basically, trying for a hineri on a small opponent is not the greatest idea. Kotenage, and Enho will need to look for his second win someplace else.

In the match that followed that one, Akiseyama, the spud in the mawashi, gave Takanoiwa his second loss. Takanoiwa got a mawashi grip on him, but Akiseyama took advantage of an overcommitment and sent him to the floor in a tsukiotoshi.

Fans of the Flying Monkey, Tobizaru, will enjoy seeing him in his snowy Mawashi vs. Daiseido:

This was an energetic dance all over the dohyo, ending in a hikiotoshi by Tobizaru.

And of course I won’t leave Juryo without an update on the Ghost of Terunofuji, who suddenly looks a lot less ghostly:

Not quite kaiju as yet, but that was a convincing uwatenage, and the former Ozeki has three wins in a row and is probably safe from having to bid farewall to Shunba. On the Isegahama web site, he says he should avoid complacency, and first and foremost, go for a kachi-koshi. Well, now it seems like a realistic goal.

In Makushita, let’s take a look at Midorifuji in his bout vs. Ayanoumi. This developed into quite a lengthy battle, looking most of the time more like Mongolian Wrestling than plain sumo.

No monoii there at the end, and stamina king Midorifuji has the day.

Down at Jonidan, Torakio made another appearance:

That arm and shoulder clearly still bother him, but he uses them nonetheless. And his sumo style is improving.

At Jonokuchi, Hoshoryu made a second appearance as well. Again, I couldn’t find an individual video, so here is a time-stamped video of the complete Jonokuchi set of matches:

The rival is heavy Unzendake. Hoshoryu goes on the attack and manages to get that bulk to the tawara with a lot of gaburi yori. Unzendake does not rely on his weight alone to save him and tries to repel the Mongolian and even starts a throw, but Hoshoryu claims the throw for his own and makes sure he doesn’t touch ground first. That boy doesn’t look like it’s his first sumo tournament.

In an hour or so day 5 starts, and Jonokuchi has the interesting match between Naya and Hoshoryu. It will be Naya’s first real challenge, although he did beat Hoshoryu in the past.

And of course, the Hattorizakura loss-du-jour:

Day 3 – Juryo and below

As well as the exciting matches at the top of the Banzuke, we also had some interesting action below Makuuchi. Let’s start with Juryo, and this time I don’t need to embed a lot of videos, because Kintamayama has been extra generous and made a full Juryo summary of day 3. Head over there to watch it.

enho-after-takayoshitoshi
Enho, preparing to hand his first chikara-mizu in Juryo

Enho, Hakuho’s Mini-Me, finally got his first win today, against the other shin-Juryo, Takayoshitoshi. “I am relieved. I have been watching videos of my best past sumo yesterday”, he said afterwards. Tomorrow, alas, he faces my main man, Terutsuyoshi, in a bout I want neither to lose. Can’t we all just be friends?

Speaking of Terutsuyoshi, he brought Takanoiwa’s race back to Makuuchi to a stop today, defeating him by a spirited yori-kiri. Of course, this was a piquant bout, as far as the press was concerned, between a member of Isegahama beya (specifically, they all called him “Harumafuji’s ototo-deshi”) and Takanoiwa. Terutsuyoshi responded to that with “On the dohyo, it’s man against man. If you start bringing other people’s affairs on the dohyo, you wouldn’t be able to do sumo”.

Of course, if you are looking for schadenfreude, you can always follow Asashoryu’s twitter account. He was laughing in Japanese again today. But of course, it was because of a funny video. Not Takanoiwa at all.

Yago continues to struggle. Tomorrow he goes against Takayoshitoshi. Both are 0-3 at the moment, so at least one of them will get his first shiro-boshi tomorrow. I prefer Yago, of course.

And Terunofuji got a second win in a row, vs. the hapless Amakaze. There were reports in the morning that the former Ozeki was in an improved mood following his first win – he came to morning practice, practiced with Midorifuji, and was all smiles. His good mood continued after this win, as he wrote on the Isegahama site: “Winning after a long dry spell yesterday made me remember the trick to winning! LOL”. So the former kaiju is in a good mood, but if you look at the bout, it was still far from the real Terunofuji. He got a mawashi grip quickly enough, but couldn’t do anything decisive with it.

teru-amakaze

Eventually he lost his grip and Amakaze tried to make that into a sloppy tottari, and Terunofuji simply used his bulk for a couple of side bumps to make sure Amakaze fell first. At this point, he really can’t afford any futile attempts at good technique with muscles he doesn’t have. If he drops down to Makushita, he’s going to lose not just his salary and private apartment, but also Shunba.

Let’s go down a step and visit Makushita. The bout between Kizenryu and Ichiyamamoto became the talk of the day today.

chiyonoumi-kizenryu
Chiyonoumi wiping dirt off the injured Kizenryu

Here is the video:

The bout starts as usual, takes quite a while with nice Sumo on both sides, but it ends up with both rikishi diving head down and Kizenryu’s face meeting hard clay. Problem is, it’s really hard to tell who hit the ground first. A monoii is called, but Kizenryu is having a hard time getting up and off the dohyo. The first shimpan up (I believe it’s Shikihide oyakata) checks on him, and then the yobidashi.

With the help of the yobidashi he finally gets up, descends and awaits the referees decision. At this point all he has on his mind is probably going back to the shitakubeya and taking care of his bleeding face. But he is stunned (even further) when the shimpan call a torinaoshi.

By this time he has three yobidashi trying to wipe him off, and then Chiyonoumi, who is sitting down awaiting his own turn, gets up, fixes the stunned Kizenryu’s mawashi knot, proceeds to wipe the dirt off him, and then watches over him as he goes to the steps, in case he stumbles.

Ichiyamamoto adds matta to injury, but eventually Kizenryu manages to win by uwatenage. Dragging himself away from the dohyo, his face bleeding again, he doesn’t forget to turn around and bow. Wow.

(And yes, that’s a Maiko making her way to her seat right there at the end).

Kudos to Kizenryu for a heroic performance, and Chiyonoumi earned himself a new fan. What a mensch!

Chiyonoumi himself won his bout after that vs. Asabenkei:

Sotogake. And as one of the spectators mentioned, he looked like Chiyonokuni there for a moment.

Down at Sandanme, if anybody is interested to see what the new yumi-tori man’s sumo is like, here is Kasugaryu vs. Nakashima:

Kasugaryu is 0-2 so far. Perhaps it’s the bow ceremony that gets to him, because he certainly seems to have good technique.

And further down at Jonidan, while we are looking at bow twirlers’ sumo, Satonofuji went against Chura today:

Ah, yes. I think even an alien would recognize that this man is from Aminishiki’s stable.

Finally, at the very bottom, in Jonidan: remember I made a bit of fun of Urutora (Kanji aside, that seems to be the Japanese rendition of “Ultra”, and I think it’s intentional) and his huge gap from Naia? Well, he may be a poppy seed, but he is no Hattorizakura. Here he is against Azumayama:

I wonder what’s the story of this “Ultra” rikishi. He seems to spend a lot of his time kyujo and even banzuke-gai.

His rival from yesterday, the famous Naia, also competed today. This time his rival was Watatani.

Still no challenge whatsoever. Naya enjoys his new privilege (using nodowa – you’re not allowed to do that in amateur/youth sumo). We’re probably watching the Jonokuchi yusho winner here. Just sayin’.

 

Haru Day 2 – beyond Makuuchi

It was an interesting sumo day at the EDION arena. Bruce has already given you the highlights of Makuuchi. But there is much action to see in the other divisions.

terunofuji-gagamaru

Former Ozeki Terunofuji has broken a 6-month draught, winning his bout vs. Gagamaru by Uwatenage.

Yesterday Terunofuji said that while his knee problems are mostly gone, he has to contend with the diabetes at the moment. He was told that it will take him six months to get his body back in shape, and he is hoping, by working out as much as possible, to shorten that period. He was certainly happy about that long awaited white star, though you can’t see that in the video.

Our favorite Uncle Sumo is not doing as well, though. Yesterday Takekaze has given him a Hatakikomi from his own book. Today, despite much support from the Osaka crowd, he just couldn’t stand his ground vs. Kyokutaisei. He hinted on the Isegahama web site that his injury is not quite healed as yet.

Another crowd favorite who is not doing very well is our muscular pixie, Enho. I believe it’s mostly nerves rather than body size, though. The other shin-Juryo, Takayoshitoshi, has also lost both his bouts so far, and he is most certainly not vertically challenged.

I… wish he didn’t go for the henka. It’s unlike him. His tactic has always been to drive forward. Of course, variety would help. Instead of always going for a mae-mitsu he could try the same barrage of tsuppari Wakaichiro used yesterday. Anyway, don’t pull. Hakuho told him that he looked “lost”.

Not far away from him on the banzuke, is the returning victim of the Harumafuji affair, Takanoiwa. And he looks like he hasn’t been a day away from the dohyo:

Trying to get a mawashi grip, keeping his body low. Shimanoumi finds himself below the dohyo. Takanoiwa is now 2-0. Seriously, somebody should give Hakuho the address of the hospital where Takanoiwa was hospitalized all this time because it seems that their treatment program includes lower body exercise of top quality.

And here is a bout in which I wanted neither rikishi to lose, really, but I wish it was Terutsuyoshi who won at the end.

Note Terutsuyoshi’s coming back up the dohyo. The crowd appreciated that – as well as his usual generous salt throw.

Further down we go. Toyonoshima is still trying to overcome his injuries and return to Sekitori status. He promised the late Tokitenku that he’ll be back. But it is getting more and more difficult as time goes by:

His rival is Rendaiyama. You can see Toyonoshima’s experience – but like Aminishiki, he just can’t withstand strong attacks from younger rivals.

In Sandanme, I’m sorry to report that Shunba lost to Kaonishiki by oshi-dashi, as did Terunohana (kimedashi, to Daishokaku).

Down at Jonidan, after his stablemates appeared on day 1 with mixed results (Oshozan won, Sumidagawa and Honma lost), Torakio opened his Haru basho today. Something in his expression tells me that he finally knows where he has landed, and I’m not sure he likes it too much.

It’s no fun having a heavy supporter on your arm this early in your career. But nevertheless, he uses that very arm to throw Nakao and win by uwatenage.

One of the “ones to watch” – Yoshoyama – also made his first appearance today. His torikumi ended in a couple of seconds. There seems to be an improvement there, but I still see a Shodai-like tachiai there.

No individual video, so here is the time-marked video of the whole set of Jonidan torikumi:

(If the time mark doesn’t work for you, shift to 19m10s manually).

Finally, down at Jonokuchi, both the famous grandson and the famous nephew made their first public appearances (at least, the first on-banzuke). Let’s start with Naya, Taiho’s grandson. He was facing Urutora:

Quite a bit of difference in mass there… Shikihide oyakata certainly doesn’t believe in force-feeding his deshi. Not a real match for the huge Naya who swats him away as if he were a fly.

Hoshoryu – Asashoryu’s nephew – faced Nakanishi, the new Sakaigawa man. This was a totally different match altogether:

Ahhhh…. that’s real sumo. Before the basho, Takanosho decided to practice with Hoshoryu. Hoshoryu is a Jonokuchi newcomer. Takanosho a sekitori. And Takanosho found himself on his back. And seeing today’s bout, we know why. I don’t know if he’ll be a Yokozuna like his uncle, but that boy is certainly not going to be doing laundry and cleaning toilets for long.

Isn’t sumo great?

Video credits: One and Only, Miselet.

 

Juryo: Haru 2018 Storylines

kyokutaisei-kachi-koshi
Kyokutaisei: can he finally win promotion to makuuchi?

While we tend to focus the lion’s share of our attention on what’s happening in the top division, or who the hot up-and-comers are in the sport, the banzuke announcement for Haru 2018 has prompted an unusual amount of intrigue at Juryo level. The division typically features a handful of grizzled vets trying to make it back to the big time, a couple interesting prospects, and/or some rikishi trying to recover form and rank following some recent injuries. But this time, we get all of those features and more in larger than usual numbers. Incredibly, 11 out of the 28 rikishi are also fighting at their highest ever rank. So, here’s a look at some storylines heading into next Sunday’s action:

1. Can Kyokutaisei win promotion?

He’s not a household name and was never a hot prospect, but Kyokutaisei has been an interesting follow for a while now, and plies his trade under the former fan-and-rikishi-favorite Kyokutenho at Tomozuna-beya. He’s an intriguing name, not least due to his rare status as a rikishi with a starring film credit in the film “A Normal Life,” which detailed the then-18 year old’s entry into the sumo world. It’s a fascinating, highly-recommended watch, and details a lot of the less-glamourous aspects of the life of a young rikishi.

Since debuting at this tournament 10 years ago, it’s been a slow and steady progression for the 28 year old. He reached the rank of Juryo 1 West and put up a 8-7 record at Hatsu, but it wasn’t enough to clinch one of the three promotion places and he’ll start Haru as the top ranked man in Juryo. He has clearly benefitted from the tutelage of Tomozuna-oyakata, and after a collapse that saw him fritter away a promotion opportunity having won 2 from his last 7 at Hatsu, hopefully he will be able to find the consistency to push him up to the top division after an incredible journey.

2: Golden Oldie Revival?

While 30 is not so old in the scheme of things, it is the age in many sports where serious fitness questions start to be asked. Of the eight rikishi directly behind Kyokutaisei in the banzuke, six are 30 or over, with the other two being 29 year old Azumaryu who will turn 30 by Natsu and the 22 year old up-and-comer Meisei.

This group includes the fan favorites and recently demoted makuuchi pair Aminishiki and Takakaze, as well as Gagamaru, Tokushoryu and Sadanoumi, who have recently spent more time in the Juryo wilderness than out of it. Haru should give us a good sense of whether any of these men can win the day and emphatically book their ticket back to the top division, or whether we will see an attritional battle indicative of the winding down of their careers.

3: Whither Kaiju?

Terunofuji’s health and the direction of the career have been the subjects of much debate, on these pages as well as within the comments section of the site. How long has it been since he last pushed someone out of the dohyo? The Juryo 5’s last win came as an Ozeki (interestingly, against current Emperor’s Cup holder Tochinoshin). He’s 0 for his last 15, and 2 for his last 21 excluding fusen losses, and has withdrawn at some stage of the last four tournaments.

The numbers, then, don’t look encouraging. But longtime followers will know what Terunofuji is capable of, and it’s possible that the jungyo-less time between Hatsu and Haru will have provided a platform for him to recapture some kind of form, and maybe even enough to find a promotion opportunity or at least get himself in a better position for Natsu. This tournament will be one year since the Haru 2017 Day 14 ‘henka heard round Osaka’ which halted Kotoshogiku from regaining his Ozeki rank – and at that time it would have taken a bold punter to bet that Kotoshogiku would be so far in front of his former Ozeki colleague a year later on the banzuke. Sumo is better for seeing the Isegahama man at his incredible best – but even some fraction of that will be a positive step forward for the Mongolian.

4. Takanoiwa

The Takanohana man hasn’t been seen since the Remote-Control-gate scandal that cost Yokozuna Harumafuji his sumo career. While the scandal rolled on through the end days of 2017, Takanoiwa abstained from duty while his head injuries healed. Now he finds himself near the bottom of the Juryo division at J12, surrounded by a plethora of talented youngsters. The Mongolian, in good health on his day is a match for anyone in the top division owing to his incredible strength. It stands to reason then that, if active, he should be an automatic title favorite in the Juryo yusho race. But will he even be active for Haru, and if so, will he be able to knock off the cobwebs and challenge for it?

5. The Second Wave

Much has been made of the new wave of talent that has rolled into makuuchi in the last year. While Takakeisho and Onosho and Hokutofuji have taken the division by storm and already established themselves in the top half, more up and comers like Asanoyama, Yutakayama and Abi have latterly pushed on and forced their way into the tournament story lines, grabbing special prizes and charming audiences along the way.

Now there’s another new crop of youngsters looking to depose the favorites who have dominated the sport over the past few years: as mentioned above, 11 of the 28 Juryo men are competing at a new or joint-highest ranking. But digging a little deeper, of the 11 men at the bottom of the Juryo ranks, seven are 23 years of age or younger, with the much watched Enho and Takayoshitoshi making their debuts in the division this time out as part of the incredible 7 promotees from the Makushita tier at Hatsu.

Different questions will be asked of each of these rikishi. For Yago, Takagenji, Daishoho and Terutsuyoshi, the challenge is simple: they need to put cobble together enough wins to consolidate their place in the division, and establish themselves at the level. For Enho and Takayoshitoshi, who were promoted with records at ranks that wouldn’t normally justify a promotion, it’s about damage limitation and seeing if they can put a surprise run together: no one, after being promoted with the records they had last time out for the very first time at this level, would begrudge them a return to Makushita, but you can be sure that isn’t what they are thinking about. They are here to prove they belong. Enho in particular is a comparatively very small rikishi who can provide entertaining all-action sumo, but he’s got to keep himself healthy.

Finally, that leaves Mitoryu. The enormous, much hyped Mongolian made a strong start at Hatsu before fading with just 2 wins over the last week, but that was enough to get him a kachi-koshi in his first tournament as a sekitori. Now, he’s got a great chance to push on, in a very competitive field.

While the five story lines above are interesting in their own right – incredibly, they may not even facilitate the top headlines when it’s all said and done. Youngsters Meisei and Takanosho are two rikishi not discussed here in detail, and they could well make waves this time out as well after their progress over the last year. While Juryo is sometimes a bit of a difficult division to get excited about, at Haru, it will certainly be “one to watch.”

Rikishi of the Future – The Hakuho Cup 2018

Following the two hana-zumo events, the dohyo in the Ryogoku Kokugikan was not left unattended. On Monday, February 12, the 8th Hakuho Cup took place.

hakuho-cup

The Hakuho Cup is a children’s sumo event, second only to the annual Wanpaku National Championship. Its origins are actually in the Asashoryu Cup. The Wanpaku National Championship is an all-Japanese event, and Asashoryu wished to put some Mongolian kids on the dohyo in the Kokugikan. This dream has finally come to fruition in August 2009, in an event for boys age 8-12, won by the Mongolian delegation winning all of its bouts. Asashoryu wanted to make this an annual event, but unfortunately he was forced to retire a few months later, and the event was never repeated.

With Asashoryu gone, Hakuho took his place as the leading (and only) Yokozuna, and starting in 2011, established his own event. And as usual with Hakuho, anything Asashoryu did, he improved upon. The Hakuho cup in its current form is an event for boys from first to ninth grade. No less than 1300 boys attended this year’s event, hailing not only from Mongolia and Japan, but also from the USA, Taiwan, Hong-Kong, Mainland China, Thailand and South Korea.

The Mongolian delegation practiced at Tomozuna beya:

mongolia-tomozuna

While the “Aloha State” team practiced at Musashigawa:

Other heya have also opened their dohyo to the various sumo school clubs and delegations.

On the day itself, many bouts took place on temporary dohyos spread around the kokugikan. At lunch break, Hakuho and Yoshikaze – always involved in children sumo – sat down for a public chat on the dohyo. They were joined by a surprise guest:

hakuho-cup-talk-show
Hakuho, Hanada, Yoshikaze

This was none other than the 66th Yokozuna, the former Wakanohana, Mr. Masaru Hanada. Yes, Takanohana’s older and estranged brother.

This was the first time for the 66th and the 69th Yokozuna to meet face to face, and also the first time for the former Wakanohana to step up the dohyo in the Kokugikan since his retirement in 2000. Hakuho told Hanada that he has been watching his videos since he entered into the sumo world, and always thought he would be a tough one to engage with. Hanada said “You’re huge!”, and then addressed the child wrestlers: “Don’t worry. Even small ones can become Yokozuna, like I did. Just be diligent with your keiko!” (Wakanohana was merely 181cm tall).

Among the participants in the event was Hakuho’s own eldest son, Mahato. That’s the same kid who participated in the 2017 summer Jungyo and asked to engage Mitakeumi, to take revenge (Mitakeumi has beaten Hakuho in the Nagoya basho).

Hakuho Jr. is 9 years old, in the third grade, and therefore this has been his third appearance in his father’s tournament. And for the first time, he actually won a bout – he was winless in the previous two occasions. He overcame a henka, got a brief migi-yotsu and finished with an uwate-nage. The proud father said “Keiko doesn’t lie. He does 200 shiko stomps… but not every day.” The boy was defeated in his next bout, though.

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Hakuho, comforting his son Mahato after his loss in his second bout

The tournament winner for the second grade was Takaaki Uno from Kanazawa.

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The Kanazawa delegation got a lot of support from the latest Kanazawa sekitori, Enho:

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And finally, here is a video with a summary of the events of the day, including the Hakuho jr. bout and various other bouts:

Yes, they are children. The tears are real.