One of the cool things about the sumo experience is the large array of merch on sale for attendees to snap up at their leisure. There are souvenirs ranging from cookies to towels to figurines to decks of playing cards, and more. And we’re happy to let our readers know that we’ve got an extra deck of those playing cards to give away!
How to enter: all we’re asking is that you share either of the below links to the latest Tachiai podcast on iTunes publicly, on Twitter or Facebook, and post the link to your shared post in the comments of this post. Then, we’ll randomly select a winner and send you the deck! Easy as that.
As new decks haven’t yet been produced, the deck includes recently retired fan favorites like Harumafuji and Osunaarashi, so it’ll be a great “last chance” collectible if you’re a fan of those fellas. Sadly, it was produced before the ascension to sekitori status of Enho, so you won’t have luck finding him as the Ace of Hearts (a title that is, of course, bestowed upon Ichinojo)! Meanwhile, Nagoya-yusho winner Mitakeumi takes up the rock and roll mantle of Ace of Spades.
We’ll pick a winner at the end of August, so you’ve got until then to enter! We’ll send the prize to the winner in early September.
Often, those of us who pontificate about the skills of those who mount the dohyo will throw in a few qualifiers about the strengths and weaknesses of said rikishi: “If they could just add a yotsu-element” or “if they could just set their feet” or “if they could just maintain composure in the vital moment” are all things you’ll sometimes hear in the context of the development of a sumotori.
It’s why being a pundit is great fun. But it’s also easy to say, because it ignores the fact that there’s a whole other person in the dohyo with that rikishi. And usually, that other person is a whole lot of man-mountain to move. And usually, most of us spilling the ink can’t say from experience exactly what that’s like.
But equally, all of this enthusiasm and desire for sumo analysis has brought a new enthusiasm for professional, amateur and exhibition sumo around the world – especially the English speaking world, as we here at Tachiai have been fortunate to experience. While NHK World recently covered the USA Sumo Championships – one of the larger events in the amateur calendar – in their latest Grand Sumo Preview, all around America there are plenty more sumo exhibitions, and many of them feature some familiar names.
Recently, the city of Grand Rapids, Michigan hosted its annual Asian-Pacific Festival. As part of the festivities, the popular Byamba (the 33-year old former Daishochi of Shibatayama-beya, now a multiple amateur title winner) and Yama (the 34-year old former Maegashira Yamamotoyama of Onoe-beya) descended on the town to take on each other as well as some locals.
Following the event, I connected with Christopher Acklin, a Grand Rapids local who was able to fight Yama in the ring. He was kind enough to answer a few questions for us about the experience:
Tachiai: How did you find out about sumo coming to Grand Rapids?
Christopher Acklin: I’m pretty lucky. At my firm, we have a fairly diverse crowd. One of the partners knows the organisers of [the event]. One day she said, “Hey! Would you like to go as our representative? You can invite some people and get to experience this event” So I said “Sure, I’ll go.” I was planning on going to Japan in September, so I felt this would be a great way to learn a little bit more about the culture and one of the more unique cultural aspects of Japan. Later, [the partner] said “they’re going to do celebrity matches – would you be interested?” And I said: “Why not?” If you’re going to go, you might as well go all the way. I started doing a little research and I watched some of the old Grand Sumo tournaments, which caught my eye, because it’s amazing – the tradition behind all of it, the preparation and effort that they take, and the style too. I do Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, where balance is important, and I was noticing that balance is so important for sumo. In an Americanized way you think “oh, well these aren’t athletes,” but then you see them in action and it’s not just their size, but their ability to balance and their speed – it’s pretty impressive, which I got to find out first-hand.
Tachiai: When you signed up, did you get to pick who you fought? How did that work?
CA: When I went up, they had three guys. So I said, “I might as well go for the gold” and go for the biggest guy they had there [which was Yama]. I’m about 300 pounds, I’m pretty strong… and when we actually faced off, it wasn’t even as much the size difference that got my attention – still, he’s twice my size – it was his ability to move with my movement that surprised me. I’m thinking, “he’s just a big guy, how much is he going to be able to move?” He shifted his feet immediately and so I instead of pushing just dead-on on him, I’m pushing off to the side, my force was going off to the right and I didn’t have a clean shot on him. And he was good about it after that, he just kind of let me push him out, but clearly this was only because he was allowing me to do it at that point.
Tachiai: What is that even like when you’re trying to push a guy like Yama – the biggest guy?
CA: The organizer explained to me later, that although there’s a lot of fat there, it makes it very difficult to get a solid hand hold or grip anywhere. I’m trying to push him and my hands are moving on me, so it’s hard to get force when your force is moving in different directions. Combine that with him being able to shift his feet, all of the sudden instead of trying to push a boulder, I’m pushing up against a pillow or a water mattress – I’m not getting anywhere!
Tachiai: So, when you step into the dohyo and you see that guy: what are you thinking? Like you said, he’s twice the size of you. What’s the first thought that comes to your mind?
CA: Actually, my first thought was that he was really cool. He gave me a handshake at first, he was chill. I like to push myself, so that made me feel that this would be a fun test, it would be exciting. Afterwards, he was very polite and very pleasant, but when you first see him, you’re like, “Man! What did I get myself into? Well… alright. Now I’m here, I might as well make a good show of it!” And he was cool: I didn’t see, because I was busy pushing, but apparently he was posing for people out in the crowd while I was pushing him. Which basically says he was very polite and it could have been much more difficult had he actually [had to try]. Even without him trying, trying to push him was incredibly difficult.
Tachiai: What else did they do at the event? Was there any kind of tournament?
CA: They had a mini-tournament with the three sumo wrestlers. They explained the rules with the scoring, and how that worked. Byamba ended up winning the mini-tourney, and they had a more traditional opening with the drums. They didn’t do the whole ceremony with with the [salt-tossing], and I liked that they explained that, and that you get a sense that this isn’t like [American] wrestling, there’s actually symbolism and history and tradition to it.
Tachiai: Thank you for sharing your story with us! I think you chose wisely – out of all those guys of course, Yama’s the one who made it to the top division.
CA: More than happy to. I was so excited just to get the opportunity – how often can you say that you’ve partaken in something like doing a sumo match, but to do it against somebody like Yama, who has the pedigree that he had. Now I can say that at some point in my life I stepped into the ring with somebody that big, who’s been that successful.
Check out some video of Christopher’s match against Yama below:
Earlier this month, Andy tipped off readers via the Tachiai twitter account that sumo legend Konishiki would be hosting a stall at the BB (“Beer & BBQ”) Fest, which takes place from now until May 6 in Odaiba:
April 27- May 6 BB FEST 2018 in Odaiba it’s going to be fun fun fun, we are all fired up. 4/28 Konishiki Live 1900 皆さんよろしくお願いしますね〜〜無料 https://t.co/tq1is14vIN
The festival is taking place out on Symbol Promenade Park in Odaiba, and I decided to head out there today to check it out. Getting there took about 15 minutes from Shimbashi station in central Tokyo on the unique Yurikamome line (a must-ride for transit enthusiasts, owing to its looping track that goes out over the Rainbow Bridge).
There are three festival areas running concurrently during Golden Week on Odaiba: an Oktoberfest, a large section of the BB Fest that is dedicated to Japanese-style BBQ vendors, and then a section of the BB Fest on the eastern part of the island featuring international BBQ food and craft beer. Konishiki’s Hawaiian BBQ is located in the latter area.
As for the menu, Konishiki offered a couple selections: a meat plate (featuring BBQ pork, spare ribs and chicken) and then a combo platter which contained all of the meat items plus rice, slaw and the classic Hawaiian macaroni and egg salad. Obviously, I opted for the latter choice:
Konishiki has long been one of the most flavorful names in sumo, and puts out a dish to match. All of the meat selections were very succulent, very moist and well coated in the right amount of marinade and sauce. The macaroni salad was delicious as well. I opted to wash it all down with a bottle of water from Konishiki’s stand owing to the hot weather, but there were a number of craft beer vendors also in the park and Konishiki’s BBQ would surely make a great pairing for many of them. When he says he knows how to have a good time cooking up Hawaiian BBQ, he’s not joking.
Konishiki has also provided a video that takes you behind the grill, in promotion of the event (in Japanese):
The event also has plenty of other food vendors offering BBQ from a variety of regions and countries. I was too full from Konishiki’s Ozeki-sized platter to take in any of the others, however a man at the Texas BBQ stand was offering free samples which were also delicious. Hopefully, up and coming Texan sumotori Wakaichiro can make it out to the festival to get a taste of home!
As for the man himself, Konishiki, he was off to the side of the stand, relaxing under a tent near the festival stage with family and friends. A number of his fans ambled up from time-to-time throughout the afternoon to request photos, which he graciously provided. I was able to get a few moments to chat with the man to let him know just how good the BBQ was, and ask if he had any words for Tachiai readers.
Konishiki says he wants everyone to come on down to Odaiba, and adds: “Bring your hungry on, and bring your thirsty on!”
Konishiki’s Hawaiian BBQ is located at the BB Fest on Odaiba in Symbol Promenade Park, located just off the Odaiba-Kaihin-Koen station on the Yurikamome line, and the Tokyo Teleport station on the Rinkai line. The festival runs through May 6 during the Golden Week. For more info, check out bbfest.jp
Additionally, for those readers who will be in Tokyo during the upcoming Natsu basho, Konishiki will be appearing at the Island Music Festival in Symbol Promenade Park on May 18 and 19. For more information, check out islandmusicfestival.jp
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.
🌐 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.
Hello again, Jungyo enthusiasts. I have strayed off the trail after day 6. Let’s try to do some catching up and join the sekitori again at Kanagawa, where they have been spending days 13 and 14.
So what happened during that interval?
Little girls can no longer participate in kiddie sumo
Despite public outcry, the NSK is asking each hosting town not to send little girls to the kiddie sumo events of the Jungyo. The reason given “Safety first”. When various outlets pointed out that boys and girls are equally susceptible to injury on the dohyo, the answer was “We don’t want to risk girls sustaining permanent injuries to the face”.
Hakuho’s father passed away
On April 9th, Hakuho’s father, Mönkhbat, the former Olympic medalist in wrestling, and the equivalent of Dai-Yokozuna in Mongolian Wrestling, passed away at the age of 76 of liver cancer.
Hakuho fully participated in the event in Ina, Nagano prefecture, but asked for – and received – a leave of absence to attend his father’s funeral in Mongolia starting from April 11th. He will re-join the Jungyo for the Honozumo event at Yasukuni shrine on April 16th.
The late Mönkhbat has been a national hero in Mongolia, and his funeral drew much attention and included military escort.
Hakuho has always been very strongly connected to his father and looked up to him. When the father was diagnosed with liver cancer, Hakuho had him flown to Japan for treatment, then back to the comfort of his own home in Mongolia. Of course, even the best modern medical intervention has its limitations.
Kisenosato joins the Jungyo
Kisenosato announced that he will re-join the Jungyo. His return was planned for the 13th, but he joined one day earlier – may be to avoid Friday the 13th, or maybe to cover up for Hakuho’s absence.
In the couple of days he’s been participating he has been showing mixed results. I’d warn you against developing high hopes hearing reports that he wins his Jungyo bouts. We’ve been here before – Kisenosato managing to win bouts and elimination tournaments in Jungyo, getting breathless coverage from the press, then hitting a wall in honbasho. That injury is not going away any time soon.
Terunofuji and Aminishiki absent
I reported in my Day 6 coverage that Terunofuji was absent from the torikumi. The next day he was joined by his stablemate, Aminishiki. Terunofuji was reportedly back on duty today (April 14th) at the Fujisawa event, but Aminishiki is still out.
Goeido had a birthday on April 6th – day 6 of the Jungyo – and is now 32. The following day, Ichinojo celebrated his 25th birthday.
Today, although he is never again going to be on any Jungyo, many sumo fans celebrated Harumafuji’s 34th birthday.
Endo is getting a lot of high-rank attention this Jungyo. Apparently that’s because he is going to make san-yaku in the Natsu basho. Previously he got juiced by Takayasu. This time, Kakuryu invited him to san-ban (practice form in which the same two wrestlers go through full bouts repeatedly until the higher ranking one calls it off).
This one consisted of 13 bouts, all won by the Yokozuna. Rather than counting wins, the Yokozuna concentrated on adjusting his own movement and building up his body.
After practice, the Yokozuna was seen having a talk with Endo. It turned out that they were exchanging injury-related experience.
Kakuryu’s finger injury lingers on. He seems able to use his grip, but says that after applying sudden force, when he lets go of the opponent’s mawashi, the pain hits. “But it’s not preventing me from doing sumo”.
Kisenosato engaged Meisei from Juryo for a 9-bout sanban, and won them all. Also watch for the bout vs. Kakuryu at the musubi-no-ichiban. Just remember my warning above.
Help, a group of fierce robbers has taken to the streets of Fujisawa!
(A word of advice to Kyokushuho: your highwayman career is going to be very short if you wear kimono with your name (and those of current and former stable mates) splashed all over it).
The spectators got to enjoy double bills, both in the oicho construction performance:
And in the tsuna-shime performance, where the two Yokozuna present showed off their ropes. I think this was originally planned to include Hakuho, which would have given the spectators both Shiranui and Unryu style rope tying, but unfortunately Hakuho is in Mongolia, and so they got a double Unryu.
The top 16 members of Makuuchi participated in an elimination tournament. So here is Kisenosato vs. Tamawashi: