The 9th Annual Hakuho Cup

On February 11th, the 9th annual Hakuho Cup event took place at the Ryogoku Kokugikan.

The Hakuho Cup is an annual children sumo event taking place under the auspices of Yokozuna Hakuho. For more details about the event and its history, refer to last year’s report.

This year, again, about 1200 children from 8 countries and regions (Japan, Mongolia, USA, China, South Korea, Thailand, Taiwan and Hong-Kong).

Delegates from the 8 countries and regions sworn in by a Japanese representative

Although this event is not hosted or sponsored by the NSK, many NSK employees (read: active rikishi and oyakata) took part in it. The event included both team competitions and individual competitions. While delegates from the various countries and regions outside Japan generally formed teams based on their country of origin, and thus wrestled with the name of their country marked on their mawashi, the large Japanese cohort was made of various teams training together – some of which were associated with rikishi. Here, for example, is Team Aminishiki:

These boys are all from Aomori, Aminishiki’s home prefecture.

Rikishi participation did not end just at leading teams. Many sekitori served as shimpan during the competition:

Also attended: Mitakeumi, Abi, Tobizaru, Ishiura (of course), Toyonoshima, as well as Kotoshogiku and Yoshikaze and more. The highest ranking visitor was Yokozuna Kakuryu, who seemed to enjoy himself very much indeed:

Oyakata ranged from the recently retired Oshiogawa (Takekaze) and Sanoyama (Satoyama), through Tomozuna oyakata, Hakuho’s own Miyagino oyakata, to Futagoyama oyakata (Miyabiyama). The latter had a personal interest in the competition, as his own son participated. Last year, his son won two bouts. This year, the proud father reports, he won three.

Hakuho also hoped his own 10 years old son, Mahato, will win one bout more than he did last year. But alas, he was taken down in his first match by a smaller kid.

Mahato, in his mawashi marked “Hakuho”. Of course he belonged to Team Hakuho.

During lunch break, Hakuho had what the Japanese call “Talk show” (an on-stage, or in this case, on-dohyo, live interview), and this time, the “surprise” guest was former Ozeki Konishiki.

Hakuho asked Konishiki who were the opponents he found most difficult to fight. Konishiki listed Akinoshima, Chiyonofuji and Kotokaze.

Speaking of lunch, an 11-hour event with thousands of children requires a lot of food. Hakuho took care to complement the meal with an order of 1000 pieces of cake, which immensely cheered the children up.

The children competed in teams as well as individual matches. Among all the bouts, at times taking place on three separate dohyos, one in particular drew much attention. Take a look at this wonderful match:

Motomura hangs in there

It’s interesting to see Hakuho in the background. At first he plays around with his phone, and then as the match progresses he lets go of it and watches the bout with rapt attention. Marvelous sumo, which I’ve seen described on the net as “A mix of Enho, Satoyama and Ura”.

Motomura, of Team Kotoshogiku, the David in this David-and-Goliath match, also won the technique prize for this bout. Yes, the Hakuho Cup also includes special prizes. While the yusho trophies are handed by Hakuho himself, the special prizes were handed by sekitori:

Motomura looks quite overwhelmed there. I also find Ishiura’s expression, when he realizes he is the tallest man on the dohyo, rather entertaining.

Here is the summary video of the event – where you can catch Mahato’s failed bout, a different angle of Motomura’s bout, and many smiles and tears:

And if you have 11 hours to spare, here is the full event, which was streamed live on YouTube.

(If anybody is wondering, SANKYO, the sponsor, is a manufacturer of pachinko machines).

February Hana-Zumo events

It’s that time of the year again. It’s February, and there is no Jungyo. If you take a look at the Grand Sumo Calendar, though, you’ll see that there are always two hana-zumo events in this month: The NHK charity event, and Fuji TV’s Grand Sumo Tournament.

Hana-Zumo is exhibition sumo. The name literally means “flowor sumo”. This is because in the Heian era, events like that took place in the Imperial Palace, and there were no “East” and “West” then. So the rikishi were distinguished by flowers they wore in their hair.

NHK’s #52 Charity Sumo Event

The special feature of this event is the song contest at the end. One side of the Kokugikan is fenced off, and set up as a huge stage.

The event includes extras such as Jinku, drum demonstration, Shokkiri, and Yokozuna rope tying demonstration.

Kasugaryu putting the finishing touches on Hakuho’s rope.

There is also what the Japanese call “A talk show”, which is actually an on-stage interview with some celebrity. In this event, they interviewed the former Takekaze, now Oshiogawa oyakata.

In fact, we had several new oyakata faces in the blue NSK jackets.

Here is a short video report about this event from NHK:

The former Takekaze says: “I didn’t imagine I’ll get to age 39, nearly 40, in any shape. If someone like me can do it, than anybody can!”

This is a “regular” sumo event in that bouts are more or less by ascending banzuke order ending with the san-yaku members doing san-yaku soroi-bumi (synchronized shiko). As always, Hakuho awaits his turn to do the soroi-bumi leaning on the shoulders of a Yobidashi:

And I also have a bout for you from this event – the musubi-no-ichiban, Kakuryu vs. Hakuho (bonus bow twirling ceremony):

You may notice that Hakuho is far from being in shape for sumo. He does this bout with his right leg mostly floating up in the air. There are several rikishi who are kyujo from this event, but Hakuho is not one of them, as absenting himself from the hana-zumo event would prevent him from participating in any events – such as weddings, and the Hakuho Cup, which of course he doesn’t want to miss. So he participates on one leg.

There will be a repeat broadcast of this event on February 17th, 15:03 Japana Time, on NHK. Not NHK World, NHK. So you’ll need a streaming source to watch.

Fuji TV Grand Sumo Tournament

The Fuji TV event comes the day after the NHK event. It includes sumo in elimnation format – both Juryo and Makuuchi. The special feature of this event is the veteran bouts – with oyakata putting on their shimekomi and doing sumo.

From top left: Kyokutenho (Tomozuna oyakata), Tosayutaka (Magaki oyakata), Futeno (Inagawa oyakata), Robocop Takamisakari (Furiwake oyakata), Satoyama (Sanoyama oyakata), Tamaasuka (Kumagatani oyakata)

Refer to the link at the end of this post for the veteran bouts themselves.

The former Kisenosato had his debut as a commentator in this event. He readily speaks, but I think they should leave commenting to someone who speaks more clearly.

Two former yokozuna as Statler and Waldorf

Since the active rikishi bouts are arranged in elimination format, it means there are winners in this event. Much like a honbasho yusho, winning this tournament means receiving many prizes. There is a trophy:

Takayasu’s first yusho… in the Grand Sumo Tournament hana-zumo event, that is

And there is an air-conditioner:

This will come in handy in the next Nagoya basho

There are also a bale of rice, a lot of beef, a 10-day cruise around Japan. All went to Takayasu, who had to earn them by going through a very genki Yoshikaze. Take a look at Yoshikaze vs. Shohozan:

Here is a link to the full TV broadcast of the tournament. Things to note:

  • Hakuho, again, doing his sumo on one leg and getting eliminated in his first round.
  • The veteran bouts. The most impressive one is Kyokutenho. Robocop does a lot of pre-bout robot stuff, but Inagawa oyakata eliminates him rather easily. The most balanced bout is the one between Magaki and Kumagatani.
  • Azumaryu wins the Juryo tournament. This was done in such a way that the final was held between three wrestlers – like a three-way playoff. In Japanese you’ll heard the word “Tomoe Ketteisen”. This alludes to a mitsu-domoe:
  • Ryuden’s matta. And another matta.
  • Yoshikaze vs. Abi – continuing his genki performance.
  • Araiso oyakata in his role as a commentator. He is mostly asked to comment about Takayasu.

Takanoiwa’s Danpatsu-Shiki

Today, Takanoiwa’s danpatsu-shiki, the ceremonial cutting of the top-knot, took place on the dohyo at the Ryogoku Kokugikan. Sumo fans who did not read about the reconciliation between Harumafuji and Takanoiwa, may have been surprised to see this:

Harumafuji, participating as promised in the hair cutting ceremony

And even those who knew about the reconciliation, may have been surprised at another consequence of it:

Yokozuna Hakuho, also cutting a strand

And, perhaps less surprisingly, Kakuryu was there as well:

Kakuryu: “Thanks for the hard work. Let’s see each other again”.

Indeed, it seemed every Mongolian sekitori showed up: Tamawashi, Arawashi, Chiyoshoma and, of course, Ichinojo, all snipped a strand of hair, as did members of Takanoiwa’s own heya:

As has been speculated, Takanoiwa’s original stablemaster, Takanohana, absented himself from this ceremony, and chose, instead, to show up for an assembly of his support group in Nagoya. Comedian Kunihiro Matsumura, known, among others, for his impressions of the former Takanohana, filled in:

Spitting image

About 370 people participated. This may seem a small number for the 12,000 seat Kokugikan, but it should be noted that the tickets sold for this event all included both the ceremony itself and the party that followed it, so the limiting number was the capacity of the banquet hall, not the Kokugikan itself – and the tickets sold out. The other day I reported that only 90 tickets were sold – but in fact, whatever was allotted was sold. Here is a summary of the ceremony:

A quick shave-and-a-hair-cut, and I give you Takanoiwa in his new form:

Adiya Baasandorj, formerly known as Takanoiwa

The party after the ceremony included a Mongolian band:

As well as karaoko! Here is the man of the hour:

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t give you Chiganoura oyakata’s karaoke, because he is one of the best singers in the Sumo world.

And so, it appears that the reconciliation indeed helped the ceremony become a respectable, well-attended occasion.

But it may have done more than bring Hakuho to softly lay his hands on Takanoiwa’s shoulders.

Meet Takanoiwa’s nephew, Sukhbat

In March 2018, Takanoiwa’s nephew, Sukhbat, son of his second eldest brother (Takanoiwa is the youngest of five siblings) was looking for a heya.

Sukhbat was 19 at the time, graduating at the same time as the famous Naya, and from the same school, Saitama Sakae, which has a very strong sumo program. This is the same school Takakeisho graduated from.

This was before Haru 2018. The boy was practicing with his uncle at Takanohana beya’s Osaka facility, but of course could not join that heya, as Takanoiwa himself occupied the foreigner slot. So he was looking for a heya that was willing to take someone who finished third in the inter-high sumo tournament, in time for the new recruits exams of the haru basho… but there were no takers.

This was in the middle of the Harumafuji scandal. Haru 2018 was the first basho Takanoiwa was to attend after the “incident”. And heya were distancing themselves from the matter, apparently.

But he didn’t find one in Natsu, and in Nagoya, and in Aki… you get the drift. With his uncle’s own retirement, it seemed that the world of sumo was willing to give out on this supposedly talented wrestler.

And then we had the reconciliation. Then suddenly…

Left: Takanoiwa. Right: Sukhbat

Sukhbat is going to join Onoe beya. He will probably undergo the new recruit examination in Haru, but will only be able to do his mae-zumo in Natsu, as is usual for foreign recruits.

So, of course, temporal succession does not necessarily imply causation. But with foreigner slots being a limited resource, and the Japanese natural suspicion of anything foreign, it makes sense that any foreigner wanting to join the world of sumo would need an intercessor or sponsor to speak for him. Apparently the well-oiled Mongolian recruiting machine was not working for Sukhbat until just recently. He is now 20 years old. Let’s hope he has kept himself in shape!

Hakuho goes Kyujo

Shortly after the beginning of Day 14 at the Kokugikan, it has been announced that Yokozuna Hakuho will be absent as of this day. The official reason has not been published at this time, but Sponichi reports that the right knee, on which he had the operation, may be the culprit.

This will likely leave the Yokozuna’s score at 10-4-1 (except in the unlikely event he returns on senshuraku), with the Yusho to be determined, in all likelihood, between Tamawashi and Takakeisho.

Going kyujo may have further implications, as kyujo rikishi may not participate in public events, and the Hakuho Cup is due early next month.

Tachiai will keep you informed on the situation as it develops.

Hatsu Day 6 Highlights

Act Two opens in dramatic fashion. There are great bouts today but tears will be shed and hopes dashed before the day is out. Let’s just get started.

Yutakayama and Daishomaru get the makuuchi bouts rolling for us. Two oshi wrestlers start things off…by quickly getting a grip? It looked like Yutakayama wanted to grapple since Daishomaru is much worse on the belt, losing almost 4x more often to yorikiri than he wins while Yutakayama is about 50-50 in those belt battles. Daishomaru was having none of it, batted Yutakayama’s arms away and circled in full retreat. This gave Yutakayama a chance for a hatakikomi pull down attempt but Daishomaru plowed through. Yutakayama decided enough is enough, held his ground, and pushed forward, forcing Daishomaru out. Wouldn’t you guess it? Oshidashi. Yutakayama improves to 4-2, Daishomaru still winless.

Ishiura channels Enho for his bout against Chiyoshoma. Ishiura has been regrouping nicely in Juryo, sitting on a 4-1 record to start the day. Rather than having a double henka, both wrestlers get straight to business with Ishiura going low. Chiyoshoma first establishes a two-handed belt grip but then uses his left to grab under Ishiura’s arm, initiating a throw attempt. Ishiura counters by driving into Chiyoshoma as they spin around. It looked for a second like Ishiura reached out to grab his opponent’s left knee which causes Chiyoshoma to stumble. Thus off balance, Ishiura continues to circle into Chiyoshoma whose feet no longer have traction in the clay, falling to shitatehineri. Ishiura improves to 5-1 and takes home some spending money while Chiyoshoma is 3-3.

Yago was just too big for Kotoeko, who’s still trying to find his way in the top division. Nominally, both men are relatively balanced with the belt or in pusher/thruster mode but Yago established a strong belt grip early and forced the much smaller man out. Yago remains in the hunt group at 5-1, looking for a prize and even further advancement, while Kotoeko is even at 3-3.

Chiyonokuni had a plan for Kotoyuki. 1) Stand your ground at the tachiai, 2) Unleash tsuppari to counter The Penguin, 3) Side-step. The critical piece is when to deploy the side step, which he did perfectly as the over-committed Kotoyuki flew off the dohyo and landed in amongst the crowd. Kotoyuki’s lost to hatakikomi nearly 60 times now, so you’d think he’d try to work out a solution. Chiyonokuni’s in the hunt at 5-1, while Kotoyuki’s 3-3.

Daiamami came in to this bout with Meisei wanting to grapple. Meisei was having none of it, however, and fought to keep Daiamami’s mitts off his belt while trying to establish his own belt grip. The fatal mistake for Daiamami appears to be when he gave up the belt and tried to go for a hatakikomi attempt. Meisei used the momentum shift to blast Daiamami into the crowd. Meisei’s 4-2 and may be hitting his stride and establishing himself as a makuuchi regular, while Daiamami’s 2-4 with a precarious hold on his position.

Kagayaki started out with his usual head-down pushing attack but Takarafuji got an early left-handed grip of his gold mawashi. A belt battle seems to favor the trapezius muscles of Takarafuji, who circled and executed an over-arm throw before both men tumbled out in a heap. Uwatenage. Takarafuji is 3-3 while Kagayaki’s 1-5.

Ikioi showed Kagayaki how to make the Pamplona bull thing work. Use it against a belt guy and drive with the shoulder. Ikioi is a balanced wrestler while Endo is much more comfortable with a grapple than slap fest. Today, Ikioi followed Kagayaki’s lead – stitches be damned – and led with the ole noggin…though that shoulder was there not just for backup but as the real driving force. Endo had no time to regroup as he found himself on his butt, at the base of the dohyo. Both are 3-3.

Sadanoumi got the jump on Kaisei. The much quicker tachiai helped establish a firm, two-handed belt grip put Kaisei on the retreat. However, he appeared to be hopping, favoring that left leg as if he couldn’t really put much weight on the right. Sadanoumi let him pogo himself out. Kaisei falls off the lead and into the hunt group at 5-1. Sadanoumi is 3-3. Kaisei appeared to walk back as if he was unhindered so hopefully the pogo-ing was more of a balance thing than a “my knee hurts” thing.

The next bout gave us a real clash of styles as a solid belt man Asanoyama takes on the long arms of Abi. Abi seemed to be the driving force here, keeping Asanoyama off his belt from the tachiai. He went into full retreat looking for a hatakikomi slapdown win but Asanoyama kept his balance while moving forward. Oshidashi win goes to Asanoyama who picks up his first of the tournament while Abi falls to 3-3.

If Abi wants to be a hatakikomi master, he needs to watch Aoiyama. The Bulgarian took on solid oshi battler, Daieisho. That nodowa on the tachiai nearly snapped Daieisho in two but Daieisho weathered the storm and evaded to the left. The damage was done, though, as Aoiyama had the clear initiative. Effective tsuppari let him try one hatakikomi pull which failed but he cycled around with more slaps to Daieisho’s face. This time, as Daieisho’s resistance brought his momentum forward, Aoiyama pulled and Daieisho went down. Hatakikomi. Personally, I think the difference is Aoiyama’s tsuppari works his opponent back to the opposite edge, giving him adequate space for the pull. Abi, on the other hand, seems to fly off the dohyo a lot. Aoiyama stays in the hunt at 5-1 while Daieisho falls to 2-4

Yoshikaze picked up his first win today against Ryuden. Ryuden had tried to get a good early tachiai but was thrown off by the gyoji who called him for two false starts. Yoshikaze followed through on the third tachiai putting his head right into Ryuden’s chin, driving him back and out. This means Daishomaru is left as the last makuuchi wrestler still in the tournament with 0 wins. Ryuden is 2-4.

Kotoshogiku drove Chiyotairyu straight back like a blocking sled and used that hip action to push Elvis out. Kotoshogiku is 4-2 while Chiyotairyu is 2-4. Onosho made quick work of Okinoumi, who prefers a belt battle, by staying low and fighting this bout his way, as a pushing-thrusting match. Onosho stays in the lead, 6-0, while Okinoumi falls to 3-3.

Now, for the bad news. Mitakeumi injured his left knee or ankle against Myogiryu. He could not make it back up to the dohyo and was carted out and taken to the hospital. It’s an innocuous injury. I thought it may have come when he tried to brace his weight against the tawara but now I think he rolled his ankle when he stepped off the dohyo. Both men prefer an oshi bout, so they came out guns blazing. Mitakeumi pulled but ran out of real estate and Myogiryu kept his balance, forcing Mitakeumi out. If it’s a sprain, we may see Mitakeumi again before the end of the tournament. Mitakeumi falls to 5-1 and Myogiryu climbs to 2-4. A bitter, disappointing day for Mitakeumi fans.

Tochiozan neutralized the Takakeisho thrusting from the word, “Go,” quickly establishing a grip of Takakeisho’s grey mawashi. Takakeisho’s fingers struggled to find purchase on Tochiozan’s belt so he had to satisfy himself with a hold of the Kochi native’s arm. It would have been a rather spectacular ipponzeoi but Takakeisho lacked the strength and leverage to pull Tochiozan over his back. The position gave Tochiozan a decisive advantage with Takakeisho’s back to him, so he pushed through, driving Takakeisho forward over the edge. Takakeisho falls out of the hunt group to 4-2 while Tochiozan improves to 2-4.

Tamawashi’s not pulling in enough kensho for Ichinojo bother with beast mode, instead reverting to boulder mode on the tachiai. Tamawashi blasts the boulder off with a few strong shoulder thrusts. Both men are 4-2.

Goeido pissed of Shohozan with his slow-roll tachiai. Shohozan wasn’t having any of it, so he blasted off in his face like, “Let’s go already!” Goeido commits a bit quicker this time and bulls forward like a battleship under full steam. Shohozan slips to the side a beat early as Goeido had room to plot a course correction. Goeido adjusts, homes in on Shohozan, and picks up the yorikiri win. Both are 2-4.

With Kakuryu kyujo, and now Mitakeumi likely following him to the couch, Hokutofuji may now pick up a couple of fusen wins, today’s moves him to 4-2. Nishikigi hoped to regroup after yesterday’s dramatic but disappointing loss to The Boss. Takayasu’s a tough one to regroup against, though. And today, Takayasu did not want Nishikigi anywhere near his belt. With Nishikigi’s right arm containing the Ozeki’s left, Nishikigi’s fingers sought out a left-hand grip of the mawashi but Takayasu wasn’t having any of it. With Takayasu’s attention diverted, Nishikigi thought it would be a good time to try a pull but Takayasu read it and drove through the maegashira, ushering him out for the yorikiri win. Takayasu improves to 3-3 while Nishikigi slips out of the hunt to 4-2.

Hakuho closed things out today with Shodai at the musubi-no-ichiban. At the tachiai, both men seek out and quickly get one-handed belt grips. When things settle in the middle of the ring, Shodai tries to adjust his grip but Hakuho uses that time to strike, grabs the other side of Shodai’s mawashi and walks him back and out. Yorikiri. Hakuho remains tied for the lead with Onosho while Shodai slips to 2-4.