On peut raisonnablement dire que nous aimons tous les playoffs. Cela apporte des situations amusantes, dramatiques, du type “mort subite”, au cours desquelles les lutteurs donnent tout ce qu’ils ont. On préfère encore les playoffs multiples, qui peuvent receler des règles originales.Continue reading
I think it’s fair to say all of us like playoffs. It brings a fun, dramatic, sudden death situation, where involved rikishi go all in. We even prefer multiple playoffs, which can contain original rules.
Former ozeki Terunofuji, on the other hand, probably does not want to hear the word “playoff” any more. Last Sunday, the Mongolian succumbed to Takakeisho’s thrusts, meaning that he has now lost all three playoffs where he participated – prior to that, he faced two yokozuna, Kakuryu in Aki 2015, and Kisenosato in Osaka 2017. The object of this article will be to see if somebody else holds such a miserable record.
Prior to that, a few words about playoffs themselves:
- Playoffs aim to decide between rikishi tied for first place. The outcome of the bout between them during the regular phase – should it exist – is NOT taken into account. Taking Terunofuji’s example, the Mongolian defeated Kakuryu in 2015, lost to Kisenosato in 2017, and defeated Takakeisho one week ago – each time on day 15. But he wasn’t declared winner in any of these basho – he had to face his opponents once again, and lost thrice.
- The rules are:
a) For a two-way playoff: one bout is scheduled, and the winner takes it all. Straightforward.
b) For a three-way playoff: the wrestler A faces the wrestler B. Let’s say A wins. A faces the wrestler C. If A wins, he’s the champion. If C wins, he faces B. If C wins, he’s the champion. If B wins, he faces A, and so on, until someone wins twice in a row.
Three- way playoffs rarely occur, but it actually took place in March 1990, between Konishiki, Kirishima and Hokutoumi (the eventual winner, who actually lost the first bout!)
c) For a four-way playoff: two semi-finals (A vs B, C vs D) and a final are scheduled.
d) For a five-way playoff: lots are drawn. A faces B, C faces D, and E – banzuke’s highest ranked rikishi – goes directly to the final stages. A/B, C/D and E then meet in a three-way playoff.
Incredibly, such a playoff occured in Kyushu 1996, where Akebono, Wakanohana, Takanonami, Kaio and Musashimaru (the eventual winner) were all tied with a noticeable 11-4 record. Takanonami defeated Kaio; Musashimaru defeated Wakanohana; Akebono directly qualified for the three-way playoff. Musashimaru defeated Akebono, then Takanonami.
e) For a six-way playoff: the aim is to reduce the number of rikishi to three, in order to set up a three-way playoff. Therefore, A faces B in a single bout, whereas C faces D, and E confronts F. Losers are eliminated.
Such a configuration seems impossible to get, but juryo is more prone to bring such a tied lead, when there’s no clear favorite at the beginning of the basho. It actually took place this year in July: Kyokutaisei, Hoshoryu, Akua, Chiyonoo, Mitoryu and Meisei (the eventual winner) were all tied with a 10-5 record. Remarkably, all three finalists (Akua, Hoshoryu and Meisei) came from the same stable (Tatsunami beya).
So, does anybody else holds a “minus three” record in playoffs?
It comes to no surprise that Hakuho holds the record of playoff participations – alongside Takanohana. The dai yokozuna has been top of the chart for an uncountable number of times – and he sometimes had to face stern opposition.
His first participation came as early as in May 2006, where he defeated Miyabiyama; his last one occured in January 2014, where he defeated Kakuryu (who actually got promoted to yokozuna after a yusho the following tournament). Overall, Hakuho has a “plus two” score: six wins to four losses.
In a way, Hakuho did worse than Terunofuji, as the yokozuna lost no less than three playoffs in 2009! Asashoryu (twice) and Harumafuji were the winners. Apart from Asashoryu, Harumafuji (including one playoff where he was still named “Ama”) and Kakuryu, Hakuho also faced… Toyonoshima (in November 2010)!
As mentioned, Takanohana also participated in ten playoffs – and his record is even, five wins to five losses.
Interestingly, Futahaguro has participated in two playoffs. But as we know, he’s the only yokozuna ever who never won a single yusho during his entire career – it goes therefore without saying that he lost both… but there’s better – or, rather, worse.
Kitanoumi has a noteworthy record, that might inspire Terunofuji. Indeed, the yokozuna participated in eight playoffs, won three of them, and actually got a “minus four” record, after his first four playoffs!
Actually, another great man from the past, Musashimaru, holds the most terrible record: one win (during the afore-mentionned Kyusho basho 1996) in six tries!
Meanwhile, Chiyonofuji has been the true playoff-killer: six wins, and no loss…
A couple weeks ago, our reader Kiran asked me to write an article about usual kanji we see in the sumo world. What a great warm up idea, prior to the basho! I hope we’ll be able to translate a few new names without effort, come the last tournament of the year. I’d like to point out the fact that I’m no Japanese born speaker (actually, not a Japanese speaker at all), but did my best to produce a serious, reliable article. Please don’t recommand an intai, should you spot mistakes along the way!
Back to basics
A few kanji are not too hard to remember, I think:
- 海 (“umi”, as in “Mitakeumi”) means “sea”
- 風 (“kaze”, as in “Yoshikaze”) means “wind”
- 竜 (“ryu”, as in “Kakuryu”) means “dragon”
- 富士 is “fuji”, as in “Midorifuji”
- 丸 (“maru”, as in Daishomaru”) means “circle”
Not as commonly seen, but not too difficult to remember are:
- 若 (“waka”, as in “Wakatakakage”), meaning “young”, “youth”
- 里 (“sato”, as in “Kisenosato”) refers to a small village, or “hometown”
- 魁 (“kai”, as in “Kaisei”) means “pioneering”, “charging ahead” (thank you, @TheSumoSoul!)
- 聖 (“sei”, as in, well, “Kaisei”) means “holy”, or “sacred”
- 照 (“teru”), meaning “shining”, or, again according to @TheSumoSoul, “blasting”. Notable holders of that kanji are Isegahama beya rikishi: Terunofuji, Terutsuyoshi, etc.
Even less used, but as easy to spot are:
- 碧 (“aoi”), meaning “blue”, as in “Aoiyama”
- 翔 and 猿, giving the now famous shikona “Tobizaru”, meaning “flying monkey”!
Apart from the “Teru”, it has to be noted that these usual kanji do not give indication of the rikishi’s stable. Being common, they are used by everyone, so to say. For example, Mitakeumi and Okinoumi do not belong to the same stable; the same applies for Terunofuji and Hokutofuji.
Two kanji simply indicate the belonging: の and 乃, who both are pronounced “no”. More on that later.
What about 山 ? It means “mountain”, or “hill”. But here’s the first trick: it is pronounced either “yama”, or “zan”, like in “Asanoyama” or “Shohozan”, who share that kanji. That kanji is very interesting. It reminds us the fact that Japanese language has Chinese origins, which explains the fact that many words have at least two types of pronunciation. But both pronunciations refer to exactly the same thing – so it would be wrong to say that “yama” means “mountain”, while “zan” would mean “hill”, or the other way around.
Back to 山. Pronouncing it “zan” refer to ths Chinese origins of the kanji – where, by the way, it is rather pronounced “shan” (in Mandarin Chinese) or “san” (in Cantonese Chinese).
So, when should it be pronounced “yama”, and when is it “zan” (or “san”) ? Actually, the “yama” pronunciation is correct, only when the kanji is isolated. As a matter of fact, Mount Fuji (富士山) should be referred as “Fujisan”, not “Fujiyama”.
Less of a debate are:
- 琴 (“koto”), actually a Japanese instrument, a kind of zither made of thirteen strings. That kanji is of course used by Sadogatake wrestlers: Kotoshogiku, Kotonowaka, etc.
- 大 (“dai”, as in “Daieisho”; or “tai”, as in “Chiyotairyu”), meaning “large”, or “great”. Quite logically, a 大 横綱 is a “dai-yokozuna”, a great yokozuna. Contrary to common belief, it does not refer to each yokozuna who won at least ten yusho, but rather to one dominant champion, in a given period. For example, Harumafuji ended his career with nine yusho in his belt – but had he won a tenth, he would probably not have been given that title, as Hakuho naturally holds it.
Now let’s dig into the “taka” maze!
- First of all, Takarafuji does start with “Taka”, but the first kanji, 宝 actually is “takara”, meaning “treasure”
- 貴 (as in “Takakeisho”: 貴景勝) can mean “expensive”, “costly”, or can express nobility.
- 隆 (as in “Takanosho”: 隆の勝) has a similar meaning: “noble,” “prosperity”.
- 髙 (as in “Takayasu”: 髙安) means “tall”, “high”, and can only be used in first or last names.
If many rikishi possess another common kanji – the “Chiyo”, that one is fortunately easier to translate!
Indeed, 千 litterally means “thousand”, whereas “代” refers to years, or eras. Put it together, the “Chiyo” – 千代 – is simply translated into “eternal”.
One kanji curiosities
- 輝, Kagayaki’s only kanji, means “radiance”. That kanji is actually the last one of Kotoyuki’s shikona: 琴勇輝
- 勢, Ikioi’s kanji, means “strength”
- Sakigake’s kanji is actually the afore mentionned 魁 – “kai”!
A few entire translations
I hope not being miles off target with the last part of that article, but I think we have amassed sufficient knowledge for some not too difficult translations:
- 碧山: “Aoiyama”, of course, means “blue mountain”.
- Let’s try with former sekiwake Wakanosato: 若の里. We have 若, meaning “youth”, 里, the small village or hometown, and の, referring to the belonging. 若の里 could therefore be translated into something like: the hometown of the youth.
- Nishinoryu is currently ranked sandanme 8. His shikona is written as follows: 西乃龍. 西 means “West”, 龍 is “dragon”, 乃 is also referring to the belonging. 西乃龍, hence, means “dragon of the West”.
- Former komusubi Chiyotairyu: 千代大龍. 千代 means “eternal”, 大 means “big”, 龍 means “dragon”: eternal big dragon!
Feel free to give it a try; there’s no nothing better than pre-basho practise! Hakkeyoi!
Admittedly, this article could have taken place at the end of last year. But slowly putting myself in the mood for the final basho of the year, I was thinking of past great sumo moments, and wanted to switch from an internal monologue to a broader discussion with you guys, sumo fans.
So my question is: in your opinion, which basho of the past decade would you consider as “the best” ?
Before we start, I’d like to point out the fact that this article will be purely subjective, and does not aim to be scientific or exact. I myself haven’t seen several basho from the beginning of the 2010 decade, so it’s likely I missed some great moments along the way!
I’d like to thank once again Jason Harris for his awesome coverage during the past decades, and his videos I took the liberty to upload here.
1. Natsu basho 2012
Had this basho taken place somewhere between 2018 and 2020, the final outcome would not have appeared that weird. But back in 2012, that basho was truly an anomaly.
Seeing an under-par Hakuho losing to Aminishiki on shonishi quickly made it clear the yusho would be up for grabs.
The eventual winner, Kyokutenho, started indifferently, with a 2-3 record after five days, whereas the ozeki were largely disappointing. All, except one: Kisenosato, who had a comfortable two win lead after ten days. But Kisenosato being Kisenosato (and Tochiozan being Tochiozan)…
To sum up this basho, I could of course have selected the playoff, but Kisenosato’s final bout, against Baruto, impressed me quite a lot. The Estonian’s stubborn resistance at the edge, even though nothing was at stake for him at this point, is stunning. Kisenosato’s inability to finish the big guy off is all the more painful.
2. Osaka 2017
Definitely one of the blockbusters of the 2010 decade. The Osaka basho 2017 is the tale of three men, one yokozuna, one ozeki and one sekiwake. Two months ago, all three were ozeki. Kisenosato got promoted to yokozuna, Kotoshogiku could not save his ozeki rank, whereas Terunofuji entered the basho being sadly kadoban yet again. And all three entered the dohyo in fine form.
The shin-yokozuna pleased a delighted crowd, day after day, winning the first twelwe bouts. Terunofuji’s knees seemed to finally let him produce his A-game, having lost just once in the process. Meanwhile, Kotoshogiku grabbed eight wins, and has to win the last two in order to complete what an ozekiwake wants to do: getting his ten, and reaching sumo’s highest rank again.
The rest is already part of the legend: an injury ending career, an infamous henka, a forgettable showing up on day 14, and a playoff of the crippled.
This time, I definitely chose to show the playoff, and not to bring further images of that Kotoshogiku – Terunofuji bout.
3. Hatsu basho 2019
My personal favorite, and the perfect definition of sumo chaos.
I can’t help but introducing that event with the usual pre-basho “bold prediction” thread from Grand Sumo Breakdown. Feeling that the upper ranks were far from their best, I predicted a total of no more than 30 wins, for all ozeki and yokozuna combined – that included Goeido, Takayasu, Tochinoshin, Kakuryu, Hakuho and Kisenosato, so an average of five wins per rikishi! Jason thought I was losing it; I held on my prediction. How many wins did those six eventually get? 30.
Back to chaos. First of all, this was Kisenosato’s last basho. After an encouraging 10-5 in September of last year, the injured yokozuna could not grab one single win in November or in January, and had to call it a day.
Kakuryu and Tochinoshin also did not end the tournament – with two wins for the yokozuna, zero for the ozeki. Goeido and Takayasu got their kachi koshi, but varely more (9-6 for both).
What about Hakuho? During the first days, he miraculously saved himself from seemingly hopeless situations – not without a bit of help of Tochiozan, who self destructed once again. Hakuho’s desperate fight against Hokutofuji was a particular highlight. He snatched the win, but injured his knee in the process, as we were to know several days after.
After the first days scares, the dai yokozuna seemed as good as ever – Herouth advised his stable to book a fish in advance, as Hakuho entered the last third of the basho with a two win cushion. From there, the yokozuna’s knee could not stand the effort anymore, and the basho ended up – of course – with a surprise winner.
I enjoyed Takakeisho’s win over Hakuho :
There were, of course, many more delightful sumo moments to enjoy during that decade. I remember Kisenosato’s fine effort on his quest for his first yusho, in May 2013, where he won the first thirteen bouts before succumbing to Hakuho and ending the basho 13-2.
Kotoshogiku’s unstoppable gaburi was fun, back in January 2016. After getting his kashi koshi as soon as on day eight, things became serious when he defeated Kakuryu, then showing Hakuho and Harumafuji who the boss is. His 14-1 yusho was stunning; perhaps even more than Goeido’s zensho yusho in September 2016, where Hakuho was kyujo.
The Aki basho 2017 was symbolic in more than one way. The basho almost became a no-kozuna, as the only remaining yokozuna, Harumafuji, was seriously struggling with his elbow (how many no-kozuna have we witnessed since ?). It was also the Mongolian’s final yusho, before his sudden retirement a few weeks after. That basho was yet another anomaly – the last rikishi to win a yusho having sustained four losses was Musashimaru, in 1996.
Goeido’s meltdown was truly shocking – he had a three lead cushion to Harumafuji at some point. All in all, this basho’s scenario was really entertaining, much to Jason’s delight.
Jason would surely single out the Aki basho 2012, too. It saw Harumafuji’s second zensho yusho in a row, which prompted a fully deserved yokozuna promotion. On the other hand, Herouth might stress out Kakuryu’s yokozuna promotion, which took place in March 2014.
I would finally recall 2019’s Aki basho¸ which was really fun too, with many yusho contenders, and an enjoyable sekiwake duel between Takakeisho and Mitakeumi.
The Aki basho has definitely been entertaining during the past years. Would you pick one of the previous editions as your last decade’s favorite basho?