Who’s That Rikishi #11: Chiyonokuni Toshiki

Age: 27
Birth Name: Toshiki Sawada
Home Town: Iga, Japan
Stable: Kokonoe
Highest Rank: Maegashira 1

Chiyonokuni Toshiki was born the son of a Buddhist priest in the city of Iga, Mie Prefecture, Japan. As a child, he had a keen interest in martial arts and dreamed of becoming a professional rikishi. After graduating high school, Chiyonokuni entered Kokonoe Beya and began learning the art of sumo from former Dai Yokozuna turned Oyakata, Chiyonofuji. His first official tournament was the 2006 Nagoya Basho, where he recorded an impressive 6-1 record and secured a promotion to the Jonidan division. His Jonidan debut would have to wait, however, as an injury sidelined the young rikishi right before the Aki Basho, costing him his promotion. Returning to action in time for the 2006 Kyushu Basho, Chiyokuni won back his spot in Jonidan with another kachi-koshi and was well on his way to the Makushita division in mid-2007 when he was injured again and missed the Nagoya Basho. This would become something of a pattern for Chiyonokuni; getting ever so close to a promotion only to get hurt and have to start over again.

His fortunes changed in March of 2009 when Chiyonokuni returned from injury for the fourth time in his young career and took the Jonidan yusho. This victory marked the beginning of a hot streak for Chiyo, who quickly rose up through the ranks and established himself as a Makushita mainstay by March 2010. Following the match-fixing scandal, Chiyonokuni was elevated to the upper ranks of Makushita and eventually the Juryo division in early 2011, despite not posting spectacular records. Like many rikishi in his generation, he had become a benefactor of several top spots being vacated by rikishi involved in the scandal. One such disgraced rikishi was his fellow stablemate, Chiyohakuho. When asked about Chiyohakuho’s expulsion from the sport and his subsequent promotion as a result of the scandal, Chiyonokuni remarked that he didn’t know how to feel about the situation. Taking full advantage of the circumstances, the young man from Iga put together an impressive string of winning records that saw him break into the top Makuuchi division at the 2012 Hatsu Basho. His stay in the top division was short-lived, as a dislocated shoulder forced him to miss parts of Hatsu and Haru and all of the Natsu tournament. Chiyo returned to Juryo for the 2012 Nagoya Basho, where he took the yusho and soon won his way back to Makuuchi by November. Chiyonokuni spent the next two years in and out of the top division, until an injury at the 2014 Aki basho saw him withdraw from competition on day 8. This injury caused him to miss the following two tournaments, plummeting Chiyonokuni all the way back to the Sandanme division.

Unperturbed by this massive demotion, Chiyonokuni began his treck back to Makuuchi by taking the Sandanme division yusho with a perfect 7-0 record at the 2015 Haru Basho. This marked the beginning of an impressive comeback for the young rikishi, which culminated in his second Juryo championship in May of 2016 and a return to the Makuuchi division, where he has remained to this day. At the 2017 Natsu Basho, Choyonokuni debuted at a career-high rank of Maegashira 1. Despite picking up his first kinboshi victory over Yokozuna Kakuryu, the rest of the tournament was a disaster for Chiyo, and he finished with a dreadful 2-13 record. He bounced back from this poor performance with two consecutive kachi-koshi in July and September but failed to secure eight wins November. 2017 also marked a significant milestone in the life of Chiyonokuni, who married his longtime girlfriend Ai Hayashi, whom he met seven years prior. Chiyonokuni is primarily an oshi-zumo or “pusher-thruster” practitioner. Because of his relatively small size, he employs tsukiotoshi thrust downs and hatakikomi slap downs to take his larger opponents off their feet.


Chiyonokuni (left) vs. Kaisei (right), Aki basho, 2017.


Links:
http://sumodb.sumogames.de/Rikishi.aspx?r=6642
http://www.sumo.or.jp/EnSumoDataRikishi/profile/2938/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chiyonokuni_Toshiki

Legends of the Dohyo #6: Holy Grail

Futabayama Yusho
Futabayama, 1939

In January of 2015, Yokozuna Hakuho Sho made history when he won his thirty-third Emperors Cup, surpassing a record established by the legendary Yokozuna Taiho Koki over forty years prior. When he accepted his 32nd championship and drew even with Taiho one basho prior, Hakuho stated that the god of sumo had blessed his efforts on the dohyo. Blessed indeed, as he is one of only a select few to have ever amassed over thirty yusho, and even fewer have one to their name. It is the dream of all rikishi to one day win the yusho and lift the Emperors Cup, the holy grail of Japans national sport. Despite being the most prestigious, sought-after prize in all of sumo, the Emperor’s Cup simply did not exist for much of the sport’s history. Even the concept of the yusho, Japanese for victory, has only been a part of sumo for a third of its existence.

The evolution of the yusho we know today was long and gradual, and dates as far back as the seventeenth century. Before this time, many of the men who defined the pre-yusho era of sumo, such as Onogawa Kisaburo, Raiden Tameemon, and Inazuma Raigoro, received no official championships or recognition besides credit for having the best record of their respective basho. The first semblance of a yusho or prize in sumo is found in the Edo period, when onlookers rewarded their favorite rikishi for winning bouts by by throwing  gifts of money onto the dohyo. Over time, these gifts transformed into more organized prizes and trophies provided for each basho by private financiers and awarded to the rikishi with perfect records. However, as Hikiwake (draws), Azukari (Decisions too close to call), and absences were not considered loses during this period, the rikishi with the most wins was not always awarded the tournament prize. It was also common in this period for several rikishi with identical records to be declared the champion of a basho and receive rewards for their efforts, as playoffs would not be introduced until much later.

Around the turn of the century, in January of 1900, this old system underwent a major change when the Osaka Mainichi Shinbun newspaper company offered a kensho-mawashi as a prize for the rikishi with a perfect record or the fewest losses at the upcoming basho. This development would establish the concept of a singular champion for each basho. The first tournament to declare an official yusho champion was the 1909 summer basho, when Maegashira 7 Takamiyama Torinosuke defeated Ozeki Tachiyama Mineemon. While the system of an individual basho champion was begging to take form, there were still some key differences when compared to sumo today. The most significant of these differences was the protocol for breaking ties. There were no playoffs in sumo during this era, and in the case of two men having identical records, the yusho was awarded to the rikishi with the higher rank. Playoff rules would be incorporated into sumo in 1947 after several controversial decisions saw Higher ranked rikishi being chosen over men below them without consideration for the circumstances of the basho. One such controversy involved Ozeki Hitachiiwa Eitaro receiving the yusho over Meagashira Misugiiso Zenshichi, despite one of his wins coming by default.

The final piece of the modern yusho structure came in 1925 when Crown Prince Hirohito donated a trophy, called the Prince Regent’s Cup, to be awarded to the yusho winner of each basho. Upon Hirohito taking his place on the Chrysanthemum throne in 1926, the trophy was renamed the Emperors Cup, and has remained the physical embodiment of the yusho ever since. From humble beginnings of monetary gifts showered upon rikishi from the common folk, the concept of a yusho unfolded gradually, eventually evolving into a splendid trophy from the highest lord in all the land, the Emperor himself. The yusho has become a milestone achievement, a career-definer, and the holy grail that every rikishi strives for each and every day.

Who’s That Rikishi #10: Asanoyama Hideki

Asanoyama WTR

Age: 23
Birth Name: Hiroki Ishibashi
Home Town: Toyama Prefecture, Japan
Stable: Takasago
Highest Rank: Maegashira 11

When it came to sports, sumo was not Asanoyama’s first choice. Instead, the young man from Toyama Prefecture practiced handball until entering junior high school. Joining his school’s sumo team, he nearly cut his career short after sustaining an elbow injury, and seriously considered quitting sumo. He persevered and went on to a successful High school career, eventually earning a scholarship to Kinki University where he entered the renowned sumo program that had produced top rikishi such as Takarafuji, and Tokushoryu. During his time studying at Kinki University, Asanoyama won seven college titles, putting him in the top four in All-Japan Sumo Championships. After graduating, Asanoyama joined Takasago beya where he trained under former Ozeki and fellow Kinki University graduate Asashio Taro IV. Having been a multiple time university champion, Asanoyama was allowed to skip the two lowest ranks and debut in the Sandanme division at the 2016 Haru basho. In his first tournament he scored a 5-2 kachi koshi, the first of many to come. He followed this excellent start with back to back 6-1 records and received a promotion to the Makushita division in September.

Much like his time in Sandanme, Asanoyama spent only three basho in Makushita, taking the divisions yusho at the 2017 Hatsu basho on rout to a Juryo promotion. Prior to this promotion, Toyoyama beya had lost both their Sekitori status, marking the first time the stable had been without a top division wrestler since 1878. With Asanoyama joining the Juryo division, he ensured his stable would have sekitori representation once more. Asanoyama’s first tournament in Juryo was one of great success; the young rikishi finished with a 10-5 record but lost the yusho in a playoff to the veteran Toyohibiki. He once again found himself in a playoff situation at the Nagoya basho, yet this time a loss to Daiamami would cost him the yusho. Despite losing the championship, his record would be enough to land him a spot in the top Makuuchi division for the 2017 Aki basho. His first top division outing began with mixed results, as he ended day 6 with three wins and three losses. When asked about his early performance, Asanoyama remarked that he felt cursed by the east side of the dohyo, as all his losses had come on that side. He overcame this curse, however, and went on to post five straight wins, remaining just one win behind the yusho leader until day 13. Finishing the tournament with a 10-5 record, Asanoyama received the fighting spirit special prize for his standout Makuuchi debut. At the following Kyushu basho, he failed to replicate the success he had in September and recorded his first career make koshi after winning only five of his fifteen bouts. Primarily a yotsu sumo specialist, Asanoyama relies on mawashi grappling techniques to win his matches. His most common kimarite is a yorikiri force out.


Daieisho (left) vs. Asanoyama (right), Aki basho, 2017.


Links:
http://sumodb.sumogames.de/Rikishi.aspx?r=12291
http://www.sumo.or.jp/EnSumoDataRikishi/profile/3682/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asanoyama_Hideki

Who’s That Rikishi #9: Kaisei Ichiro

Age: 30
Birth Name: Ricardo Sugano
Home Town: Sao Paulo, Brazil
Stable: Tomozuna
Highest Rank: Sekiwake

Unlike many of his childhood friends, Ricardo Sugano was not interested in his Brazilian homelands favorite pastime of soccer. Instead, the young Sao Paulo native spent his time studying martial arts and had a keen interest in judo. After a family friend encouraged Ricardo to take up sumo, he began practicing the sport and went on to win a Brazillian Amature Sumo Championship. This success prompted him to travel to Japan to become a professional rikishi, and in 2006 he entered Tomozuna beya where he joined fellow Brazillian rikishi Kaishin. He made his professional debut at the 2006 Aki basho and officially adopted the shikona of Kaisei Ichiro. In just under two years, Kaisei had advanced through the three lowest divisions, but he would lose his momentum upon entering the Makishita division and remained there for the next three years.

Kaisei’s fortunes began to turn in September of 2009 when he went undefeated at the Aki basho, only losing the yusho in a playoff with fellow gaijin rikishi Gagamaru. Three tournaments later, in July of 2010, Kaisei broke into the Juryo division and became the fourth Brazillian born rikishi to reach sumo’s salaried ranks. In November of that same year, Kaisei won his first and only championship when he took the Juryo yusho with an 11-4 record, this time beating Toyohibiki, Tochinowaka, and Takayasu in a four-way playoff. He followed this success with another kachi koshi in January and earned a promotion to the Makuuchi division. Kaisei’s first tournament in the top division saw him go undefeated until a day 10 loss to Tochinoshin. With nine straight wins, the Brazillian rikishi achieved the second-longest winning streak for a debuting Maegashira wrestler, falling just two wins short of tying Taiho’s 1960 record. Kaisei would finish the tournament with double-digit wins and take home the fighting spirit prize.

Kaisei struggled through much of 2012, routinely getting make koshi records yet picking up just enough wins to remain in the top division for most of the year. He had something of a return to form at the 2012 Nagoya basho, going 11-4 and winning his second fighting spirit prize. Kaisai also found success at the following years Nagoya basho, where he again finished with eleven wins and took the jun-yusho. In May 2016, Kaisei broke into the san’yaku and reached his highest rank of Sekiwake one tournament later. He was unable to maintain his new position for long, and by the end of the year he had become a rank and filler once again. Kaisei was injured while training for the 2017 Haru basho, and for the first time in his career, he was forced to pull out of a tournament. A poor performance in Nagoya say him fall back to Juryo, but this demotion seemed to be just what the doctor ordered as the Brazilian rikishi posted 10 wins, returned to the top division, and finished the year with consecutive kachi koshi. Kaisei mainly uses yotsu-sumo techniques, winning 51% of his bouts with a yorikiri forceout. His favorite grips is a left hand outside, right hand inside migi-yotsu.


Kaisei (left) vs. Ikioi (right), Aki basho, 2017


Links:
http://sumodb.sumogames.de/Rikishi.aspx?r=6753
http://www.sumo.or.jp/EnSumoDataRikishi/profile/2950/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kaisei_Ichir%C5%8D