Kyushu Honbasho Wrap-up

The tournament is over but we know that the Makuuchi yusho is not the final sumo thing for the year. There was still quite a bit of news coming out of Fukuoka this week and I wanted to take a moment to cover that in this news brief. Yes, we had the final tournament results and top division special prizes but we also had a group of retirements, Juryo promotions, and we now turn to Winter Jungyo!

Kyushu Hardware Distribution

As far as the yusho, we got a thrilling showdown between Kirishima and Atamifuji on Day 14, which Kirishima won, convincingly. Then he defeated Takakeisho on Senshuraku to seal his 13-2 title and claim the Golden Macaron. Ichiyamamoto, Kotonowaka, and Atamifuji won Fighting Spirit prizes. No technique prize was awarded and only Atamifuji had a shot at Outstanding Performance but he would have had to win the yusho.

In the lower divisions, we have an interesting group of yusho winners. As Leonid covered previously, the Juryo title was claimed by Kotoshoho. He had a tough go of things in the top division but has surely reclaimed a spot there with an exciting victory over Onosato (actually two). The video below has a replay from their playoff, as well as footage from the yusho award ceremony. As Leonid also covered, Satorufuji won the Makushita yusho. Daishoryu, Dairinzan, and Aonishiki won the Sandanme, Jonidan, and Jonokuchi titles, respectively.


The Kyokai announced seven wrestlers who retired during the tournament.

Daijo debuted in 2007 and reached Makushita for the first time in 2013 before falling back into Sandanme. He climbed back into Makushita two more times, in 2017 and 2018, peaking at Makushita 43. Kototakuya debuted in 2018 and cracked into Makushita in the summer of last year, spending much of his career in Sandanme, and much of that career in the wild pandemic era. Kirizakura called “time” on a career that began in the Spring of 1999. At 176cm and 92kg, he fought his entire career in the lower divisions, peaking at Sandanme 69 in May of 2011 (a rather contentious time).

Chiyoshishi‘s retirement was known prior to the basho as a result of the unfortunate underage drinking scandal during the Aki Jungyo. Tamanowaka began his career in 2018, peaking in Jonidan. Young Itoga had a short sumo career, starting in May of this year, and retiring after clinching his first kachi-koshi in September, and promotion to Jonidan. Similarly, Raikisho made a short effort, spending much time banzuke-gai and peaking in Jonidan.

Juryo Promotions

Leonid was spot on with his predictions for the Juryo promotions. Takerufuji and Oshoumi have earned their first-time promotions while Hakuyozan and Tochimusashi return.

Winter Jungyo Preparations

The winter jungyo tour kicks off tomorrow in Yatsushiro, Kumamoto. This first week of the tour will hop around Kyushu with dates in Kumamoto, Miyazaki, Oita, and Fukuoka prefectures before spending next weekend in Nagasaki. Afterwards, they will pop over to Shikoku in Ehime, before going back to Honshu at Hiroshima and spending a few days around Osaka, Hyogo, and finally closing out the tour on Christmas Eve in Tochigi. From there, we’ll surely see a lot of New Year holiday events back in Tokyo. I’ll give weekly updates of the tour events and the holiday happenings leading into Hatsu basho!

Kokonoe-oyakata and Wrestler Disciplined for Underage Deshi Drinking

An underage rikishi from Kokonoe-beya was transported by ambulance after drinking alcohol. In Japan, the official drinking age, and the age of adulthood, is 20. The rikishi is a minor and ranked below Juryo, so his name was not released. Some sleuthing has been done and the name is likely known but I’m not going to report it. The Kyokai suspended both the rikishi and Kokonoe-oyakata, though the total length of the suspensions have yet to be released. It seems the wrestler’s name has been removed from the Kokonoe-beya website, suggesting he is out of the sport.

This thread from Herouth has many great details. (I will curse Elon forever for breaking the Twitter embeds.) An important detail is the fact that minors and most non-sekitori are restricted from attending Jungyo, except for cases where they are tsukebito of sekitori, specially requested by the Jungyo site (like hometown boys), or, as in this case, accompanying their oyakata. Since Kokonoe-oyakata is (was?) the deputy chief in charge of the Jungyo, all of his charges were there. In his case, that’s some twenty-five wrestlers to monitor. Even with the assistance of the other three Kokonoe-beya oyakata, that’s a big task.

Let’s be practical here. When I was in high school, our senior class was a little smaller than this stable. In spite of the fact that we had several chaperones for our three-day class camping trip, some of my classmates decided to smoke weed one night and they got busted. Our class was the last to have that Senior Class trip, among other consequences. The Junior class wasn’t much better. They were an even smaller bunch but a young lad and lass were able to escape their supervision at their trip and…well…this isn’t that kind of website; and future classes did not have that Junior Class trip.

When I was in Ecuador with an even smaller group of high school students, two lads and a lass evaded chaperones and…well…this isn’t that kind of website. About a week later, several kids got caught smoking cigarettes and one was sent home. When we were in Quito, we sneaked out and went to a bar. Somehow, I was the only one carded, despite the fact that I was the only one who was actually 18, and thus legal in Ecuador. Oh, and then our sailboat ran aground and sank in the Galapagos. Hey, at least one thing wasn’t the kids’ fault.

“So, Andy, where are you going with this?” People are going to blame Kokonoe-oyakata, as they should. He’s the boss. You have to be able to watch these kids like a hawk. And when you can’t, which is often, bad things will happen. My only point here is that while there are few details about what actually happened, responsibility will certainly lie with more than one person here. There were 24 other stablemates and I’m sure at least some could have/should have intervened. “Dude, you shouldn’t drink that,” or at least “You’ve had enough.” Who knows if a supporter had funded the outing and prompted or encouraged some of the misbehavior, a la Santuary and Enō’s patron?

In the end, the Kyokai are going to need to adjust their policies. I would be surprised if large stables will bring the entire stable, including minors, on Jungyo. Alcohol use is common place in Japan, even among the under-20s. Street vending machines sell beer and flavored highballs. Izakaya, karaoke boxes, and other restaurants — even kissaten — entertain groups of high schoolers. My wife just gave me a juicy anecdote about when she was in middle school and her class of middle schoolers all went out drinking at an okonomiyaki restaurant. I can honestly say, I have been to easily a hundred bars and restaurants in Japan and I was carded once, at GasPanic in Yokohama — and that was the crazy night I got roofied.

As others have noted, many of the sumo world scandals result from nights out drinking like this. There’s the sexual harassment scandal which led to the quasi-ban on minors at Jungyo, Harumafuji’s karaoke remote, Asashoryu’s brawl…the list goes on, and it goes back. Even further back than Futahaguro. Wrestlers, yobidashi, gyoji, oyakata,… all of them, individually, are going to need to realize that yet another drink might cost them, or their friend, their career. Sadly, this won’t be the last time this happens (thus the scandal counter). But hopefully it will happen less and less frequently.

When I see more updates on punishment/consequences, I’ll post them here.

Ichinojo: A Curious Intai

Sometimes you get news in your life that makes you gasp audibly. I am sure if you are reading this, you have had a moment like that. Maybe it was something you saw on the news, or that you heard from a family member. I am not too proud to admit that I had that kind of reaction upon hearing of the shock retirement of Ichinojo.

Ichinojo is – or was – not a rikishi for whom there is a universal opinion. He performed his entire career – even after winning a yusho – in a constant state of “the jury’s still out.” He prompted us – and I need to give Bruce credit here – to often ask: “is big a strategy?” But, at the same time, we all knew that somewhere in there, inside of whatever you called him… boulder, behemoth, bridge abutment… there was a hell of a technically proficient sekitori.

I don’t often intend to set out to write something on sumo topics just for the sake of it – and Andy, blessedly, was on the spot to cover the news when it broke. But I just have this feeling about Ichinojo’s retirement that I haven’t had about other recent intai – even Ikioi’s, who was my favourite rikishi and whose haircut I will attend in a few weeks.

Most retirements are easy to analyse. Maybe the rikishi was old, fighting at a diminished capacity, or in danger of tumbling out the salaried ranks. We see that a few times a year these days. Maybe it’s a Yokozuna who can no longer perform at the required level, due to age or injury. Maybe it’s a bright talent like a Yutakayama who calls it quits because injuries have blighted his career to the extent that he may or may not achieve the type of ceiling he might have hoped, and wants to have a healthy “second life.”

Ichinojo, to be sure, had his injury problems. But, especially with rest, he was still a top, top performer on his good days. That was always part of the issue with Ichinojo, the feeling that he was just wasn’t dialled in all the time, or that he wasn’t motivated to make it to the highest level, or that he didn’t know how to manage his body to keep himself consistently on the dohyo.

This past year, however, has seen some of the best sumo of his career. His age 29 year brought his first makuuchi yusho in which he racked up an incredible 9th kinboshi (while his mentals were often questioned, he was known to always rouse himself for the bouts with big kensho stacks on the line). Following a suspension for off-dohyo alcohol-related behaviour, he stormed back in the most recent basho to claim a near-perfect yusho in Juryo and clinch a return to makuuchi, upstaging the higher ranked former Ozeki Asanoyama’s own redemption arc.

In one respect you can say that, with a yusho and a stunning kinboshi tally banked, the man’s potential was achieved. On the other, the current up-for-grabs state of the sumo world means the final counting stats for Ichinojo could have yet been greater. In a world where sports analysis is increasingly mobilised to be black-and-white, we need to acknowledge that Ichinojo’s career lived in the grey space in between. It is possible to applaud his career-end achievements while also lamenting what could have yet been.

No one doubts that injuries have taken their toll on the man, but it’s hard therefore to believe that, coming off the back of one of his most convincing basho (albeit at the second level and facing only two top division opponents), they were what definitively caused his intai. One suspects a more full version of the truth will emerge over the long run.

It’s also difficult to reconcile the lurid tabloid reports of his bar room antics with the gentle giant who we have come to see, or the reputation he’s had as a loner in the sport, even among his compatriots. Perhaps this won’t have been helped by difficult relations with his shisho. But unless we know for sure, all we can do is speculate.

For many followers of the sport, the reporting of his extra curricular activities was surprising because he had long been associated with the term “gentle giant.” One of our last memories of the man in the ring will have been his enduring sportsmanship, especially in holding Takakeisho from falling off the dohyo in a bout where it seemed the Ozeki had suffered a head/neck injury.

Of course, Ichinojo entered makuuchi as a zanbari-clad prospect of unbelievable potential. But nine years on, much of that potential was actually still there. Having claimed that first yusho, and in a period lacking reliable Yokozuna and Ozeki, he certainly would have been primed for more success. He didn’t seem cooked, and that’s part of what makes it feel off. This isn’t like Aminishiki retiring, this feels like we might still have missed out on something good. Intai moments are rarely satisfying, this one particularly not so.

It’s not a massive surprise that he won’t enter the kyokai. He appeared to be a very unlikely leader, and with Minato-oyakata still a decade from mandatory retirement (by which point Ichinojo would be 40), the stable won’t be needing someone to inherit it anytime soon.

I don’t know much of Ichinojo the man, but over time I became a fan of Ichinojo the rikishi. As fans, I hope we can know someday what really led to his exodus from the sumo world. As people, I hope we can all agree to wish him the best whatever those reasons were, as he navigates at a younger age than most, his new life.

Ichinojo Retires

I certainly couldn’t let this go by with just a passing sentence in an unrelated post. But yesterday’s news was such a shock and there was little on details.

It is official, Ichinojo has retired. The Mongolian Monster was beloved for his love of ice cream. Much light was made of his rural upbringing and jokes of tossing ponies around. However, his back pain proved too much to bear and he is walking away from the sport, even after consulting with his stablemaster and parents.

His relationship with Minato-oyakata had been strained over the past year, with much coming to light just after he had won his top division title. There have been concerns for his health and welfare but it had looked like he might be able to put that recent drama aside. He had just won the Juryo yusho, reclaiming his spot in Makuuchi after losing it to his one basho suspension. But it appears that he has been unable to train or compete and in a considerable amount of pain, so he could not be talked out of this path.

He has Japanese citizenship but does not have a kabu (stock) so he will not be staying on in the Kyokai as an oyakata. We at Tachiai wish him well in his future endeavors and will hopefully be able to keep track of whatever career path he decides to follow.