Tachiai Interviews Kintamayama, Part 2: “You have a responsibility to your viewers to show everything.”

Kintamayama at Kokugikan
Kotokintamayama? Photo courtesy of Moti Dichne

Welcome to Part 2 of Tachiai’s conversation with Moti Dichne, aka Kintamayama. Moti is well known in the online sumo community for his tireless coverage of all things sumo through his newsletter, his presence on SumoForum, and of course, his exhaustive YouTube channel.

If you missed Part 1 of our conversation, click here to catch up. The second part of our series incorporates some of Moti’s thoughts on the current state of sumo coverage, and who he’d like to bring onto his channel. As with Part 1, the interview has been edited only for clarity and length. This segment features some strong language and opinions, which are of course the subject’s own.

Tachiai: One of the great moments from your channel in the last few years was your Konishiki interview. That was an amazing moment, and one of the things that was very interesting was when you drew out the revelation that Konishiki felt Hakuho wouldn’t have been dominant in another era –

Moti Dichne: He didn’t say “wouldn’t have been dominant.” He said he would barely make Ozeki! 

And he also correctly predicted Kisenosato as the next Japanese Yokozuna.

He said he was the only one. And when he said that, I said, “Are you sure about what you said? You’re OK with me broadcasting this?” 

But Kisenosato still had to actually do it. You had that moment, but who from the sumo world, now or in the past, would you like to feature on the channel, like the interview that you had with Konishiki?

That’s an excellent question. Well, Taiho is dead, so I won’t be able to do that. Chiyonofuji is dead. I guess… Kisenosato (Araiso oyakata).

You know, something really weird happened. The guy [Kisenosato] could hardly speak. When they said they were going to make him an NHK commentator, I said, “This guy has blocks in his mouth.” He’s like Moses!

And suddenly, he’s become this articulate speaker, and very, very deep. The things he says, he’s always right – very nice observations. I said, “What! This is Kisenosato?!”

Look at all of his interviews from when he made Yokozuna, or when he made Ozeki. You can’t understand a word he’s saying – and I know Japanese pretty well. And it’s not like [the interviews are] right after the basho, he’s out in front of the stable! Suddenly, it’s like he has a load off his back, he’s a different person, he has a different face! He’s not grouchy, and he has a lot to say. He says it without being asked, which is even more astounding.

I remember what Takanohana used to do. They used to have to drag all of the stuff out of him. They would ask him three times until he would say yes or no. Now, Kisenosato’s not Kitanofuji, that’s for sure. But Kitanofuji, there’s only one.

Kitanofuji has also had 40 years to hone his punditry.

I like Kitanofuji, because he says things that no one dares to say.

I think that’s what sumo needs.

Of course! The NSK gets offended at every word. Hakuho asks [the fans] to clap three times, they call him in. “Why did you do that? Bye. Here’s your punishment.” “Thank you very much.” What are they trying to do? They’re trying to break him. Hakuho, the guy who broke all the records, which pisses them off, for sure. They can’t do anything about it, but [he has] TEN more [yusho] than the great Japanese Taiho – who was half Russian.

It’s interesting. One thing that we talk about a lot on Tachiai is that there are a lot of people that don’t realise that the Sumo Association is not 100 people who all think the same thing. There are different personalities.

It’s also different generations. 

Yeah, and politics. And navigating that as a sumo fan is that next challenge after you start to understand the sport. 

It’s almost impossible. It’s a different mentality [in Japan]. And if you don’t understand it, you don’t know what’s going on.

That’s why many fans say “Why don’t they do this? Why don’t they lower the dohyo?” Nonsense. I keep writing [that] the injuries from falling off the dohyo are 0.4%. All the injuries occur on the dohyo but not from falling down. Almost none. They learn during the keiko [how to fall], it’s part of training!

That’s another misunderstanding, people who come from [a background of] American sports trying to change the rules, you know? The Kyokai has a lot to change, but… let’s leave the rules.

You’ve said a number of times, “I’ll stop posting recaps when NHK starts covering every bout.” Through what you’ve posted, it would appear you’ve brought thousands of fans to sumo.

For sure. I know, and I keep all the thank you notes. I have them all kept.

As you have been doing what you’ve been doing, and seeing the development of the Abema and NHK and the hunger from the fans, how have you received NHK’s recent development? Where do you think they are in the path to provide the best sumo coverage?

They are by far in a better place. They have NHK World doing live shows 3 or 4 times a basho? Come on, anybody can watch it, for free! That’s incredible.

The only thing I never understand is, even on the Japanese side, they do the digest and they always leave out 4 or 5 bouts. That’s disrespectful. And it’s not that there’s no time. I do it in [a] 15 minute video. They have 24 minutes. So, cut off one of the fucking replays, you know? Show the Daishohos. Show the Daiamamis.

There are guys that I don’t give a shit about, but you’re showing the sport. You’re calling it a digest. Sumo is not a ten minute bout, it’s a three second bout. Altogether, these bouts that [NHK is] cutting out, [total] maybe one minute.

It drives me nuts. If you’re doing a digest, do it. In the USA, in baseball, you’ve got many more games, and the shows show every game. You cannot disrespect the wrestlers. You’re NHK, you have the rights. It’s not like you’re some pirate station where the guy shows only who he likes. You have a responsibility to your viewers to show everything. And that got me doing it. Because it kills me, today – that they still don’t show all the bouts!

As a fan, or as someone who’s even just getting into it, how do you even understand the story of a Terutsuyoshi, or a Daishoho, if you don’t know what’s happened?

It’s unfair, it’s unfair. Period. That’s all I can say. Someone like Nishikigi’s bouts [are] boring to me too, but show it! Sometimes it’s a great bout! Or there’s a great story behind it, you know?

Beyond that, do you think there are more things they can do?

Yeah, they can do 15 days [of live coverage]. But they won’t, because they can’t shoot themselves in the legs. But listen, what they’re doing now is incredible, and it’s still not enough.

Also, it’s only Makuuchi, and it’s not even the whole of Makuuchi. Still, beggars can’t be choosers. For anyone who is not into YouTube, or they’re older, [they] can have NHK World, on cable, on their [device], and it’s free. That’s better than nothing.

I would do every single one of the [live broadcasts] with Murray [Johnson] and [John] Gunning! They are the best, fantastic. I never used to listen to the English people, they drove me crazy with mispronunciation. But Murray I always liked. Together with John, it’s so nice, it has great pace, it’s very informative, there’s great humour. 

They work well together.

They have a good rapport! I would watch that, without question. Very informative. First of all, John has experience. He did sumo, he knows what he’s talking about. He’s a busy person, he does all kinds of stuff with rugby, and he still has time [to keep up with sumo]. Listen, I know him, since he was just getting started. He is an incredibly nice guy. An amazing guy.

Find out more from Kintamayama and subscribe to his mailing list at dichne.com, and keep an eye out for the next parts of our conversation, which will run soon on Tachiai.

John Gunning On The President’s Natsu Visit

Noted Sumo media icon John Gunning has authored another excellent piece for the Japan Times, reviewing the visit by US President Donald Trump’s visit to the Kokugikan during the final day of the Natsu basho.

From his article

Trump isn’t the first head of state to watch a sumo tournament, nor the first president to hand over a trophy in the ring, but the excessive security presence, and over-the-top restrictions put in place on the day, were illustrative both of the outsized importance of his office and the extreme emotions the man himself generates.

Any visit to sumo by a member of the Imperial family necessitates increased security, but nothing approaching the level of controls and checks at the Kokugikan last Sunday had ever been implemented.

Much has been made of the fact that sumo fans were those most negatively affected by the president’s presence.

As well as a reduction in the amount of available regular tickets, the number of same-day unreserved seats was cut in half, with the result that only those who had started queuing by 10 p.m. the night before were able to get in.

For fans that did attend, there were a number of differences too.

Cans and plastic bottles were banned, while any liquids in soft containers had to be sampled in front of security to prove that they weren’t dangerous substances.

Fans had to walk through metal detectors and have their bags searched on the way in, all the while being watched by the police and members of the U.S. Secret Service.

Facilities and services normally available at the venue were also curtailed or severely restricted.

One thing that John touches on briefly in his article is the monstrous logistic problems the President’s visit created. Specifically the heightened security protocol forced people to wait in an unthinkably long queue in hot and humid conditions while their bags were checked and they passed through a metal detector. Most Japanese folks can take summer weather, but the fans at the Kokugikan do tend to skew towards the elderly side of life, and it’s never good to put the older crowd in the heat. Some specifics (culled from our live blog):

Here is a photo of the security line, stretching from the station, to Edo-Tokyo museum, then back and through the front gates. Crazy!

Another image of the cursed line to get into the Kokugikan. This is especially tough as its a hot and humid day today, and some of the more aged sumo fans might be in dire shape standing in line for hours.

A sumo fan who endured the line illustrates its enormity below

I get that a presidential visit requires a level of security, but in hind sight it really does seem over the top. Perhaps if President Trump returns to a future Natsu basho, as he has mentioned, they will dial back the security somewhat.

Grand Sumo Live – Day 1

NHK Grand Sumo Card

As announced during their always interesting preview show, the NHK World team will be broadcasting the final 50 minutes of Makuuchi live on the NHK World stream. In fact they will be doing 3 days of live streaming this basho, days 1,8 and 15. If you plan to tune in, the start times are (US)

3:10 AM Eastern / 2:10 AM Central / 1:10 AM Mountain / 12:10 AM Pacific

At the moment team Tachiai is not planning to cover day 1, though we may put together a Grand Sumo Live open thread for readers to share their discussion during the show.