Who will get the most wins in 2020?

The coming basho will provide us a fair dose of excitment and hot topics, as our Tachiai team rightly discussed in our podcast.

But the November basho – also known as Kyushu basho, until last year also marks sumo’s final tournament of the calendar year. It’s therefore possible to nominate sumo’s “MVP” right after it – that is, the rikishi who collected the most wins in the given year.

So, who’s still in contention for that honorific title ?

First of all, it’s worth reminding that this year’s numbers will be pretty low, since wrestlers will have competed in only five tournaments, instead of the usual six. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that we end up far away from Hakuho’s mouth-watering 86 wins out of 90, which we could witness in 2009 and 2010.

Last year, Asanoyama pipped Abi’s six kashi koshi and 54 wins overall, ending the year with 55 successful bouts. Hakuho came third with 51 wins, but, as we will see, the yokozuna is far from that standard this year.

Abi did a fine job last year, before 2020’s downfall

All in all, it has largely been Shodai’s year, and it’s no big surprise he leads the pack with 45 wins. Remarkably, Asanoyama is still in contention to regain first place, with 43 wins overall. Actually, he could very well pip Shodai here too, as Shodai spent some time parading after his promotion to ozeki. Can Shodai keep momentum and hold on to his two-win lead? We will soon get to know.

What about the rest of the field? There’s a small chance somebody else than Shodai or Asanoyama finishes first – but that would probably mean an unfortunate kyujo from both men. Indeed, Takakeisho is seven off the pace, having snatched 38 wins this year. And that allows us a fine statement: the three men with the most wins in 2020 compose in fact the ozeki triumvirat! Let’s hope the current state of affairs will lead to a fine 2021 year for all of three.

Last year’s “MVP”: ozeki Asanoyama

Also worth mentionning are Takanosho (37 wins), Mitakeumi (who, arguably, has not had a brillant 2020 year despite having collected 36 wins), Kiribayama (35) and even Tokushoryu (32 wins).

What about both yokozuna?

As mentioned earlier, Hakuho is far from the leaderboard, and even from decent Hakuho numbers. He actually has 24 wins combined, one more than his stable partner, Ishiura, but one less than his other partner, Enho!

Things are even worse for Kakuryu, who just announced his withdrawal from the November 2020 basho. That means he’ll end up the year with a forgettable 13 wins tally, which is actually just one win more than Tochiozan – who retired following the Haru basho, in March.

So, it’s Shodai to lose here. That should prodive us an interesting sub-plot while watching good sumo behind our screens – or live, for the luckiest of us!

Yokozuna Kakuryu kyujo

Yokozuna Kakuryu has pulled out of the November 2020 basho, citing lower back pain.

That will be Kakuryu’s third tournament in a row, where he failed to compete either partly or fully. His last performance was a 12-3 jun-yusho, back in March.

Prior to that result, the Mongolian champion also failed to last fifteen days, in January 2020, November and September 2019. He won the Nagoya basho 2019, though.

Given the yokozuna’s poor form of late, missing out sumo’s final tournament of the year will undoubtedly raise fears of being compelled to hand his retirement papers.

We wish the six time grand champion a smooth recovery!

Pre-basho warm up: a kanji review

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.

Going further

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 “” 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”, means “big”, means “dragon”: eternal big dragon!

Feel free to give it a try; there’s no nothing better than pre-basho practise! Hakkeyoi!

Tokyo July Basho Day 2 Highlights

Well, after the big news of today, Kakuryu kyujo, the landscape has changed. Senshuraku will not be a Yokozuna showdown. The tournament is already down to Hakuho, who will now host the musubi-no-ichiban for a solid fortnight. His fellow yokozuna have all abandoned him. Retirement for Hakuho? No way. The NSK can’t afford to lose him anytime soon.

Sadly, Josh’s pick made a quick exit and one wonders whether that’s his career. After that long layoff, to make one appearance on the dohyo — against a maegashira — before bowing out? Ouch. If word comes in that his citizenship has been granted, I think that may be the last time we saw Kakuryu as a wrestler.

Day Two Highlights

Nishikigi defeated Kotoyuki: Nishikigi let Kotoyuki slap all he wanted and lulled the Penguin into a false sense of security. His passiveness had me real worried. There was no counter-attack, our near-sighted friend just slid backwards until his leg found purchase on the tawara. I’m thinking, “Yet another kyujo coming?” Then he struck with a quick twist and the Penguin was vanquished. Tsukiotoshi

Terunofuji defeated Kotoeko: Terunofuji impressed me with this win. He was pitched far forward trying to get Kotoeko’s belt. As he was reaching, Kotoeko knew the situation was dire if Terunofuji could get a firm grip so he twisted and turned backwards like a bucking bronco. That mawashi may have been tied a bit loose because Terunofuji pulled it up over Kotoeko’s belly, regained control and drove through his opponent, right up toward the top of the ring. Yorikiri.

Kotoshogiku defeated Chiyomaru: Kotoshogiku retreated at the tachiai. His left foot was out a bit wide and Chiyomaru drove him backwards. However, the former Ozeki regained the advantage at the edge and swiftly pushed Chiyomaru out back over on the right side. Chiyomaru may be Juryo bound if he can’t turn things around. Yorikiri.

Kotoshoho defeated Wakatakakage: Kotoshoho wrapped up Wakatakakage pretty quickly, controlling the smaller rikishi with the left. However, Wakatakakage secured a belt grip, twisting to gain an advantage. Kotoshoho twisted at the edge forcing Wakatakakage into the dirt. Tsukiotoshi

Kotonowaka defeated Sadanoumi: Kotonowaka dominated Sadanoumi from the tachiai. He forced Sadanoumi backwards and pressed forward. Sadanoumi twisted left to try a change of direction but Kotonowaka just followed and ushered him out over the edge. “You’re not welcome at this club, Sir.” I’ve been there, too, Sadanoumi. It’s lonely sitting on the curb when your friends are inside. Yorikiri.

Takayasu defeated Shohozan: Takayasu’s lefthanded grip was even less effective today against Shohozan. For a minute he completely disengaged and it looked like we’d have a bar brawl, but the two came together for another clench in the center of the ring, Shohozan seemingly content to try to counter-attack. But no attack seemed forthcoming. Then, just ask Shohozan started to nod off, Takayasu struck, bringing the right hand down on Shohozan’s back and driving him down. Shitatedashinage

Kaisei defeated Tochinoshin: Kaisei brought the sky-crane to Tochinoshin. Both big men had firm two-handed belt grips and Kaisei was determined to beat Tochinoshin at his own game. I was more surprised to see Tochinoshin oblige and try the crane himself…and fail. Kaisei was the stronger man today and walked Tochinoshin over the edge. Yorikiri.

Myogiryu defeated Shimanoumi: Some straightforward sumo from Myogiryu today. Great tachiai. Get your man going backwards. Dominate. Win. Shimanoumi tried one turn to try to change things up but Myogiryu was in great form and stands 2-0. Oshidashi.

Ikioi defeated Ishiura. Let me rephrase. Ikioi owned Ishiura. The taller Ikioi drove his forearm into Ishiura, driving him backwards like the Refrigerator Perry using a pee-wee football blocking sled. It wasn’t until the edge that Ishiura tried to counter…by falling forward. Your gearshift is stuck in reverse. Time for a visit to the mechanic. Ikioi picks up his first win. Hikiotoshi

Tamawashi defeated Chiyotairyu: Tamawashi retreated and dancing a little jig on the tawara, sent Chiyotairyu belly-first into the clay. Our first makuuchi mono-ii of the tournament confirms the victory for Tamawashi. A quick one. Kotenage.

The momentum carried Tamawashi off into the crowd…except there is no ringside crowd. So rather than landing on soft pensioners, he landed hard on the platform below, checking his elbow. Slow to get up but seemingly okay during the mono-ii. Hopefully he’s fine. Off to a good start this tournament at 2-0. It would be a shame for another injury so soon after Kakuryu’s kyujo. Chiyotairyu picks up his first loss.

Enho defeated Tokushoryu: Enho effectively demonstrated for Ishiura how a smaller rikishi can defeat a bigger man with straightforward sumo. He quickly secured a lefthanded belt grip and drove forward at the right time to use Tokushoryu’s momentum against him. Tokyshoryu was just trying to keep from falling over backwards. Tokushoryu falls to 0-2 while Enho picks up his first win. Yorikiri.

Terutsuyoshi defeated Ryuden: Terutsuyoshi picks up the upset AND Ryuden. Strong, straight-forward win from the smaller rikishi. Yorikiri.

Kagayaki defeated Hokutofuji and the gyoji: Kagayaki drove forward into Hokutofuji. Hokutofuji slid backwards and tried to regain his footing. But Kagayaki continued his attack and drove his arm into the back of the off-balance Hokutofuji. Hatakikomi.

Aoiyama defeated Abi: To call Abi a pusher-thruster is a bit generous. He’s a hopper. Aoiyama, on the otherhand, is a textbook pusher-thruster. Today, he chased the hopper around the tawara until he caught him and thrust him out. Tsukidashi.

Okinoumi defeated Kiribayama: Strong sumo from Okinoumi today. Okinomi’s forearm drove Kiribayama back at the tachiai. Kiribayama decided to hang on for the ride as Okinoumi walked him around the dohyo and over the bales to the right. Yorikiri.

Sanyaku

Shodai defeated Takarafuji: Wow. A strong tachiai from Shodai!! A bewildered Takarafuji was far too high to offer resistance. The momentum of the pair brought Takarafuji over the edge. He tried a last gasp twist at the tawara to no avail. If there’s a time to wake up and start an Ozeki run, the time is now. Yorikiri.

Mitakeumi defeated Takanosho: Mitakeumi absorbed Takanofuji’s strong charge and slid back to the edge. With the aid of the tawara, he shifted to the side and drove Takanofuji down for the win. Mitakeumi’s strong 2-0 start. Takanosho falls to 0-2. Hatakikomi.

Takakeisho defeated Onosho: Takakeisho failed to really get the wave action going as Onosho was head down, bulling forward. Reading the situation, Takakeisho quickly changed tack and slipped to the side, slapping down Onosho.

Daieisho goes to 2-0 with Kakuryu’s sudden withdrawal.

Asanoyama defeated Endo.

Andy: “Don’t go for the belt. Endo’s dangerous, especially with that confidence-building win yesterday. But he’s vulnerable to thrusting attacks. So, keep him off your belt, keep him at arm’s length, and you’ve got him for sure.”

Asanoyama: “Shut up.”

Announcer: ただ今の決まりては “Yorikiri.”

Andy: <sheepishly> “Well, you kept him off your belt.”

The strong tachiai…a dominant performance from the shin-Ozeki. A shoulder-shrug to keep Endo from getting a grip, and then a strong, dominant yorikiri win. I can hear my grandma, “What a nice young man. Showing that boy back to his seat.” When you take on your opponent at his strength, and win, you have thoroughly destroyed him. Show’s over.

Oh, wait…

Hakuho dismissed Yutakayama: “Next.” Uwatenage

Now the show’s over. Herouth sums it up better with a Japanese language lesson: