Haru Day 5 Recap

We had an interesting day today at the EDION arena in Osaka. Before I dive into the Makunouchi bouts, I’m sure the fans will be happy to see this:

Aminishiki finally lands a win

Aminishiki is in dire straits down at the bottom of Juryo, but he managed to get his first win today vs. Akiseyama – and do that moving forward!

So, fast forward through Juryo (Arawashi doing well this basho, Enho gets his second loss in a row), we begin with Yutakayama vs. Kotoeko. Kotoeko looking good this basho, and may just be able to get that Makunouchi kachi-koshi which has eluded him so far. He attacks Yutakayama with a harizashi, lifts his arm high, and sends him off to the arms of the time shimpan.

Due to Chiyonokuni’s injury, we have a visitor from Juryo every day, and today it was 0-4 Hakuyozan facing Ishihenka, I mean, Ishiura, who was 4-0. Ishiura tried to get under Hakuyozan’s attack, but as he pulls, his knee folds below him and he finds himself rolling. His first loss, Hakuyozan’s first win.

Toyonoshima slammed into Chiyoshoma and intended to railroad him with his bulk, as he is wont. But the nimble Mongolian freed himself, stepped sideways, and left the veteran to ponder the difficulties of age and sumo.

Kagayaki launches himself head-first into newbie Daishoho‘s chest, keeps himself low, keeps his opponent upright, and clears him from the dohyo. Basic and clean.

The TomokazeTerutsuyoshi bout ended almost as soon as it started, with a plain, almost dismissive, hatakikomi. I believe something is wrong with Terutsuyoshi’s legs. He keeps ending up with his center of gravity way ahead of his feet. There is an expression used for this state: “ashi ga nagaremashita” – “his feet have flowed away”. His legs don’t work as fast as he needs to support his lunge.

And the Isegahama pixie is not the only one in trouble. Yoshikaze also didn’t show up for today’s bout. He leads head-first into the tachiai, but Ryuden immediately lands a morozashi – two arms under the opponent’s arms – and Yoshikaze just goes limp. Ryuden is haveng a good basho with 4-1.

Meisei tries to take the initiative against Yago. Doesn’t quite land a grip. Short tsuppari ensues, and then the two engage in migi-yotsu. Meisei only has one layer of Yago’s mawashi, and the Oguruma man patiently maneuvers into a better grip and leads Meisei out.

An impressive Shohozan showed up today to face Sadanoumi. Starting his bout with a harizashi, he lands a grip, and then throws Sadanoumi in a beautiful uwatenage. I want more of this Shohozan.

Ikioi tries hard to keep Kotoshogiku‘s pelvis as far away from him as possible. But eventually the former Ozeki decides to use the pressure against him, moves, and shows him out. Ikioi limps back to his spot to give the bow.

Asanoyama has a good tactic against Aoiyama. Since he is a yotsu man and Aoiyama is known for his fierce tsuppari and soft knees, Asanoyama quickly drives in and gets a fistful of mawashi. But Aoiyama shows versatility, uses a kotenage to release himself from the Takasago man, complements that with a nodowa, and hands Asanoyama his second loss.

Abi starts his bout with Takarafuji, as usual, with that morotezuki and follows with tsuppari. Takarafuji is quite ready for that, patiently weathers it, moves slightly to the left and grabs Abi’s mawashi. Abi manages to release himself, tries a half-hearted hikiotoshi, and fails. Instead, the Isegahama man slaps hard, and Abi rolls all the way to the other side of the dohyo. Olé!

The next bout, Chiyotairyu vs. Okinoumi. Chiyotairyu does his locomotive tachiai. Okinoumi backs up and sidesteps. Chiyotairyu dives into the janome, hands first. And Kimura Konosuke calls it Chiyotairyu’s win! No monoii. I guess the shimpan trust Chiyotairyu’s heya-mate, Konosuke, too much. The replay clearly shows this was a mistake. Okinoumi’s feet are firmly on the tawara, so he is very much alive when Chiyotairyu hits the dirt.

Ichinojo starts off with a harite – it’s not a harizashi as there was no attempt to go for the belt – then follows with a kachiage, and finally paws Onosho down with both arms. Scary. Onosho finds himself in a heap as Ichinojo, as usual, worriedly checks if he hasn’t overdone things. I guess Ichinojo left his sleepy secret twin in Tokyo.

Endo gets a grip on Tochiozan‘s belt right off the tachiai, and rolls him like his favorite barrel of beer. Makiotoshi, Endo’s first win this basho.

Mitakeumi and Hokutofuji clash head-to-head. Mitakeumi leads at first, but Hokutofuji manages to stop the pressure, and it’s Mitakeumi who starts pulling back. Maybe it’s the knee, but whatever it is, the Mitakeumi magic is not working against his fellow komusubi, and after a short halt, again he pulls and finds himself below the dohyo.

After three losses, Tamawashi vindicates himself somewhat in this fierce battle with Takakeisho. Takakeisho leads at first and nearly bounces Tamawashi out the front side of the dohyo, but Tamawashi takes it in his stride, and returns with his own windmill. Tamawashi proves that even in oshi, Takakeisho is not invincible. With two losses in the first trimester, Takakeisho’s Ozeki run seems less certain than it looked before the basho started.

Nishikigi has run out of luck this basho. Takayasu slams into him with all his bear-power. Nishikigi tries an arm lock on the Ozeki’s left arm, but to no avail. Nishikigi is 0-5.

Kaisei and Tochinoshin lock into a “gappuri” stance – firm yotsu. Tochinoshin’s first attempt doesn’t work. There is a short impasse, and then Kaisei makes a mistake and tries to gaburi him, or at least, that’s how it looked. As a result, his center of gravity ends up just where the Ozeki wants it, and he actually lifts the heavy Brazilian – though he quickly abandons the idea. He then adds a couple of pelvis thrusts of his own, to bring his thick opponent across the tawara. 3-2, and his chances of clearing kadoban look slightly brighter.

Goeido treats Shodai like a ragdoll, and the Tokitsukaze man finds himself out of the dohyo almost straight out of the tachiai. What version of Goeido is this? Has his kernel been replaced?

Kakuryu butts heads with Daieisho (not a smart move in the long run, Yokozuna), then immediately pulls. Hatakikomi, and Kakuryu is visibly annoyed with himself. Trouble always begins when Kakuryu pulls. But the win is a win.

I’m not sure what’s going on with Hakuho. The bout itself looked fine. No dominance, but the Yokozuna leading with a kachiage, Myogiryu fending him off, and the Yokozuna coming in again and slapping his opponent to the ground. But like yesterday, he couldn’t quite stop his own movement after finishing his work. Yesterday he ended up in the crowd, and took quite a while to get up from there, and today he ended up doing the splits on top of myogiryu. Control of legs? Dizziness? We won’t know unless he goes kyujo and needs to publish yet another public proof of injury

So that’s the end of Act 1, and we have four men in the leader group – Hakuho, Goeido, Ichinojo and Kotoshogiku. Let’s see what the second trimester brings!

February Hana-Zumo events

It’s that time of the year again. It’s February, and there is no Jungyo. If you take a look at the Grand Sumo Calendar, though, you’ll see that there are always two hana-zumo events in this month: The NHK charity event, and Fuji TV’s Grand Sumo Tournament.

Hana-Zumo is exhibition sumo. The name literally means “flowor sumo”. This is because in the Heian era, events like that took place in the Imperial Palace, and there were no “East” and “West” then. So the rikishi were distinguished by flowers they wore in their hair.

NHK’s #52 Charity Sumo Event

The special feature of this event is the song contest at the end. One side of the Kokugikan is fenced off, and set up as a huge stage.

The event includes extras such as Jinku, drum demonstration, Shokkiri, and Yokozuna rope tying demonstration.

Kasugaryu putting the finishing touches on Hakuho’s rope.

There is also what the Japanese call “A talk show”, which is actually an on-stage interview with some celebrity. In this event, they interviewed the former Takekaze, now Oshiogawa oyakata.

In fact, we had several new oyakata faces in the blue NSK jackets.

Here is a short video report about this event from NHK:

The former Takekaze says: “I didn’t imagine I’ll get to age 39, nearly 40, in any shape. If someone like me can do it, than anybody can!”

This is a “regular” sumo event in that bouts are more or less by ascending banzuke order ending with the san-yaku members doing san-yaku soroi-bumi (synchronized shiko). As always, Hakuho awaits his turn to do the soroi-bumi leaning on the shoulders of a Yobidashi:

And I also have a bout for you from this event – the musubi-no-ichiban, Kakuryu vs. Hakuho (bonus bow twirling ceremony):

You may notice that Hakuho is far from being in shape for sumo. He does this bout with his right leg mostly floating up in the air. There are several rikishi who are kyujo from this event, but Hakuho is not one of them, as absenting himself from the hana-zumo event would prevent him from participating in any events – such as weddings, and the Hakuho Cup, which of course he doesn’t want to miss. So he participates on one leg.

Update: here is a link to the part of the event that was broadcast the following week. Ad blocker highly recommended. I was amused by the narrated Shokkiri. 🙂

Fuji TV Grand Sumo Tournament

The Fuji TV event comes the day after the NHK event. It includes sumo in elimnation format – both Juryo and Makuuchi. The special feature of this event is the veteran bouts – with oyakata putting on their shimekomi and doing sumo.

From top left: Kyokutenho (Tomozuna oyakata), Tosayutaka (Magaki oyakata), Futeno (Inagawa oyakata), Robocop Takamisakari (Furiwake oyakata), Satoyama (Sanoyama oyakata), Tamaasuka (Kumagatani oyakata)

Refer to the link at the end of this post for the veteran bouts themselves.

The former Kisenosato had his debut as a commentator in this event. He readily speaks, but I think they should leave commenting to someone who speaks more clearly.

Two former yokozuna as Statler and Waldorf

Since the active rikishi bouts are arranged in elimination format, it means there are winners in this event. Much like a honbasho yusho, winning this tournament means receiving many prizes. There is a trophy:

Takayasu’s first yusho… in the Grand Sumo Tournament hana-zumo event, that is

And there is an air-conditioner:

This will come in handy in the next Nagoya basho

There are also a bale of rice, a lot of beef, a 10-day cruise around Japan. All went to Takayasu, who had to earn them by going through a very genki Yoshikaze. Take a look at Yoshikaze vs. Shohozan:

Here is a link to the full TV broadcast of the tournament. Things to note:

  • Hakuho, again, doing his sumo on one leg and getting eliminated in his first round.
  • The veteran bouts. The most impressive one is Kyokutenho. Robocop does a lot of pre-bout robot stuff, but Inagawa oyakata eliminates him rather easily. The most balanced bout is the one between Magaki and Kumagatani.
  • Azumaryu wins the Juryo tournament. This was done in such a way that the final was held between three wrestlers – like a three-way playoff. In Japanese you’ll heard the word “Tomoe Ketteisen”. This alludes to a mitsu-domoe:
  • Ryuden’s matta. And another matta.
  • Yoshikaze vs. Abi – continuing his genki performance.
  • Araiso oyakata in his role as a commentator. He is mostly asked to comment about Takayasu.

Takanoiwa’s Danpatsu-Shiki

Today, Takanoiwa’s danpatsu-shiki, the ceremonial cutting of the top-knot, took place on the dohyo at the Ryogoku Kokugikan. Sumo fans who did not read about the reconciliation between Harumafuji and Takanoiwa, may have been surprised to see this:

Harumafuji, participating as promised in the hair cutting ceremony

And even those who knew about the reconciliation, may have been surprised at another consequence of it:

Yokozuna Hakuho, also cutting a strand

And, perhaps less surprisingly, Kakuryu was there as well:

Kakuryu: “Thanks for the hard work. Let’s see each other again”.

Indeed, it seemed every Mongolian sekitori showed up: Tamawashi, Arawashi, Chiyoshoma and, of course, Ichinojo, all snipped a strand of hair, as did members of Takanoiwa’s own heya:

As has been speculated, Takanoiwa’s original stablemaster, Takanohana, absented himself from this ceremony, and chose, instead, to show up for an assembly of his support group in Nagoya. Comedian Kunihiro Matsumura, known, among others, for his impressions of the former Takanohana, filled in:

Spitting image

About 370 people participated. This may seem a small number for the 12,000 seat Kokugikan, but it should be noted that the tickets sold for this event all included both the ceremony itself and the party that followed it, so the limiting number was the capacity of the banquet hall, not the Kokugikan itself – and the tickets sold out. The other day I reported that only 90 tickets were sold – but in fact, whatever was allotted was sold. Here is a summary of the ceremony:

A quick shave-and-a-hair-cut, and I give you Takanoiwa in his new form:

Adiya Baasandorj, formerly known as Takanoiwa

The party after the ceremony included a Mongolian band:

As well as karaoko! Here is the man of the hour:

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t give you Chiganoura oyakata’s karaoke, because he is one of the best singers in the Sumo world.

And so, it appears that the reconciliation indeed helped the ceremony become a respectable, well-attended occasion.

But it may have done more than bring Hakuho to softly lay his hands on Takanoiwa’s shoulders.

Meet Takanoiwa’s nephew, Sukhbat

In March 2018, Takanoiwa’s nephew, Sukhbat, son of his second eldest brother (Takanoiwa is the youngest of five siblings) was looking for a heya.

Sukhbat was 19 at the time, graduating at the same time as the famous Naya, and from the same school, Saitama Sakae, which has a very strong sumo program. This is the same school Takakeisho graduated from.

This was before Haru 2018. The boy was practicing with his uncle at Takanohana beya’s Osaka facility, but of course could not join that heya, as Takanoiwa himself occupied the foreigner slot. So he was looking for a heya that was willing to take someone who finished third in the inter-high sumo tournament, in time for the new recruits exams of the haru basho… but there were no takers.

This was in the middle of the Harumafuji scandal. Haru 2018 was the first basho Takanoiwa was to attend after the “incident”. And heya were distancing themselves from the matter, apparently.

But he didn’t find one in Natsu, and in Nagoya, and in Aki… you get the drift. With his uncle’s own retirement, it seemed that the world of sumo was willing to give out on this supposedly talented wrestler.

And then we had the reconciliation. Then suddenly…

Left: Takanoiwa. Right: Sukhbat

Sukhbat is going to join Onoe beya. He will probably undergo the new recruit examination in Haru, but will only be able to do his mae-zumo in Natsu, as is usual for foreign recruits.

So, of course, temporal succession does not necessarily imply causation. But with foreigner slots being a limited resource, and the Japanese natural suspicion of anything foreign, it makes sense that any foreigner wanting to join the world of sumo would need an intercessor or sponsor to speak for him. Apparently the well-oiled Mongolian recruiting machine was not working for Sukhbat until just recently. He is now 20 years old. Let’s hope he has kept himself in shape!

Hatsu Day 4 Highlights

It looks like it was hair-pull Wednesday. None of it seemed like a deliberate tactic, but it took at least one clear win from a rikishi on a no-loss streak. There are an impressive number of rank-and-file rikishi who are still 4-0, and sadly two Ozeki who are in real trouble with injuries, and might want to consider kyujo and immediate medical attention.

Highlight Matches

Chiyonokuni defeats Aminishiki – A couple of false starts, Chiyonokuni was worried about an Aminishiki henka, and who would not be? Aminishiki took the tachiai, but Chiyonokuni was able to overwhelm uncle sumo’s offense.

Yutakayama defeats Daiamami – Yutakayama picks up his third win, in this evenly balanced oshi/tsuki match. Yutakayama was consistently in better position, and kept Daiamami moving to his tune. My favorite part comes when Daiamami has a solid nodowa, and Yutakayama applies a vigorous slap to his attacker’s face.

Kotoyuki defeats Chiyoshoma – Kotoyuki got into his favorite mode of sumo, and after trading a short series of thrusts, he had Chiyoshoma off balance, and spinning toward the East side.

Yago defeats Kagayaki – Excellent fundamentals as usual from Kagayaki, and he controlled the early part of the match, moving Yago backward, keeping Yago higher and reacting to his sumo. Yago worked to bring Kagayaki to his chest, and when he got Kagayaki wrapped up, he went to work. Although Kagayaki struggled, Yago kept his opponent centered and marched him out. More evidence that Yago is probably going to be a big deal in the next few years.

Abi defeats Endo – It was a cloud of flailing arms immediately from the tachiai, and Abi put himself at risk by attempting an early pull down. Respect to Endo for doing a better job than most at repelling the Abi-zumo attack, but Abi continued to apply pressure, and Endo landed in a heap.

Ryuden defeats Asanoyama – A solid, protracted mawashi battle. Asanoyama was in control for a good portion of the match, but failed to pick up his first win. It looked like Asanoyama got tired, and Ryuden exploited his opponents exhaustion. Good sumo from both.

Kaisei defeats Daieisho – Kaisei seems to have his sumo at full power for the first time in a while, and he remains undefeated. Daieisho gave it everything he had, but there is just too much Kaisei to toss around.

Onosho defeats Aoiyama – This match was all Aoiyama, and Onosho could not overcome the Man-Mountain’s superior reach, and was bodily thrown to the clay. But a Monoii was called, and it was determined that Aoiyama had contact with Onosho’s hair during the throw, and was disqualified.

Chiyotairyu defeats Yoshikaze – I hate to say it, but it’s painful to watch Yoshikaze right now. He seems completely out of energy and drive, and he presents little offense in any of his matches. Injury? We don’t get to know.

Shohozan defeats Kotoshogiku – Shohozan scores his first win by shutting down Kotoshogiku’s hug-n-chug attack, and getting to Kotoshogiku’s side.

Mitakeumi defeats Takakeisho – A critical tadpole battle, this match did much to shape the second act, and it’s a fair question to wonder if Takakeisho needs to work out a mechanism to defend against this kind of attack. Mitakeumi was able to shut down the “wave-action” by never letting Takakeisho get enough distance to effective push against him. At close range, Mitakeumi’s bulk and grip carried the match. Excellent strategy from Mitakeumi, and he moves to 4-0. I can point to Takakeisho’s early attempt at a pull-down as the fatal flaw that allowed Mitakeumi to close the gap and back Takakeisho to the bales as the moment he lost the match.

Tamawashi defeats Tochinoshin – Ozeki Tochinoshin needs to just go kyujo, and work to get his injury treated. He is going to be kadoban either way, and he may as well save himself from any potential damage that might arise.

Ichinojo defeats Goeido – A wide range of thoughts about this, firstly a lot of credit to Ichinojo for outstanding, aggressive sumo two days in a row. He looked like a real champion, and I can’t get enough of this when he is fighting well. Goeido gave it everything he had, and we saw some fantastic attempts to overcome Ichinojo’s size and mass advantage. But with Goeido pressed tightly to his chest, Ichinojo expertly wore him down, and then tossed him aside like a spent ice cream bucket. Fantastic sumo from both, but Goeido likewise needs to own up to his injury and seek treatment before it becomes permanent.

Takayasu defeats Tochiozan – Influenza patient Takayasu blasts through his fever to drop Tochiozan. As the scion of Tagonoura now, I expect Takayasu to further harden his already grim determination to win every time he mounts the dohyo. On a related note, it seems the flu is ripping through Japan right now, and there may be several more rikishi who end up sick before this tournament is complete.

Kakuryu defeats Myogiryu – It was not pretty, but it was a much needed win.

Hakuho defeats Hokutofuji – Hokutofuji lost this match because Hakuho used anything he could think of to delay the moment he touched out. It was a masterful act of agility and poise, but it was really a toss up who was the dead body in this match. Although Hakuho won, this is a great barometer of just how far Hokutofuji’s sumo has come. The boss remains undefeated.