Tachiai Interviews Kintamayama, Part 4: “If Hakuho goes, we have no responsible adult.”

Moti Dichne (Kintamayama) and Takanohana
Kintamayama with Takanohana outside of Futagoyama-beya. Photo courtesy of Moti Dichne.

Welcome to Part 4 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.

Click here for Part 1, here for Part 2, and here for Part 3 of our conversation, if you are catching up. The interview took place during this year’s Natsu basho, and as such predates some current sumo events (such as the retirement of Aminishiki) and has been edited only for clarity and length. This segment touches on the state of some current rikishi and the ongoing transition in the sport.

Tachiai: A lot of people are very interested in debating Takakeisho’s ceiling. What are your thoughts on Takakeisho? What can he be? He’s got one trick, but it’s a weird trick.

Moti Dichne (Kintamayama): Listen, Chiyotaikai was not much better. He had the windmill thing, and it worked for him for 60 bashos! In the meantime, Takakeisho is looking really good, you can’t argue with that. [edited to add: this interview took place before Takakeisho’s injury caused him to at least temporarily lose his ozeki status]

I personally am a belt person, but [yotsu-zumo rikishi] are becoming like dinosaurs. Look at Makuuchi… out of 42, maybe 32 are slappers! You’ve got Tochinoshin, and Hakuho and maybe 3 more [who are yotsu-zumo rikishi]. But Asanoyama was down where all his opponents are slappers and he’s had a difficult time getting the belt.

I [now] think Takakeisho is the real deal for sure, and I didn’t think so. I was happy they didn’t promote him when they didn’t promote him [the first time he met the informal qualification]. I said, “let’s wait a minute and see how he does mentally.”

Kisenosato would be devastated [in that situation], and it would take him 3 bashos to get over it. Takakeisho got over it very quickly. He’s a cool cucumber. He has a mission, and everyone forgets that he’s a young guy.

Personally, Onosho was the guy that I was rooting for. He started off well, but I hope that his whole setback lately comes from an injury and not from that being how good he is. I’m looking for a reason, because he came up and was killing everybody. Even Takakeisho. Even Hakuho [couldn’t deal with him].

That’s an interesting point. One thing that we’ve been talking about the last several years is that sumo is in a transitionary phase.

Oh, yeah.

But I think that when people hear that, what they expect to see is the Kisenosatos of the world retire – and he did, as did Harumafuji, but Harumafuji retired in a freak situation. It wasn’t like, “we’re in a transitionary period, and all the top guys are going,” what we’re actually seeing is the Takekazes of the world and the guys who are the long serving veterans who are starting to work their way out, but I think it’s happening slower than people really expect. Is it because these veterans of that last period… Takekaze, Yoshikaze, Kotoshogiku, Aminishiki – are they that good that they’re able to hang around or is it because this new generation – Onosho for example – hasn’t been good enough to be able to push on?

A little of both. It’s very difficult to know. There’s one thing that foreign fans will never understand: It’s not yaocho when the young guys have respect. When they were five years old, they used to watch [the older guys] on TV. That has to factor in somewhere, on the dohyo, that “I don’t want to hurt the old guy. I don’t want to be the one who caused the old guy to retire.”

I’m not saying that they’re giving them the wins, but I think they are being extra careful. Nobody will tell you that, but I am pretty sure. And I can tell by the bouts, I can see, the younger the guys are more reluctant to go all-out against Aminishiki, against Toyonoshima. That’s my feeling. Toyonoshima a bit less because when you look at him, you don’t see him as that old. Aminishiki on the other hand, you see an old guy. [He’s] like an oyakata having fun.

The Japanese are very rooted in kohai and sempai. It has power when you were 10 years old and you adored [a rikishi], and suddenly you’re fighting him and you’re saying somewhere, “I don’t want to kill this guy, I don’t want to hurt him.”

There’s a totally different thing happening right now. I think for the first time, since I don’t know when… if Hakuho goes, we have no responsible adult. There’s no name. The minute Hakuho goes, we’re doomed. Kakuryu and Mitakeumi?

Always there’s a void. Takanohana came after Chiyonofuji. The Americans came. There were never 4… 5… 7… 8… 10 bashos like that, and if Hakuho goes…

Dominance is good and bad but it’s good for knowing there’s a responsible adult.

It’s also a society that’s dominated by the concept of eras. We’re talking right now at a time when the change to the Reiwa era has just happened. It’s an appropriate time for this discussion. You can bank on Hakuho, even if he’s kyujo 2 times a year, to get up to 50 to 60 wins a year. I think an issue if he leaves is that usually in that vacuum, someone will go, “ok, I’m going to take those 60 wins.” But right now, we’re seeing six guys taking ten of those wins apiece over the course of the year.

That’s what I’m saying! It’s not going to happen. In the NBA, you have your LeBrons and your Michael Jordans. In baseball you have [dominant] guys. Here, suddenly, there’s nobody. Because Kakuryu does anything but show leadership, you don’t know what’s going to happen with him. He has no charisma. 

Do you think the next Hakuho is in the sport now?

I don’t think there’s going to be a “next Hakuho” for quite a while. I’m not sure about Naya either. I have no idea. None from whoever’s in Makuuchi today. Maybe Takakeisho, but I doubt it if he’s going to be one dimensional. Somewhere along the line, but I don’t see anyone right now. I thought Goeido at some point, but he’s getting old. I think he’s going to win another yusho. I have a feeling that this is his basho [Natsu 2019], but we’ll see.

As we speak, Goeido is on his longest run of staying out of kadoban that he’s ever been on in his entire Ozeki career. [edited to add: he’s since gone kadoban again]

See, this is what we’re talking about: an Ozeki who’s 30 years old and been kadoban every 2-3 [basho]. Guys like Hakuho breeze through Ozeki, [not] stuck in Ozeki for 30 bashos. They just walked over Ozeki, except for Musashimaru, who stayed on for a long time.

I made a poll, a hundred years ago on the mailing list: “Who thinks Musashimaru will become Yokozuna?” Out of about 100 responses, three people. Because there was no way. He seemed to be a happy go lucky guy, content with a 9-6. 10-5.

We all were laughing, saying “he’s going to have to learn the dohyo-iri, just for that he won’t be come Yokozuna!” And then suddenly out of nowhere, he made it in. Everyone was healthy, it wasn’t like it was something that he picked up off the floor. And he was a great Yokozuna.

And Musashimaru was in an era where it was difficult to do that, with Takanohana still being in the sport. Whoever does it next may have a free run at it. 

That’s what we’re saying, exactly! It’s going to be easy! That’s why I have a feeling that even though he’s one dimensional, maybe Takakeisho will be able to do it. He just needs two [consecutive] yushos! And in this atmosphere at this moment, who knows. 

It could happen. I think the biggest issue with the current crop is consistency.

Listen, not only could it happen, it has to happen, because there’s going to be a void. 

There was the period in the early 90s before Akebono, where there was nobody for about a year. There were 4 Yokozuna, and then Asahifuji and Hokutoumi retired, having mostly been kyujo just before they retired. I think we may see that again, where there were 4, and then none. 

I missed Chiyonofuji and all of that era! The internet brought me back to sumo. Between ’67 and ’90, that’s 23 years I was totally out of sumo. There was no other way [to see sumo]. I had to go back and study everything and see what happened, for my own information and my own curiosity. 

It’s a weird parallel because you had this period where you had Onokuni, Hokutoumi…

Onokuni was a lousy Yokozuna also! He should keep on making cakes. He’s a baker!

They all kind of flattered to deceive a little bit, and it’s kind of like the current period, where you had Kisenosato with two yusho, injuries, and he’s out… and maybe the end of Hakuho’s career is similar to the end of Chiyonofuji’s career. Maybe there will be a year break with no Yokozuna because nobody can win two in a row, or the equivalent?

I think it’s going to be interesting. Because the fans now, for the first time, are coming in – not for the Yokozuna. I don’t remember that happening since I got interested in sumo.

It was always the Yokozuna, Asashoryu, these guys [who attracted fans]. Any time they were injured, the attendance went down. In those days, the basho wasn’t sold out in advance.

You look around the arena and see what things people hold up and who they are cheering for, and while you do get a lot of fans for Ozeki Tochinoshin now, a lot of people love Mitakeumi, Endo, Enho…

They’re Japanese! Endo, always! Of course it also depends which tournament it is, the local people always [get support]. Mitakeumi is very well liked, and I don’t understand why! Maybe he’s a nice guy. But his sumo…

He has consistency problems.

And he has training problems, which is worse. He trains [poorly], then he loses and everyone is on his case. He’s one of those guys that he comes on during the basho. 

He’s kind of the opposite of Goeido, who trains very hard, but then falters during the basho.

Yeah, exactly. The oyakata are already making jokes about Mitakeumi, that he loses all the time in training, and they’re saying he’s not going all out and that’s why he’ll never amount to anything. That used to be the case with Robocop (Takamisakari). He would never win a single bout in keiko! It was like he was scared. During the basho he had no choice, but in training he used to be scared! 

He was a character that was great for the sport.

Oh, for sure! A character you need. The way they cut Kotoyuki down… what the hell do you care?! Now, Kotoyuki has this new thing going, his helicopter move [before the tachiai]. Nobody cares. Nobody notices, nobody gives a shit, nobody laughs or claps. In his prime, everybody was waiting just for that! Now, you have the Takayasu “Gorilla.” The crowd goes crazy [for that].

I think Kotoshogiku needs to bring his back bend move back. He stopped when he fell out of san’yaku. Do you think if he goes back to san’yaku he’ll bring it back? 

He stopped his back bend and I didn’t even notice! I read somewhere that someone told him it’s not good for his back. Which sounds like total nonsense. Maybe it’s a san’yaku thing, like the change of names where when they drop out of san’yaku and go back to their real name.

Maybe he feels he’s not a top level guy anymore so he hasn’t earned the right to make a big show?

K: Well, knowing Kotoshogiku, that’s very possible.

The rumour on the street is that he wants to renew his rivalry with Toyonoshima. Do you think that’s ever going to happen?

Toyonoshima looks good. He looks like he has a lot of years in him, in contract to Aminishiki who doesn’t [edited to add: and has since retired]. But Aminishiki has been looking that way for the last five years… so what do I know! I’m telling you the factor is the guys are afraid to injure him and they’re not going all out.

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

Tachiai Interviews Kintamayama, Part 3: “Everyone was scared to enter the dohyo!”

Kintamayama (Moti Dichne) with Musashimaru and Konishiki
Kintamayama, pictured overseeing keiko at Musashigawa-beya with the former Musashimaru (Musashigawa-oyakata) and Konishiki. Photo courtesy of Moti Dichne.

Welcome to Part 3 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.

Click here for Part 1 and click here for Part 2 of our conversation, if you are catching up. The third part of our series incorporates some of Moti’s stories from keiko, thoughts on future stars, and fun with sumo. The interview took place during this year’s Natsu basho and has been edited for clarity and length [edited to add: this post was edited further on August 17 due to a complaint regarding some of the video content]. This segment features some strong opinions, which are of course the subject’s own.

Tachiai: Obviously you use your Japanese language skills to bring us a lot of information. And particularly, you have got some really interesting scoops from the interview room…

Moti Dichne: laughs

Do you have any of those videos coming up? I think there are some people who want to know who else came to Ichinojo’s bar mitzvah….

I always watch all the interviews, and I know which interview can go like that. Most of the interviews lately are very straightforward. I have to be in the zone, you know? It doesn’t happen very easily! I’ll tell you something. I estimate 70% of people think those videos are real. I’ve been having complaints, like “why did Ichinojo jump the line in the supermarket?!”

 

It’s all music, it’s all the sound. There are a lot of words that sound a bit like English. I enjoy it a lot. When people enjoy it, that’s great. I haven’t done it in a long time, I don’t know why.

You seem to have your favourites that you’ll go after. 

 

 

In the old times, they used to show a close-up of the monoii because [the video] was the Kyokai’s feed, not NHK. My best work is the rapport between the shimpan. One time, one of the shimpan, Chiyotaikai’s slipper fell off, and so I have Chiyonofuji saying “see? I told you not to buy cheap shoes! Where did you buy these shoes anyway!?” It looks like he’s saying it! And Chiyotaikai says, “What do you want? it was a sale!”

I can’t do that anymore because I can’t see [the monoii], it’s very far on the NHK feed, and I don’t know what they’re saying. Listen, that humour is part of me. I can’t help it. Sometimes, I have “font day.” I have all kinds of nonsense that annoys people. I don’t give a shit. I love it! It makes it more entertaining.

 

 

 

You have to find the joy in it, right?

Humour is always arguable, but at least I make it my thing. Maybe not all the information is there, but it’s the personal touch. People like to feel part of the running gags. They say, “oh yeah, the guy without the neck!” And people correct me, they go: “there was a tsuppari against the guy without a neck and you didn’t say anything!”

“OK, I’ll file that away for next time.”

The problem is at my age I don’t remember what I filed!

We both obviously love Ikioi, and I discovered you like Abi as well. Is it the guys that have the high energy now, that come to the top division, who you find entertaining?

I don’t know about other people, but I have seen a lot of behind the scenes videos. Abi looks like the perfect prankster. He’s always pranking. That’s it! I don’t care about anything else. It’s not the norm. I like the pranksters!

They’re good characters.

Good characters! And they’re different. Abi looks serious when he’s on the dohyo, but that’s life. He looks like a really light hearted, nice guy. The sumo’s very, very shallow, that [two hand attack] is all he does.

The funny thing is, my daughter called me Abi way before he came up. Because abba in Hebrew is dad. And “Abi” is like “daddy.” Suddenly, this guy called Abi comes up! And he came up with Abiko, so there were two Abis: Abi and Abiko, who’s now Tsurugisho. But that’s why I like Abi, that’s why I like Ikioi. You can tell that it’s more than sumo to them.

It’s true, because I think it can also be a really hard, sometimes joyless, lifestyle.

Exactly! Exactly to the point. These guys can find their five minutes of joy. We know the life. We’re not passing fans, we know what things they go through. I’ve been to keiko.

I saw Asashoryu in 2000. I went to Wakamatsu-beya, and I have never ever seen such a thing, not before and not after. He was head-butting everyone around. Everyone was scared to enter the dohyo! And the Makuuchi guys were whistling and looking around [trying not to be noticed]. They didn’t dare get in! So I asked the oyakata, “please, allow me to take a picture with him.” He says “oh… Makushita.” You know, Makushita, they’re trash. And I said, “But please, I came all the way from Israel, please let me take a picture.”

The oyakata said, “Why?” I said, “Because he’s the next yokozuna.”

And I wrote that on the mailing list, as proof. I said, “I just saw a guy, he was in Makushita, he is the next Yokozuna.” I’ve never seen anything like that. And I have the picture! I spoke with him, and he was very intelligent. He knew everything about Israel and Palestine, and he asked questions. The oyakata allowed me to speak, otherwise I couldn’t. [The Makushita guys] to them, they are nothing, you cannot talk to them.

The funny thing is if you go now to keiko, you might be more likely to end up taking a photo with the guys near the bottom end of the banzuke!

I got Takanohana, I got Wakanohana, I got everybody. I just walked up, it’s the Israeli cheekiness. People say “no, don’t go…” What’s going to happen? They might say, “No, go away.”

During that era, I went to Kokugikan, and I was with Doreen Simmons, who just died, and she knew everybody. I totally respected that she knew everyone. She got me in everywhere – except Futagoyama, which was out in Chiba somewhere. A friend took me there. That was an incredible experience, to see Takanohana and Wakanohana training. No-nonsense training. It’s not like, “I’m the Yokozuna, and I’m going to watch.”

[When] Takanohana came into the room, I swear to God there was an electric shock in the whole room. I felt it, I was thrown back! It was the presence, and he is gigantic. You never know this! I always thought Terao was a small guy. Terao is tall! I met him also.

I got Takanohana in his prime. I walked up right after the keiko and said, “can I take a picture with you?” He said, “you stay here, I’m going to do an interview and then I’m coming back and we’re taking pictures.” There was a huge staff of TV [people]. And he said, “don’t you want to shake my hand?” Takanohana! I was at Futagoyama-beya when it was Takanohana, Wakanohana, and all these [top division] guys. I was sitting there, and it was really cool.

You obviously identified Asashoryu in that moment. Who now, if you’re looking outside the two divisions, are you super excited about?

It’s not such a stretch. Of course, Hoshoryu and Naya. I had a lot of faith in Shoji at Musashigawa-beya. But, something happened along the way. I don’t know if he’s stuck. I’ll see him tomorrow, I’ll talk to him and see what happened. 

He hit the wall really badly, 5 or 6 basho stuck in the same place. He was coming up really, really [well], and he was looking good, I was watching his bouts and I spotted something in him.

Other than that, there’s a guy now coming in, who started from Sandanme who’s supposed to be really, really [good], Shiraishi. Listen, the last two guys who started from Sandanme to come up [to the top division] were Yutakayama and Asanoyama. I think Asanoyama, by the way, is going to have a fantastic basho this basho. (edited to add: this was said by Kintamayama at the very start of the tournament before Asanoyama won his fairly unprecedented, debut yusho)

Yeah? He’s looked pretty good so far.

I have a feeling that he was injured for the last few bashos. He looks much better now, and Yutakayama will be back up for sure. It’s gotta be an injury.

What do you think about Hakuho as a recruiter? He brought along the two small guys – Enho and Ishiura – and they got up to the top division, and now he’s got this enormous guy, Toma.

There’s no question about it, the results speak for themselves. There’s nothing you can argue about. It’s not semantics. We’re not guessing. He’s got two midgets in the first division! Not in Juryo, not in Makushita… in the first division! We’ll have to see how Enho does, because Ishiura was lucky and should have been demoted. It will be interesting to see if Enho can make it – I personally don’t believe he’ll make it. It’s like Takanoyama… I think he’s too small. But, who knows?

That’s the debate: will he be Takanoyama or will he be Mainoumi?

He could have one or two good basho, but the real test will be the third [Makuuchi] basho. When the guys catch on to you and they know what you’re not supposed to do, that’s it.

It also happened with Ishiura.

Yeah, yeah. But still, he’s still around! 

He’s physically pretty decent. With Enho, when you shut down his mobility, you shut him down.

And he’s had an injury which everyone knows about, it’s not a secret. With his shoulder, I think in [the old days] he would have been kyujo.

Listen, there was the kosho system. [That] was really cool, until the Ozeki were very weak. The truth is it’s all Musoyama’s fault, today’s Fujishima-oyakata. He was the one misusing [the system] in a very, very obvious way. Don’t let anyone else tell you anything else because it’s bullshit. He was going 0-3 and suddenly making up an injury and getting out.

They’re going to lose prime wrestlers [because of] this shit! Look at Ura. He also came back too early! 2 seconds later he got injured again.

And also the jungyo. There used to be 7 or 8 jungyo [dates per tour], now they have 25 or 26. There’s no way anyone can recuperate – no way!

The exciting new stars don’t only put butts in seats, but they also sell so much merch. 

[The Association] is killing the chicken that lays the golden egg. Why!? They have got to find a way [to deal with injuries]. I’m pretty sure someone has come up with a way that’s not kosho, something in the middle. It’s crazy. Maybe when [rikishi] go kyujo, don’t drop them [all the way] back, drop them a little less. Don’t treat it as a 0-15, because that’s not fair, it’s an injury. Treat it as a 5-10, 4-11. It’s not that complicated to do that. It’s not rewriting the rules. There are no rules that say it has to be a 0-15. That’s not written anywhere.

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.

[This post has been edited to reflect Kintamayama’s own updates to his comments regarding his meeting with Asashoryu, correcting the year and stable.]

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.

Tachiai Interviews Kintamayama, Part 1: “It’s like breathing for me, I love sumo so much.”

Kintamayama / Moti Dichne Live in Concert
Moti Dichne, better known to many sumo fans as Kintamayama, prepares for his Tachiai interview

If you’re a sumo fan who lives outside of Japan, then it’s almost certain that you’ve encountered the work of Moti Dichne. Under the shikona Kintamayama, he has been present almost everywhere in the English speaking sumo community for over two decades. Between his popular newsletter, his presence on forums such as SumoForum, and his essential YouTube channel, he has not only provided outlets and lifelines for fans seeking content, but also introduced thousands of foreigners to the sport.

During the recent Natsu basho in Tokyo, I sat down for an extended conversation with Kintamayama. This is the first of several parts of that conversation which will run here on Tachiai. In this segment, we touch on how Moti discovered sumo, and the rikishi who inspired and continue to inspire him. It has been edited in places for length and clarity.

Tachiai: So, where did your love affair with sumo start?

Moti Dichne: When you’re growing up in Japan, in the late 50s and the early 60s, and you’re a kid and you like sports… then, all you have is baseball… and sumo. There was no soccer! Not like today. The only soccer was a league for companies. So, what could I like?

You [would] turn on the TV, and it was black and white, still. Sumo was on for 15 days, and I even got to watch it at Kuramae, the former stadium. Those were golden years, because it was [the time of] Taiho, Kashiwado, Wakanohana I… and you couldn’t miss it because it was everywhere. As a kid you love it, because there were the backstories. 

Without us actually knowing and saying, “yeah, that’s it,” the backstories are what’s important… what makes it fun! You know that Ikioi never lost a day [to kyujo], and you know he’s totally injured. It gives you a difference. It’s not that there are these two guys that you got nothing with, you know? You know each guy’s story. You know this guy, he always chokes, and this other guy needs to get the belt.

That’s part of the whole thing. It’s like a series: ‘Game of Fat Thrones.’ And you say, “wow, what’s going to happen?” [Nowadays] you don’t give it a second thought, because you know. 

I was sitting at the Kokugikan on Day 1, and there were 2 young Americans sitting next to me, a boy and a girl, and the girl said “wake me up – this is boring.” I said, “OK, you will listen to me from now on!” And by the end of the day, she was standing up, screaming, “Here come the towels!” I explained every bout. “You will see: the small guy’s going to go out there, grab the guy’s leg, and push him out.” “No! He’s 100 kilos more!” I said, “he’s gonna go under, he gonna get his leg, and push him out.”

And when Kotoshogiku’s up, it’s going to be X-Rated.

He’s gonna bump… and he did it! Not always, but he did on that day. 

Back to the story: I just grew up in Japan, I had no choice. We had baseball. I loved the Yomiuri Giants of course growing up in Tokyo. There was a saying: Jō-jin, Taiho, Tamagoyaki. That was what everyone was into. I never missed a day, it was great! School was over at 2 o’clock, so 4-6, that’s a very comfortable time zone. You can go out later.

I think everybody knows who your favourite guys are now, but back then, who were the guys?

Back then, it was of course Taiho. And Kashiwado, Taiho’s rival. And then there was a guy called Myobudani who had a dark complexion, thin and tall, completely different from the others and I guess that’s why he stood out. And of course there was Wakanohana I, he was the old man of sumo. He was incredible. Tochinishiki as well. As a kid, you go with the Yokozuna, you don’t go with the underdogs. You want the winners. I don’t want to be sad every day! Like, you know, going with Ikioi! 

Ikioi’s my favourite too.

Ikioi was always my favourite. 

We could talk about Ikioi for a long time. He has what I call… heavy metal sumo, high octane sumo. He goes full throttle.

And his heart is like a four year old. That’s the whole thing, and when it’s over, he’s limping. When it’s going on, he’s like a tiger.

Do you know his story? His background is a really interesting story. There was a guy called Kotokanyu, who was 39 years old. He was in Makushita. They had a bout, and Ikioi went in with slaps. Ikioi was 19. And won.

Kotokanyu put a towel across his hand and went – after his bout, not the next day – to the other shitakubeya, where Ikioi was in the bath, and beat the shit out of him. He beat the crap out of the poor guy. Because Ikioi slapped him, like Aoiyama slaps. And, the next day, Kotokanyu retired of course.

They both went kyujo, because Ikioi was injured. And Kotokanyu retired. Kotokanyu had been in Israel with Sadogatake-beya, with his wife and his two kids. He was gentle, but I guess that really humiliated him. Lower Makushita, Ikioi was just coming up! Whoever was there then, look it up, you’ll see it. It finished Kotokanyu’s career. At 39 years old, he could have gone on, he was OK, he wasn’t that bad.

That’s the Ikioi story. It was the first time I noticed Ikioi. I said, “OK, this guy is going to be my man.”

You couldn’t see Makushita then. It was a dream to see it, Juryo was a dream. Because we didn’t really have any idea who was where.

It predates a lot of information.

We had no idea what was going on. Today we know every guy all the way up from Jonokuchi, and who to look out for. You can see it. 

How hard is it for you to stay on top of sumo news? It seems like you get a lot of inside information.

You get the same internet in Israel! The camels are not on the streets anymore. We get everything, in real time, and also, every morning I read the papers!

Since I read the papers in Japanese, I know exactly what’s going on at every given time. [I know] Who was injured, who was in keiko, who was this, who was that. [I read it] with my morning cup of tea, at 9 o clock in the morning. If there’s something interesting to translate, I translate. I put it in the forum, and then my newsletter. If there’s nothing really interesting, then I don’t. It’s very easy, it’s all a question of wanting to do it. If you want to do it, and you love it, then you do it! It’s like breathing for me, I love sumo so much. I wouldn’t mind doing much less. But if no one else is doing it, it’s something that I feel I have to do! 

And I was at the Kokugikan, and I was astounded by the number of foreign fans! First of all, all the guys I was sitting next to got their tickets from BuySumoTickets because that’s the only way we can buy tickets now. 5 years ago, we used to walk in, and sit on a masu seat… alone… the whole day!

Now, it’s very difficult for foreign fans to get tickets through the Association.

BuySumoTickets is able to buy blocks. And other [vendors] buy blocks. Takakeisho’s sudden popularity, and new [female] fans, with the good looking rikishi: that’s a new thing, that wasn’t there ten years ago when I came, no way! The youngest guy there was a 70 year old, everyone was old!

The first basho I went to, it kind of felt like that, and then Kisenosato got promoted. After that, everything changed.

Oh, yeah. That was the moment. You used to [be able to] buy tickets at the entrance, the one day tickets, for 2000 yen. You know what we used to do? It’s called zabuton bingo. We would go and sit [in the masu] and then at 2:30, some guy would come, and we moved to the next seat. The contest was who could stay the longest [without having to move]!

I once made it to the middle of Juryo without having to move – in the 4th row! That’s an incredible experience. It’s nothing at all like anything else. And then… the old lady [whose seat it was] came!

Today you go, and they want tickets. They say, “where’s the ticket?” We used to walk around and only at the very end did you go to your actual seat. [This basho] I was sitting in the nosebleed seats, I started getting dizzy from the height!

I know what this experience has been like for me, so I’m curious about someone like you who’s been in the game as long as you have: What is the reaction of people you work with, who you know, who you play music with, when they find out how much you do with sumo?

They all give me the phone numbers of the nearest institution! Always! They say, “it’s right around the corner, they’ll be happy to have you. Shall I make the phone call?”  Everyone thinks I’m nuts. 

So they find out that you’re interested in sumo, and then…

They know! I came from Japan. There’s not many people in Israel who can say, “I grew up in Japan.” And nobody calls me between 9 and 12 in the morning, at all, because I don’t answer.

I don’t talk with my friends about sumo, unless they ask me. The guys in my band, they know nothing. They know about sumo stuff, but they don’t know how deep I’m involved, or what I do on the channel. I don’t tell them, because they think I’m crazy anyway. So, more than that, that’s institutionalised madness! But I really couldn’t care less. My [family] knows. My daughters grew up on this, they know everything.

I don’t think anybody knows the extent of my involvement, that’s for sure. It borders on crazy, so I’d rather it’s “maybe he has a passing interest, whatever.” I really don’t tell anyone.

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.