A Day out at the Ryogoku Kokugikan: Kisenopocalypse Edition

Kisenosato Flag - Hatsu Basho 2019
A flag that soon may never fly again.

In sumo there are no places more hallowed than the Kokugikan, and for me, it’s one of the most special venues in all of sport. Having completed my set of honbasho cities in 2018 and having last taken in the Kyushu basho in Fukuoka, I had been excited to get back to Kokugikan and the home of sumo.

And since I last visited, the NSK has been busy bringing in new features:

But despite the pleas of Sumo Twitter™, this is not why I came and I did not take part. This Friday, I’m back at Kokugikan for Day 6, so perhaps I’ll grab some #content then, if the Cat Cafe is still in business. I did, however, make a stop off at a different novelty, the dohyo mounted by the legends of broadcasting, the NHK Grand Sumo Preview team:

Sumida Information Center Dohyo
Why, yes Hiro, I do have a prediction for this basho.

There’s a Sumida information centre next to the Kokugikan with all kinds of restaurants (including chanko) and tourist info, and this dohyo is located there. The dohyo is roped off with signs clearly stating not to walk on it. As it is not (as far as I know) actively in use, it would be cool if fans could be chaperoned onto this dohyo at some stage. Perhaps one of our readers knows more and can point this out in the comments!

After a quick walk around, I headed into the arena, stopping with several other punters to snap a photo of the Kisenosato flag at the entrance (at the top of the post). Everyone attending the basho knows the end is near, and what was clear throughout the day is that in spite of the farce that has been his record-breaking losing run, Kisenosato’s fans are desperate for him to do well, and desperate for a final good memory.

Normally, I get right to my seat to check out some early, lower division matches, and calibrate myself with the torikumi. However, this alluring photo of Michinoku-oyakata beckoned me underground:

Michinoku Chanko poster
It’s an original blend.

Typically, a different stable will supply the recipe for the chankonabe that is served at the Kokugikan for each honbasho. The last time I was in Tokyo, it was provided by Oguruma-beya, and this time, it’s Michinoku’s “Variety Chanko” on offer. And as you can see above, you can wash it down with a cup of hot, steaming rules.

Michinoku heya Chanko
Everything but the kitchen sink.

The chanko is served in a small styrofoam bowl, and you get a pair of wooden chopsticks. There’s ichimi in the dining hall if you need it, though this had some good spice. I’d call it Kitchen Sink chanko as it had a bit of everything in there. For ¥300 it’s a nice novelty to be able to eat a small bowl of chanko, and the line moved quickly enough that I didn’t mind waiting. If you go later in the afternoon, maybe toward the end of Makushita, there’s usually less of a line.

After a quick stop at noted sumo artisan Daimon Kinoshita‘s stall for some beautiful postcards, and then to the BBM Sumo Card seller to pick up some cards from the new 2019 series, I did a lap around the arena and headed for my seat. Not far away from the Daimon Kinoshita stall at the front of the venue, newly retired ex-Satoyama was doing fan photos, along with NSK mascot Hiyonoyama.

Across from Hiyonoyama, the NSK social media team has launched a photo activation where fans can take photos with a variety of backgrounds to share on social media. Sadly, this seems to have replaced the incredible Purikura box which used to be available at Kokugikan, where fans could take pictures “with” any of the 42 top division rikishi. While the fan experience does tend to continuously improve at Kokugikan, the NSK has got this one wrong and I hope they restore the purikura booth soon (if only so I can continue my long and quite literally decorated history of taking photos with Ichinojo).

Once inside, I decided to stop off and see the newest addition to the Kokugikan rafters:

Takakeisho yusho portrait hanging at Kokukigan
Young man among legends.

Takakeisho’s yusho portrait was a great reminder that while we talk about the achievements and accomplishments of these rikishi as if it’s just part and parcel of the daily business, what we witness every basho is men writing themselves into history (usually the good kind).

Speaking of recent champions, one of them had a very prominent and popular supporter in attendance:

Others will cover the actual content of the days events on the site, so I want to focus the rest of this piece on Kisenosato, whose presence overshadowed almost everything else to take place on the dohyo.

Kisenosato dohyo-iri. Hatsu basho 2019.
“Something I wasn’t sure of, but I was in the middle of”

Kisenosato Dohyo-iri

Kisenosato’s dohyo-iri was greeted with a massive round of applause. It was clear from this moment that while yesterday was reported to have been a tense affair, the crowd was here to celebrate and cheer for the beleaguered Yokozuna.

While his nerves were visibly jangling when watching the ring entrance ceremony yesterday with the benefit of HD TV, today’s dohyo-iri at least appeared to be more authoritative from my viewpoint in the venue. The entire crowd was absolutely behind him and welcomed him into the ring and celebrated what could possibly be the last time we all saw him perform that ritual.

As an aside, I will say it was fantastic to see three Yokozuna dohyo-iri today. The last time I visited a honbasho, in Fukuoka this past November, Kisenosato had already withdrawn by the time I reached the venue, and so I didn’t get a chance to experience one of the more magical moments of live sumo on that occasion. I’m grateful that all three Yokozuna gamberized (or attempted to) for this basho.

Kisenosato vs Tochiozan. Hatsu Basho Day 3. 15 January 2019.
A penultimate stare-down?

Kisenosato vs Tochiozan

The atmosphere before this match was totally charged. This may have as much to do with Kisenosato as it did with the match that preceded it, Hakuho prevailing over Ichinojo in an epic contest.

As Kisenosato mounted the dohyo, what seemed like the entire arena spontaneously broke out in a synchronised clap in support of the Yokozuna. Kisenosato towels were being waved everywhere – absolutely everyone in the venue was behind him and I cannot state that enough. Were he to win, it seemed like the roof would come off the place.

It felt like Tochiozan took absolutely ages to get down and ready for this bout (he’s obviously a very seasoned veteran, just like the Yokozuna, but it’s clearly possible he too had nerves in that kind of abnormal atmosphere). It seemed possible that this may have had the effect of unsettling Kisenosato, who seemed very much ready to go.

By now, you probably know how this ends. Kisenosato lost a match it didn’t seem like he was every really truly in danger of winning, though it was clear he gave it everything he could. After the match, the disappointment of the crowd was immense, and so audible. After all of the energy everyone had put into it, the gasps, sighs, and exhales of the entire arena probably lasted about 5-10 seconds but it seemed like it went on for minutes, and it felt like a cloud had been put over the dohyo. The whole place just felt deflated after having been so charged up.

After that, the last match between Kakuryu and Nishikigi felt like a total non-event – which is sad, really, as it was a very good bout and a career-altering continuation of what has turned into a remarkable storyline for a rank-and-file rikishi. Having been emotionally drained, a lot of people simply walked out of the venue before the musubi-no-ichiban had started, and missed it altogether. Again, I’ll let others supply the match analysis, but it was a frankly bizarre end to the day, as there was a long monoii before Nishikigi’s kinboshi was confirmed. Zabuton had been flying everywhere both before and after the monoii.

With the festivities having finished for the day, and having seen a bow twirling ceremony in my time, I left Kokugikan in very much the same mind as many others, it seemed: thankful for being a part of the final moments of something, but not really totally sure of what to feel.

This Post Is Terrible!

Elephant Crosses Dohyo
What Must Be Done

Frequent followers of Tachiai will note that I did not write very much in the run up to Hatsu, and that this was quite unusual. Normally I like to set up and preview the storylines that are likely to unfold over the 15 weeks of the tournament, and help all of our readers put the matches into a broad context. But with the exception of some bits bout Ura, and some things around Wakaichiro, there was nothing.

There is really one story that must be discussed, and I dreaded writing it. Its time for Kisenosato to “man up”, gamberize and put an end to this farce. Some background if you would.

Kisenosato was a perpetual bridesmaid, he had an amazing string of jun-yusho, but had never lifted the Emperor’s Cup himself. Meanwhile, the sport of sumo slowly took a diminishing stance in the mind of the Japanese public, as it had been so totally dominated by a string of Mongolian dai-Yokozuna. To some it seemed that it was hardly Japan’s national sport at all. Then Kisenosato won Hatsu 2017, and everything changed.

Kisenosato was a solid Ozeki. He may have been what could be called a dai-Ozeki. His sumo was low, heavy and unquestionably effective. But the moment he won Hatsu 2017, the campaign was on to bring a Japanese born man into the Yokozuna ranks for the first time in a generation. It would transform the sport of sumo, and breath new life into the flagging fortunes of the NSK. The Yokozuna Committee concurred, and it was announced that Kisenosato would become 72nd Yokozuna. There were some who stood firm that he had not earned the rope, as the criteria is thought to be 2 back to back yusho.

But Kisenosato proved them fools as well. He won Haru in one of the most dramatic and compelling yusho runs in memory. Badly wounded, he managed to defeat Terunofuji twice on the final day to take the cup. Neither man has since recovered, but in fact Kisenosato had won his back to back yusho, and had proven he was a Yokozuna.

But that injury was grave, and for reasons we will likely never understand, the choice was made to let it try to heal naturally. A torn pectoral muscle on his left side left his primary weapon useless, and month after month passed with no real improvement. Herouth covered “how did we get to this point” with her usual stellar clarity, and it’s worth it to read it again.

Two days into Hatsu 2019, and Kisenosato is a mockery of his former sumo, and of the rank of Yokozuna. A comparison to his own form in 2016 or 2015 proves out that his sumo is gone, and can never return. The body is broken, the muscles de-conditioned, and there is no path that brings them back to top form. Below is sumo fan’s exhibit 1

Could today’s Yokozuna Kisenosato beat this guy in the dark red mawashi? I think not.

Sumo fan’s exhibit 2. Watch the guy in the dark red mawashi. Look at his low stance, how when he moves his feet barely leave this clay. This is “heavy” sumo, and it bested Harumafuji on this day.

How would today’s Yokozuna Kisenosato fare against this guy?  2014 Kisenosato would call himself today weak and pathetic, a disgrace to sumo. And he would be correct.

I am very sad for him, for his fans, and for sumo. But each time he mounts the dohyo to lose to an opponent of the calibre he used to “toy” with, just tears at the fabric of the sport.  There is no shame in exiting after such a terrible injury, I said at the time it was likely “career ending”. There is shame in letting this mockery continue.

Furthermore, as we saw in day 2, the whole sport – from the fans to the rikishi to the Oyakata, are on edge waiting for him to do what needs to be done. the NHK commenters noted there was an odd feel in the hall – everyone is dreading what is going to happen next. Hoping that somehow this will pass, and everyone can enjoy sumo. It’s like waiting for a beloved friend to die in some ways.

There is word that Tagonoura Oyakata is declaring he will continue to compete, and that his fan club will be there to cheer him on. With all due respect to Tagonoura Oyakata, this is (or at least should be) out of his hands. As a Yokozuna (which Tagonoura Oyakata never was), Kisenosato’s behavior is a direct reflection of the NSK, and as such I am assuming the NSK is in specific discussions with Kisenosato about what he needs to do.

No sumo fan of good fiber is happy at this situation, but it must end. And only one person can end it. Kisenosato.

Hatsu Day 2 Highlights

What universe is this?

Takagenji visited makuuchi today from Juryo to face Daiamami but left empty handed. After a well met tachiai, it was all Daiamami as he drove through the Chiganoura beya youngster for a swift yorikiri win, his first of the tournament. Both men are 1-1. Chiyonokuni followed up, dispatching Kotoeko with a few forceful slaps to pick up his second win. Before the bout, my money was on Chiyonokuni by hatakikomi but as it worked out, he got the tsukidashi win before he even needed to pull. Kotoeko falls to 1-1.

Chiyoshouma studied Daishomaru and feared the oshidashi loss, effectively neutralizing the threat posed with a glorious henka – to the groans of the spectators. It was the smart move. Chiyoshoma is a solid grappler, winning mostly with throws but vulnerable to oshidashi…and yorikiri. Chiyoshouma picked up his first win while Daishomaru fell to 0-2.

Yutakayama and Yago offered up a great bout of very similar competitors yet different styles. Yago’s mawashi is a bit darker but both sport the royal purple with very similar builds. Yago favors the belt but Yutakayama is a much more committed oshi/pusher-thruster. Which style would prevail? Yutakayama’s forceful nodowa immediately after the tachiai effectively kept Yago from getting a grip and backed to the edge. Rather than be forced completely out, Yago circled and regrouped to the center. The fatal mistake was going for the hatakikomi. The backwards pull worked to his opponent’s advantage as he followed through with a successful oshi attack. Yutakayama is off to a great 2-0 start while Yago’s setback has him at 1-1.

Kotoyuki put another W in the win column for Team Oshi as Meisei allowed him to fight their bout his way. Relentless pushing-thrusting favors the Sadogatake man and Meisei had nowhere to run, eventually shoved out hard, nearly landing face first in the salt basket. Kotoyuki’s on 1-1 while Meisei is still looking for his first win, 0-2.

Two bouts into the tournament and Kagayaki draws blood yet again, this time from chasing Sadanoumi. Kagayaki came charging like a Pamplona bull, as Sadanoumi tried ducking, twisting and turning any which way of escape. This time, though, I worry for Sadanoumi’s knee as it buckled awkwardly. He was slow to get up but made it back down the hanamichi under his own power. Kagayaki and Sadanoumi are 1-1.

Ikioi charged out like a barnstormer yesterday but I hope he goes kyujo after today’s bout with Abi. Abi’s slaps could not be contained and as Ikioi tried to weather the storm, I’m afraid he may have been briefly knocked out as he dove straight forward, face first into the tawara when Abi side-stepped. In the fall he appeared re-injure his ankle. He also reopened yesterday’s headwound but that may have come from Abi’s tsuppari. Ouch. Both are 1-1. As a side note, Ikioi is a big guy. I’m not sure if he’s still the tallest guy in makuuchi, but it’s really surprising. It doesn’t really sink in until he’s standing there next to a guy like Abi, making Abi look small.

Takarafuji has yet to wake up from his “long winter nap,” as Kaisei barely shifted and Takarafuji lost his balance. It wasn’t a henka. Takarafuji just fell. Hopefully the ring rust will be knocked off by the end of Act One? Takarafuji falls to 0-2 while Kaisei takes the gift to move to 2-0. Endo followed by convincingly backing Asanoyama over the straw bales. Endo also improves to 2-0 while Asanoyama falls to 0-2.

Ryuden was too eager to get things going against Chiyotairyu, initiating a matta. But once they got things going, he grabbed Elvis in a bear hug and then just barreled through, forcing the Kokonoe man into the first row of seats. Ryuden picked up his first win, 1-1, while Chiyotairyu falls to 0-2.

Shou-time (sorry) as Onosho tangled with Daieisho. After a well met tachiai, Onosho backed to the edge where he used the leverage from the tawara to slip to the side and allow Daieisho’s own momentum to force him out and pick up his second win while Daieisho falls, literally, to 1-1.

Aoiyama never let the hug-n-chug get going, nearly breaking Kotoshogiku in half with a forceful hatakikomi. Aoiyama is 2-0. I know it’s early but he has been in yusho races before, only to fold under the pressure of top level bouts. Will he be in the hunt at the weekend? Definitely one to watch. Kotoshogiku is at 1-1.

Yoshikaze never got going against Okinoumi. Rather than a nodowa, it seemed Okinoumi wanted to force Yoshikaze’s cheeks into his ears. Ho-po-wa? I don’t think I’ve seen that attack before. With the backwards force, Yoshikaze’s left knee gave out. Koshikudake was the call, with Okinoumi picking up his first win while Yoshikaze fell to 0-2.

Finally, sanyaku. Takakeisho fought Takakeisho’s bout. Shohozan was just along for the ride. Once those T-Rex arms get going…look out. If you’re in the crowd, you may end up with a rikishi in your lap. So, while Shohozan (0-2) conversed with the second row spectators, Takakeisho (2-0) strolled over to pick up his kensho envelopes.

Tamawashi learned from Takakeisho’s bout and blasted Shodai off the dohyo. The blueprint against Shodai is just like what you learn playing tennis and golf. Follow through. Rather than bouncing off at the initial charge, you’ve got to just keep running through and do not let Shodai get a hand of the mawashi or space to regroup. Tamawashi was all attack and picked up his second win while Shodai is 0-2.

Takayasu picked up his first win in controversial style against Myogiryu. This was a gift as Takayasu was clearly down first while Myogiryu was still in the air. Takayasu was looking solid, had good tsuppari going and great position in the center of the dohyo. But then he lowered his shoulder and bulldozed into Myogiryu, who appeared to everyone to successfully jump out of the way as Takayasu fell to the dohyo…but no mono-ii.

Take Nishikigi and Tochinoshin, plop them in the middle of the ring, both with firm two-handed grips of each other’s mawashi. I ask you, “Who wins?” Not in a million years would I have said Nishikigi. Tochinoshin even did his textbook lift today but it came up a few feet short, and that appears to be the difference. As Nishikigi’s feet came down, he was able to use his belt grip to throw Tochinoshin. Two Ozeki scalps in two days and the same absolutely bewildered look as he picked up another fat stack of kensho-kin.

Goeido gave it his all against Hokutofuji today. His mistake, the pull. He drove Hokutofuji to the edge but couldn’t get him over. So they regrouped in the middle of the dohyo. Rather than be patient and try again to drive forward, Goeido decided he wanted to end it now. So he backed up but ran out of real estate as Hokutofuji maintained his balance and ran the ozeki out for his second loss in two days. 6 ozeki bouts, 5* losses…with an asterisk on the one win. Unbelievable. Well, pretty soon they’ll be facing off against each other so some will have to win.

Someone finally got it through to Kisenosato that he needs to shift his style because of his injury. He tried with all his might to push the big boulder it was for naught. The pivotal moment came early when Kisenosato was laying into Ichinojo but Ichinojo was able to easily manhandle the Yokozuna and yank him around like a My Little Pony. Rather than try to expend energy and drive through Kisenosato, the Mongolian used his positional advantage, and adequate space for a pull, to unleash a hatakikomi pull down. He claimed a gold star and made it look effortless. This Ichinojo is dangerous, and 2-0. Kisenosato is 0-2 and on intai watch.

Mitakeumi sent more shockwaves through Kokugikan as he simply pushed Kakuryu off the dohyo. Kakuryu seemed to want the leverage of the tawara, letting Mitakeumi drive him like a blocking sled to the edge. But when his feet hit the tawara, Mitakeumi’s attack kept coming and the Yokozuna never had a chance to offer a counter-attack or to try to deflect and dance his way to victory. Kakuryu falls to 1-1 and is likely only saved from his own intai-watch by the hapless Kisenosato.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of all, however, was saved for the Boss. His Houdini-like escape from a Tochiozan throw only emphasizes the dire state of the senior sanyaku. We saw a tantalizing glimpse of the old Hakuho against Myogiryu yesterday. We were so eager for him to destroy the maegashira from Kochi and show us all that he’s back and ready for another yusho run.

All that was shattered, however, as Tochiozan got his left hand on the Boss’s mawashi, spun the Boss around and up to the very edge. Hakuho’s tune-up must have come with a new set of brakes because just as it looked like he was done and Tochiozan had the biggest kinboshi story, screeeeech! Hakuho brought his momentum to a stop and gently guided Tochiozan out. Tochiozan falls to 0-2, Hakuho escapes and improves to 2-0. He’s clearly still the Boss…but for how long?

Kyushu Day 3 – A Kise Crisis, A Tadpole Dance

How long is Kisenosato going to keep that hair?

It’s day three, and it’s clear that this basho is taking a completely different direction than the previous one. The Yusho question should, perhaps, be kept for a later part of the basho, as anybody with 0-3 at the moment can still theoretically win 12 and take the cup. But it’s already clear that the dominance of the upper echelon, which caused the entire banzuke to flip over last time around, has evaporated, and we have early signs of a free-for-all.

But we start at the bottom. The first bout of the day was between two hapless and winless rikishi. One of them had to take a white star from this bout, and Chiyomaru, starting with a morotezuki (double handed push) followed by a quick hatakikomi was the lucky man. Arawashi‘s legs simply can’t move forward. He couldn’t cope with the quick change in the position of his center of gravity, and dropped like a stone.

Daiamami and Meisei, the next pair, both hail from the Amami Oshima island in Kagoshima prefecture. That island is actually closer to Okinawa than to mainland Kagoshima. And yes, Daiamami is named after it. Meisei is fighting fiercely this basho, but although he had his right hand inside first Daiamami managed to insert his as well, lifted Meisei’s left arm high and neutralized him, then pushed him out. Meisei looked rather frustrated at the end of the bout. Yoritaoshi.

The bout between Daishomaru and Chiyoshoma was a bit odd. Daishomaru gets Chiyoshoma’s back and pushes him down pretty quickly, but although Chiyoshoma touches the ground quite clearly, the bout continues and Daishomaru chases him outside the ring, confusing the Japanese announcer – and myself. It was a tsukiotoshi – that hand touch is what counted, not the following exit. I guess Chiyoshoma’s copy of “1001 Sneaky, Dirty, Devious Sumo Moves Which Are Not Actually Cheating” (thank you for that, Tigerboy) also has an appendix about “Moves Which Are Cheating But Worth Trying Anyway”.

Onosho clashes into Takanosho, then quickly pulls and tries to pull Takanosho down. The Chiganoura man is stable on his feet. Onosho tries again. Fails. At this point Takanosho has got a better positioning and starts to attack and lift Onosho, including a nodowa which was more of a face-hugger. Takanosho gets his first win by yoritaoshi.

Aoiyama tries the same tactic Onosho has – starts with some tsuki-oshi, then attempts to pull Endo down. But he doesn’t make the mistake of trying it again. Instead he goes forward and paws Endo until it looks like he volunteers to step over the bales rather than have his pretty face redesigned. Tsukidashi.

Okinoumi is the faster off the Tachiai, enveloping Chiyonokuni almost immediately. Chiyonokuni would have preferred a tsuki-oshi bout but he does have yotsu abilities and even attempts a gaburi-yori, kotoshogiku-style. At this point Okinoumi lifts him by the belt and neatly performs a shitatenage.

Sadanoumi tries to get a migi-yotsu on Yutakayama, but Yutakayama manages to slip out of his “sashi” (arm insertion) and the two go into serious windmill action. Sadanoumi nearly loses balance and compensate by lifting a leg – it almost looks like an attempt at a forbidden high kick, but it isn’t aimed at Yutakayama. Yutakayama tries to use that loss of balance and gets Sadanoumi to the bales, but Sadanoumi recovers, and somehow manages to turn the tables, push Yutakayama to the same exact bale, and yori-kiri him without a belt hold.

Kotoshogiku gets Daieisho into his favorite hold and is ready to start the pump action. Daieisho, however, lifts the former Ozeki. Not the kind of construction crane lift Tochinoshin lives by, but enough to prevent Kotoshogiku from having any traction with his feet. Kotoshogiku’s gaburi may seem to be powered by his pelvis, but it is in fact his legs that transfer all the power, and with his feet barely touching the ground, Daieisho is the one who ends with the yori-kiri.

In yet another meeting between winless rikishi, Ikioi smartly crashes into Takarafuji. However, despite Ikioi’s attempt to lock his armpit, takarafuji manages to slip in his left hand and find his mawashi. At this point it’s just a question of how much power Takarafuji has. The legs – not so much. So he gives up the attempt at a force-out and instead goes for a shitatenage and his first win.

Abi, alas, is not showing us any of those mawashi skills he supposedly tried to develop during the Jungyo. He goes for his usual morotezuki. Shohozan also starts with a tsuppari attack, but Abi’s reach is greater, and so he has the upper hand – literally, as this ends with him pulling and slamming Shohozan with an uwatenage.

There is not much to say about the TakanoiwaKagayaki bout. Takanoiwa throws himself into Kagayaki and successfully defends against Kagayaki’s left – but then Kagayaki, who is a little too forward, simply slips. Slippiotoshi, officially tsukiotoshi. And yet another Chiganoura sekitori wins the day – first win for Takanoiwa.

Chiyotairyu, starts his bout with Asanoyama with his usual booming clash. Asanoyama is a yotsu man and tries to get inside on the big Kokonoe man, but Chiyotairyu’s tsuki attack blocks him again and again – until he finds himself out. Oshidashi.

Yoshikaze hits Shodai low and seems to have the better Tachiai – which is not surprising with Shodai – but as he tries to get inside Shodai again and again gets his arm away and secure his own hold, but then realizes that he has moved far enough forward that he can simply shove Yoshikaze powerfully, and that would be enough to get him out. Yet another oshidashi.

The smallest of the tadpoles, Takakeisho, faces no challenge in Ryuden, after downing a Yokozuna and an Ozeki. Ryuden is quickly dispatched by the angry bowling ball. Another Chiganoura win – by tsukidashi this time.

A little trivia item about Takakeisho: When he received his first kensho, he was asked by the press what he intends to do with it. He said “I’ll give it to my tsukebito, who has been supporting me all this time – though I have to give some to my oyakata”. His dissimilarity with Takayoshitoshi is not only in their outward appearance.

Tamawashi lands a nodowashi on Ichinojo right out of the tachiai, and doesn’t his hand off the Sekiwake’s throat until Ichinojo – who isn’t giving up easily this time – simply can’t go anywhere but across the tawara. I’m sure Ichinojo will not be able to sing for at least a week – which may not be a bad thing:

Ichinojo’s Singing Voice

Most of the next bout is actually Mitakeumi sliding his arms under Nishikigi‘s valiantly locked armpits. This takes a few seconds, and then with the morozashi thus achieved he quickly dispatches of the Isenoumi man. A reminder to you: Nishikigi said in his pre-basho interview that he is aiming to be a Yokozuna. Having challenging goals is important.

Welcome back, Kaisei. You have three seconds to spend on the dohyo, because it’s getting late and all. Clash. Push. A half-hearted pat on the back, and Kaisei finds himself eating dirt. Hatakikomi. I don’t think Takayasu broke even one bead of sweat. Takayasu now the only one in the top two ranks with a 3-0 record.

By rights, Tochiozan should not have been much of a challenge for Goeido. But as Goeido charges into and sweeps him to the tawara as Goeido does, Tochiozan sidesteps, lifts a leg ballerina-style, then just hangs there on tip-toe, while Goeido tries to rebalance and fails. I’m not good at kimarite, so I have no idea why this was called a sukuinage. I guess there is just no official kimarite for winning by sidestep.

Myogiryu proves himself a dangerous opponent this basho – considering how long ago it was that he was in the joi. His tactic is, quite sensibly, to keep Tochinoshin away from his mawashi. He keeps the Ozeki high by leaning against him diagonally, and having his arms right under Tochinoshin’s armpit, shortening their reach. With his left he is having a fumbling battle which he rather wins. However, the downside of this tactic is that, as I said, he is leaning on Tochinoshin. Eventually the Georgian takes a few steps backwards, Myogiryu has his legs trailing behind him, and Tochinoshin survives by letting him drop down.

What’s next? The musubi-no-ichiban, Kisenosato vs. Hokutofuji. We had most of the tadpole corps win by now (with the exception of Onosho). Can Hokutofuji join the rest? He is facing a Yokozuna with two losses already and dignity on the line.

Well, it seems that the Yokozuna is trying to attack with the left side that he no longer has. It may be the pressure causing him to revert to what’s familiar to his body. I don’t know. But a weak ottsuke against Hokutofuji’s strong right – it’s not working. The Yokozuna is too high. Hokutofuji keeps low and keeps pushing at Kise’s left chest with his strong right, making sure he stays high. He even attempts a tottari for a fraction of a second there. By the time the Yokozuna starts attacking with his right, it’s too little and too late. Hokutofuji plants his head in his chest. Adding a nodowa with his left hand. He manages to get the Yokozuna’s right side away from him again, and has his right under the Yokozuna’s left arm, and then – well, to me it looked like a kotenage, but the shimpan call it a tsukiotoshi, so what do I know. All I know is that the Yokozuna is rolling on the dohyo, with his third consecutive loss. He is only the seventh Yokozuna to start a basho with three straight losses. And the last one who did so was Asahifuji (the current Isegahama oyakata) in 1992, and he retired the next day.


There is a lot of speculation going on as to what Kisenosato is going to do now. Clearly, in the past this would be a reason for immediate retirement – that’s what Chiyonofuji did (with only two losses) and that’s what Asahifuji did.

But in recent times it has become a matter of norm that Yokozuna find a hitherto-unknown injury (it’s not as if they don’t have enough real ones for the doctor to be honest – they just usually keep them from public knowledge), and go kyujo.

Only, earlier this year the YDC warned Kisenosato against exactly this sort of thing. “If you are not absolutely 100%, don’t start the basho. We do not want to see you go kyujo in mid-basho again”.

I believe this warning to Kisenosato is also the reason why Kakuryu opted not to start the basho at all, rather than try anyway. It seems the rules have slightly changed. So what are the options?

  • He can still try the old trick of going kyujo and hope that the YDC will be forgiving, as they don’t have a spare Japanese Yokozuna. This seems to me to be beneath his dignity, but I don’t know how much pressure he will be under.
  • He can injure himself purposefully. Nobody is going to say he can’t leave in the middle if he actually breaks a bone. This is, of course, very risky.
  • He may choose the old-fashioned mid-basho retirement.
  • He may choose to stay the entire basho – there are still enough days for him to get a kachi-koshi, and even if he doesn’t, it may not be the end. Wakanohana Masaru, Takanohana’s brother, once stayed through a basho despite injury and had a make-koshi. He handed his resignation after the basho, but the NSK decided not to accept it, and he lingered as Yokozuna – but not for long. So Kisenosato may do the same, especially given that he is sole Yokozuna and it will be considered a show of responsibility.

I personally think the last option is the most sensible. He may yet win 8 bouts. That’s not a Yokozuna kachi-koshi, but it will be tolerated if it is done in the name of responsibility to the spectators. And if he has a make-koshi – he’ll have to hand in his resignation. And then it’s not up to him – the pressure will be on the shoulders of the NSK.


Note: I do not have the time for two posts today, so I will have to forego the lower division report. I leave you the Juryo digest, though. If you haven’t seen Enho’s bout on Kintamayama’s reel, don’t miss it! Also Gokushindo’s first win, Toyonoshima, Tobizaru… Juryo is great!