Heyabiraki at Naruto Beya

Today, June 8th 2019, the new Naruto Beya was officially dedicated in an event similar to a house-warming, called a “heyabiraki”.

Although Naruto beya’s new building has already been put to use for the past two basho, this marked its opening in an official way. The event included a dohyo matsuri in the presence of NSK board members Oguruma and Shibatayama, as well as Sadogatake oyakata, master of Kotooshu’s original heya. Following the dohyo matsuri, the sekitori of the Nishonoseki ichimon, to which Naruto beya belongs, led by Ozeki Takayasu, practiced on the newly dedicated dohyo.

Nishonoseki ichimon includes many san-yaku and well-known sekitori

The new heya is located five minutes away from the Tokyo Skytree station on the Tobu Skytree line, at the Mukojima quarter of Sumida. It includes four floors spread over 178㎡ of land. It took two years, and more than ¥300M ($2.8M) from the time Naruto oyakata bought the land for it to be completed. The floor plan is as follows:

  1. Keikoba (practice space) and two baths
  2. Common room, chankoba (kitchen/dining area)
  3. Dormitory, three private rooms for future sekitori
  4. Oyakata and okami-san’s residence
Folding the Natsu banzuke at the dormitory area

Two points were most important to Naruto oyakata in the planning of his new heya. One was its proximity to the Kokugikan (“It’s the center of things. It also has a medical facility”), and the visibility of the practice sessions. The side of the keiko-ba that faces the street has large windows that allow passers-by to see the practicing rikishi. Naruto oyakata is fully aware that this close to the popular Tokyo Skytree, his heya may draw a lot of foreign tourists. Being foreign-born himself, he doesn’t see that as an issue – he wants to expose sumo to the world.

Naruto beya’s daily keiko. The street facing windows (on the right) are actually half covered by wooden blinds.

This is not the only form of visibility in the new keiko-ba. In addition to it having full air conditioning and a water dispenser on hand, two video cameras are installed in it.

Camera and monitor – next to the street-facing window

The cameras allow the oyakata as well as the individual deshi to review their practice sessions and improve their technique.

All this extra visibility may also keep some problem behavior away – at least away from the sacred practice grounds.

When Kotooshu retired and became Naruto oyakata, he stayed at first, as is customary, at his original Sadogatake beya, learning the ropes and doing his blue jacket duties. However, it’s generally expected of an ex-Ozeki to form his own heya if he does not inherit one. And in April 2017 he left the heya with his two uchi-deshi – Oshozan and Honma. Until this new heya was to be completed, he set up camp at a temporary place near Kinshichi station.

He soon added what he hoped would be his foreign talent, Torakio, from his own homeland of Bulgaria, and Sumidagawa, a Sumida local with experience in Judo. These two additions turned out to be less than fortunate, though, as Sumidagawa bullied a minor deshi using Judo choking techniques, unsettling the young heya with scandal.

Torakio was apparently not connected to that scandal, but his progress turned out to be slower than he and the oyakata had hoped, and then, all of a sudden – after the heya has already moved to the new residence – it was announced privately to the koen-kai that he has retired mid-April and returned to Bulgaria in a rush.

Torakio’s privately-held danpatsu-shiki

The heya now has 12 rikishi, 6 of whom are freshmen who made their first steps in Natsu 2019. These, however, include the heya’s first recruits with actual sumo experience: Motobayashi was considered a rival of Takakeisho’s when he was in high-school, but unlike the current Ozeki, chose to continue his education at Kinki university, where he won the West Japan Student Championship yusho. He is probably the heya’s leading sekitori hope. Sakurai is a graduate of Nippon Sports University, and Maruyama graduated from Kaiyo high school.

In addition to the rikishi, the heya has two additional young members – a yobidashi and a gyoji. It also has two hired managers, which is one of the lessons learned from the Sumidagawa incident – more adults were needed on hand, and the oyakata – who did not live in the temporary heya – has to be on-site a greater portion of his time. Hopefully, now that his residence is in the fourth floor, the heya’s character will reflect his good intentions.

Answering questions from the press during the Heyabiraki, Naruto said: “This is the real start. The feeling is different than in the temporary heya. I want all of us, my deshi and I, to lower our eyes and work together without complaints about this and that”. He adds “I want to bring up humans, not just sumo wrestlers”.

“My dream is to bring up a deshi who will surpass me” – this means a yokozuna – “and to have those three private rooms we prepared filled up. But to get there, my first goal has to be getting my deshi into Makushita”.

Decisions in the Naruto beya scandal

A few days ago, we were informed of repeated abuse of a rikishi at Naruto beya. Naruto oyakata may be known to many of you as the former Kotooshu.

The details of the story were as follows: A 20 year old sandanme rikishi was harassing a minor ototo-deshi (more recent member of the heya). At first he hit him with the corner of a smartphone, accusing him of not doing his work properly. After that, over the period between September 2018 and January 2019, he chose to “punish” the victim by applying a choking technique borrowed from Judo on 10 separate occasions. He also ordered another adult rikishi (with the assistance of one other, a minor) to perform that same technique on the victim. This resulted in the victim losing consciousness at least once.

The victim eventually reported this to the heya’s hired manager, who in turn reported it to Naruto oyakata. He immediately reported it to the Compliance Committee, and suspended the perpetrator through Hatsu basho. That committee made its report, and today the NSK board held a special meeting and made decisions based on this report.

The perpetrator is without a doubt Sumidagawa – the only Sandanme rikishi from that heya who was kyujo in Hatsu basho. Although the standard set for violence perpetrated by rikishi Makushita or below is merely a one basho suspension, with possibility for warnings etc. in more serious cases, the committee noted the malicious intent and repeated nature of this case, and instead decided to recommend his intai. Naruto oyakata has already presented the intai documents and they have been accepted. The NSK board approved the decision of the compliance committee in this regard.

The (former) Sumidagawa. His Twitter profile boasts his Judo experience.

The oyakata himself was censured for being absent from the heya and not watching over his deshi properly. He will be docked 10 percent of his salary for the next three months. In response, the heya announced that due to its transient state both the oyakata and the manager have, indeed, been absent from the heya frequently, and that now they intend to hire an additional manager and keep two on a permanent basis.

The rikishi who was commanded by Sumidagawa to choke the victim will be given a warning, and the minor accomplice will receive “guidance”. The victim himself, as well as his guardians (he is a minor so he has either parents or other legal guardians), decided not to involve the police in this issue and leave it to the NSK. He also expressed his wish to continue doing sumo at Naruto beya.

Sources: Nikkan Sports, Sponichi

Update: A more extended report on Nikkan Sports reveals that Sumidagawa did not settle for just choking the victim and making another to do the same, but also took videos and made fun of the victim’s struggle for breath following the strangling. Also, he started extorting money from him on threat of choking him again.

Also, the “absences” mentioned about seem to refer to the fact that he was not living on premises. He has now handed in a plan to the Compliance Committee, whereupon in April the heya will be moved to a permanent location, which will include the residence of the oyakata and the okami-san. He will continue to hand in periodical progress reports as to the implementation of this plan as well as others for preventing the recurrence of violence in his heya.


For those of you who want to speculate as to who the victim, the adult accomplice and the minor accomplice are, here is a list of the Naruto beya rikishi. Note that in heya with no sekitori, hierarchy is determined by seniority. That is, the order in which they joined the heya. I believe it’s unlikely that Sumidagawa would “command” any of his ani-deshi (members who joined before him) to do anything. Also note that the age of majority in Japan is 20.

Shikona/NameHatsu dohyo (join date)Birth date
Oshozan2016.03May 2000
Honma2017.03May 2001
Torakio2017.05December 1996
Sumidagawa2017.07November 1998
Anzai2018.03August 2002
Kawamura2018.05September 2001
Mukaida2018.05November 1998
Oju2018.05February 1996

(The heya also has another minor member – yobidashi Kenta)

Kimarite Visualization Update

I updated the kimarite visualization with data from Hatsu 2019. I also took one of Herouth’s suggestions from before and tried to add oyakata. Some predate the data I have entirely, others don’t have complete data for what I have but some of the younger cohort, including Kotooshu, are in there. Note that the charts use the shikona, not the oyakata’s current name. (As a usability note, I usually click on the “full screen” view option, available at the bottom right of the visualization, rather than scroll, and I’m not a fan of how it bleeds over the widgets on the right.)

Kotooshu as Yotsu Specialist

A few other things that I quietly changed before the tournament are the date slider and the use of percentages rather than outright counts of bouts. This will let you see the wrestlers’ kimarite ratios in annual chunks, or for their career (back to 1985 for the older ones). It is interesting to compare Kotooshu to Akebono to see how versatile Akebono was. Kotooshu wasn’t a one-trick-pony as he certainly had a reliable uwatenage there in his back pocket. For sumo wrestlers, perhaps “up their sleeve” is a better phrase since their pockets are in their sleeves?

A Weekend of Hana-Zumo

There is no Jungyo in February. Hence no Jungyo coverage. But luckily, the world of sumo takes pity on sumo-starved fans, and spices this cold month with exhibition events, called “hana-zumo”.

These events generally take place in the Kokugikan in Tokyo, meaning they are much easier on the wrestlers than Jungyo events – no traveling, practicing in their own heya, eating the chanko they are accustomed to, and so on.

This weekend included two back-to-back hana-zumo events. On Saturady, as Bruce already mentioned, there was the NHK charity event, which has been held for 51 years now. The most startling news item from this event has been this:

chiyotairyu
Elvis has left the building

This, my friends, is Chiyotairyu. Sans sideburns. Rumor has it that Ichinojo heard that Chiyotairyu had mutton chops, and just ate them.

I don’t know how I’ll recognize him from now on.

There was sumo jinku:

And kiddie sumo:

kiddie-sumo
Sumo in Neverland

And of course, there were bouts. Here is the Makushita “yusho” bout (Makushita was in elimination form). Enho…

…may eat a lot of similar crow up in Juryo. I hope he (or Hakuho, his master) finds a solution for this soon.

And between the bouts, it’s not hana-zumo  (or Jungyo) if you don’t get this scene:

hakuho-and-yobidashi.jpg

What you see here is Hakuho waiting his turn in the kore-yori-san-yaku. That’s when the participants in the last three bouts go on the dohyo and perform synchronized shiko.

In honbasho, this happens only on senshuraku. And in any case, there’s no fooling around in honbasho. But in Hana-zumo and Jungyo, there’s a kore-yori-san-yaku every day. And Hakuho always finds himself a comfortable yobidashi to lean on. Sometimes the bored Yokozuna goes a bit too far:

The sumo events of the day ended with the superb Satonofuji. Can’t get enough of him:

Sunday, and switching channels to Fuji TV. And here, some familiar faces stripped down and wore their old mawashi:

old-boys

Thought you’ll never get to see this again?

Damn, Kotooshu!

Kyokutenho – Tomozuna oyakata – also has nothing to be ashamed of. Asasekiryu (Nishikijima oyakata) fresh out of his chon-mage:

Kitataiki (Onogawa oyakata) is still wearing his chon-mage. Wakakoyu (Shiranui oyakata) nearly got him there:

There was also kiddie sumo. Correct me if I’m wrong, but these kiddies do not look Japanese.

You may notice two differences from kiddie sumo in Jungyo:

  • The Ozeki participate. This is very rare in Jungyo. And both of them together is even rarer.
  • In Jungyo the kiddie sumo is part of keiko. Hana zumo doesn’t include keiko, and the wrestlers do their kiddie sumo in their shime-komi (silk mawashi) and oicho-mage.

In this event, both Juryo and Makuuchi were in elimination format. The championship bout:

Tochinoshin didn’t get that yusho by a bracket fluke. He had to get there through Hakuho:

He got the cup from his stablemaster (Kasugano oyakata):

And from Fuji TV… a cardboard cow?

More bouts:

Hakuho vs. Endo:

Takayasu vs. Tamawashi:

The complete set of Tochinoshin bouts plus interview and cup ceremony:

Juryo tournament:

Foreign Led Stables of ex-Kotoshu & ex-Kyokutenho (corrected)

Today’s article comes from the Mainichi newspaper:

外国出身親方の船出 元琴欧洲「新しいものを」/元旭天鵬「愛される力士に」

It is an article about two new foreign born elders starting their own heyas, former Ozeki Kotooshu and former Sekiwake Kyokutenho. Just to note, both are have won yusho and I’m sure that’s significant in the decision to let them run stables. **Updated to reflect the point made by Asashosakari: Kotooshu is starting his own stable while Kyokutenho is inheriting the Tomozuna stable.** In this headline there are two shikona so we’ll start there, Kotooshu (琴欧洲) and Kyokutenho (旭天鵬). Immediately preceding both shikona is the kanji for “former,” 元 .

外国出身親方

To knock out a few more of the easy terms and sumo-specific terms we will go back to the beginning, “Foreign born sumo elders.” The first two kanji, GaiKoku is the Japanese word for foreign. Shusshin is place where you’re from. You hear this word every time the announcer at sumo tournaments introduces the wrestlers. If they’re Japanese he says what prefecture they’re from and if they’re foreign he says what country they’re from. You hear a lot of “Mongolia shusshin.” Lastly we get to the term for “elders.” Kotooshu and Kyokutenho are running their own stables and thus “oyakata.” The first kanji is parent and the second is the honorific, formal word, for person.

の船出

These new heya are setting sail, being launched. It’s actually pretty exciting. I’m happy for both new oyakata. Please visit Mainichi’s site. They have a nice picture of Naruto-oyakata in front of his stable with three of his wrestlers. The base seems to be in Tokyo so it could be interesting to check out. We’ll see about the other heya, as well. We’ll be tracking their performance and hope that they register on our new power rankings in the coming years.

「新しいものを」

That character for new should be old hat by now. A new thing (mono) is being done here. We’re starting to get foreign elders. Recently Musashimaru started his stable and we’re eagerly following the exploits of our Young Texan, pun intended, Wakaichiro. Now it’s Kotooshu and Kyokutenho. Others will follow. This is certainly a welcome development if sumo is ever to become an Olympic sport. Maybe foreign expansion? Asashoryu heads up wrestling in Mongolia. What if there was an officially santioned sumo offshoot? Think American O-sumo in the vein of NFL Europe. Okay, maybe that’s not a good example. Maybe like how the NBA is quickly taking over? Spain, Italy, China…Professional King of the Hill goes global?

「愛される力士に」

Who doesn’t love Hakuho, Osunaarashi, Gagamaru? These rikishi (力士) are loved (愛される). Clearly, rikishi is a sumo word you’ll want to know. Some of you may be familiar with the Nakashima Mika song, “Aishiteru,” or “I love you.” Well, if you use this “saseru” form of the word, it becomes the passive. The wrestlers are loved. So there we have it, “Foreign Born Elders Set Off, ex-Kotooshu ‘A New Thing is Being Done’ / Kyokutenho ‘These Wrestlers are Loved’.” Clunky, but the best I could do after a couple glasses of an amazing Reisling.

When we turn to the translation engines, this one is a doozie. First let’s look at Google: “Foreign born master’s ship Origen Kinpuzuzu “New things” / former Asahi Tenpen “To be loved wrestlers”.” Wow. I am officially changing my name to Origen Kinpuzuzu. This is my new shikona. You all can just call me King Puzuzu. This Google brand word sausage is the greatest tripe available. I swear, I can’t read this without laughing because there’s no discernable reason for this translation. It is now, utterly unrecognizable pork “product.” Maybe there’s some horse in there?

Yahoo! seems to actually know some shikona. It didn’t pick up Kotooshu but it got Kyokutenho. “The sailing former koto Europe ‘new thing’ of the boss from foreign country to / former Kyokutenho ‘loved sumo wrestler’”

Excite also did a terrible job. “Sail of a chief from the foreign country For the sumo wrestler by whom motokonousu “of something new”/a former Asahi heaven legendary gigantic bird “is loved.”

It should be clear now that the translation engines are good to take words you don’t recognize but for whole sentences in Japanese, especially in a sumo context, they’re pretty poor. But “Origen Kinpuzuzu” takes the cake. I’m still smiling because it’s just that…WTF.

Yours truly,
Origen Kinpuzuzu,
King Puzuzu of Tachiai-quetzel-kukamunga

Kotoshogiku Demoted

 

gas-tank
Kotoshogiku is Out of Gas

The biggest story coming out of Kokugikan on Day 12 is Kotoshogiku’s demotion. Today’s bout with Tamawashi was particularly heart-breaking as it was so straight forward. Kotoshogiku’s tank has run out of gas. I know I’ve been one of his biggest critics with the yo-yo nature of his performance, especially last year. But in the way Switch pleaded with Cipher in the Matrix (the good one), “Not like this, not like this.” Tamawashi met him at the tachiai with a solid shoulder and sent him straight back over the tawara and off the dohyo. 

If he competes in March, he will be Sekiwake. And, as often repeated, he will be given his ozeki status if he can get 10 wins. At this point, though, I’m not thinking he can get a winning record…much less 10 wins, meaning he’d tumble farther down the banzuke. I’ll keep my eyes and ears peeled for articles that may indicate whether he decides to retire before March. As Bruce pointed out, the sekiwake rank will be full if he does compete. Giku gets a guaranteed spot and his opponent from today will likely be his opposite number at the rank.

The last ozeki demotion was Kotoshogiku’s former Sadogatake stablemate, Kotooshu. Coincidentally, this also happened following the hatsubasho in 2014. When March came along the Sekiwake rank wasn’t so crowded (just Goeido & Kotooshu) but since Kotooshu couldn’t garner 10 wins, he remained Sekiwake when sumo returned to Tokyo in May. At that tournament, there were three Sekiwake because Goeido & Kotooshu had 8 wins but Tochiozan had 11 at the Komusubi rank.

Interestingly, Tochiozan was Sekiwake #2 in the West despite having that 11 win record and no special prizes (even after defeating both ozeki-ranked Kisenosato and Kotoshogiku). Kotooshu decided to call it a career after his 10 straight losses ensured further demotion well down into the maegashira ranks. I’d found that interesting, but this is where the Twilight Zone music comes in. The rikishi picking up the fusen win, thus the immediate benefactor of Kotooshu’s retirement, was Tamawashi*.

* As always, hat tip to Sumodb.Sumogames.De for the fantastic site with amazing historical data. I just wish it collected data on sponsors and kenshokin. Dude…the analyses I’d do with that data…

琴 (koto): An Excuse to Listen to Tool for the Rest of the Evening

Traditional Japanese instruments don’t get much attention in popular music. The koto is a great sounding instrument and is relevant to sumo because the kanji for Koto is used in the shikona of several wrestlers, generally from the Sadogatake heya, headed by former Kotonowaka (琴ノ若), including two ozeki – Kotoshogiku (琴奨菊) and Kotooshu (琴欧州). The heya was established in 1955 by Kotonishiki (琴錦). Please check out my brief post about the kanji for nishiki, 錦, from a few days ago.

So, what is a koto? It is this stringed instrument, played with picks and the bridges can be moved to change the sound. I’ve not listened much to koto music, preferring the shamisen. If you haven’t heard the Yoshida Brothers play the shamisen, I encourage you to check them out…they’re amazing.

But back to the koto. Perhaps the most famous track, the sound of the koto was incorporated into Dr. Dre’s “Still Dre”. I know you’ve heard it. It’s really simple and very catchy. In college, that song was EVERYWHERE. However, my personal favorite is this cover of Tool’s “Lateralus” using a bunch of koto. I miss Maynard’s voice and the buzz of the guitars but this is fantastic. I love great rap tunes but I’m a huge metal head and I especially love prog metal from Tool, so after listening to the koto version I HAVE TO listen to Tool’s original. And then more Tool. This is really going to kill my evening because I will have to lie down and listen to their albums on a loop now.