Kokugikan hosted the retirement ceremony for Ozeki Kotoshogiku on Saturday. His 18-year career started in maezumo back in 2002, along-side his buddy and high school sumo rival, Toyonoshima. (Toyonoshima actually claimed the Jonokuchi title in their debut, with a win over Kotoshogiku along the way. Toyonoshima then beat Kotoshogiku in the Jonidan playoff to earn that yusho.) His career as an active wrestler came to an end near his Fukuoka hometown in November 2020. But his career as a coach has just begun, using the name Hidenoyama-oyakata.
We can blame the pandemic for the nearly two-year delay in getting his haircut, so newer Tachiai readers may not have seen Kotoshogiku compete at all, much less during his prime. On the dohyo, he was known for his sujo-pleasing “gabburi-yori,” hip-thrusting technique. What it boiled down to was this: he’d wrap his opponent up, ideally with a firm belt grip but sometimes just a big ole bear hug, and use those massive thighs to basically hop his opponent out of the ring. He also had a signature component of his pre-bout ritual where he would do this deep back-bend, the Kiku-Bauer (菊バウアー), his version of the イナバウアー.
(There was a famous German figure skater named Ina Bauer-Szenes who was known for deep back bends in the late 1950s. Her signature move, the “Ina Bauer”, was adopted and popularized by Japanese Olympian, Arakawa Shizuka in the early 2000s.)
The Chrysanthemum, featured here on his kesho mawashi, is a motif tied closely to Kotoshogiku because it comes from his surname, Kitutsugi (菊次) . The kanji character, 菊, is the character for Chrysanthemum and is pronounced either Kiku or Giku. It resonates with Japanese because of the symbolism of the Kiku and its ties to the Emperor. The Chrysanthemum Throne refers to the Japanese monarchy. Those learning Japanese will be familiar with how sometimes pronunciation changes, often to make it a bit easier to say, so Kiku becomes Giku. Try to say “Kotoshokiku” three times fast and you’ll see it’s just a bit easier to say, “Kotoshogiku.”
In a testament to his longevity, his Ozeki run actually dates way back in 2011 as sumo returned to action after the match-fixing scandal forced the cancellation of the Osaka tournament and the calamitous Tohoku earthquake. That May, Hakuho was the lone Yokozuna while the Ozeki ranks were full with the likes of Kaio, Kotooshu, Baruto, and Harumafuji. Three tournaments and thirty-three wins later, Kotoshogiku debuted as Ozeki in front of his home-crowd in Fukuoka in November 2011. Kisenosato was promoted to Ozeki at the next tournament, and the two rivals would fight it out as fellow Ozeki for the next six years, until Kisenosato was promoted to Yokozuna and Kotoshogiku was demoted to Sekiwake.
I would be remiss not to mention his demotion and the grudge some sumo fans hold toward Terunofuji because of it. At the Haru-basho of 2017, he had already been demoted to Sekiwake after a terrible 5-10 showing in January. With five losses and three days remaining in the tournament, Kotoshogiku had to win out in order to reclaim his Ozeki rank. On Day 14, Kotoshogiku faced Terunofuji. The henka resulted in Kotoshogiku’s sixth loss making the demotion permanent.
Kotoshogiku continued to fight for nearly four years as a rank-and-file wrestler. There were some hopes that Toyonoshima, then down in Makushita and fighting to regain a slot in Juryo, might be able to rise high enough back into Makuuchi for the two rivals to fight again. But it was not to be. Toyonoshima was demoted back into Makushita in early 2020 and retired early in the pandemic, his last competitive bout during the Silent Basho. Kotoshogiku stayed until November when he closed out his career back in Kyushu.
The Delayed Retirement
A retiring Ozeki deserves a party. So Kotoshogiku waited until he could throw a proper party at Kokugikan. That means jinku singing, hanazumo, and hair-dressing demonstrations. It’s helpful to be a part of a storied stable like Sadogatake where there are three Makuuchi wrestlers so that no matter where you were in the audience, you got a pretty good view. Each of them also did their own versions of the Kiku-Bauer backbend as tribute to Kotoshogiku.
The Kotoshogiku flags were out, the crowds were packed to the rafters, and various momentos of his career were out on display.
The retirement ceremony also featured a host of his old friends and rivals taking turns cutting his hair, including Toyonoshima, Kisenosato, Hakuho, and yes…Vader (aka Terunofuji). [Vader’s helmet was supposed to evoke a Japanese kabuto and I think of it every time I see Terunofuji’s oicho-mage.] His sons faced him on the dohyo for his final bout. His home Sadogatake beya also featured an 8-way round robin among their Sandanme and Makushita wrestlers, won by Kotohaguro. Up-and-comer Kototebakari lost to Kotohaguro in the first round.
I was glad to see a fitting tribute to Kotoshogiku’s great career. There’s quite a lot of coaches there at Sadogatake, with a couple of high-rankers, so I am curious if he will be able to wait to inherit the stable or whether he will have to branch out on his own, sooner. If anyone has any insight into the the future of Hidenoyama, please drop some knowledge in the comments. Tomorrow, we will see another retirement ceremony, this time for Sokokurai.