The 9th Annual Hakuho Cup

On February 11th, the 9th annual Hakuho Cup event took place at the Ryogoku Kokugikan.

The Hakuho Cup is an annual children sumo event taking place under the auspices of Yokozuna Hakuho. For more details about the event and its history, refer to last year’s report.

This year, again, about 1200 children from 8 countries and regions (Japan, Mongolia, USA, China, South Korea, Thailand, Taiwan and Hong-Kong).

Delegates from the 8 countries and regions sworn in by a Japanese representative

Although this event is not hosted or sponsored by the NSK, many NSK employees (read: active rikishi and oyakata) took part in it. The event included both team competitions and individual competitions. While delegates from the various countries and regions outside Japan generally formed teams based on their country of origin, and thus wrestled with the name of their country marked on their mawashi, the large Japanese cohort was made of various teams training together – some of which were associated with rikishi. Here, for example, is Team Aminishiki:

These boys are all from Aomori, Aminishiki’s home prefecture.

Rikishi participation did not end just at leading teams. Many sekitori served as shimpan during the competition:

Also attended: Mitakeumi, Abi, Tobizaru, Ishiura (of course), Toyonoshima, as well as Kotoshogiku and Yoshikaze and more. The highest ranking visitor was Yokozuna Kakuryu, who seemed to enjoy himself very much indeed:

Oyakata ranged from the recently retired Oshiogawa (Takekaze) and Sanoyama (Satoyama), through Tomozuna oyakata, Hakuho’s own Miyagino oyakata, to Futagoyama oyakata (Miyabiyama). The latter had a personal interest in the competition, as his own son participated. Last year, his son won two bouts. This year, the proud father reports, he won three.

Hakuho also hoped his own 10 years old son, Mahato, will win one bout more than he did last year. But alas, he was taken down in his first match by a smaller kid.

Mahato, in his mawashi marked “Hakuho”. Of course he belonged to Team Hakuho.

During lunch break, Hakuho had what the Japanese call “Talk show” (an on-stage, or in this case, on-dohyo, live interview), and this time, the “surprise” guest was former Ozeki Konishiki.

Hakuho asked Konishiki who were the opponents he found most difficult to fight. Konishiki listed Akinoshima, Chiyonofuji and Kotokaze.

Speaking of lunch, an 11-hour event with thousands of children requires a lot of food. Hakuho took care to complement the meal with an order of 1000 pieces of cake, which immensely cheered the children up.

The children competed in teams as well as individual matches. Among all the bouts, at times taking place on three separate dohyos, one in particular drew much attention. Take a look at this wonderful match:

Motomura hangs in there

It’s interesting to see Hakuho in the background. At first he plays around with his phone, and then as the match progresses he lets go of it and watches the bout with rapt attention. Marvelous sumo, which I’ve seen described on the net as “A mix of Enho, Satoyama and Ura”.

Motomura, of Team Kotoshogiku, the David in this David-and-Goliath match, also won the technique prize for this bout. Yes, the Hakuho Cup also includes special prizes. While the yusho trophies are handed by Hakuho himself, the special prizes were handed by sekitori:

Motomura looks quite overwhelmed there. I also find Ishiura’s expression, when he realizes he is the tallest man on the dohyo, rather entertaining.

Here is the summary video of the event – where you can catch Mahato’s failed bout, a different angle of Motomura’s bout, and many smiles and tears:

And if you have 11 hours to spare, here is the full event, which was streamed live on YouTube.

(If anybody is wondering, SANKYO, the sponsor, is a manufacturer of pachinko machines).

Hatsu Day 4 Highlights

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

Highlight Matches

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hatsu Preview – The Kisenosato Quagmire

Kisenosato, YDC Keiko Soken, January 7th, 2019

It’s difficult to find a new angle on the Kisenosato story. Some new sumo fans who have joined the readership of this site may not even know what Kisenosato looked like before that injury which put him into the lingering zombie state in which we find him now, and may even be wondering what the fuss is all about.

Foreigners are there to invigorate a sport – but fans seek some sense of identity and belonging – and sumo lost a lot of that as foreigners “occupied” it.

Makuuchi looked a bit different back in Hatsu 2017, when Kisenosato became Yokozuna. Of 42 wrestlers, there were 15 foreigners (compared to 8 in Hatsu 2019). Of 11 san-yaku, there were six foreigners (4/10 now). Of the 3 Yokozuna, all were Mongolian – and there was no Japanese Yokozuna since Takanohana retired in 2003.

With Kisenosato’s promotion to the top rank, the first promotion of a Japanese to that rank in 19 years, sumo fans in Japan felt the sense of identity and personal involvement in the sport was coming back. Grand Sumo boomed. Expectations were high. Jungyo tours exploded. Merchandise sold by the kilo. The adversity story of Haru 2017, when the shin-Yokozuna not only grabbed a second yusho in a row, but also did so injured, became legend. There was an actual Manga about it.

But there is the rub. That injury. It wasn’t your run-of-the-mill tendon pull or bone fracture, where you can heal up to some extent, with or without surgery, and grind on until the injuries build up and you have no choice but to retire. He tore his pectoral muscle. That was an injury that could never heal without modern medical intervention, and that intervention never came. And thus, the healing never came, either.

A saga of injury, self delusion, secrecy, wishful thinking and reality checks begins.

Kisenosato’s career, which until that moment boasted spotless attendance – not a basho day missed – has become a string of absences, excuses, self-delusions and shuffling of feet. At Natsu and Nagoya 2017, he tried to start the basho as if nothing happened – only to find himself losing too many bouts for a Yokozuna and pulling in the middle – never mentioning the muscle tear. After full kyujo in Aki, again this same cycle repeated in Kyushu and then Hatsu 2018. This time he had no further injury. He was as healthy as a young lion. Except, of course, that pec. Hatsu 2018 was when he first handed a medical certificate for that damage, being forced to admit it existed at all.

He was told not to try to return again until he was actually able to do sumo. He was full kyujo for the next three basho, breaking the record for consecutive kyujo along the way. He said the next one he will appear on would be his make-or-break basho.

That dimple near the armpit? It’s not going away.

And much to the surprise of all of us, he showed up in Aki 2018, and achieved the so-called “Yokozuna kachi-koshi” – 10 wins. Did that muscle miraculously heal? No, it didn’t. His sumo style changed. Some of that change was due to ring rust, no doubt. But some of it was merely an attempt to compensate for the big hole in his chest by throwing everything and the kitchen sink at his opponent. Each of his bouts in that tournament was a skirmish. Slapping, grabbing, pushing, thrusting.

Then came Kyushu 2018, and on day 1, Kisenosato got injured. This was one of the “normal” injuries for a top division rikishi over the age of 30. But it was probably the last straw. With his new style relying on compensating for his injury with the rest of his body, any little damage to any other part of his body is bound to throw him off-course completely.

Former Yokozuna become exasperated. The YDC becomes (vaguely) exasperated. Fans become exasperated.

I cannot described what followed as anything but a disgrace to everything that a Yokozuna stands for. A Yokozuna can never be demoted. The unwritten law that goes with that privilege is that if he cannot win any more, he should resign.

Dai-Yokozuna Chiyonofuji tearfully announcing his retirement in mid-basho, after losing two bouts upon his return from kyujo.

Kisenosato broke the record for consecutive losses for a Yokozuna – and once again, resorted to going kyujo in the middle of a basho. I fully expected him to go the Chiyonofuji way, but that didn’t happen.

Following that, the YDC issued their first ever “encouragement” decision for him. Most of the Japanese media take that to mean he should be back on the dohyo in Hatsu and look like a Yokozuna or else. Some, like NHK, merely interpret that as “show up for the next basho – no matter how much kyujo you take in the middle – and look like a Yokozuna”. And that’s the crux of the problem – the fact that “encouragement” can be interpreted to mean… well… anything. One cartoonist on Twitter even imagined it as Kitamura from the YDC at the side of the dohyo waving big “Go Kise!” signs.

So Kisenosato went kyujo again. Then went kyujo from the Jungyo. Then promised he would join the Jungyo at Ibaraki but didn’t. Then started a round of “private practices” – closed off to the public. He practices a lot with Takayasu, but with no-one else. He does not go on degeiko. A couple of days ago, Toyonoshima and Kotoshogiku showed up at Tagonoura to work out with the Yokozuna. That visit ringed more like a visit at a sick bed than as a real degeiko leading up to a basho. And of course, that practice was also held in private.

At this point, former Yokozuna are grumbling. Kitanofuji said a few days ago: “There is a time when a Yokozuna has to retire”. Hakkaku, also a former Yokozuna (Hokutoumi), said he would like to see Kisenosato “practice as if this was his last time”. My personal belief is that this charade would have ended a long time ago – if Kisenosato’s stablemaster was a former Yokozuna, with the heya’s support group (koen-kai) to match.

But can Kisenosato pull another Aki 2018?

The YDC Keiko-Soken, where the sekitori all perform in front of the YDC, reporters and members of the NSK board, is a good opportunity for a reality check. No more private practices. No breathless reports about 17 wins against Takayasu. You have to show what your sumo looks like. Hakuho tried to cheat a bit in one of the Keiko-Soken last year by only engaging Shodai. He was taken to task for that.

So how did Kisenosato do in the keiko-soken?

NHK footage from the Keiko Soken

Well… you can see for yourselves. As an unnamed member of the YDC said to the press: “This was not Yokozuna sumo”. Kisenosato engaged only with Kakuryu and Goeido. He was 1-3 against Kakuryu and 2-0 against Goeido. At the end of his second bout with Goeido, although he won, he fell to the ground, hit his hip on the tawara, and then never returned to the dohyo.

His performance was weak. His opponents were lower on the tachiai and lifted him easily. The fact that he elected to end his practice after only six bout was also criticized. Kitanofuji said that “He needs to fight 15 days in honbasho. Only six bouts in practice is not nearly enough”. Kitamura from the YDC noted: “He showed spirit… but there is lingering concern because he hasn’t gained his sumo sense yet”. Hakkaku also noticed the insufficient training. The Yokozuna himself said that he felt his mobility was “not bad”, but you can see his expression in the interview at the end of the above clip. It’s not a happy one.

This is a far cry from the way he looked before Aki. There is less than one week to go before honbasho begins. Hakuho seems to be genki enough for this stage of training. Kakuryu seems to be a little less well. But Kisenosato seems to be still injured, lacking in self-confidence, and out of sumo.

So what’s going to happen?

That’s the difficult question, isn’t it? By all rights, Kisenosato should not have been in this position in the first place. At this point we should probably have written a report about his danpatsu-shiki. What will his stablemaster and koen-kai decide? What will the YDC do? Is he really allowed another kyujo? Is there a point? How long can he keep on calling himself “an active Yokozuna” while not being able to perform the basic function: fight bouts and win them?

Possible scenarios:

  • Kisenosato goes kyujo again, the YDC forgives him and tells him that whenever he shows up, it has to be for the whole 15 days and with good result. The end is delayed yet another basho.
  • Kisenosato goes kyujo again, and this turns out to be a misjudgement. The YDC hands him a reprimand or even a recommendation to retire. He has to retire in shame.
  • He decides to start Hatsu. Fights as much as he can. Retires in the middle.
  • He decides to start. Fights as much as he can. Goes kyujo again. A controversy ensues. He is forced to retire.
  • He decides to retire prior to the opening of the basho.
  • He decides to start Hatsu, and a miracle happens. The author of this post orders 10 hats from Ali Express and eats them all (preferably with a bit of wasabi).

Fuyu Jungyo 2018 – Day 15 (Dec 20)

Beam me up, Scotty… Oh damn, my communicator badge is on my yukata!

🌐 Location: Kumagaya, Saitama
😛 Goofometer: ◽️◽️◽️◽️◽️

Having completed the tour through the traditional region for the Fuyu Jungyo, that is, Kyushu and Okinawa, the rikishi returned to Tokyo. But the Jungyo is not ended yet – some towns in the Kanto region requested winter visits, and the NSK obliged. So we get to enjoy three additional events following a few days’ break.

That break didn’t include any particular plans at first, but the Takanoiwa scandal caused it to be a bit more eventful. First, Takakeisho had a yusho parade at his high school, which was put off and then moved ahead again. Then, the rikishi received a lecture about the treatment of tsukebito which was supposed to be given in February. And third, the NSK board had a meeting to set the standards of punishment for violence, and for some reason, focused on violent Yokozuna despite the fact that there were four known violent events in the past year that did not involve a Yokozuna in any way.

So I’m pretty sure the rikishi were really glad to get on their busses and get out of Tokyo again:

Indeed, that’s a lot of busses!

And we have two important faces show up again! First, there is this guy:

Yep, Goeido is back and giving butsukari to Chiyonoumi here.

Then, there is this guy:

“Oh, I’m on camera…”

Kakuryu is back! We’ve missed you!

One face that’s conspicuously still missing is that of Kisenosato, the third Yokozuna. All the signs are that he is in a bad state. The knee injury, which was the reason for him pulling out from the last basho, and not showing up for the Jungyo, is still bothering him. Most of the Japanese press interpreted the YDC’s “Encouragement” decision about him as meaning that he cannot go kyujo in Hatsu basho. So an injury that has not healed yet and reports that his practice so far includes only shiko and suri-ashi are not encouraging. He said at first that he will join the Jungyo at this stage, especially the event in his home turf of Ibaraki, but he can’t, and his fans have every reason to worry.

So we have a Jungyo day with three Ozeki and two Yokozuna. Who else showed up?

Takanosho sure did, and has pulling at a rubber tube held by a slightly anxious Taichiyama

The oyakata showed up together with their mini-brooms:

Kokonoe oyakata, who took this picture, informs us that the mini-brooms are there to shake off any dirt flying from the dohyo.

Takakeisho was there for the handshake part. He got to meet a baby. The baby was not so happy to meet him and expressed his opinion at a very high volume. So Takakeisho made this face:

I think somebody is absorbing the true Chiganoura spirit.

Don’t worry, unlike what your grandmother would tell you, he didn’t get stuck in with this face forever. Here he is a while later, with his bestie, Daieisho:

See? No long-term damage to facial features!

Another pair of besties were engaging in mock bouts in one of the corners:

That’s Abi and Wakamotoharu. Wakamotoharu was asked the other day what he would take with him to a desert island. His answer was “I guess I’d take Abi”. These two are pretty tight.

At the side of the dohyo, we once again have a line forming to greet the Yokozuna. Only, it’s another Yokozuna:

Note how Kakuryu takes care to acknowledge each one’s greeting.

And if that doesn’t give you a warm, fuzzy feeling, how about these two practicing together?

Yep, that’s Kotoshogiku and Toyonoshima. And they seem to be enjoying themselves immensely.

Tochinoshin also received an occasional morning greeting:

Not the same thing as a Yokozuna, but it’s still good to be an Ozeki.

Here are a couple of practice bouts. We have Chiyonoumi vs. Gokushindo, and Chiyomaru vs. Azumaryu:

Chiyomaru definitely concentrates on practicing with Juryo wrestlers. He has no illusions about his position on the next banzuke.

As for Hakuho, he must have been very bored today. He took up both Takayasu and Tochinoshin for butsukari. There is not much about his session with Takayasu, but with Tochinoshin he had no less than 10 minutes of kawaigari:

Kaio enjoyed a good spectacle

Ten minutes! A six-minute kawaigari is considered tough. I have been covering Jungyo for almost two years and I don’t recall a 10 minute kawaigari.

I’m pretty sure Hakuho was giving him a repeat performance because last time he didn’t seem exhausted enough. So ten minutes this time. And yet the Ozeki rose again and again and kept going. I’m sure the Yokozuna took a mental note: “In a bout with Tochinoshin, don’t rely on being able to wear him down. Find a way to end it quickly”.

After practice, the usual shows took place. There was Shokkiri, with my favorite part in which a toothpick of a gyoji somehow overpowers a big rikishi who was trying to grab his gunbai:

That’s Shikimori Tomokazu rescuing his gunbai.

And there was an oicho-mage demonstration, with the Yusho winner as the model:

This was followed, as usual, with the Juryo dohyo-iri and bouts, and then we had Yokozuna dohyo-iri. So I give you one we haven’t seen for a while:

Yoisho!

The city of Kumagaya is supposed to host a rugby event next year. So they set up a contraption to take promotion pictures with rikishi. The concept was simple: a vertical piece of fake turf with a background that allows anybody who touches a rugby ball to the “grass” to look like he just scored a flying try… if the photo is rotated by 90º.


Good concept, but it had a few difficulties. For example, take a look at Tochiozan “scoring his try”:

Umm… besides the problems with the viewing angle, his sagari is a dead giveaway. Here is the much better actor, Abi:

He succeeds in working around the obvious issue of the yukata sleeves by pretending to hold his sleeve up. But the angle really kills the illusion.

Enho also got photographed. And they really tried their best here:

Yeah, cut away the pesky ceiling and avoid the sagari. If only there wasn’t a gap between the turf and the background panel… or the turf didn’t look like it was held by scaffolding… or the white line didn’t look like a piece of tape…

But hey, it’s the cutest try attempt ever.

So it seems I have more “rugby” photos than I have any sumo bouts. There is absolutely no material about the bouts in this event, other than a report on the musubi-no-ichiban: Hakuho beat Goeido by yori-kiri. Which tells us that Kakuryu was off the torikumi.

And so we arrive at the pin-up corner of this post, and I’ll bid you adieu with Tomokaze:

Fuyu Jungyo 2018 – Day 11 (Dec 12)

Dirty Mawashi drying – The Jungyo is here!

🌐 Location: Kagoshima, Kagoshima
😝 Goofometer: ◽️◽️◽️◽️◽️

We are still in Kagoshima. Our local heros are Chiyomaru, Meisei and Daiamami. Today’s event is held in a bigger city and a bigger venue in front of 4000 spectators. So what do our heros do?

Daiamami is doing his shiko:

Are you serious, Daiamami? You call that Shiko? Last year in the Jungyo, Kakuryu gave him serious kawaigari, and Daiamami actually ended it unconscious, which infuriated the Yokozuna: “Not enough stamina! You should be diligent about your keiko”. I guess the lesson has not been learned.

Meisei is trying to teach Tennozan something:

Umm… apparently the Boogie-Woogie?

The Yokozuna is in the house, and everybody is coming to say their good-mornings:

Mitoryu is obsequious to the point of embarrassment.

Did Ikioi slip away? No, he didn’t. He went to get a ladle of water for a more serious greeting. And got poked in the belly in exchange.

But note Kotoshogiku greeting the Yokozuna’s back and going away. As long as he is seen greeting, that’s good enough, I guess.

Last one there is Takarafuji, also greeting the Yokozuna with a respectful ladle of power-water.

Sekitori around the venue practice with their tsukebito. And, well, they all have their different styles:

Ichinojo, Daiamami, spot the different styles

On the dohyo, Chiyonoumi practices with Jokoryu:

While Azumaryu takes on both Chiyomaru and Chiyonoumi:

Practice over, and Takayasu feels he has not had enough. He finds a public park outside the venue, and just keeps on practicing – much to the delight of the neighbors who get a free show:

Here Takayasu and Mitakeumi continue bout from Kyushu senshuraku. But Takayasu also took on Ryuden in this improvised keiko session.

Inside, Meisei was doing his “local boy” duties being the model of the oicho-mage demonstration:

The time comes for the Makuuchi dohyo-iri. Notice something strange?

The local boys, Meisei and Daiamami, get a lot less love from the audience than, say, Endo or Yoshikaze. My guess is that this is because, although they are from Kagoshima prefecture, they are actually from Amami-Oshima, an island much closer to Okinawa than it is to mainland Kagoshima.

So my guess is that there weren’t many people from their actual home town in this Jungyo event.

Here is Takayasu getting ready for his turn in the sanyaku-soroi-bumi. On the other side you can see Hakuho waiting for the same:

Finally, here is a video from NHK summing up the events of the day, including the bouts of the three local – or not so local – rikishi:

To wrap up, in our pin-up corner, today we feature an oyakata!

From the “I can’t believe this is a former rikishi” department: Tatsunami oyakata