After the fairly modest event we had up north in Ibaraki, the Jungyo returns to Tokyo for one of its permanent events – the dedication sumo event at Yasukuni Shrine.
As John Gunning mentioned in his recent article about Jungyo, this event is free of charge, and allows about 6000 spectators to enjoy a day of sumo right at the heart of the big city.
The upshot of all this is that there were a lot of visuals on the ‘net, and you are in for one long post. Clear up a couple of hours of your time, folks. Prepare a bento box, visit the toilet, tuck in the kids.
We had an interesting day today at the EDION arena in Osaka. Before I dive into the Makunouchi bouts, I’m sure the fans will be happy to see this:
Aminishiki is in dire straits down at the bottom of Juryo, but he managed to get his first win today vs. Akiseyama – and do that moving forward!
So, fast forward through Juryo (Arawashi doing well this basho, Enho gets his second loss in a row), we begin with Yutakayama vs. Kotoeko. Kotoeko looking good this basho, and may just be able to get that Makunouchi kachi-koshi which has eluded him so far. He attacks Yutakayama with a harizashi, lifts his arm high, and sends him off to the arms of the time shimpan.
Due to Chiyonokuni’s injury, we have a visitor from Juryo every day, and today it was 0-4 Hakuyozan facing Ishihenka, I mean, Ishiura, who was 4-0. Ishiura tried to get under Hakuyozan’s attack, but as he pulls, his knee folds below him and he finds himself rolling. His first loss, Hakuyozan’s first win.
Toyonoshima slammed into Chiyoshoma and intended to railroad him with his bulk, as he is wont. But the nimble Mongolian freed himself, stepped sideways, and left the veteran to ponder the difficulties of age and sumo.
Kagayaki launches himself head-first into newbie Daishoho‘s chest, keeps himself low, keeps his opponent upright, and clears him from the dohyo. Basic and clean.
The Tomokaze–Terutsuyoshi bout ended almost as soon as it started, with a plain, almost dismissive, hatakikomi. I believe something is wrong with Terutsuyoshi’s legs. He keeps ending up with his center of gravity way ahead of his feet. There is an expression used for this state: “ashi ga nagaremashita” – “his feet have flowed away”. His legs don’t work as fast as he needs to support his lunge.
And the Isegahama pixie is not the only one in trouble. Yoshikaze also didn’t show up for today’s bout. He leads head-first into the tachiai, but Ryuden immediately lands a morozashi – two arms under the opponent’s arms – and Yoshikaze just goes limp. Ryuden is haveng a good basho with 4-1.
Meisei tries to take the initiative against Yago. Doesn’t quite land a grip. Short tsuppari ensues, and then the two engage in migi-yotsu. Meisei only has one layer of Yago’s mawashi, and the Oguruma man patiently maneuvers into a better grip and leads Meisei out.
An impressive Shohozan showed up today to face Sadanoumi. Starting his bout with a harizashi, he lands a grip, and then throws Sadanoumi in a beautiful uwatenage. I want more of this Shohozan.
Ikioi tries hard to keep Kotoshogiku‘s pelvis as far away from him as possible. But eventually the former Ozeki decides to use the pressure against him, moves, and shows him out. Ikioi limps back to his spot to give the bow.
Asanoyama has a good tactic against Aoiyama. Since he is a yotsu man and Aoiyama is known for his fierce tsuppari and soft knees, Asanoyama quickly drives in and gets a fistful of mawashi. But Aoiyama shows versatility, uses a kotenage to release himself from the Takasago man, complements that with a nodowa, and hands Asanoyama his second loss.
Abi starts his bout with Takarafuji, as usual, with that morotezuki and follows with tsuppari. Takarafuji is quite ready for that, patiently weathers it, moves slightly to the left and grabs Abi’s mawashi. Abi manages to release himself, tries a half-hearted hikiotoshi, and fails. Instead, the Isegahama man slaps hard, and Abi rolls all the way to the other side of the dohyo. Olé!
The next bout, Chiyotairyu vs. Okinoumi. Chiyotairyu does his locomotive tachiai. Okinoumi backs up and sidesteps. Chiyotairyu dives into the janome, hands first. And Kimura Konosuke calls it Chiyotairyu’s win! No monoii. I guess the shimpan trust Chiyotairyu’s heya-mate, Konosuke, too much. The replay clearly shows this was a mistake. Okinoumi’s feet are firmly on the tawara, so he is very much alive when Chiyotairyu hits the dirt.
Ichinojo starts off with a harite – it’s not a harizashi as there was no attempt to go for the belt – then follows with a kachiage, and finally paws Onosho down with both arms. Scary. Onosho finds himself in a heap as Ichinojo, as usual, worriedly checks if he hasn’t overdone things. I guess Ichinojo left his sleepy secret twin in Tokyo.
Endo gets a grip on Tochiozan‘s belt right off the tachiai, and rolls him like his favorite barrel of beer. Makiotoshi, Endo’s first win this basho.
Mitakeumi and Hokutofuji clash head-to-head. Mitakeumi leads at first, but Hokutofuji manages to stop the pressure, and it’s Mitakeumi who starts pulling back. Maybe it’s the knee, but whatever it is, the Mitakeumi magic is not working against his fellow komusubi, and after a short halt, again he pulls and finds himself below the dohyo.
After three losses, Tamawashi vindicates himself somewhat in this fierce battle with Takakeisho. Takakeisho leads at first and nearly bounces Tamawashi out the front side of the dohyo, but Tamawashi takes it in his stride, and returns with his own windmill. Tamawashi proves that even in oshi, Takakeisho is not invincible. With two losses in the first trimester, Takakeisho’s Ozeki run seems less certain than it looked before the basho started.
Nishikigi has run out of luck this basho. Takayasu slams into him with all his bear-power. Nishikigi tries an arm lock on the Ozeki’s left arm, but to no avail. Nishikigi is 0-5.
Kaisei and Tochinoshin lock into a “gappuri” stance – firm yotsu. Tochinoshin’s first attempt doesn’t work. There is a short impasse, and then Kaisei makes a mistake and tries to gaburi him, or at least, that’s how it looked. As a result, his center of gravity ends up just where the Ozeki wants it, and he actually lifts the heavy Brazilian – though he quickly abandons the idea. He then adds a couple of pelvis thrusts of his own, to bring his thick opponent across the tawara. 3-2, and his chances of clearing kadoban look slightly brighter.
Goeido treats Shodai like a ragdoll, and the Tokitsukaze man finds himself out of the dohyo almost straight out of the tachiai. What version of Goeido is this? Has his kernel been replaced?
Kakuryu butts heads with Daieisho (not a smart move in the long run, Yokozuna), then immediately pulls. Hatakikomi, and Kakuryu is visibly annoyed with himself. Trouble always begins when Kakuryu pulls. But the win is a win.
I’m not sure what’s going on with Hakuho. The bout itself looked fine. No dominance, but the Yokozuna leading with a kachiage, Myogiryu fending him off, and the Yokozuna coming in again and slapping his opponent to the ground. But like yesterday, he couldn’t quite stop his own movement after finishing his work. Yesterday he ended up in the crowd, and took quite a while to get up from there, and today he ended up doing the splits on top of myogiryu. Control of legs? Dizziness? We won’t know unless he goes kyujo and needs to publish yet another public proof of injury
So that’s the end of Act 1, and we have four men in the leader group – Hakuho, Goeido, Ichinojo and Kotoshogiku. Let’s see what the second trimester brings!
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).
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.
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:
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
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).