Hatsu Story 1 – Takakeisho

Takakeisho 4

While I am certainly grumpy about the state of the upper ranks, it’s clear that a lot of well deserved attention will be focused on Takakeisho during the Hatsu basho. A young, dynamic rikishi, he has been on a nearly unbroken upward tear since his Makuuchi debut 2 years ago. He is now poised on the cusp of an Ozeki promotion, amid talk that he may represent a look at the future of sumo.

Takakeisho has a distinctive bulbous body shape that makes him look a bit like a tadpole, and was part of the invention of the “Tadpole” moniker. But that name glosses over some specifics about Takakeisho and his sumo that I think are important to understanding his future. Clearly Takakeisho is a man driven to compete, and to hone himself to ever higher levels of performance. He has become a master at a unique brand of oshi-zumo that he continues to refine with great effect (seen here against Kisenosato 1 year ago).

At Tachiai we have referred to this as his trademark “Wave Action” that features him delivering potent double-arm thrusts squarely towards his opponent’s center of mass, while rapidly shifting his position. His attack style delivers a steady rain of power that disrupts, unbalances and frequently defeats any rikishi he faces.

I take delight in understanding that this approach was developed in part because Takakeisho has fairly short arms. This might normally hamper a rikishi’s career, but he has found a way to use this feature of his body type as a potent weapon instead.

With his Kyushu basho win in the history books, Takakeisho participated in many celebrations and festivities in the two months since the last tournament. Sometimes this hampers the performance of a rikishi in the following basho, and Team Tachiai will be watching with great interest to see if the extra burden, pressure and distraction of being the Kyushu yusho winner will weight down the young rising star. Fans keeping score understand that his magic number is 11 to be considered for a promotion to Ozeki, which given his most recent post-injury record (42 over 4 basho), should be within reach. Much of his chances will come down to the somewhat questionable state of the Yokozuna and Ozeki corps, as only Takayasu and Mitakeumi were able to defeat him in November. Tachiai will be following him closely, and hoping for a good, strong showing in Tokyo from Takakeisho.

Bruce’s Banzuke Commentary

Bruce-Kokugikan

Hello Tachiai readers, and I hope all of you are enjoying the festive holiday season. The Japan Sumo Association delivered the Hatsu banzuke for Christmas, and it was full of potential for a fantastic tournament in just over 2 weeks. While most of the world takes a year-ending breather, what could be a tumultuous January tournament lurks just around the corner.

Yokozuna Kisenosato’s posting to the 1 East slot is the first surprise. While he entered the Kyushu basho in November, he failed to win a single bout before he pulled out of the tournament citing an injury. We have written extensively about the tragedy that is Kisenosato’s tenure as Yokozuna, and in the past we have forecasted that it would become increasingly farcical if he chose to try and gamberize his way through things. But a “zero win” promotion has to be one of the more farcical things I have seen in sumo for a while.

None of the three current Yokozuna are presenting as blazing examples of genki power at the moment. Each sat out part or all of Kyuhshu, each have some lingering injury that is hampering their performance. None of them participated much in the Fuyu jungyo, either because of their injuries, or wisely conserving whatever health they had mustered for the January tournament. Could we end up with a second straight “nokazuna” tournament?

The Ozeki ranks also have their worries, with Goeido being the most banged up of the bunch. Only Takayasu seems to be in fighting form as we close out 2018, with Tochinoshin a potent but fragile rival.

But just past the Ozeki ranks, we find the upstart challenger. After blasting his way through Kyushu and scoring his first yusho, it’s Takakeisho who is at the Sekiwake 1 East slot. It’s tough to tell how much impact the promotional appearances and awards ceremonies will have on his sumo, but I expect him to show up strong and dominant from the start. His youthful vigor and stamina may give him an edge over the experience and boundless skill of some of his higher-ranked opponents for January. He comes into Hatsu with a string of kachi-koshi tournaments: 13-2, 9-6, 10-5, 10-5. For those keeping count, with 11 wins at Hatsu, he could be considered for promotion to Ozeki.

Mitakeumi finds himself still in the San’yaku, but in dire need to regroup, reorganize and reconnect with his sumo. He has been a “Future Ozeki” for a while, and should Takakeisho bypass him and reach sumo’s second highest rank, it would either be a source of frustration, or a stiff motivation to elevate his sumo to the next level. That’s an evolution his fans (myself included) have been looking forward to for a couple of years.

Further down the banzuke, it’s kind of interesting to see how many long-serving veterans are in the joi-jin for this tournament. The problem with that is that many of these rikishi are towards the end of their careers, and the cumulative injuries and problems mean that they struggle to perform consistently. I would include in this group: Tochiozan, Shohozan, Kotoshogiku, Okinoumi and Yoshikaze. This would mean that it is possible that the joi may give up a lot of white stars to the named ranks, giving someone an easy path.

Then there are a handful of rikishi that I think are worth some excitement. This would include Nishikigi, who against all expectations was able to earn his kachi-koshi at Maegashira 3, and finds himself at Maegashira 2. This guy really is a bit of a Cinderella story, and every time he wins, I cheer. Hokutofuji has struggled with injuries and stamina issues during tournaments, but he has sound fundamentals in his sumo, and few specializations that give him an exciting fighting edge in any match. Aoiyama has all of the pieces needed to be an upper ranked rikishi, but between injuries and what I can only guess might be “jitters” in some matches, he falls a bit short. He’s making another run towards the top now, and we wish him a solid tournament. Then there is Onosho, who seemed in November to still be recovering from his summer injury and reconstructive surgery. While his friend Takakeisho has become a driving force in sumo, I personally think Onosho is the stronger rikishi, and has greater upside potential. I am looking to see him continue to improve over November, and I think Maegashira 6 is a great rank for him this time. He is outside of the joi, and he will fight a lot of hit-or-miss vets who may struggle with his speed and energy.

With the table set, fans around the world are counting down the days to the start of Haru. The rikishi will begin to train in earnest starting in the next few days, and we will be following the workup to Sunday January 13th with eager anticipation!

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 1 (Dec 2)

Yes, we’re back with the series of Jungyo Newsreels that will try to keep your blood sumo levels above the emergency threshold until a new tournament is in site.

As a reminder – the Jungyo is a promotional tour in which the sekitori (Juryo and Makuuchi) participate. Each takes one tsukebito (manservant, a wrestler ranked between Jonidan and Makushita), except Yokozuna and Ozeki who get to have a “team”. Together with a bunch of shimpan, gyoji and yobidashi, and of course the big heads from the Jungyo department, they travel through small towns around Japan, performing from morning through the afternoon, and letting the locals get a bit of live sumo and sumo-related fun. For a fuller description, refer to the Introduction To The Jungyo I published a while back.

The winter Jungyo is supposed to be the shortest Jungyo of the year. However, with the rising popularity of sumo, it’s not that short any more. The 2013 Fuyu Jungyo included only six events. The 2018 Fuyu Jungyo includes 17 events spread over 21 days! In fact, there were more Jungyo days in 2018 than honbasho days!

So without further ado, let’s see what we had on day 1.

🌐 Location: Nagasaki, Nagasaki
😛 Goofometer: ◾️◾️◽️◽️◽️

Nagasaki is a popular tourist destination in Japan. So some members of the entourage took time to explore. While Hakuho had a little excursion to the lighthouse to have some Champon (a Nagasaki noodle dish), Kokonoe oyakata decided to visit the famous Spectacles Bridge:

Rikishi wisely assembled just above the support column

One rikishi was on the tour, who was neither sekitori nor tsukebito. Tachiai favorite Wakaichiro had a one-day adventure. The reason for this is that he is registered as coming from Nagasaki. His mother is from Nagasaki, and his grandparents came to this day’s event to watch him. As you all know, he actually grew up in Texas. He mostly spent summer vacations in Nagasaki. This being his first Jungyo, he had a bit of trouble getting the hang of things (remember, there are no sekitori in Musashigawa). The press was mostly amused that he decided a good place to camp in the shitaku-beya would be right between Takayasu and Tochinoshin. (Well, yeah, it is a good place!)

As a “local boy”, he received some kawaigari (TLC – the euphemism for butsukari, especially when used as a torture session) from Jokoryu. This was the effect:

Wakaichiro was not the only novice in the Jungyo – though the others have the advantage of traveling with familiar faces and being used to the company of sekitori. One new face in the Jungyo is Midorifuji, who is serving as Terutsuyoshi’s tsukebito (I’m getting worried about Terunohana, Terutsuyoshi’s long-time tsukebito, who has been kyujo for quite some time). Midorifuji is considered one of the most promising current talents at Isegahama beya, and I think they decided to send him on the Jungyo to get some “sekitori experience”. Here he is with Terutsuyoshi and Aminishiki’s tsukebito, Terumichi:

Another new face in the Jungyo is Wakamotoharu (though he had been on at least one event in the past). He is there as his little brother’s tsukebito – the little brother being Wakatakakage, of course.

The shimpan squad has also been refreshed. In the previous Jungyo we saw Futagoyama, Tomozuna and Furiwake. This tour we have Asakayama, Hanaregoma and, of course, Kokonoe.

This is before they wear their heavy mon-tsuki kimono

And what are the rikishi up to? Well, it’s early morning, so Ichinojo demonstrates his ability to squat while sound asleep:

Luckily, there are no wolves in Japan

Then there are these inseparable two. Surprisingly, Terutsuyoshi is rather hands-off today:

But of course, most of the attention goes to one participant: Hakuho, back from his post-operative kyujo, and trying to regain some fitness. Here he is doing some shiko:

Mmmm… Hakuho said he can stomp with power now, but this seems to be very tentative shiko.

By the way, the Yokozuna also changed his seating arrangements in the Jungyo bus. Apparently, one of the reason his leg got worse in the previous Jungyo was sitting with cramped, bent knees for hours on end, while traveling. He used to sit in the front seat of the bus, but decided to change to the back seat, to allow himself to fully stretch his legs. I suppose that means he took the entire back bench to himself and stretches himself on it – he did mention something about getting some sleep. Maybe he should borrow one of Yoshikaze’s folding mattresses…

By the way, I did not mention this before, but there are several rikishi who are kyujo from this Jungyo – at least for the time being. Kakuryu, Kisenosato, Goeido, Kaisei and Arawashi from Makuuchi, and Kyokushuho, Kyokutaisei and Chiyonoo from Juryo. All Tomozuna sekitori are absent! Yoshikaze was also off the torikumi, but he is definitely in the Jungyo.

This also means that Hakuho is left with only one Makuuchi rikishi from his own ichimon for the dohyo-iri. Indeed, his tsuyuharai is Chiyoshoma:

The shiko here is stronger, of course.

Chiyoshoma looks a bit uncomfortable about the whole thing. I predict that for the Meiji-Jingue dohyo iri of January 2019, we’ll see Terutsuyoshi as his tsuyuharai (this will be after the new banzuke is announced so Terutsuyoshi is expected to be in Makuuchi).

Let’s take a look at some practice bouts. First, Hakuyozan vs. Takagenji.

Then, Meisei and Aoiyama:

Aoiyama seems to be getting more and more confident lately. Here he is vs. the Yusho winner (that’s Takakeisho, if you have been on another planet last month).

Takayasu is saying he wants to work towards his first yusho, but he won’t get there if his keiko looks like this:

That’s Tochiozan – not exactly a semitrailer.

Here is todays full Sumo Jinku. Yes, that’s 15 minutes of Jinku. You are allowed to press stop only if you understand everything they say. 😛

The members of the Jinku team this Jungyo are:

ShikonaHeya
TochigidakeKasugano
KoshinishikiTatsunami
MutsukazeOguruma
KotomyozanSadogatake
KotomanabeSadogatake
DaishowakaOitekaze

It’s easy to recognize Mutsukaze by his prominent mutton chops. If you can’t recognize the others, here’s a little challenge: try to guess who is who by the kesho-mawashi they wear. It’s supposed to be borrowed from a sekitori in their heya (OK, so that won’t help you with the two Sadogatake guys…).

Going into the competition part of the event, the lower divisions each had its own elimination-format tournament, while the upper divisions had the traditional format torikumi. I’m sorry to say that Wakaichiro dropped in the first round of the Jonidan tournament. The winners got prizes – which is not an everyday occurrence for lower-division wrestlers.

  • Jonidan winner, Imafuku, won a bag of rice. At least, that’s what it looks like.
  • Sandanme winner, Wakanofuji, won a big bottle of saké.
  • Makushita winner, Obamaumi, won a… picture of rice crackers? Hey… It sucks to be in Makushita!

OK, so if you’re wondering about those two Goofometer points above, here is what was afoot between Juryo bouts:

Hidenoumi decides to tickle Terutsuyoshi with his sagari. Terutsuyoshi, in response, goes all “Oh yeah, baby, ooh, that’s good, give it to me, baby”.

Hidenoumi has an expression like “God, man, aren’t you enjoying this just a little bit too much?”, or maybe “Whoa… do I really want this guy hanging around anywhere near my little brother?”

Not that his little brother is any better…

OK, OK, so we have a few bouts to see! Here are the “Kore-yori-san-yaku”. Well, two of them. By the way, there was a slip in the torikumi program. They had Hakuho doing the musubi with Takayasu. Hakuho is not really dohyo-ready in any way, shape or form. So eventually Asanoyama was placed at the bottom of san-yaku for a second bout, and everybody else was shifted one space up, sort of.

And once again Takakeisho needs a mawashi adjustment right before the bout.

Asanoyama, of course, is no match for the mighty tadpole – who gets some kensho.

The Mitakeumi/Ichinojo bout is rather comical. I’m not sure Ichinojo actually intended to belly-bump Mitakeumi. That’s a funny tsukiotoshi.

Yago
Chiyomaru
DaiamamiMeisei
DaishomaruTakanosho
OnoshoChiyoshoma
AoiyamaEndo
SadanoumiOkinoumi
KotoshogikuYutakayama
DaieishoShohozan
AbiIkioi
TakarafujiKagayaki
TakanoiwaAsanoyama
ShodaiChiyotairyu
Nishikigi
Ryuden
TochiozanTamawashi
MyogiryuHokutofuji
TakakeishoAsanoyama
MitakeumiIchinojo
TochinoshinTakayasu

OK, so who shall we put up as our pin-up boy this time? Maybe Terutsuyoshi?

Hey, what’s with the sour face? We know you are quite capable of a big smile. Especially if you’re looking at Enho. Anyway, that photo looks a bit like a Soviet propaganda poster, doesn’t it?

So maybe just revert to Enho:

Now we can all have a big smile! This commercial for “Macho” proteins brought to you by Ishiura, by the way.