Natsu 2018 Jungyo Newsreel – Day 14

 

🌐 Location: Nanyo, Yamagata

nobori

The Jungyo continues to make its way north, and stopped this time at cloudy Nanyo.

Like the Nobori in the above picture, the rikishi were all over town – not just inside the venue. Onosho was appointed Chief of Police for the day:

onosho-chief-of-police
Break the law on my watch, I dare you!

Ikioi went to a local charitable facility to cheer the residents. No pics – modest guy, I guess.

August 11th is a public holiday called “Mountain day” – “Yama no hi”. And some rikishi were showing appreciation for mountains, or rather, for slopes:

playful-rikishi

This quickly turned into this:

roll-me-over-in-the-clover

Note that in Japanese, practice outdoors is called “mountain practice” (yama-geiko). But this looks suspiciously more like fun than like practice.

Inside the venue, two Yokozuna who missed the previous day’s keiko reported for duty today:

kisenosato-back
He can smile!

Kisenosato apparently hurt his heel a couple of days ago. Yesterday he was excused from all activities and didn’t show up in the venue at all. Today he was doing some basics around the dohyo, and his dohyo-iri. No torikumi. He says the heel is improving.

hakuho

Hakuho gave a more detailed report of his injury. Apparently no cartilage was found found out of place in his knee, only some soft tissue “lump” which he’ll be treating with medication. He has already begun, and will have to take it easy for a few days. He says it’s like “having a bomb”, which I guess means he wants to be very careful about returning to activity. In addition, he also received some treatment for his other knee, where he had an old injury.

He returned to his routine so far, which included light off-dohyo practice:

And also a rope-tying demonstration and dohyo-iri. Again, no torikumi. The only Yokozuna participating in the bouts was Kakuryu.

The star of the day was Hakuyozan, the Makushita yusho winner who is about to return to Juryo. He hails from Yamagata. This made him the chosen victim partner for Goeido for some butsukari:

hakuyozan-butsukari-goeido

Yes, Goeido seems to be back as well. I didn’t see any explanation of the nature of his absence.

Hakuyozan also became very sought after for fansa:

And the reason you see him wearing an oicho-mage in this video is because he had a Juryo torikumi as well, facing Homarefuji:

hakuyozan-homarefuji

Here is another moshi-ai photo for you. Takakeisho is going all out to be chosen:

moshiai
Look into my eyes… there’s only me… you cannot choose another…

Chiyomaru’s torikumi with Myogiryu. Apparently, Chiyomaru belly-bumps the veteran over the tawara. It’s called a yori-kiri, but only because the name hara-kiri is already taken:

chiyomaru-myogiryu

But fear not, I shall not leave you with just stills of bouts. Here is a video which includes:

  • Sanyaku soroi-bumi (synchronized shiko of the participants of the last three bouts)
  • Tamawashi vs. Shohozan. Whoa, where are they going?
  • Takayasu vs. Mitakeumi. Takayasu continues his quick tsuppari barrange. This seems to be very effective against Mitakeumi.
  • Kakuryu vs. Goeido.
  • Yumi-tori, which was performed again today by the young Hokutoo. So you have a chance to get a first impression of him.

By the way, those makeshift kensho flags are another one of the duties of gyoji in the Jungyo:

writing-signs-gyoji
Gyoji Kimura Satoshi

To wrap things up, here is Enho, this time with guest stars Terutsuyoshi and Chiyonoo:

enho-terutsuyoshi-chiyonoo

Natsu 2018 Jungyo Newsreel – Days 6 and 7

Today I’m wrapping two Jungyo days into one post, because frankly, materials about the visit to Yuzawa were scarce. Both events took place in Niigata prefecture, so they fit together anyway.

Edit:

  • Turns out Gagamaru and Takekaze have joined the Jungyo at Niigata
  • The full bout between Yutakayama and Endo turned up. See below.

🌐 Location: Yuzawa-machi, Uonuma-gun, Niigata

In a small, sleepy ski resort, Churanoumi, who is soon to lose his sekitori status, is nevertheless diligently working out. The surprising aspect of this is the guy he is using for weight lifting:

We have seen several sekitori lifting their tsukebito or their trainer. Or in the case of the Taka twins, their brother. But in this case, Churanoumi is lifting a man who outranks him a whole division. Yes, that’s Ishiura on his back.

And we have good news – a second Yokozuna mounts the dohyo for practice. This involves giving Yutakayama, the local boy, some TLC, Yokozuna-style:

Hakuho was practicing with a rubber band. And the Yokozuna can’t finish this rubber band practice without targeting his tsukebito’s sensitive parts:

He does it every single time. This time he was even a little merciful, letting it loosen a bit before letting go. I suspect his partner had a stiff insert inside his mawashi in anticipation of this. Here is Enho (who, you may recall, is also one of the Yokozuna’s tsukebito, so he has to do this thing from time to time) in the training camp before the Nagoya basho. His face tells of anticipated pain.

enho-waiting-for-the-inevitable
Enho knows what’s coming. And that towel won’t help a bit.

🌐 Location: Niigata city, Niigata prefecture

Now, this was a whole different thing as far as coverage is concerned. As I said, Yutakayama hails from this city, and he was the star of the day:

The second lady there wants Yutakayama to become Yokozuna. Well, time will tell. In the meantime, Kakuryu again gave him a butsukari session:

A slightly longer video of this is here:

Yutakayama at least fared better than Daiamami did two Jungyos ago – he finished up on his own two feet. You can also see that as usual, Kakuryu does away with much of the Alpha Male bravado part of the butsukari. The usual way to complete a butsukari session is with the receiver knocking on the giver’s chest, who in turn rolls him one last time in the dirt. Kakuryu here is all like – “OK, we’re done. I get it, I got a knock on my chest. But really, do you like rolling in the dirt? Just go…”

That bout between Yutakayama and Endo of which you saw a glimpse in the video, in fact included a wardrobe malfunction. Konosuke did not let it go this time, and had a mawashi-matta:

wardrobe-malfunction-1

Endo seems to have lost both front and back there. And something about this amuses him very much. Maybe the prolonged hug with Yutakayama:

wardrobe-malfunction-2

That’s not an expression you’re likely to see on anybody’s face during honbasho – even in the middle of a wardrobe malfunction.

And here is the full bout:

Anyway, Yutakayama may have been the main course in this meal, but there were many other activities going on around the venue. For example, Kotoeko joined a calisthenics class:

The sekitori were doing moshi-ai. Here we have Endo and Myogiryu:

endo-myogiryu

And Shohozan vs. Okinoumi:

shohozan-okinoumi

Tochiozan was trying to hide from the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal:

tochiozan-bugblatter-beast-of-traal

You see, knowing where your towel is is very important!

Tamawashi shook off his murderous ways and instead taught Kyokushuho a resistance training drill:

tamawashi-kyokushuho-1
You wrap the rubber band around your arms like so…
tamawashi-kyokushuho-2
And then pull those arms together.

As the sekitori were getting ready for the dohyo-iri… OK, we interrupt our programming for the following message. This is Yago:

introduction-to-yago

Kintamayama claims that only 3 out of 10 fans would recognize this man. I’m here to rectify this. I have a soft spot for Yago, as my very first post on Tachiai was about Yago. He was amateur Yokozuna, got a Makushita tsuke-dashi position, and struggled a bit to find his place in Juryo at first. He is now one of the mainstays with a good chance of making it to Makuuchi soon. Yago is his real name – his stablemaster said he will not give him a shikona until he matures from a “yago” (different spelling, a dragonfly nymph) to a full-fledged dragonfly. Dragonflies, by the way, are symbolic in sumo – they can only fly forward, so they are a symbol for forward-moving, no-retreat attitude.

Oh, and Osunaarashi in his day nicknamed Yago “Ago”. Which is Japanese for “chin” or “jaw”. Yago is very highly recognizable by his substantial jawline. No, he is not a pretty boy like Enho or Tobizaru, but he is a friendly guy with great potential.

So now I hope you all know who Yago is and how to recognize him, and we shall now proceed with the our planned programming.

Speaking of Enho and Tobizaru, Enho was pulling the oldest prank in the book on Tobuzaru today:

This involve mixing a good amount of the dohyo salt in the ladle of chikara-mizu before handing it over to the awaiting wrestler. The yobidashi usually sees what’s happening but keeps his mouth shut. This is not something you ever do in honbasho, but there is not a single jungyo where this is not done – several times, if possible.

I won’t be surprised if revenge awaits Enho in tomorrow’s event. As Enho always fights first in the Juryo bouts, he will be receiving the water from the wrestler that follows him… which is very likely to be the same Tobizaru.

Goofing around in the Jungyo is not reserved just to Juryo. Take a look at Onosho in the Makuuchi dohyo-iri, as Mitakeumi ascends the dohyo:

So here is the musubi-no-ichiban. And finally, it seems that Kakuryu is able to produce some forward motion:

This is it for today. But I can’t finish without the obligatory Enho photo!

enho-shohozan

Ah yes, Shohozan is in it, too. 😀

And there is even a “the making of” version of this picture:

enho-shohozan-the-making-of

Natsu Day 14 Highlights

The-Boulder

Great day of sumo… Our operatives inside the Kokugikan report that the Great Cat himself was well pleased with today’s activities, and blessed sumo fans with some fantastic matches. Find a way to watch all of day 14.

Nagoya has enormous potential, given today’s results. I will discuss more in the day 15 preview. The Natsu yusho is for Kakuryu to lose now, and his sumo was absolutely amazing today. Many sumo fans had dismissed Kakuryu in the prior year, perhaps thinking he was lazy, or would rather not compete. His style of sumo is rather unique, and it’s quite difficult to watch at times. Many fans want to see an all out, guns blazing battle. Where the best attack wins. Sometimes, the best attack is not to try and overpower your opponent, but rather to keep your opponent from winning. It’s somewhat alien in western sports, but it’s amazing to see Kakuryu use it with such great effect.

In Juryo, we are indeed going to have a final day barnyard brawl for the yusho. There are 3 Juryo rikishi with 11 wins at the end of day 14: Onosho, Kotoeko and Tsurugisho. I urge you to find and watch Kotoeko’s day 14 match – because he is bringing that kind of sumo to Makuuchi in Nagoya.

Highlight Matches

Ishiura defeats Kyokutaisei – Ishiura wins doing actual sumo. This is noteworthy.

Aoiyama defeats Daiamami – A large man oshi-matsuri, with Aoiyama once again focusing on his opponents head. This is not really working for him, and then he decides, “Yeah, let’s put some force center-mass!”, and shifts to Daiamami’s chest. Hey! Look, out goes Daiamami! Aoiyama gets his 8th win and his kachi-koshi.

Chiyonokuni defeats Tochiozan – Chiyonokuni takes it to 11, and hands Tochiozan his make-koshi. I would guess we may see Chiyonokuni pick up a special prize, and that would be his first! If he can stay this genki, he is going to be a lot of fun in Nagoya.

Takakeisho defeats Myogiryu – Myogiryu having a great basho, but Takakeisho seems to have snapped back into his sumo finally, and he’s on a mission. I am so eager now for Nagoya, as Takakeisho will be in the top half of the banzuke, Onosho will be back, and it’s going to be tadpole time.

Yoshikaze defeats Nishikigi – First match resulted in a monoii, and a re-match. Second match was a clear Yoshikaze win. It’s still possible for him to pick up a kachi-koshi on the final day, when his opponent will be Abi. That, dear readers, could be a wild and chaotic match.

Kagayaki defeats Asanoyama – Asanoyama failed to get his kachi-koshi today, and will have to hope for a win on the final day. Kagayaki continues to execute solid, basic sumo, and has been winning with it. Any hopes Kagayaki has for double digits are going to be tempered by his final day bout against Chiyonokuni. Yikes!

Aminishiki defeats Ryuden – Ryuden (now 2-12) in a world of hurt with the Nagoya banzuke now, as Uncle Sumo uncorks some kind of magic genki sauce and blasts him out of the ring after some preliminary struggle. As always, the crowd in the Kokugikan goes nuts whenever Aminishiki is on the dohyo, and goes double nuts when he wins.

Sadanoumi defeats Chiyomaru – Sadanoumi somehow survives a really powerful osha-battle with Chiyomaru to pick up his kachi-koshi. To me it looks like Chiyomaru had a tough time getting into basho mode, and is struggling with his sumo. Maybe a bit too much mass from the bulbous one? Sadanoumi lands his 8th win and can take comfort in his kachi-koshi.

Shohozan defeats Daieisho – This one was another in a series of Shohozan brawls disguised as sumo matches. Both men were going for some kind of painful death grip on the other, and the winning move was a nicely executed watashikomi thigh trip. Shohozan can still finish kachi-koshi if he wins day 15.

Tamawashi defeats Ikioi – Tamawashi switches to freight-train / densha michi mode and runs Ikioi down the tracks, improving to 7-7 going into the final day.

Kotoshogiku defeats Kaisei – Kotoshogiku kachi-koshi!!! The two go chest to chest straight away, and the enormous mass of Kaisei is clearly near the limit for the Kyushu Bulldozer. But he revs up, engages his tracks and lowers his blade.

Shodai defeats Mitakeumi – What the hell Shodai? Again, his mechanics are abysmal, but his instincts are dead on. Big outcome of this match may be the fact that Shodai seems to have crushed Mitakeumi’s right ankle when they both went to cuddle the kita-kata shimpan.

Kakuryu defeats Tochinoshin – Watch this match, maybe a few times. Tochinoshin really puts a lot into this match, and Kakuryu does some of his best “Big K Sumo” ever. Kakuryu is a reactive sumo expert. His plan is to stalemate Tochinoshin until he makes some kind of mistake, and then use that mistake to finish him. Tochinoshin immediately goes to land his left, and Kakuryu shuts that down, opting for a palm to the face. Tochinoshin tries to go left again, and gets a bit of a grip, but Kakuryu shifts his hips and denies him leverage. Tochinoshin now has a double outside grip on Kakuryu’s loose mawashi, and can’t find a way to keep the Yokozuna from shifting around, robbing Tochinoshin of his ability to lift and shift (his primary weapon). Kakuryu is deep double inside, and leaning in at 45 degrees, stalemate for the Georgian Ozeki hopeful. Tochinoshin tries to pull out a leg trip, but Kakuryu is too far back for the trip, shifting his hips again as Tochinoshin is now dangerously unbalanced. Kakuryu advances, and Tochinoshin tries to pivot for a throw, further impeding his defensive stance, Kakuryu has his opening now, raises his foot and pops a trip against Tochinoshin’s left knee (the good one), and collapses the Georgian at the tawara. Holy smokes! What a match!

Ichinojo defeats Hakuho – Sumo fans could have ended their day with the Kakuryu v Tochinoshin match with satisfaction, but the Great Sumo Cat of the Kokugikan had one last treat in store for us. The Boulder squared off against the dai-Yokozuna, but this was not the passive version of Ichinojo today. Huge, powerful and motivated, Hakuho, who is clearly not quite at full power, had his hands full with 500 pounds of pony tossing, ice cream eating behemoth. Hakuho unleashed a pair of his usually disruptive moves at the outset, but Ichinojo must have gone into the match with the intent to endure the Yokozuna’s initial attacks however he could. It seems he wanted to play a longer game. With Hakuho’s initial gambits exhausted, they spent a moment leaning chest to chest in the center of the dohyo. As Ichinojo moved to advance, Hakuho timed a weight shift to load a throw against Ichinojo. Ichinojo sensed the Yokozuna shifting for leverage, and took advantage of it, pivoting into the uwatenage as the Yokozuna went to the clay. Kokugikan erupts, cushions fly and it’s ice cream and ponies for everyone.

Natsu Day 14 Preview

Natsu Day 14

The scheduling committee was able to achieve their goal, but by unexpected means. With Hakuho unable to stop Tochinoshin’s zero loss march to the yusho, it came about from an unexpected source – Shodai. Easily one of the easy to overlook under performers, Shodai is both a disappointment and a well of potential at the same time. He is tenacious, large and earnest in his sumo. His mechanics are frequently terrible, and he shows a loose grasp of the fundamentals. But his instincts are solid.

With the match between Tochinoshin and Yokozuna Kakuryu on day 14, we will know who will get to battle it out of the yusho, and the yusho probably won’t be decided until possibly the final match on the final day. There are several paths that end in a three way or even 4 way barnyard brawl on the final day, with the winner the resulting playoff walking out there there with the hardware. Fortunately for folks in the US and much of the EU, this is a 3 day weekend, and if we indulge with an orgy of overnight or early morning sumo goodness, we can recover by the start of the work week.

Natsu Leaderboard

Leaders – Kakuryu, Tochinoshin
Chaser – Hakuho
HunterChiyonokuni

*Edit by lksumo: Since 12-1 Kakuryu and 12-1 Tochinoshin face off tomorrow, and they can’t both lose, 10-3 Chiyonokuni is mathematically out, unless we get the following scenario dreamed up by Andy: “Double kyujo as they both stub their toes walking to Kokugikan.”

2 Matches Remain.

What We Are Watching Day 14

Daiamami vs Aoiyama – The man-mountain is once again trying for his kachi-koshi, against the smaller and more mobile Daiamami.

Tochiozan vs Chiyonokuni – Chiyonokuni wants to keep winning to stay on the pace with the group at the top of the torikumi slugging it out for the yusho. There are some fringe scenarios that would have him possibly in contention if specific sequence of people win and lose over day 14 and 15.

Myogiryu vs Takakeisho – Both are already kachi-koshi, so this is a safe match in terms of their slots on the Nagoya banzuke. But it pits two fairly mobile but shorter rikishi against each other, separated by many spaces in the banzuke. With Myogiryu fighting as well as he has been the last week, this could be a fun and interesting match.

Yoshikaze vs Nishikigi – First time meeting between these two, Yoshkikze needs to win out to get a kachi-koshi. But our Berserker is looking like he’s just not feeling it right now. Nishikigi is shopping for additional boost points for the banzuke.

Asanoyama vs Kagayaki – Asanoyama comes into this needing one more win for his kochi-kochi, and he’s going up against Mr. Fundamentals. That means that Asanoyama is going to need to be sharp and crisp in his attack and defense moves to get past Kagayaki, whom he has never beaten.

Sadanoumi vs Chiyomaru – Sadanoumi needs one more win for kachi-koshi, facing already make-koshi Chiyomaru. The career record favors Chiyomaru 6-1, so Sadanoumi has his work cut out for him against “The Anchor”.

Tamawashi vs Ikioi – Tamawashi needs to win out to stake any kind of claim to a return to San’yaku for Nagoya, and he has Mr. “Can’t Stop – Shan’t Stop” in Ikioi. Tamawashi’s pugilist style may be the ticket to overwhelm an already injured Ikioi, who will likely be firmly in the joi for Nagoya.

Kotoshogiku vs Kaisei – To me this is possibly the most important match of the day. If Kotoshogiku can roll the Kaisei, he’s kachi-koshi, and with luck we will see a healthy Kotoshogiku do battle in the heat of Nagoya against all the top men of sumo. Kaisei struggled at the top of Maegashira, and I think will be more comfortable around Maegashira 7-5 in July.

Mitakeumi vs Shodai – “Shodai the Unexpected”, “Shodai the Surpriser”, “Shodai the Unlikely”. Any way I try to put it, I find it tough to reason back through the prior 13 days and future out how we get to a kachi-koshi Shodai. Today he faces Mitakeumi, who in some ways is almost the same rikishi at times. Will he get Mitakeumi to step on a rake, as he has convinced so many of his opponents to do this tournament? Could Shodai be up for a special prize? I think I need to put more sake in the fridge…

Kakuryu vs Tochinoshin – Another pivotal match in the yusho race. This one sets in motion the selection between the various combinations that Herouth (and hopefully lksumo) are thinking through. I am fairly confident that Tochinoshin has his Ozeki bid wrapped, but he is still (in my opinion) the man to beat for the cup right now. Kakuryu leads their career series 21-2, with Kakuryu handing Tochinoshin one of his few losses on the way to his Hatsu yusho, and Tochinoshin handing Kakuryu one his few losses on his way to the Osaka yusho. This one is wound tight, and ready to snap!

Ichinojo vs Hakuho – Ichinojo needs one more win to hold on to Sekiwake, but I am going to guess he won’t find it on day 14. Even though Hakuho seems to be will be focused on “improving” his Ichinojo with an overwhelming match.

Natsu Day 13 Highlights

Kakuryu Day 13

I note with great enthusiasm that the Juryo yusho is coming down to a final weekend barnyard brawl of epic proportions. Even though I am greatly enjoying my beautiful TV Japan feed now, it sadly does not include Juryo that I must find some other way to watch. Tied with 10 wins each at the end of day 13 are: J1w Onosho, J2e Kotoeko, J4e Meisei and all the way down at J14e Tsurugisho.

The big news from day 13 is that Tochinoshin lost today against Shodai of all people. I have to credit Shodai for stalemating Tochinoshin’s attack, and for reading the right time to drop the big Georgian to the clay. With this loss, Day 14’s match against Kakuryu is more or less going to decide the yusho. A Kakuryu win would open the amazing possibility we could end day 15 with a 3-way 13-2 playoff between both Yokozuna and the presumptive shin-Ozeki. If you think I am going to stay up all night to watch that, should it unfold, you are right.

Highlight Matches

Takekaze defeats Asanoyama – Strange little match that ended when Asanoyama staggered towards the tawara and fell down. Kimarite was listed as hatakikomi, but looked more like a slippiotoshi.

Chiyonokuni defeats Sadanoumi – My earlier assumption about Chiyonokuni is clearly wrong, and he keeps up the pressure. His win today saw him defuse a decent throw attempt by Sadanoumi.

Nishikigi defeats Daiamami – The survivor giving himself some breathing room for the Nagoya banzuke. This was a great yotsu match, with both men really giving it a lot of effort. This style of sumo favors Nishikigi, as his eyesight is rather poor, and when he had his opponent in a chest to chest position, it negates the problems with his eyes.

Takakeisho defeats Aoiyama – Aoiyama’s superior reach stymied after the hit and bounce back tachiai. Aoiyama continued to land meaty blows to Takakeisho’s face, but it seems Takakeisho decided to endure it, and kept thrusting center-mass, as is his preferred technique. Aoiyama may have been enjoying himself to the point he did not notice that Takakeisho had him moving in reverse. Takakeisho kachi-koshi. Nagoya may be the revenge of the tadpoles.

Aminishiki defeats Okinoumi – Uncle sumo wins another, and he looked fairly good with this one. Aminishiki was known to be in less that optimal condition before the start of the basho, and his record is quite miserable. But it was good to see him use a somewhat rickety but effective uwatenage for a win.

Kagayaki defeats Myogiryu – Kagayaki racks up his kachi-koshi in a really solid win. Again I will state that this guy focuses on sumo fundamentals, and you can see great sumo from him almost any day. A bit more mass, a lot more muscle and a bit more seasoning and this guy is going to be a handful.

Kyokutaisei defeats Yoshikaze – Yoshikaze really is a half step or full step slower than he was a year ago. Kyokutaisei continues to look strong in his debut tournament.

Tochiozan defeats Chiyomaru – Chiyomaru surged out strongly at the tachiai, and almost had Tochiozan out, but Tochiozan rallied, and Chiyomaru found it tough to do anything other than continuously back away. Tochiozan wins the match and is kachi-koshi. Chiyomaru is now make-koshi.

Abi defeats Takarafuji – Abi uses his preferred opening gambit once again, and it is only partially effective on Takarafuji, who keeps working inside. But even Takarafuji’s solid sumo fundamentals are breaking down due to Abi’s near ridiculous proportions. With Takarafuji applying pressure at the extreme end of Abi’s reach, Abi releases the pressure and lets Takarafuji fall.

Shohozan defeats Endo – This match was a running brawl that underscores just how poor the decision was to have Endo return. Shohozan can win out and still get kachi-koshi, Endo is headed south on the banzuke for Nagoya.

Mitakeumi defeats Kotoshogiku – They went yotsu right away, with Mitakeumi getting a double inside grip, but this is not normally a problem for Kotoshogiku. Fantastic battle of strength that featured Kotoshogiku disrupting Mitakeumi’s repeated attempts to finish him. I am going to guess Kotoshogiku’s knees are in better working order these days, and that’s nothing but a recipe for fun. The yorikiri came with Mitakeumi unleashing a Kotoshogiku style hip pumping attack. Nice match

Shodai defeats Tochinoshin – Shodai has been stumbling through his matches this tournament, and somehow he took down the presumptive shin-Ozeki. The key was blowing Tochinoshin’s repeated attempt at a grip, until he lunges forward to land his left, and Shodai backpedals with vigor, leaving Tochinoshin falling flat to the clay. This came as a huge surprise to everyone, but in general the crowd seemed to thing it was a wonderful thing. This loss opens the yusho race again, and it just gets crazy this weekend. Who would have though Shodai could do what Hakuho could not? Shodai kachi-koshi.

Hakuho defeats Ikioi – I am going to say it, The Boss is only about 80% right now. Who cares why. He’s still the dai-Yokozuna, and he’s still going into the final weekend with 11 wins. Ikioi once again looked solid, persistent and aggressive. This was harder for Hakuho than his fans would expect.

Kakuryu defeats Ichinojo – Big K now tied for the yusho, and the possibility that he could earn his goal of back-to-back yusho is now within reach. This match was a mawashi battle, with Kakuryu taking the fight to The Boulder on his own terms. Even though Ichinojo used the tawara to help make himself immobile, Kakuryu affirmed that he is the Yokozuna, and overcame. He faces Tochinoshin to possibly decide the Emperor’s cup tomorrow.

Natsu Day 12 Highlights

IMG_3099

The big match is history, and we know that we will have a new Ozeki. The NHK broadcast team did a lot to tease and play up the basho-defining match, and I must admit they did it well. The battle itself did not disappoint. Starting Nagoya we will see three Ozeki in action, and at least one Yokozuna.

Tough day to be seated by the dohyo, as a number of rikishi went flying into the first row of cushions.

Highlight Matches

Ishiura defeats Aminishiki – As if Uncle Sumo did not have enough problems, his knee looked to be working poorly after he took a dive into a ringside fan at the end of his match.

Asanoyama defeats Arawashi – The first match resulted in a monoii, and a rematch. These two were battling to throw each other the first time, and they both succeeded. Second match was much more straightforward, but for a moment it looked like they would both try mirror-image throws yet again.

Daishomaru defeats Nishikigi – Straightforward match, but Daishomaru scores his kachi-kochi.

Yoshikaze defeats Daiamami – Daiamami is now make-koshi, and Yoshikaze picks up an unusual kimarite, okurinage (a rear throw down).

Kagayaki defeats Takekaze – Takekaze is also make-koshi now, and may be on his way back to Juryo depending on how the remaining bouts play out.

Takakeisho defeats Chiyoshoma – Takakeisho picks up his 5th straight win, and is starting to look closer to his prior self. I think he still has some recovery to do, but Nagoya might be labeled “The Tadpoles Strike Back”.

Myogiryu defeats Takarafuji – One of the biggest banzuke gaps on the fight card for day 12, and the lower ranked man wins. The match swung between a grip and pushing match, and a bit of run and gun. Takarafuji kept working to grab a hold of Myogiryu, which he eventually achieved. But some fantastic maneuvering by Myogiryu broke Takarafuji’s grip, and handed the commanding position to Myogiryu for the win.

Shodai defeats Shohozan – These two played bumper cars for a moment, but Shodai mustered a burst of strength and with one mighty shove, gave Shohozan the heave-ho.

Chiyotairyu defeats Mitakeumi – When Chiyotairyu’s cannonball tachiai works, you can almost feel it through the video. The impact of those two bodies probably reverberated through the tunnels of the Edo line for 2 minutes. Chiyotairyu avoids make-koshi, and Mitakeumi avoids kachi-koshi.

Kaisei defeats Endo – Well, not sure why Endo came back. He’s been ineffective and is risking compounding that injury.

Kotoshogiku defeats Ichinojo – Ichinojo goes chest to chest early, possibly confident that his ponderous bulk will be too much for Kotoshogiku to maneuver. WRONG. Kotoshogiku is relentless, working to get and then keep Ichinojo off balance and moving. Once The Boulder is in motion, The Kyushu Bulldozer deftly maneuvers his out.

Kakuryu defeats Ikioi – Ikioi gave it everything he could muster, but Kakuryu was all over the place, swapping attack plans in the blink of an eye. Ikioi stayed steady, but Kakuryu’s combat-spam is designed to overwhelm his opponents decision loop, and it was only a matter of time before Ikioi was caught trying to dodge the last move and not the blow that was coming. Kakuryu wants the yusho, but his mind has to be on Tochinoshin Saturday.

Tochinoshin defeats Hakuho – Hakuho decides he will concede the form and go chest to chest with Tochinoshin. I am not sure if it was hubris of wanting to add a touch of the unexpected. But Tochinoshin of Natsu 2018 was ready for this, and responded with power and strength that could not be matched. After a brief struggle, Tochinoshin had complete control over the Yokozuna and took him to the edge, and out.

Natsu Day 11 Highlights

Tochinoshin-salt

Day 11 presented no surprises, but had some solid sumo for fans to enjoy. Thankfully Hokutofuji is kyujo, and hopefully any injury to his skull or brain will be addressed before he bouts the dohyo again. The Ozeki bid by Tochinoshin is about to enter its final stage. He has 11 wins now, which is numerically sufficient for promotion. But the elevation to sumo’s second highest rank is not simply a numbers game. It revolves around the NSK and to a lesser extent the Yokozuna Deliberation Committee deciding that the performance period in question meets a threshold for promotion.

Tochinoshin’s 11 wins have all be impressive, overpowering wins. He is clearly one of the most genki or possibly THE most genki man in sumo right now. But his 11 wins can be minimized by members of the NSK or YDC citing that they come in a tournament with no Ozeki, and should he fail to defeat either Yokozuna, the raw numbers may be deemed insufficient. Please keep in mind, I don’t get to make this decision, I am not a member of the NSK or the YDC. I am just some guy in Texas who loves sumo.

For myself I think he will beat at least one Yokozuna, and he may end up with the Yusho, which would eliminate all reservation by the NSK and YDC, in my opinion. At the larger scale, sumo needs a more stable Yokozuna / Ozeki corps, and this is how that rebuilding starts. If Tochinoshin can maintain this level of performance, he will make a fine Ozeki, and sumo will be the better for it.

Highlight Matches

Kyokutaisei defeats Gagamaru – Planet Gagamaru was his traditional, lethargic self. He put forth some effort, but he lived up to his current 2-9 tournament score. This match is notable not just because of the gravity waves that disrupted LIGO observations of colliding black holes as the shitatenage took him to the clay, but Shin-Maegashira Kyokutaisei scored his kachi-koshi, and will be in Makuuchi for Nagoya.

Arawashi defeats Takekaze – Both rikishi put a bunch of effort into this. Both are at the make-koshi line now, and for Takekaze, there is a real desire to not be considered for Juryo in July. The saving grace is that there is not a huge cadre of Juryo men who are beating down the door to Makuuchi.

Myogiryu defeats Chiyonokuni – Myogiryu gets his kachi-koshi, and it really looks like Chiyonokuni may have decided to coast to the finish this time. I can understand why. He is at a good rank, and he may not be genki enough for a full cruise through the joi. He’s done that a few times and he ends up getting pounded. His sumo is improving, but I am going to guess he wants to hit around Maegashira 6 or so for Nagoya. This will let him figure out if he has advanced enough to possibly accomplish anything in joi.

Nishikigi fusensho over Hokutofuji – With humble gratitude to the Great Sumo Cat of the Kokugikan, Hokutofuji is kyujo for now, hopefully getting that head scanned and any sort of medical treatment needed. As a result, the man who never gives up, Niskikigi, gets his kachi-koshi at the very bottom of the banzuke, and will be Makuuchi for Nagoya. He really has put forth a lot of effort to hold on by his fingertips, and it’s great to see it pay off.

Takakeisho defeats Takarafuji – As expected, this was a fascinating match to watch. From the tachiai, Takarafuji is working to get control of Takakeisho, with Takakeisho constantly moving about and landing blows. If you have a chance to watch this on replay or YouTube, watch their feet! For whatever reason, I think a rikishi’s feet say more about what they are doing than their arms or heads. Takarafuji keeps being forced to give up his defensive footing and retreat. As soon as he is moving backwards, Takakeisho matches the timing of his steps to land thrusts when his feet are not planted. This just accelerates Takarafuji’s movement. When Takakeisho makes a mistake and pushes too high (as opposed to center mass of the chest), Takarafuji deftly moves inside and rushes forward. Takakeisho is not even slightly phased by this, and sets up a finishing move at the tawara. A ballerina pirouette later and Takakeisho’s won! Great great sumo from these two!

Ikioi defeats Daishomaru – Daishomaru launches into the tachiai with gusto, and it puts Ikioi into a defensive mode straight away. Ikioi circles away and breaks contact, then attacks. Again, watch Daishomaru’s feet at the moment Ikioi starts to press his offense. His feet are not set, his balance is not over his hips. Ikioi exploits this and rushes forward for the win. Ikioi with a well deserved kachi-koshi.

Yutakayama defeats Ryuden – Both are make-koshi, and possibly deeply so by the end of Natsu. But you would never know it looking at these two members of the Freshman team go at it with vigor. If you like yoritaoshi wins, do watch this one.

Shohozan defeats Abi – As pointed out in last night’s preview, Abi tends to get his arms up and stop his opponents tachiai. Today Shohozan countered that with pure speed. Robbed of his disruptive opening move, Abi did not have time to reset, and Shohozan attacked like a hangry bison in a fresh alfalfa field.

Tamawashi defeats Endo – Looks like Endo’s return may not have been a good tactical move. Tamawashi uses his face for a slapping target. As we learn in the Marines, you can have a great battle plan, but as soon as someone is punching you in the head, it’s tough to keep on plan. Endo make-koshi now.

Ichinojo defeats Chiyotairyu – Not one, but TWO loud belly blasts from these two men of girth. After the second one, it seems that Chiyotairyu’s sideburns were bereft of their power inducing kami, and Ichinojo more or less walked him out.

Tochinoshin defeats Kotoshogiku – I think the scheduling team moved Tochinoshin’s match with Hakuho up to day 12, because they wanted a chance to have a 3 way yusho battle set up for the final weekend of the basho. Points to Kotoshogiku for giving him a good fight, but Kotoshogiku got off balance, and Tochinoshin did not let that opportunity escape. I truly hope Kotoshogiku can get his kachi-koshi.

Hakuho defeats Shodai – About as minimal as a match could get, Shodai offered no resistance to speak of.

Kakuryu defeats Mitakeumi – There we go! That’s Kakuryu sumo to be certain. Mitakeumi gave him an excellent match, and it was touch and go for most of it. But as has been typical for Kakuryu, he likes to win in the last 3″ of the dohyo. Why rikishi don’t ease up as they get him close to the tawara is beyond me, as Kakuryu loves to use the tawara.

Natsu Day 10 Highlights

Nishikigi

Act 2 is over, and the yusho race is set for the final 5 days of the Natsu basho. The one goal for act 2 that remains un-obtained is handing Ozeki hopeful, and Hatsu yusho winner Tochinoshin his first loss. At this point he needs one more win to stake his claim to sumo’s second highest rank, and his day 11 opponent, Kotoshogiku, is unlikely to be up to the task of defeating him.

Highlight Matches

Kotoeko defeats Myogiryu – In his first ever Makuuchi bout, Kotoeko attempts a henka, fails and finds himself chest to chest with Myogiryu. As they struggle for dominance, Myogiryu is moving backwards. Kotoeko finishes him with a rousing yoritaoshi, gaining his kachi-koshi, his first Makuuchi win, and his first kensho all in one brief moment.

Aminishiki defeats Asanoyama – Uncle Sumo picks up his second win of the tournament. Asanoyama took hold and marched forward, carrying a rather powerless Aminishiki towards the edge. A last minute throw at the tawara did not appear to work, and the gyoji gave the match to Asanoyama, but the judges call ad monoii, and reversed the decision. Replay showed some amazing footwork from Aminishiki, and he picked up the win.

Nishikigi defeats Chiyonokuni – In a shocker, the lowest Maegashira on the banzuke surprised a rikishi with a bonafide position on the leaderboard. Chiyonokuni is always very energetic, and he overwhelmed Nishikigi, who at times was staggering and off balance, but always quickly reset. Although he was absorbing most of Chiyonokuni’s offense, Nishikigi kept moving forward. Though the gumbai went to Chiyonokuni, a monoii confirmed that Nishikigi did in fact prevail. As mentioned many times, Nishikigi really wants to stay in the top division. That was some top division fighting spirit on display! Well done.

Takakeisho defeats Tochiozan – It’s a hope of mine that Takakeisho gets back into proper fighting form by Nagoya, and today’s match looked less stiff, wooden and robotic. Takakeisho, in spite of his bulbous torso, has a very natural and fluid element to his sumo. When he is using that fluidity, we see him win, and he makes it look easy and natural. This is also true of Hakuho, and even more so Enho. As stated at the start of the basho, the tadpoles are down, nursing their wounds, but will be back with fierce determination this summer. If Nagoya finds Takakeisho mid-Maegashira and Onosho lower Maegashira, the lower end of the torikumi may once again be the place with the best action.

Aoiyama defeats Yoshikaze – Every opponent goes for Yoshikaze’s face, and it’s kind of redundant. Yoshikaze fought back with strength, but there is just too much Aoiyama to slap out of the ring. Yoshikaze is certainly a half step slower than a couple of years ago, and I won’t be surprised to see him take up his kabu later this year.

Ryuden defeats Hokutofuji – A trio of false starts, the second featured Hokutofuji falling backward and receiving a strong knock to the back of his skull, which seems to have stunned and disoriented him. After the pre-bout injury, it was not too tough to win. Post match, Hokutofuji has trouble walking the hanamichi and into the tunnel. Hopefully an actual medical doctor checked him out. Concussions are not something you try to “heal naturally”.

Daieisho defeats Takarafuji – Quite a scrappy match that results in Daieisho picking up his 3rd win, avoiding make-koshi. Takarafuji seems to have the skill and technique, I wonder if a bit of mass and 10% more power would carry him to greater rank.

Yutakayama defeats Chiyoshoma – Notable in that this is Yutakayama’s first win of the Natsu basho. Chiyoshoma picked up his 8th loss and is now make-koshi.

Abi defeats Tamawashi – Wow! Ok, I have seen Abi do this a couple of times. He lifts both arms during the tachiai, connecting to his opponents shoulder and stopping their forward motion. Due to his long reach, his opponent is far short of a workable combat range, and is somewhat interrupted from their plan. Today, Abi pivoted and grabbed Tamawashi’s belt and rolled him out in one fluid motion.

Mitakeumi defeats Ikioi – Both of them came off the line in full battle mode, and it was glorious to see them fight for position and grip. Mitakeumi held the advantage, but Ikioi was conceding nothing. When Ikioi was able to switch from defense to offense, Mitakeumi deftly used Ikioi’s forward motion to thrust him down. I want to see what Ikioi can do when he’s healthy!

Tochinoshin defeats Chiyotairyu – Tochinoshin picks up his 10th win, and looks unstoppable. Today he proved that even the super-sized Chiyotairyu is not too heavy for him to lift and carry to the curb for trash day in Sumida-ku.

Ichinojo defeats Shodai – Slow motion, Maezumo style tachiai today, which left me choking on my tea. After that it was all Ichinojo herding Shodai to the edge and giving him a strong shove.

Kakuryu defeats Kotoshogiku – Sadly my gastric problems continued as Kakuryu sold the henka and Kotoshogiku bought it. Once again I found myself sputtering on my morning tea. While Yokozuna wins via henka are not really the way things are supposed to go, this one was kind of over the top and almost comical. Of course Kotoshogiku found it un-amusing in the extreme, and the crowd in the Kokugikan were likewise disappointed.

Hakuho defeats Endo – That disappointment was short lived, as Endo gave the dai-Yokozuna a solid match. The tempo was fast, and Hokuho was on pure offense. Endo’s strategy was to stalemate the Yokozuna and wait for an opportunity to exploit for an upset win. It did not take Hakuho long to figure this out, and he switched his sumo to a more disruptive, staccato tempo, which lured Endo in for the attack. That was all Hakuho needed to get him turned around and shoved out from behind. Excellent sumo, and great to see not only Endo come in with a solid strategy, but fantastic to see Hakuho shift gears like that.

Natsu Day 4 Highlights

Abi-Head

Up until now, everything was happening as expected. But as we draw closer to the end of act 1, we are starting to get some rikishi at their full tournament strength, and the surprises are starting to flow. While the first three days of Natsu were enjoyable, they were bland and lifeless like a dried squid. Tough and chewy, but oh so much better than no rubber squid at all when you are hungry. Then day 4, the giant double hand sized bowl of spicy miso ramen. Nutritious, satisfying, and perhaps a bit dangerous.

In Juryo, Onosho, Takanoiwa and Yago remain unbeaten. Takanoiwa and Yago won’t be candidates for promotion to Makuuchi, but if Onosho can keep rolling he will be back for Nagoya in July. Enho is struggling at the top end of Makushita, and it might be a while before he can claw his way back to Juryo.

Highlight Matches

Kyokutaisei defeats Nishikigi – After a matta, Kyokutaisei takes advantage of Nishikigi’s poor vision to side-step a poorly timed charge, and get Nishikigi off balance and out.

Aoiyama defeats Myogiryu – Aoiyama finally wins one! It was a rapid pull down of veteran Myogiryu, but at least he has his first shiroboshi.

Chiyonokuni defeats Takakeisho – An excellent tachiai, and some fierce double-arm thrusts to begin, but it seems that Chiyonokuni can read Takakeisho like a copy of Fox in Socks. By the 3rd exchange, Takakeisho is too far forward, and Chiyonokuni helps him to the clay. Takakeisho is looking very rusty right now.

Daishomaru defeats Okinoumi – Daishomaru once again fighting well, strong, forward sumo from this guy, and he’s going places with his approach. Okinoumi is always hit or miss, but Daishomaru is good at Maegashira 9.

Hokutofuji defeats Kagayaki – The first moments of this match, I can’t help but notice Kagayaki’s sumo. He’s low, he’s moving forward strongly and it’s working. Then something lights in Hokutofuji and he battles back… and wins! Very happy that Hokutofuji can finally get a white mark on the board. Kagayaki is starting to remind me of a young Kisenosato.

Yoshikaze defeats Ryuden – Yoshikaze goes to the mawashi and wins. But this is a great match as Ryuden gives it everything he has and maybe a bit more. Usually Yoshikaze will thump his opponents around quite a bit before shoving them out, so it’s fun to see him grab the belt. The match ended with both men sailing off the East side into Takanohana’s lap, and a monoii was called as Yoshikaze’s foot touched down while Ryuden remained airborne. Excellent work by Ryuden staying off the clay while in flight, by the way. Oh fine – let’s have a re-do. Second match is notable in that Yoshikaze suspects a henka, and just stands up at the tachai. He grabs Ryuden’s belt and picks up where he left off on match 1, this time winning without question. Excellent sumo from these two today!

Kotoshogiku defeats Chiyoshoma – Chiyoshoma throws everything at the Kyushu Bulldozer. We start with a flying henka, second is a solid attempt at a leg trip, but Kotoshogiku absorbs all of this and battles on. Backed to the tawara, Chiyoshoma is pushing with everything he has. But Kotoshogiku has his feet wide and his heels against the bales, good luck moving him. Chiyoshoma pivots to load a throw, but the Dozer is ready. With Chiyoshoma now sideways, Kotoshogiku advances, and try as he might, Chiyoshoma can’t get that throw started. Outstanding sumo.

Shodai defeats Ikioi – The first shocker of this fantastic match is that Shodai did NOT blow the tachiai. He looked really good launching into Ikioi – low, powerful, ready to attack. And attack he did! He took Ikioi to the edge, but with his heels on the tawara, Ikioi flashed with aggression and launched back at Shodai. Battling back, he nearly slaps down Shodai who somehow keeps his feet. The two go chest to chest for a moment, and then Shodai raises Ikioi up and marches forward. Fantastic wonderful sumo. Ikioi looks hurt afterwards.

Abi defeats Endo – Some pretty good sumo in mid-Maegashira today, but now the fun increases. Abi has no wins coming in, but his youthful enthusiasm keeps him from considering it anything other than a traditional joi beating. In fact, facing such skilled opponents at full battle strength may have tuned him up a bit. Straight from the tachiai, Endo learns that those ridiculously long arms are a serious problem, as Abi drives him back and Endo struggles to find any body to attack. Twice Endo grabs an arm and pulls, throwing Abi off balance, but Abi remains on his feet. The second pull is over-done, and Endo is moving backwards, and off balance. Abi seizes the moment and pushes Endo out. Wow! Abi is very much a diamond in the rough, but Endo needs to work out the mechanics of how to beat this guy.

Tochinoshin defeats Mitakeumi – Very straightforward. Tochinoshin gets inside and marches forward. Mitakeumi needs to crack this puzzle as he and Tochinoshin are going to be facing off every tournament for a while.

Ichinojo defeats Yutakayama – With some courage, Yutakayama chooses to go chest to chest with the boulder straight out of the tachiai. Ichinojo barely notices, and advances Yutakayama to the edge for an easy yorikiri.

Tamawashi defeats Goeido – It seems that Goeido 2.1 has rolled back to an earlier version, but without properly installing the control driver again. Goeido showed almost no offense today, and let Tamawashi control the match. Hopefully there will be an over the air update overnight.

Shohozan defeats Kakuryu – It looked to me like Kakuryu lost patience and went to pull. Shohozan knew this would happen, and was ready. He certainly turned the tables on Mr Reactive Sumo today. Big K, stay in charge, when you do, you win.

Hakuho defeats Kaisei – As expected, The Boss rolls the Brazilian dumpling in short order.

Natsu Day 3 Highlights

Endo Trinket

Internet… Satellite TV… Fiber Optic Cables… What happens when several of these malfunction at once? Sumo fans take to their mobiles to get their burly men fix. Sadly it’s balls for posting to tachiai.org. But through the magic of standing outside my front door waving money around, one of the multiple repair people who were supposed to come to my house and do work has actually arrived. Whats more, they actually did work.

Day 3 continued the evolution more or less along predictable paths, but with a small exception or two that shall be noted below. Thus far, the Natsu basho is being incredibly predictable. Sumo fans may have gotten spoiled by some of the topsy-turvy action of the past year, and coming across a tournament where the favorites win each day may seem quite pedestrian. But then many of the agents of disruption are either lower down the banzuke, banged up, or simply not genki. This would include Yoshikaze, Onosho, Takakeisho, Ura and Hokotofuji. The other option is that the banzuke is so perfectly tuned, that everyone is fighting more or less at their predicted ability.

Also of note, there are additional stories in the Japanese sumo press that Yokozuna Kisenosato is arranging affairs for his post-rikishi life. This includes getting his kabu in order, establishing a residence in Tokyo (outside of the stable), and other matters. For fans who were behind him all the way, or leanered to respect him because he never let up, it’s going to be a bitter time. As we covered extensively at the time, his injury was repairable with immediate surgery and a lengthy recovery period. But now it seems there is no way for him to regain his former left arm/chest strength.

Highlight Matches

Myogiryu defeats Aminishiki – We knew coming out of jungyo that Uncle Sumo would be shaky this time due to injuries. He had a strong tachiai, but tried to pull Myogiryu down, that was the signal; and Myogiryu then took over and dispatched him with ease.

Asanoyama defeats Aoiyama – It’s quite obvious that Aoiyama has enough damage to his knees and possibly hips that he is barely able to do sumo at all. A kyujo at this point is a certain ride back to Juryo, while staying in may get him a win or two, he runs the real risk of compounding his injuries. On the other side of this, Asanoyama with a 3-0 start. Good job!

Daiamami defeats Takakeisho – Notable in that Takakeisho is still not 100%, he was too far forward and easily slapped down. We need the angry tadpole back!

Chiyonokuni defeats Hokutofuji – Part 1 of the sad sack back to back story arc. Hokutofuji is really a mess right now, and I wonder if he would be better off just going to Hawaii (no the part that is on fire) and relaxing for a while.

Kagayaki defeats Yoshikaze – And part 2. Clearly Yoshikaze had a step change downward a couple of tournaments ago, and is in some sort of lower energy state. Short of a Fukushima Daiichi onsen trip, or a lightning strike, I am not sure what can re-energize my favorite rikishi. Kagayaki looked very good, though!

Takarafuji defeats Chiyoshoma – This was a fun bout, maybe some of the better sumo of the day. Watch towards the end where Chiyoshoma escapes Takarafuji’s uwatenage just to lose his balance and backslide into a waiting Ryuden.

Ikioi defeats Ryuden – Theory. In some mystical ritual that involved a visit to Yakushima and a ceremony in front of a protected grove of Yaku Sugi, Yoshikaze’s genki was transferred to Ikioi. Much like loaning out a kabu, Yoshikaze is loaning is boundless battle energy to Ikioi. Also Ikioi has decided to just put it all on the line every day.

Shodai defeats Chiyotairyu – I am delighted that Shodai is winning, but lets be honest. He is stumbling through the matches and winning by sheer luck. But that’s good enough for sumo! I do hope that it gives him back the confidence and courage that seems to have left him last year.

Kotoshogiku defeats Yutakayama – I love how terrifyingly fast Kotoshogiku can be off the line. Yes he has faded from his Ozeki days, but the guy still has some outstanding moves. I just wish we could get him back in San’yaku so he would do his back stretches again.

Mitakeumi defeats Abi – Abi looked like a spider on a hot plate. That, or each of his limbs were individually trying to escape from Mitakeumi in different directions, dragging his foreshortened torso along for the ride. Welcome to the joi, Abi. You are going to get past this hurdle one day, ad we will be cheering you on.

Ichinojo defeats Daieisho – Daieisho attempted a henka, and to my surprise Ichinojo was able to recover. Daieisho maintained the initiative for several more seconds, until Ichinojo rallied at the center of the dohyo and tried to pull Daieisho down. It almost didn’t work. Move forward, great Boulder.

Tochinoshin defeats Tamawashi – Tochinoshin looking very genki, but this match had at least one notable. At the end, Tochinoshin falls. Note the extreme motions he goes through to protect that knee. The fact that he lost his balance after the match ended should be an event of note. I sincerely hope we don’t see him succumb to injury on the eve of securing a valid Ozeki ticket.

Endo defeats Goeido – Field testing of Goedio 2.1 suffered a set back today, as the production system branched into the reverse protocol that engineers have been trying for years to correct. Endo, being a wily sort, saw this at once and put the naughty sumo-bot down before he could endanger the grannies in the 3rd row, once again forever endearing himself to his vast brigade of fans across Japan.

Hakuho defeats Shohozan – Blink and you miss it!

Kakuryu defeats Kaisei – If you wanted to head to the Ryogoku station a few minutes early, you could have skipped this match and no one would blame you. I think all of the Salarymen who were there for the day did exactly that.

Natsu Day 2 Highlights

Hakuho-Dohyo-Iri

With Andy’s apt description of the GoeiDOS 2.1 upgrade described below, what is there left to say?  Another day with few surprises in the top division, but some entirely watchable sumo with plenty of matches to enjoy. It’s clear that both Ichinojo and Tochinoshin are in good form, and Goeido has yet to revert to “bad” form yet. Let’s go straight to the highlights.

Natsu Day 2 Highlights

Nishikigi defeats Myogiryu – Myogiryu opened strong, but Nishikigi rallied with considerable strength and prevailed. I wonder if his precarious position on the banzuke motivates Nishikigi to higher levels of performance.

Kyokutaisei defeats Aminishiki – Uncle Sumo tries a henka, but Kyokutaisei reads it correctly and overpowers the aged rikishi, winning with a susoharai leg sweep. Hopefully Aminishiki did not pick up an additional injury.

Sadanoumi defeats Tochiozan – Word in the practice sessions leading up to the basho was that Tochiozan was in fantastic condition and performing very well. He seems to be genuinely struggling in the first two days.

Takekaze defeats Aoiyama – Aoiyama opened strong and kept up the pressure, which was probably a mistake. Takekaze got Aoiyama moving forward, and then got out of his way.

Arawashi defeats Ishiura – Ishiura attempts a henka, and Arawashi is ready for him, grabbing him with his wide spread left arm and reeling him in for a quick push out. Ishiura needs some new tricks.

Okinoumi defeats Takakeisho – Takakeisho opened strong, and got some mighty shoves into Okinoumi, but Okinoumi returned the favor. As Takakeisho gave ground, he attempted a pull down, but Okinoumi was quite prepared for that, and thwarted his attack.

Daiamami defeats Hokutofuji – Wow, Daiamami made fast work of Hokutofuji who seems to be low-energy and somewhat uncertain of how to regain his former mojo. It’s sad to watch, and I am going to assume its due to some injury we fans don’t know about.

Daishomaru defeats Yoshikaze – Yoshikaze did not look good today.

Chiyoshoma defeats Ryuden – Ryuden took the fight to Chiyoshoma with vigor and strength, but it was all Chiyoshoma, who completely ran this match and finished it with a resounding shitatenage. Ryuden is good, but has more work to do.

Ikioi defeats Takarafuji – Ikioi once again throws caution to the wind, and gives Takarafuji a stiff battle, ending with Ikioi hurling the man with no neck to the clay like a boss. The crowd goes wild.

Kotoshogiku defeats Chiyotairyu – Kotoshogiku was large and in charge today. He paid no attention to Chiyotairyu’s massive bulk and cannon-ball tachiai. It’s good to see that the Kyushu Bulldozer can still be a force of sumo.

Shodai defeats Daieisho – Daieisho opened strong and kept up the pressure on Shodai, who was on the defensive and moving backwards, a lucky pull from Shodai put Daieisho off balance and he could not recover. An ugly win for Shodai, but a white-star none the less.

Endo defeats Yutakayama – Endo struggled more than he should have in this match. That is a sign that Endo is not quite all there yet, and that Yutakayama put his heart into this match. Endo’s win came via a pull down from the edge of the ring.

Tochinoshin defeats Abi – I did not expect Abi to win, but he impressed the hell out of me with the fight he brought to Tochinoshin. Abi’s superior reach was used with great effect out of the tachiai, and frankly caught Tochinoshin by surprise. With the Ozeki hopeful in a strong nodowa, Abi had early control of the match. But Tochinoshin was not to be denied, and remember to go for the belt. Well done to Abi, a glorious loss. Your intro to the joi will be painful, but it’s part of the sport.

Ichinojo defeats Kaisei – A battle of the super-heavies, and as anticipated, it was all about how could do more with their ponderous bulk. Kaisei found the mawashi early, but it seemed to have little effect on The Boulder. After a bit of leaning on each other, Ichinojo stood Kaisei up and marched him out.

Goeido defeats Shohozan – Andy may have been right, the maintenance release Goeido 2.1 may be stable, on line and doing well. He make quick work of Shohozan with many characteristics of the “good” Goeido. Moving forward strongly with lightning speed and no consideration to restraint for the sake of any defense. Please do keep it up Goeido!

Kakuryu defeats Tamawashi – Kakuryu’s reactive sumo takes the day again. It’s not too tough to get Tamawashi to shift his weight quite far forward, and he readily obliged the Yokozuna, who politely encouraged him to exit the ring.

Hakuho defeats Mitakeumi – Hakuho struggled, no two ways about it. Mitakeumi is probably bringing everything he can to his sumo this outing, but I am starting to come around to Kintamayama’s point of view that “The Boss” is not quite healed up yet.

Natsu Day 2 Preview

Natsu Day 2b

After re-watching day 1 matches several times, an idea comes to mind. On the day 1 recap, there is some discussion about Hakuho. Some of our readers think he was pure Hakuho, arrogant, brash and in command. Herouth, myself and a few others are worried that he’s not quite 100% at the moment. Please feel free to weigh in with your thoughts in the comment section. I also note that Aoiyama looked a fraction of his normal self. There are some reports that he has damage to his undercarriage, and that could explain a few things. With his rank (M13w), he would be at real risk of a return to Juryo if he were to be kyujo without at least a few wins first.

I have to note, the NHK world broadcast has replaced many of the rikishi head-shot photos with a set of images that range from hideous to laughable. Please folks, consider a bit of color correction on those things.

A number of sumo fans, including the great Kintamayama, found day 1 unsurprising and perhaps a bit plain. I was just happy to have sumo back for a couple of weeks, even if all of the matches turned out as predicted. But in Act 1, we find out who is hot, and who is not. The only two I would cite as bringing a lot of “fire” to the dohyo on day 1 were Ichinojo, Tochinoshin and (surprisingly), Shodai. Let’s see what kind of fun day 2 can bring. It appears the schedulers have a real “folks with 1 win face off, folks with one loss face off” theme at work today.

What We Are Watching Day 2

Myogiryu vs Nishikigi – Myogiryu looked fairly solid day 1, but he comes up against Nishikigi who has a career 3-1 record against Myogiryu. Myogiryu like the belt throws, so this will be all about footwork and grip. Could be a good match.

Aminishiki vs Kyokutaisei – Uncle Sumo has only taken 1 match from Kyokutaisei, and word is that Aminishiki’s already questionable knees are recovering from strain or injury during the April jungyo tour. Everyone hoping for a storybook kachi-koshi for sumo’s most beloved uncle will need to temper their outlook. I just hope he can make it to senshuraku without going kyujo.

Takekaze vs Aoiyama – This will be a good test for how banged up Aoiyama actually is. Takekaze will be using every move in his considerable, judo-inspired inventory to best the big Bulgarian who holds a career 13-7 advantage.

Asanoyama vs Chiyonokuni – Both men won their first day matches, but they have never faced each other. Chiyonokuni is an absolute explosive powerhouse of oshi-zumo, and I am curious to see if he completely overwhelms Asanayama.

Okinoumi vs Takakeisho – Okinoumi have never won against Takakeisho in their 2 prior matches. In addition I think Takakeisho, who is normally set to 11, has found a way to reach for 11.5, as he wants to regain his position near the top of the banzuke. Okinoumi is very hit-or-miss, and its unclear how healthy his is this basho.

Daiamami vs Hokutofuji – Hokutofuji continues to look energetic but vague. His day 1 match was a sloppy mess that he let Takakeisho control, missing at least 2 opportunities to make the bowling ball with legs eat clay. To his advantage today is the 3-0 career lead he has over Daiamami.

Yoshikaze vs Daishomaru – I saw a glimmer of Berserker mode on day 1. After two tournaments where Yoshikaze looked like he had been coming to the dohyo straight from his sick-bed, it was refreshing to see him fight with vigor. As a bonus for day 2, Daishomaru has not ever won against Yoshikaze.

Chiyoshoma vs Ryuden – Ryuden got disposed of like a bad sandwich at Lawson’s on day 1. On day two he faces the always unpredictable Chiyoshoma, and I would guess will hold the advantage of guile over the Freshman.

Takarafuji vs Ikioi – These two have a 17 match career history, that favor the neckless rikishi 11-6. But does Ikioi care? Of course not! I am beginning to think that Ikioi has reached the point in his career where he is saying “Oh, F’ it all!”, and just using his mass and willingness to damage himself to overwhelm his opponents. Takarafuji is a careful and skilled fighter, and is no easy opponent. Could be a solid match.

Daieisho vs Shodai – So the day 1 Shodai was fun to watch. This is the kind of stuff that we used to see from Shodai much more frequently, and frankly its why some fans thought he was going to be a staple of the top of the banzuke for some time to come. Can he keep that going? Let’s see him take down the even match up he has with Daieisho.

Yutakayama vs Endo – Endo gets a bit of a breather after falling face first to Kakuryu. Their only prior match went to Endo, but Yutakayama seems to be in his groove these days. I would expect Endo to win this one, but it is my hope that Yutakayama really makes him work for it.

Tochinoshin vs Abi – Well, Abi gets a traditional Tokyo welcome to the joi. Smacked around, tossed to the grannies and generally made to question his own sumo to the point of worry. Day 2 he is cannon fodder to a brute on a mission to higher rank. I am pretty sure Abi will try something insightful and clever, and I am equally sure it will come down to Tochinoshin picking him up and tossing him to the cheering little old ladies, who will smother him with adoration. Everybody wins…

Kaisei vs Ichinojo – This much Waygu in motion is always cause for a safety briefing and careful evacuation drills on the part of the Kokugikan staff. Both men prefer big, slow and forceful, but I would give a distinct edge to Ichinojo, who may have promised himself story time with his favorite pony if he wins. The career record shows a 7-2 advantage for the Boulder.

Shohozan vs Goeido – We may have seen the first use of Goeido 2.1 on day 1, and it looked really good. Sharp, fast, no thought of defense. But then again, Shohozan and Kaisei are worlds apart. No one leaves a match with Shohozan without getting sore, and Goeido tends to react badly to being pounded. Like many gadgets, percussive maintenance could void the warranty. Even so Goeido holds a 11-7 career lead.

Kakuryu vs Tamawashi – Hopefully this match is less bizarre than day 1’s Hakuho “gimme a hug” posture mid-fight. People knocked Kakuryu for pulling Endo down, but Big K’s style is to stalemate his opponent and wait for his opening. What kind of opening Tamawashi is going to give him will be interesting to watch, but as Tamawashi is a brutal tsuppari practitioner, we may see the Yokozuna moving backwards again.

Mitakeumi vs Hakuho – This match might settle questions about Hakuho’s condition. Mitakeumi will come straight at him, no doubt about it. I am going to say that we may see a Harumafuji style mini-henka here.

Natsu Day 1 Highlights

Natsu Day 1

No Surprises

The Natsu basho got started on form, with no real surprises, but some good sumo. Fans, do keep in mind that for the first few days, many of your favorites will be working to find their groove, and we may see some “ring rust” as John Gunning puts it. Most basho follow a 3 act process. Act 1 is all about finding who is hot, and who is not. Act 2 is all about who can compete for the yusho, and Act 3 is where we separate the winners from the losers, and crown the champion. In the early stages of Act 1 (the first few days), you are likely to see some unexpected events. Today was not populated with the unexpected, but keep your eyes open.

Highlight Matches

Nishikigi defeats Aminishiki – Uncle Sumo ups the record as the oldest man ever to start a Makuuchi bout, and we salute him. But Nishikigi dispatched him with little trouble.

Myogiryu defeats Kyokutaisei – This match had one of everything, a Monoii, a Matta, and a Torinaoshi. The first version of this bout was an excellent mawashi match, with both men working hard to set up a throw, and each move being countered expertly. Both men hit the clay at the same time, so the Shimpan signaled a rematch. The second try saw Kyokutaisei try a henka, but Myogiryu landed a belt grip and controlled the match for the win. Nice sumo.

Sadanoumi defeats Aoiyama – Aoiyama started strong, pounding away at Sadanoumi, who endured the blows and pushed to get inside. He achieved that, and then proceeded to move Aoiyama backwards and out. Aoiyama (in my guess) suffered some severe ring rust today, and will likely bounce back by day 3.

Asanoyama defeats Ishiura – Ishiura attempts to step to the left, but Asanoyama’s wide-armed tachiai traps him, and they grapple. At this point Asanoyama’s superior mass and better body position allows him to dominate the match.

Takakeisho defeats Hokutofuji – New sea-foam green mawashi for Takakeisho, perhaps it will change his luck? Takakeisho took the match to Hokutofuji’s face and shoulders early, and nearly overwhelmed him. But Hokutofuji rallied at the tawara, and counter-attacked. A deft side step by Takakeisho left Hokutofuji, and gave Takakeisho the win.

Yoshikaze defeats Chiyomaru – Yoshikaze launched low and hard against Chiyomaru’s chest, standing the hungry-man upright. From there Yoshikaze drove him back. Chiyomaru was never able to regain balance or set up a proper defensive or offensive stance, and it was all Yoshikaze.

Takarafuji defeats Ryuden – Ryuden came straight at Takarafuji, perhaps hoping to overpower him, but found that Takarafuji was in a firm stance, and had the power to resist his attack. Ryuden never was able to recover, Takarafuji took him back and out.

Ikioi defeats Chiyoshoma – I am sure they heard that tachiai at the adjacent Edo museum! Both rikishi bounced back after that mighty collision, and went straight for competing throws. In Ikioi’s favor, Chiyoshoma landed first, but a monoii was called and the win went to Ikioi.

Shodai defeats Kotoshogiku – An impressive win by Shodai. Maybe he is genki this time? His tachiai looked decent, and he kept Kotoshogiku of being able to square his shoulders and begin the hug-n-chug. The Kyushu Bulldozer tried it anyhow, but Shodai deftly used the uneven thrust to maneuver Kotoshogiku, get him off balance and thrown. Nicely done!

Chiyotairyu defeats Yutakayama – Chiyotairyu has a favorite opening – blast off the line with the force of a freight train, lock up his opponent and just keep moving forward. Yutakayama give him the opening, and it was over fast. Please note the kati-infused sideburns are in full effect on Chiyotairyu, and there were plenty of sumo-grannies who received a Yutakayama visit, as it looks like Chiyotairyu put him in the 3rd row of zabuton.

Mitakeumi defeats Daieisho – A whiplash tachiai from both, but Mitakeumi pushed ahead with fierce vigor, and Daiesho never really had a chance to set up any offense or defense. Solid fundamentals from Mitakeumi this time.

Ichinojo defeats Abi – I will compliment Abi on coming up with a plausible battle plan. He went for a neck attack at the tachiai, and while Ichnojo pushed forward to attack, Abi shifted right and tried to grab the mawashi. Sadly he missed, and ended up chest to chest with the boulder. It only took 2 ½ shoves from the 225 kg Ichinojo to propel Abi down range.

Tochinoshin defeats Shohozan – I was impressed by Shohozan’s lightning fast tachiai, closing the distance to Tochinoshin before the big Georgian could finish standing from his starting crouch. In a move that showed a lot of moxie, he took a hold of Tochinoshin’s mawashi and started pivoting for a throw. He almost go away with it, but Tochinoshin rallied and started to work Shohozan’s rather lose mawashi, marching forward. Shohozan was able to stop him, so Tochinoshin simply lifted Shohozan (twice) and placed him out.

Goeido defeats Kaisei – Goeido lands a shallow left hand straight into the tachiai, and uses that to control Kaisei completely. The Brazilian could never find his footing and was sideways to Goeido’s continued attack. Clean, easy, fast.

Hakuho defeats Tamawashi – Another of Hakuho’s strange pseudo-butsugari matches. Hakuho kept going for the mawashi, and Tamawashi kept landing blows to the Yokozuna’s shoulders and face. The Boss wins, but it was weird. Note that Hakuho reverted to deploying his left-hand face slap at the tachiai.

Kakuryu defeats Endo – Classic Kakuryu sumo. He stalemated Endo in the early phase of the bout, which was all tsuppari, and waited for Endo to get too far forward, and pulled him down. Kakuryu’s reactive sumo is at times almost it’s own unique form, and I think a few decades from now, sumo scholars may study how he conducts his matches.

Natsu Day 1 Preview

Sumo-Evolution

Yes, dear readers, it is time! We have waited long enough. In the next few hours, set aside your worries about your favorites being hurt: It’s honbasho time! It’s a full day of raging action for day 1 at the Kokugikan, and frankly I can’t wait for all the amazing stories that are about to unfold. Many folks will be focused on the top of the banzuke as the drama there plays out, but I find myself increasingly draw to Josh’s “Ones to watch”. This series has proven remarkably insightful while educating and entertaining. Most folks in the US (and other parts of the world) don’t even get to see all of Makuuchi, let alone all of the great action in Juryo, Makushita, Sandanme and Jonidan.

Just as it was in Osaka, my favorite stories are likely to be at the lower end of the Makuuchi banzuke. Nishikigi continues to refuse to ever give up, and somehow holds onto the last Maegashira slot at the edge of the earth. Aminishiki may have nothing more than courage and gristle left in his knees, but he will mount the dohyo today and give challenge. Kyokutaisei somehow adapted to life in the sumo heya, and excelled. Now he’s in Makuuchi and Hokkaido can finally represent once more. Go Hams!

Fans, keep in mind it will take a few days for everyone to settle into the tournament, so you may see some favorites looking like they are not quite their normal genki selves, and some great surprises. So expect anything!

What We Are Watching Day 1

Hell, I am going to watch all of it. But I am sure you don’t have the time to read everything I might write up about the outstanding fight card we have to start the basho. I will do my best.

Nishikigi vs Aminishiki – Nishikigi will never make San’yaku. He’s kind of blind as a bat without his specs, but even blind he’s good enough to find a way to stay in Makuuchi. Now he’s up against Uncle Sumo on day 1. I am sad for folks who are going to view the highlights, as you are not going to believe the roar that will rip through he Kokugikan as the yobidashi sings out his name. People LOVE Aminishiki. To many folks who might struggle with some challenge in their life, he is a reminder that “Nana korobi ya oki” can always apply! (Fall down seven times, get up eight)

Myogiryu vs Kyokutaisei – Kyokutaisei’s first match in the top division is against Myogiryu, a solid veteran who has been drifting between the top of Juryo and the bottom of Makuuchi during the past year.  These two are no strangers to each others’ fighting style. I will be curious to see if Kyokutaisei has any top division jitters.

Tochiozan vs Takekaze – I am very glad to see Takekaze back in the top division after a brief tour of Juryo. For reasons that I can’t imagine, all of the Oguruma upper echelon has been on the skids as of late. I have to wonder if maybe they are having problems with their Chanko supply… Tochiozan, on the other hand, has been reported to be ripping through folks during joint training in the past week. We know Tochiozan is capable of some explosive and powerful sumo, it would be acres of fun to see him have a great basho this May.

Sadanoumi vs Aoiyama – The Bulgarian man-mountain is back for more, like a giant angry dollop of sour cream with the reach to slap you from across the dohyo. Sadanoumi is a seasoned veteran who is probably happy to be pulling down Makuuchi pay again. My bet is on Aoiyama, who always seems to start tournaments strong. With Sadanoumi preferring the belt, he will have to survive the withering rain of blows from Aoiyama to get there.

Ishiura vs Asanoyama – The happy rikishi goes up against Ishiura, whose sumo seems a bit lost these days. He opened big a bit over a year ago, but his limited arsenal of moves has left him in something of a corner. I think he has amazing potential if he can find his sumo again. We can count on Asanoyama being happy just to get to do sumo today, even though he really likes to win.

Arawashi vs Chiyonokuni – As discussed in the podcast, both of these rikishi are tremendous fighters. They bring huge energy and go flat out with nothing in reserve. Both of them deserve a good, turn-around basho this May, but first they need to beat the daylights out of each other.

Takakeisho vs Hokutofuji – One of my highlight matches. Hopefully both men are healed up from the injuries that have left them underperforming. With significant changes at the top of the banzuke anticipated this year, now is the right time for both of them to press hard for the top ranks. We have not seen Takakeisho’s wave action tsuppari in several basho, and we need him to bring it back with gusto. Likewise I want to see Hokutofuji channel Kaiō again. There is a big role that may open up for a huge, powerful rikishi who moves low and balances offense and defense.

Yoshikaze vs Chiyomaru – Another match where the fans are going to erupt when the yobidashi call the rikishi. People adore Yoshikaze, in part because he never ever gives up, and is always bright, witty and a gentleman. And people love Chiyomaru because who the hell can hold a grudge against a guy like that? Word on the street is that with Yoshikaze getting free meals anywhere in Sumida, they are going out for supper afterwards. The same rumor cites Chiyomaru for a spate of early restaurant closures in the area (they run out of food), as well as a rash of missing house plants, vending machines and even a pair of manhole covers. Listen for him to clank suspiciously as he mounts the dohyo.

Ryuden vs Takarafuji – One of my freshmen takes on the highest ranking man remaining at the once-mighty Isegahama beya. Both men are going to go for a mawashi grip early, but I would give Takarafuji a slight edge.

Chiyoshoma vs Ikioi – Only question to ask here – is Ikioi healed up? It was painful to watch him walk the hanamichi in Osaka. We can only hope that he was able to heal fully. This is two seasoned vets going head to head, so I am sure it’s going to be a solid match.

Kotoshogiku vs Shodai – Well, Shodai is probably going to get owned. Mostly because he tends to let Kotoshogiku do whatever he wants, and he wants to give you a sweet, passionate battle hug.

Chiyotairyu vs Yutakayama – Another of my freshmen, Yutakayama, is going up against Chiyotairyu, who had BETTER HAVE HIS SIDEBURNS! Seriously, the kami that inhabits his sideburns is the source of his sumo power. Granted the kami is some kind of sprit of a smelly mountain aesthetic from the feudal period who never ever washed, and ate nothing but fermented sardines, but we take what we can get in life, right?

Mitakeumi vs Daieisho – The King of the Tadpoles needs to make a comeback. The big jump ball at the top of the banzuke is coming, and if Mitakeumi wants a ticket to that dance, he needs to be producing double-digit wins every basho from here on out. He has the body, the skill, the heart to do it. But I suspect he doubts himself just a tiny bit. That’s all it takes at the top of this sport to keep yourself from greatness. Daieisho, however, is point man on team Oitekaze. I can’t wait to see if he starts Natsu as genki as he ended Haru.

Abi vs Ichinojo – Could be the match of the day. We get the lead Freshman against The Boulder. Large, tough as granite, and when roused, quite dangerous. He has added an astonishing 20 kg to his already ponderous bulk, and rumor has it, two new cuddle-ponies at Minato beya. Much to the chagrin of his tsukebito. Abi has to stay mobile, and use Ichinojo’s mass against him.

Tochinoshin vs Shohozan – If you wanted cake and ice cream for Mothers Day, here we go. Big guns goes up against unstoppable strength. Win or lose, nobody leaves a match with Shohozan without being sore. But Tochinoshin’s fantastic strength will likely carry the day, provided his upper body is healed.

Kaisei vs Goeido – I think this one is all Goeido. Goeido is lightning fast, and Kaisei seems to be huge, powerful and kind of slow. Andy thinks that he’s been upgraded to GoeiDOS 2.1, so we will see what shows up tomorrow.

Tamawashi vs Hakuho – It’s Hakuho time! It will be good to see The Boss back in action. But Tamawashi is a tough first customer. As long as Tamawashi is not psyched out by facing the dai-Yokozuna, I think he will give him a good, if brief, fight. Boss all the way on this one. [Past history is 10-0 in Hakuho’s favour. –PinkMawashi]

Kakuryu vs Endo – Woo! Saving the best for last, and what a match-up. Endo is a very technical rikishi, I have heard that he studies video of his opponent before each match. He looks for habits, things they like to do. He comes up with ways to counter strong moves and attack weak ones. He starts against Kakuryu who is the master of “reactive sumo”. He loves to stalemate an opponent and wait for them to make a mistake, which he turns against them in a blink of an eye.

Tachiai drops in on the YDC Soken

Kokugikan Interior - YDC Soken
The Makushita division moshiai during the Yokozuna Deliberation Committee’s soken

Once a year, the Yokozuna Deliberation Committee opens their soken to the public. Anyone can simply turn up to the fabled Kokugikan in the Ryogoku neighborhood of Tokyo and watch all the stars (and more besides) work out in front of the Committee and a selection of esteemed stable-masters, several of whom are also on the board of the Sumo Association. Oh, and by the way – it’s free.

The soken started from 7:30am and ran until just after 11am. The open training session and assessment contains a few features, the two most prominent being moshiai (where two rikishi fight and the winner stays on and picks his next opponent from an eager crowd) and butsukari (one rikishi holds firm while the other tries to essentially plow him across the dohyo). At the end of the day, each Yokozuna also picked a handful of friends to come up for some sanban (a series of 1 on 1 matches).

The crowd at this event was overwhelmingly elderly in nature, though there were a handful of families in attendance. Again, a gift shop was set up, and curiously, I spotted a rare piece of Harumafuji merch: a statue that retailed for about $120, a beautiful collector’s item for any super fan of the former champion. In the arena, the lower boxes were almost completely full, and the upper deck of Kokugikan was about 10% full. Owing to my vantage point, occasionally the odd punter walks in front of my camera, so please mind any interruptions in the videos below.

Juryo & below

Soken - Kaisho, Tomisakae, Enho
Kaisho and Tomisakae do battle as Enho awaits his turn. (Photo credit: @nicolaah)

Terutsuyoshi gave Enho butsukari, but the wee Miyagino man either really had some trouble pushing the wee Isegahama man across the dohyo, or Terutsuyoshi was digging in with some incredible strength. The soken is meant to be a quiet training session, but the first sign of the day that that clearly wouldn’t be the case was the big cheer given to Enho when he mounted the dohyo for this first practice.

Wakatakakage put a nice little run together when picked for moshiai, but got a little over ambitious in picking the experienced Azumaryu, as he was no match for the veteran on this day. Wakatakakage seems a little more ready than Enho was for the lower end of Juryo, and his promotion may be well timed.

Fellow Juryo promotee Hakuyozan was by far the most popular pick in the Juryo moshiai, and also the recipient of the most losses. That said, no one in the Juryo division was really able to put a run of more than 3 wins together in the moshiai. Rikishi were presumably getting tired quite quickly with so many repeated matches under the hot lights. Tokushoryu managed to stay up for 5 matches which seemed the longest run in the division.

Lower Makuuchi

Soken - Sumo Elders & Oyakata
Several oyakata look on as their charges mount the dohyo. (Photo credit: @nicolaah)

Uncle Takarafuji (the heir to the Uncle Sumo mantle whenever Aminishiki hangs em up) put together a nice run in the moshiai. He also called on shin-makuuchi man Kyokutaisei for his first moshiai in the top division. The Hokkaido movie-star gave him a good match before disposing the veteran. Kyokutaisei in turn then got even more ambitious and selected Mitakeumi, and… he learned a lesson.

Everyone wanted a piece of Tochinoshin. And a lot of them were able to get it, because he was an absolute monster on the dohyo. The only time the Georgian relented during a remarkable stretch where he laid waste to about 10 rikishi in a row was simply to get his man servants to come over and wipe him down from all the sweat he accumulated under the lights.

Chiyotairyu was the man to finally beat him, and must have enjoyed it so much that he then pushed the crowd away to give the Kasugano-beya star a rematch, which he also won. Chiyotairyu must make a great DJ because he was in a real crowd pleasing mood, and evoked a massive applause from the crowd by giving shin-Komusubi Endo his first outing of the day.

For those of you who haven’t been to Kokugikan, if you walk around the halls, the only non-yokozuna rikishi that you see anywhere is Endo. He’s on advertisements, he’s on cardboard cutouts where you can have your picture taken with him, he’s a bona fide sumo rock star. That said, his wins were far and few between today as he did not look particularly genki.

Here’s Endo knocking off Myogiryu before losing again to Chiyotairyu:

Chiyonokuni was tapped by Yoshikaze to take the stage and this was a brilliant street fight, with Yoshikaze getting dumped off the dohyo having been thrusted out by the man from Mie. I cursed myself for missing out on filming this (but an iPhone battery can only take so much abuse in one sitting), but I look forward to a rematch here in the Natsu basho, Great Sumo Cat-willing.

Maegashira basement-dweller Nishikigi was a popular selection for many rikishi in the moshiai. Here he is, taking on and defeating everyone’s favorite pony-tossing sekiwake:

Notable absentees included many of the same men absent from jungyo, as Ikioi and Aoiyama were nowhere to be seen. Injured men Takakeisho and Aminishiki were in attendance, and fan favorite Abi did not take the dohyo but performed stretching activities out to the side. Another man who didn’t spend much time on dohyo was Chiyomaru, but he was certainly a favorite amongst the fans gathered outside after the event: when the rikishi exited the soken, many of them had to walk right through the fans and over to the taxi rank outside Ryogoku station, and the hungry man had to stop to pose for more fan photos than anyone else I saw.

San’yaku

Soken - Kisenosato v Kakuryu
Kisenosato drives Kakuryu back. (Photo credit: @nicolaah)

The men of the top ranks mostly fought against each other, and this was prime fare for the sumo watcher. Luckily for you, dear reader, we’ve got lots of video!

Kisenosato was very active and got several rounds in, mostly against Goeido and Kakuryu. He snuck a couple wins but didn’t look great. Again, Goeido showed no mercy and looked like he had the beating of him. If this Goeido shows up to Natsu, it could be a really good basho.

Kakuryu looked really good. He looked like a yokozuna. Ichinojo was on hand for the san’yaku moshiai but didn’t as feature much either in the moshiai, or later, the butsukari, as the other men of the san’yaku.

Takayasu spent most of the day hanging out on the sidelines with his man-servant and doing stretching activities. It was clear before he even got on the dohyo that he was not in good shape, and his feet were heavily taped. Goeido wasn’t in the mood to show any man from Tagonoura-beya any mercy today: when Takayasu eventually did mount the dohyo, he was dispatched multiple times by his fellow ozeki. His final attempt at battle had the hairy man ending up howling in pain, grasping his right shoulder, and stumbling back to the corner to stretch out for the rest of the morning.

Hakuho showed once again why he is such great entertainment. As you can see from the videos, he waits off to the side for ages. After everyone has had their little fun, The Boss takes the stage and he is utterly and completely box office. It’s san-ban time and Hakuho goes several rounds with Mitakeumi, then Endo, then Mitakeumi again. Mitakeumi gives him more of a game than Endo, who just looks totally overmatched. Hakuho looked like he still had it in for Mitakeumi for breaking his win streak last summer. Towards the end it gets humiliating, like when Hakuho spins Mitakeumi around and just kicks his leg out from under him. The very next fight, Mitakeumi finally pushes his man out of the dohyo, only to be rewarded with yet more san-ban.

Soken - Hakuho & Endo
Hakuho and Endo in butsukari. (Photo credit: @nicolaah)

Hakuho later gave absolutely brutal butsukari to Endo that lasted at least 10 minutes. I captured perhaps the least humiliating parts of that encounter in the below video, because I didn’t want Endo to see much video evidence of what happened today on the internet. From time to time Hakuho threw a few kicks in for the dirt-covered star while he’s lying prostrate on the clay. Hakuho also took reverse butsukari from new maegashira Kyokutaisei, in what must have been another cool moment for the Tomozuna rikishi.

Tochinoshin and Kisenosato were butsukari bros for the day, alternating attacks. When Tochinoshin was on the offensive it looked like he was targeting Kisenosato’s injured left pectoral in particular, and I wondered if that might have been more with Kisenosato in mind than Tochinoshin, perhaps to show those in attendance (and perhaps the Yokozuna himself) how much the beleaguered Yokozuna could withstand from a strong Sekiwake at the peak of his performance. Tochinoshin was absolutely on fire all day, displaying a confident and authoritative presence, and if he turns up to the upcoming tournament displaying the form we saw today, then he will make a very strong case for a promotion to Ozeki.

Many thanks to Tachiai’s instagram moderator Nicola for many of the photos in this post. For more photos from the soken, head over to Tachiai’s instagram profile!