Don’t let the official Sumo Kyokai website fool you, there’s definitely something going down at Kokugikan tomorrow. As Hakuho and the rest of the sekitori start Jungyo in Nogata, the best amateurs will gather at Kokugikan for the 68th All-Japan Sumo Championship. NHK will offer coverage from 5pm.
For those Tachiai readers lucky enough to be in Japan, be sure to tune in. You may see the next crop of sekitori. Past winners of this tournament include Yago, Endo, and Makuuchi yusho winner, Mitakeumi.
Welcome to Part 2 of Tachiai’s conversation with Moti Dichne, aka Kintamayama. Moti is well known in the online sumo community for his tireless coverage of all things sumo through his newsletter, his presence on SumoForum, and of course, his exhaustive YouTube channel.
If you missed Part 1 of our conversation, click here to catch up. The second part of our series incorporates some of Moti’s thoughts on the current state of sumo coverage, and who he’d like to bring onto his channel. As with Part 1, the interview has been edited only for clarity and length. This segment features some strong language and opinions, which are of course the subject’s own.
Tachiai: One of the great moments from your channel in the last few years was your Konishiki interview. That was an amazing moment, and one of the things that was very interesting was when you drew out the revelation that Konishiki felt Hakuho wouldn’t have been dominant in another era –
Moti Dichne: He didn’t say “wouldn’t have been dominant.” He said he would barely make Ozeki!
And he also correctly predicted Kisenosato as the next Japanese Yokozuna.
He said he was the only one. And when he said that, I said, “Are you sure about what you said? You’re OK with me broadcasting this?”
But Kisenosato still had to actually do it. You had that moment, but who from the sumo world, now or in the past, would you like to feature on the channel, like the interview that you had with Konishiki?
That’s an excellent question. Well, Taiho is dead, so I won’t be able to do that. Chiyonofuji is dead. I guess… Kisenosato (Araiso oyakata).
You know, something really weird happened. The guy [Kisenosato] could hardly speak. When they said they were going to make him an NHK commentator, I said, “This guy has blocks in his mouth.” He’s like Moses!
And suddenly, he’s become this articulate speaker, and very, very deep. The things he says, he’s always right – very nice observations. I said, “What! This is Kisenosato?!”
Look at all of his interviews from when he made Yokozuna, or when he made Ozeki. You can’t understand a word he’s saying – and I know Japanese pretty well. And it’s not like [the interviews are] right after the basho, he’s out in front of the stable! Suddenly, it’s like he has a load off his back, he’s a different person, he has a different face! He’s not grouchy, and he has a lot to say. He says it without being asked, which is even more astounding.
I remember what Takanohana used to do. They used to have to drag all of the stuff out of him. They would ask him three times until he would say yes or no. Now, Kisenosato’s not Kitanofuji, that’s for sure. But Kitanofuji, there’s only one.
Kitanofuji has also had 40 years to hone his punditry.
I like Kitanofuji, because he says things that no one dares to say.
I think that’s what sumo needs.
Of course! The NSK gets offended at every word. Hakuho asks [the fans] to clap three times, they call him in. “Why did you do that? Bye. Here’s your punishment.” “Thank you very much.” What are they trying to do? They’re trying to break him. Hakuho, the guy who broke all the records, which pisses them off, for sure. They can’t do anything about it, but [he has] TEN more [yusho] than the great Japanese Taiho – who was half Russian.
It’s interesting. One thing that we talk about a lot on Tachiai is that there are a lot of people that don’t realise that the Sumo Association is not 100 people who all think the same thing. There are different personalities.
It’s also different generations.
Yeah, and politics. And navigating that as a sumo fan is that next challenge after you start to understand the sport.
It’s almost impossible. It’s a different mentality [in Japan]. And if you don’t understand it, you don’t know what’s going on.
That’s why many fans say “Why don’t they do this? Why don’t they lower the dohyo?” Nonsense. I keep writing [that] the injuries from falling off the dohyo are 0.4%. All the injuries occur on the dohyo but not from falling down. Almost none. They learn during the keiko [how to fall], it’s part of training!
That’s another misunderstanding, people who come from [a background of] American sports trying to change the rules, you know? The Kyokai has a lot to change, but… let’s leave the rules.
You’ve said a number of times, “I’ll stop posting recaps when NHK starts covering every bout.” Through what you’ve posted, it would appear you’ve brought thousands of fans to sumo.
For sure. I know, and I keep all the thank you notes. I have them all kept.
As you have been doing what you’ve been doing, and seeing the development of the Abema and NHK and the hunger from the fans, how have you received NHK’s recent development? Where do you think they are in the path to provide the best sumo coverage?
They are by far in a better place. They have NHK World doing live shows 3 or 4 times a basho? Come on, anybody can watch it, for free! That’s incredible.
The only thing I never understand is, even on the Japanese side, they do the digest and they always leave out 4 or 5 bouts. That’s disrespectful. And it’s not that there’s no time. I do it in [a] 15 minute video. They have 24 minutes. So, cut off one of the fucking replays, you know? Show the Daishohos. Show the Daiamamis.
There are guys that I don’t give a shit about, but you’re showing the sport. You’re calling it a digest. Sumo is not a ten minute bout, it’s a three second bout. Altogether, these bouts that [NHK is] cutting out, [total] maybe one minute.
It drives me nuts. If you’re doing a digest, do it. In the USA, in baseball, you’ve got many more games, and the shows show every game. You cannot disrespect the wrestlers. You’re NHK, you have the rights. It’s not like you’re some pirate station where the guy shows only who he likes. You have a responsibility to your viewers to show everything. And that got me doing it. Because it kills me, today – that they still don’t show all the bouts!
As a fan, or as someone who’s even just getting into it, how do you even understand the story of a Terutsuyoshi, or a Daishoho, if you don’t know what’s happened?
It’s unfair, it’s unfair. Period. That’s all I can say. Someone like Nishikigi’s bouts [are] boring to me too, but show it! Sometimes it’s a great bout! Or there’s a great story behind it, you know?
Beyond that, do you think there are more things they can do?
Yeah, they can do 15 days [of live coverage]. But they won’t, because they can’t shoot themselves in the legs. But listen, what they’re doing now is incredible, and it’s still not enough.
Also, it’s only Makuuchi, and it’s not even the whole of Makuuchi. Still, beggars can’t be choosers. For anyone who is not into YouTube, or they’re older, [they] can have NHK World, on cable, on their [device], and it’s free. That’s better than nothing.
I would do every single one of the [live broadcasts] with Murray [Johnson] and [John] Gunning! They are the best, fantastic. I never used to listen to the English people, they drove me crazy with mispronunciation. But Murray I always liked. Together with John, it’s so nice, it has great pace, it’s very informative, there’s great humour.
They work well together.
They have a good rapport! I would watch that, without question. Very informative. First of all, John has experience. He did sumo, he knows what he’s talking about. He’s a busy person, he does all kinds of stuff with rugby, and he still has time [to keep up with sumo]. Listen, I know him, since he was just getting started. He is an incredibly nice guy. An amazing guy.
Find out more from Kintamayama and subscribe to his mailing list at dichne.com, and keep an eye out for the next parts of our conversation, which will run soon on Tachiai.
NHK Anchor and popular Sumo presenter/play-by-play man Hiro Morita has published his 2018 Year in Review this past week on the NHK World website, and if you haven’t seen it, click here to give it a read.
The full piece is well worth a look. As any listener of Hiro’s coverage – particularly his live sumo coverage – will know, he is prone to work in little bits and pieces he’s picked up directly from the rikishi themselves, and this bit at the end stood out in particular as we continue to debate the ability of current crop of Yokozuna:
I had a chance to talk to Hakuho during the winter provincial tour in Kumamoto, southwestern Japan in December, and the 41-time champion told me that he’s looking forward to take on all comers in the new year. The Mongolian Yokozuna strongly believes he has what it takes to prove that he’s still the king of the ring.
Especially if you’re new to sumo or just nostalgic, it’s a good look back on the year that was as we get ready for the year that will be.
In the second and final part of our interview, we’re happy to present more takes from the very popular Jason Harris of Jason’s All Sumo Channel. Here, he shares more opinions on what he’s looking forward to in sumo, some fantasy matchups that he would create on the dohyo, and the role of YouTube videos in the English speaking world where content can be hard to come by.
If you missed Part 1 of our interview, click here to check it out. As in part 1, the interview has been edited for clarity and length. We’ve embedded Jason’s “Welcome” video for the upcoming basho as well, so make sure to tune in to learn more about how Tachiai has partnered with him for his upcoming contest this month.
Tachiai: In all of your time watching sumo matches over the years, is there one particular matchup (either because it was something a lot of people related to on the channel, or just because it’s something that you’ve enjoyed) between two rikishi that you could just watch again and again?
Jason Harris: Oh boy! There are so many. I went back through some of old playlists recently, because I wanted to see how it started, and I watched a match here and there. I loved it when people came not out of nowhere – because sometimes they were Ozeki – but when they just won that one tournament. People like Kotooshu and Baruto, or even the wild basho that ended up with Kyokutenho winning – those were very fun [to watch]. Of course, in 2008 & 2009, the showdowns between Asashoryu and Hakuho were always fun to look forward to on Senshuraku.
Videos that stick with me the most probably have to be Harumafuji matches, like when he did the back to back 15-0 [tournaments]. Even when he won recently [in September], I was so happy for him. What happened to him was a terrible way to go out, but he seems to be OK with it. He’s going to have his hair-cutting ceremony this year and I think he’s going to stay in Japan and try and stay connected with sumo.
One of the things I like, that I wish I could show more, is when I get to watch on the weekend for my own enjoyment: They do a pretty good job on NHK of having guests go over sumo history. Every now and then, they’ll show an old Chiyonofuji match, or one of the big Americans like Akebono. I really have zero knowledge of sumo pre-2004: I came into a complete void, I’d never seen the sport before. So, when I get to see older matches from the 80s and 90s and even before that are in black and white, I love watching all that old stuff, it’s great. The amazing thing about watching Hakuho [now] is that I have watched Hakuho from Day 1, attaining Yokozuna and being the “GOAT” that he is. Every record that he’s broken, they go back and show you, “Taiho (or someone) did this and Hakuho beat that record.”
I’m not one of these baseball fans that knows all of these players on the roster going back to the 30s, or one of these football fans that’s been rooting for the team since I was 5 years old. Sumo came to me when I was 36, but it is a huge part of my life. It’s amazing to me that it takes place so often and at such a high level. I can’t think of any sport aside from maybe tennis, where you have tournaments every other month! It’s not easy winning a yusho in professional makuuchi sumo, and they really do go all out every other month.
I wish more people in Japan would watch it, because I go to work sometimes, and I’ll be high on the previous day’s tournament, and I just wanna be like: “Man! Did you see Kisenosato? His arm was falling off! And he won that match (laughs)!” And it’s just crickets. The kids aren’t home from school yet [when sumo is on] and the adults are blasé about it. There’s one old guy at work now who talks to me about sumo. I love to wear my sumo shirts around town – people love that a foreigner is so invested in it.
Tachiai: I’ve had similar experiences. I want to go back to something you said about watching matches in the 2000s up through now. This is a Marvel vs DC kind of question: let’s bring two universes together. If you could pit any current rikishi against a former rikishi from when you started watching to create an ultimate fantasy matchup, what might that be?
JH: The obvious one has gotta be Chiyonofuji against Hakuho. That’s the Muhammad Ali vs X, or Michael Jordan vs X… the matchup for the ages. When you look at Chiyonofuji, he’s just so muscular! He doesn’t look fat to me! My gosh, I can imagine how formidable an opponent he must have been, and to see him fight Hakuho!
I loved how Harumafuji was so quick and so good with technique, and I think that was the one thing that allowed him to have any yusho wins during the Hakuho reign. It would [also] be great to see somebody like Ichinojo who’s now tipping the scales at 225kg against somebody like Akebono or other huge guys from the past. It would be great to see some Americans make it back up to the top division, and have that fun pride. We talk a lot about foreigners in sumo, and now we’ve got a guy from Texas, that Tachiai promotes a lot, Wakaichiro.
Fantasy matches are fun to think about. Hakuho vs. Chiyonofuji though, that’s gotta be the one, right there.
Tachiai: I’ve got a question coming up now from Andy, who runs the site.
JH: Yo, Andy!
Tachiai: Andy is curious as to your thoughts on Araibira, who used to put the whole NHK feed on Youtube before he got shut down and moved over to Vimeo. Firstly, have you ever been worried about how close you might be cutting it in terms of the amount of content you put on Youtube, and how the authorities might feel about that? How do you, as a person who’s in that space, react to seeing someone else having to move off Youtube and onto another platform?
JH: Araibira was a nice dude. I talked to him a few times back when he was popular. He had some feed – not proper NHK. The thing that I think got him in trouble is that he was so quick, and he would put up the matches literally minutes after they were live, and he just would take the footage and post it. And that’s kind of direct competition [with NHK] in a way. He wasn’t adding commentary or anything, and I don’t think he wasn’t using an English feed, it was all in Japanese. So he got in trouble and taken down. I don’t know if he’s still over on Vimeo. If he is, then good luck to him.
I could never match the speed of Kintamayama, who does a really good job with his editing. I feel like I just offer a slightly different product, and you’re not going to get the whole day [of matches]. I don’t live in fear of the channel being shut down, but I know that at any point it could happen. I would just have to be sad, and be like: “oh well.” And then move on.
It is completely not my content, which is why I’ve never put any ad on any content, I’ve not monetised [my videos], I’m not a partner on YouTube. It’s just a portal for me to share what I love about sumo with other people… and I’ve been attacked for it. There was a guy who wrote a whole article in The Japan Times about two years ago, calling me bad names and saying “why is this allowed?” And I thought, “well, that’s it, they’re going to shut me down.” But they didn’t, and I heard from other people that guy is kind of a crank anyway! [editors note: the writer in question was not current Japan Times sumo writer and friend of the site, John Gunning]
Every now and then, especially when I first started, NHK would flag this video or that video, and then I’d say “oh, damn!” People would ask “where’s so and so… where’s the Kaio vs. Asashoryu match, the final match of the day?” And I’d just have to say, “yeah, it got snagged.” When people first watched my channel, they just got used to that. But it really hasn’t happened since 2011, since they changed the broadcast.
I think NHK are trying their own thing at streaming services and apps and it hasn’t quite come all together yet, and they’re really leaving me alone. And I’m very thankful about that. Because I think as much as I do it, and I’m in English (and I don’t want to toot my own horn but I’m kind of the most high profile person posting in English), there’s probably tons of people posting and reposting NHK sumo in Japanese. I don’t type in kanji for the names of the wrestlers and see all of those videos. So I’m sure that happens a lot and I’m just not aware of it. If you’re going to ask me to justify what I do, I feel like I’m spreading the sport around to people who wouldn’t normally get to see it.
Tachiai: That touches on the second part of Andy’s question too, which is that in an era where only so many fans around the world can make it to Kokugikan or one of the other venues around Japan, it’d be interesting to get your take on what role videos like yours and other online content can play in the spread of sumo as a sport. Specifically for people who can’t get there: maybe they’re in Japan and it’s too far away, or they’re in other countries and are never going to make it there. What roles do these videos play in creating more fans?
JH: Absolutely. If I lost my job tomorrow, and I had to move back to California, I would want my channel: somebody who does what I do, so that I could keep watching sumo in America. Now, I would be lucky, because the US has a large Asian-American population, so there’s a cable channel you can get called TV Japan, and it’s $25 a month, and you can watch sumo on it. But sumo is on at midnight or whatever it is in America because of the time difference.
NHK World, I gotta admit, is doing a good job. They’re stepping up, they’re putting out these [daily] summary videos. They’re fairly accessible, they’re free, and they get reposted on YouTube a lot! They’re not comprehensive, they don’t show every match of every day, they drop 1 or 2, but it’s a good way to get into the sport too.
I just hope there’s still something my channel can offer that’s not redundant. If people say “I can go to NHK World, why come to your channel?” Hopefully people find interesting things, and the fact that I’m reacting to it live most of the time is a little bit of a different flavor. A lot of people surprisingly don’t just want to see the tachiai and the outcome. They want to see the ritual. They want to see the salt throwing, and the stare down, and the replay, and all of those things that I provide.
And it’s definitely a big space! It’s a big huge thing, YouTube. I know for a fact that people in Mongolia, and people in Georgia, and Canada, and all the places that I get a lot of hits from, their source for sumo is YouTube. Maybe they don’t have that [premium] cable channel in their country. I’m sure now in Georgia, they probably do have somebody watching [and posting updates]. I know they’re going to be watching Tochinoshin closely this tournament, but who knows if they still cover sumo in Estonia now that Baruto’s gone.
So many people send me messages and say “I used to be stationed in Okinawa as a soldier,” or “I used to live in Japan where I was a teacher,” or “I was a student,” and they are reigniting their nostalgia and feelings for sumo by seeing some of my videos and starting to follow the new guys. And that’s great. That makes me feel great and I’m just glad that there’s such a great community around. Tachiai, and my channel, and people on Twitter, and what John Gunning is doing: everybody is talking about it in English, which is an important part to spread its popularity.
Tachiai: I agree. I certainly feel it because a lot of the content that I personally write for Tachiai is covering stuff that happens outside the top divisions: things that happen in the lower divisions, and how guys making their debuts are doing, and things like that. And it’s hard enough for us to see the content from the top divisions in America. There’s just absolutely NO WAY that without the folks who are there at Kokugikan at 10am shooting video from the Jonidan division and posting it on YouTube, that it would be possible. It just wouldn’t.
So finally, our last question… what are you looking forward to in sumo over the course of the next year or so?
JH: It’s hard. Talking to sumo fans, Japanese sumo fans have their own point of view because they are Japanese and they want a Japanese champion… and then they got Kisenosato and then they didn’t, know what I mean?
JH: He became Yokozuna, and then unfortunately, bad things happened and he just couldn’t keep it up. I think – and it’s funny, because I get called out for this a lot, people [think I don’t like him] – that Hakuho is the greatest of all time. Absolutely. We are in a special era to be able to watch him on a daily basis.
Tachiai: He’s trying to make it until the Olympics.
JH: He’s talked a lot about that. Sure. But we don’t want diminishing returns, he should go out on top.
Tachiai: Well, he is trying to get 1,000 wins in makuuchi. That’s the next thing. He’s 28 wins short.
JH: I hope he gets that! You know, I feel like he should get a little more respect from some of the other fans. It’s hard when you’re that consistently good and you’re always winning, people do then cheer for the underdog because they just want somebody different.
But that’s not a reflection of how good he is and how much he deserves, because if somebody could have stepped up to him, then certainly I think he would have been happy to have had a good rival. Not that Harumafuji wasn’t a good rival, or Kisenosato, but they were not and are not him. And when Asashoryu left as unceremoniously as he did, we really lost that good rivalry.
So, my hope for the next couple years is that we do see some of these new guys: the Enhos, the Abis, the Mitakeumis, these guys come up, and a new crop take over the san’yaku. And some new blood, and some new really strong rivalries that will really keep us entertained for the next 4 or 5 years. Harumafuji’s retired, and there’s talk that Kisenosato might retire this year. There was talk about Kakuryu, but that’s gone, he’s back pretty strong. I don’t think Hakuho is going to retire, but I don’t think he’s going to dominate like he did in the past. It’s the middle of 2018, so he’s got to stay wrestling for 2 more years to get to the Olympics? He could do it! He’s not that old.
Tachiai: He’s 33.
JH: Yeah, so you look around at some of the other guys [over the years] who were able to hang on. Kaio was able to hang on because he had that Ozeki “safety net.” Aminishiki has stuck around, he is going to be 40 soon. But to be a Yokozuna like Hakuho, and have everybody gunning for you, it’ll be interesting [how long he can keep going].
I’m excited about the next couple years of sumo. I think we’re going to have some great tournaments, and in each basho some story emerges that you weren’t really prepared for – along with the standard narrative: “Hakuho’s going to dominate.” What’s going to upset that apple cart may be more interesting.
I’m looking forward to it. I plan to live in Japan at least until 2021. At that point I’ll be turning 50, and then I have to think about what I want to do from there. I hope the channel stays around, and stays popular, and sumo is still a lot of fun for everyone for the next 3 or 4 years at least!
Thanks again to Jason for taking the time to chat with us. You can find his channel on YouTube by clicking here, and follow him on Twitter by clicking here.