Asanoyama succeeded where others faltered

Upper san’yaku ranks desperately needed a new face, as the presence of just one ozeki required one of the two ageing yokozuna to be recorded as “yokozuna – ozeki” – but how long are Hakuho and Kakuryu last in the sport?

There was a certain amount of expectation surrounding Asanoyama’s ozeki quest, and a lot of pressure – inherent, of course, in such a run.

Other very talented rikishi, unfortunately, failed to meet ozeki standards as they were approaching sumo’s second top rank. Let’s look back at the past decade.

  1. Tochiozan Yuichiro

Tochiozan is certainly a name that springs to mind, as he was dubbed one of the “seven samurai”, alongside with Goeido, Kisenosato, Kotoshogiku, Homasho, Tonoyoshima and Toyohibiki.

Looking as far back as 2010, he could show the extend of his skills. A 9-6 record as maegashira 1, produced during the Nagoya basho, wasn’t really mind blowing, but enough to open some possibilities – he defeated then ozeki Harumafuji and Baruto in the process.

In September, a strong 11-4 ranked sekiwake proved that Tochiozan’s ozeki run was very much on. This time, ozeki Kaio, Kotooshu and Harumafuji were his victims. With twenty wins amassed, and five ozeki wins over both tournaments, Tochiozan definitely had a shot at the ozeki rank, provided he could finish even better at 12-3. Or, worseways, just produce double digits and try his luck again the next tournament.

It started reasonably well in Fukuoka, Tochiozan being 4-1 after the first third of the tournament. Incredibly, the sekiwake lost seven bouts in a row – including everyone ranked above him, and noticeable names like Kisenosato or Aminishiki – to end up the basho with a make kochi (7-8). He could stay in san’yaku right after, but his quest was over.

Arguably, that was Tochiozan’s best spot, and perhaps most natural attempt to reach ozeki rank. Before we could see him performing well in san’yaku again, two other “samurai”, Kotoshogiku and Kisenosato, had long been promoted above him. Apart from seeing his great rivals wrestling well, he had to swallow another big disappointment, too: losing to a playoff to surprise winner Kyokutenho, during the famous May 2012 tournament.

A talented rikishi: Tochiozan Yuichiro

Tochiozan did fare well as a sekiwake – jumping forward to 2014, where he produced 9-6 and 10-5 performances in March and May, defeating Kotoshogiku (twice) and Harumafuji along the way. Sadly, he went kyujo in Nagoya, after getting a precarious 2-5 record. He had a final noticeable stint as a sekiwake, where he stayed during four basho between 2015 and 2016 – he produced double digits one single time. After a 7-8 make kochi, he never reched that rank again.

2. Myogiryu Yasunari

Myogiryu used to produce great sumo; even if he wasn’t really on an ozeki run, I enjoyed watching him on the dohyo, and some fine performances are definitely worth mentioning.

A skilled man: Myogiryu Yasunari

One of his best runs came as early as 2012, where he received the gino sho (the technique prize) three times in a row. For his san’yaku debut in Nagoya, Myogiryu went kachi koshi (8-7) while defeating ozeki Kakuryu and Baruto, to secure a spot as a sekiwake. Remarkably, he produced double digits (10-5) as a shin sekiwake, defeating Kakuryu again. Unfortunately, he couldn’t raise his level further up, ending the next tournament 6-9 to end up an early dream.

3. Mitakeumi Hisashi

It is simply impossible not to mention Mitakeumi’s case. Of the modern era, he’s the only rikishi, alongside Kotonoshiki, to have won the yusho more than once without ending up promoted to ozeki. In fact, it looks a bit awkward to rank a double yusho winner down the maegashira ranks.

Mitakeumi is a hugely talented boy. He started his career doing ochi zumo, before – unlike Takakeisho – successfully switching to yotsu zumo.

He entered makuuchi at the end of 2015, and produced three double digits records as early as 2016. He began an incredible run in san’yaku after a fine 11-4 performance in January 2017, where he earned two kinboshi. He finally left san’yaku, after seventeen (!) tournaments of uninterrupted presence. In comparison, Goeido’s run – which did not see a single demotion from sekiwake to komusubi – lasted fourteen tournaments, before reaching… ozeki status.

Obviously, Mitakeumi missed two golden opportunities to reach the desired ozeki rank, after each of his two yusho.

Looking back at 2018, Mitakeumi produced a respectable 9-6 record in May, without defeating any ozeki or yokozuna. However, his first yusho, obtained right after in Nagoya, following a career best 13-2 record (including a win against Goeido) meant another fine performance in September would be enough to climb one more step on the banzuke.

Mitakeumi started the Aki basho 5-0 while defeating Tochinoshin. He got some quality wins, he got an impressive san’yaku streak, he almost got the numbers – what could go wrong? After a reasonable loss to Goeido on day 6, Mitakeumi bounced back, defeating then komusubi Takakeisho to move up 6-1.

Did pressure prove too heavy for his shoulders? Mitakeumi litterally crumbled, losing in succession to Ikioi, Hakuho, Kakuryu, Kaisei and Kisenosato (yes, that make or break basho where Kisenosato came from nowhere). Scratch these unnecessary losses to both maegashira, send a 8-3 Mitakeumi against an obivously not 100% fit Kisenosato, and get him a 9-3 record. He’s almost there!

Two time yusho winner, and maegashira in January 2020: Mitakeumi Hisashi (left)

Obviously, things – could have, but – didn’t happen that way, and his five defeat streak did not impress any one. Ozeki run over.

Story kind of repeated one year later. After a respectable, albeit a bit slack 9-6 performance in Nagoya, Mitakeumi clinched his second yusho in a playoff, after having amassed twelwe wins. He defeated ozeki Tochinoshin and Goeido, although nobody was impressed by the henka produced on the latter.

In Fukuoka, nobody was talking about ozeki run any more, after four losses over the first six days. Just like Tochiozan, Mitakeumi’s first attempt to reach ozeki rank was arguably the most serious. Can he prove us wrong in the coming months?

4. Tamawashi Ichiro

Tamawashi has been around for quite some time. After a somewhat indifferent career – with a few juryo drops, the Mongolian has had a great later career.

2017 has been remarkable for him, spending almost the entire year in san’yaku (he ended up as maegashira 1 in Fukuoka). Tamawashi produced 9, 8, 10, and 7 wins as a sekiwake. Pretty decent, but not enough for a clear ozeki run.

That quest came after his stunning yusho, won in January of 2019. Tamawashi has beaten, along the way, everybody ranked above him who showed up on his path: Tochinoshin, Takayasu, Goeido and Hakuho!

Irresistible in Hatsu 2019: Tamawashi Ichiro

Prior to that, Tamawashi had a reasonable 9-6 tournament in Kyushu, where he defeated Tochinoshin (and won by default against Kisenosato). Twenty one wins amassed and a yusho in his belt meant Tamawashi needed a strong performance in Osaka to reach, in incredible fashion, the rank of ozeki.

The dream did not last long, however. After a win on shonichi, three defeats in a row burried Tamawashi’s late hopes of success.

Ozeki promotion acceptance phrases

In a few hours, two representatives of the NSK will arrive at Chiganoura beya, wearing formal kimono, and formally inform Takakeisho of his promotion to Ozeki. He will bow, flanked by his oyakata and okami-san (stablemaster’s wife), and formally accept the honor.

The most recently promoted (and now demoted) Ozeki, Tochinoshin, uttering his phrase

Part of this formal acceptance speech is a phrase which is supposed to express the spirit in which the rikishi wants to undertake his new duty. This phrase is often a four-character set phrase (yojijukugo), but that’s not mandatory.

Sumo fans are speculating on the phrase Takakeisho will choose to use in his acceptance ceremony, and the Japanese media published all the phrases used by all Ozeki who were promoted in the Heisei era. I thought I’d share the list with Tachiai’s readers.

YearOzekiPhraseReadingMeaning
1990Kirishima一生懸命isshōkenmeiWith all my might
1992Akebono名を汚さぬようna o yogosanu yōNot to disgrace the title [of Ozeki]
1993Takanohana
不撓不屈futō-fukutsuIndomitable, Unyielding
1993Wakanohana一意専心ichiisenshinWholeheartedly
1994Takanonami勇往邁進yūōmaishinPush forward
1994Musashimaru日本の心を持ってnippon no kokoro o motteWith a Japanese heart
1999Chiyotaikai名を汚さぬよう(See Akebono)
1999Dejima力のもののふを目指しchikara no mononofu o mezashiAim to be a warrior of strength
2000Musoyama正々堂々seisei-dōdōOpen and aboveboard
2000Miyabiyama初心を忘れず
Shoshin o wasurezuAlways remember my initial resolve
2000Kaio地位を汚さぬようchii o yogosanu yōNot to disgrace the status [of ozeki]
2001Tochiazuma名に恥じぬようna ni hajinu yōNot to shame the title [of ozeki]
2002Asashoryu一生懸命(See Kirishima)
2005Kotooshu名に恥じぬようにna ni hajinu yō ni(See Tochiazuma)
2006Hakuho全身全霊zenshin-zenreiBody and Soul
2007Kotomitsuki力戦奮闘rikisenfuntō
Fighting with all my might
2008Harumafuji全身全霊(See Hakuho)
2010Baruto栄誉ある地位を汚さぬようeiyo aru chii wo yogosanu yōNot to disgrace the honorable status [of ozeki]
2011Kotoshogiku万理一空banri ikkūMany principles under one sky
2011Kisenosato名を汚さぬよう(See Akebono)
2012Kakuryu喜んでもらえるようなyorokonde moraeru yōnaTo be able to make people happy
2014Goeido大和魂を貫いて
Yamato-damashi o tsuranuiteTo carry on the Japanese spirit
2015Terunofuji心技体の充実に努めshin-gi-tai no jūjitsu ni tsutomeWork to bring heart, technique and body to the utmost
2017Takayasu正々堂々(See Musoyama)
2018Tochinoshin力士の手本rikishi no tehonA role model for rikishi

Some of these are quite unique. Dejima’s “chikara no mononofu” is actually written as 力の士 – the kanji that make up the word “rikishi” – “a man/warrior/samurai of power”. It’s not usually pronounced “mononofu”.

Kotoshogiku’s phrase is a kind of Zen phrase, which famously appeared in the “Book of Five Rings” by Miyamoto Musashi. Its meaning is unclear and is supposed to be something to ponder as you prepare for a challenge.

Personally, I really like Kakuryu’s artless phrase. All he wants is to make people happy!

So, with a few hours to go, what kind of resolve or feeling do you think Takakeisho’s phrase will express?

Tamawashi Wins Hatsu Basho Yusho

Tamawashi Yusho Parade
Photo c/o @sumokyokai

With a final record of 13-2, Sekiwake Tamawashi of Kataonami-beya has won his first yusho in the 2019 Hatsu honbasho at the Kokugikan.

On Senshuraku, needing a win to clinch the cup (and the macaron, and the myriad other prizes) regardless of other results, Tamawashi saw off the challenge of Maegashira 9 Endo, winning by tsukiotoshi to seal the championship. Tamawashi is the fourth first-time winner in the past seven tournaments (following Tochinoshin, Mitakeumi and Takakeisho), and the second-oldest first time winner.

Remarkably, Tamawashi’s wife also gave birth to their second son on the day of his first Yusho, so we congratulate Tamawashi on an incredible day in his career and for his family!

The Hatsu basho championship originally looked to be heading the way of Dai-Yokozuna Hakuho, and despite some hairy moments, at 10-0 it seemed, as Bruce and I speculated on the latest Tachiai podcast, that a procession towards the legend’s 42nd yusho felt all but inevitable. However, in the second week, Hakuho’s injury problems told, and after successive losses, including Hakuho’s first ever loss to Tamawashi, the title race swung in favor of his fellow Mongolian.

Elsewhere, Inside Sport Japan have reported on their Instagram that despite racking up 33 wins over the past 3 basho, Jun-yusho grabbing Sekiwake Takakeisho will not be promoted to Ozeki. Apparently the nature of his final bout loss to Goeido meant that the NSK had not seen enough for him to be ready for sumo’s highest rank at this time.

Day 15’s results also mean that the sansho, or special prizes list has been confirmed as follows (following lksumo’s earlier post):

Shukun-sho – Outstanding Performance Prize
Tamawashi (first win)
Mitakeumi (fourth win)

Kanto-sho – Fighting Spirit Prize
Tamawashi (first win)

Gino-sho – Technique prize
Takakeisho (first win)

Congratulations again to Sekiwake Tamawashi! We now look ahead to a Haru-basho featuring two Ozeki runs, one kadoban Ozeki, and significant banzuke turnover, as spaces will need to be filled following the three intai that have occurred since the last banzuke was written.

Mitakeumi & The Curious Case of the Ozeki Run

Mitakeumi Kensho Stack

With Sekiwake Mitakeumi having deposited himself in pole position for the Nagoya yusho, chatter is already starting to begin about whether the incredibly popular rikishi can follow Tochinoshin and start to mount an Ozeki-run.

As we have often commented on the site, sumo is amidst a transitionary period where new heroes are soon to arrive. Mitakeumi has often been speculated as one of those new heroes, but has struggled to convert momentum into dominance. Yet, he’s been a good san’yaku rikishi, suffering just 2 make-koshi losing records since his initial promotion to Komusubi 18 months ago. But if he could just take the next step, the man with a sizeable cheering section at every basho would possibly inspire the type of fanatic reaction recently afforded to the likes of Kisenosato.

First, the positives: Mitakeumi has done a good job over the course of the past couple years developing his all-around game. While it is true that it is possible to be an incredibly successful rikishi playing often one note – and the “bumpity-bump” hug-n-chug belly bop of yusho-winning Kotoshogiku comes to mind – the chances of thriving at the very top level are often better if one can develop multiple facets to both their pushing/thrusting (oshi) and mawashi (yotsu) sumo. Mitakeumi has taken notable steps forward in this department.

However, the man from the exalted Dewanoumi beya has been somewhat of what we’d call a flat-track bully: he beats up on the weaker competition in what is usually the easier Week 1 of the Sekiwake schedule, but as soon as the calendar hits the halfway mark on Day 8, he stumbles and throws away whatever advantages he has in the yusho race or progress towards putting together a promotion run.

In 6 tournaments as Sekiwake since his promotion to the rank this time last year, Mitakeumi has never ended the first seven days with a negative scoreline, losing as many as three matches in Week 1 just once. However as soon as Day 8 comes, the kuroboshi arrive – the current tournament is actually the first time he’s won on Day 8 as a sekiwake at all, and his overall Week 2 record as a Sekiwake entering the tournament in such conditions was 15-26 (he has obviously since added two wins to this tally). This compares rather unfavorably to the 26-9 record he had in Week 1 conditions entering the current tournament at his level, which has since been improved to a very satisfactory 33-9 record you’d expect to see of someone ready to make the move to the next level. This difference is especially stark considering Mitakeumi’s noted status as the killer of Hakuho’s last great run at Futabayama’s record of 69 consecutive wins, in the second week of last year’s Nagoya basho.

Mitakeumi has won the first two matches in Week 2 in Nagoya, ushering out Daishomaru on Day 9 in particular without seemingly even breaking a sweat in the oven-like conditions of the Aichi Prefectural Gymnasium. But even if the prohibitive favorite were to go all of the way and finish the job this basho, while we could formally declare this the start of an “Ozeki run” it would feel too soon to do in real terms: one of the questions answered by Tochinoshin during his successful recent run was: “could he do it against the Yokozuna?” In ending Hakuho’s 25 match dominance over him, he affirmed his credentials. Mitakeumi meanwhile, that summer swoon last July aside, should have to consistently answer similar questions in tournaments where a majority of Ozeki and Yokozuna can mount the dohyo.

We must take nothing for granted about what may transpire over the course of the coming days. For many rikishi, there is a yusho to be won. Mitakeumi has the hardest challenge because he is the only man for whom there is presently a yusho to lose. And the cliché that you can “only beat what’s in front of you” is often trotted out – I am certainly guilty of its overuse – but it’s true that any further success for Mitakeumi at the business end of the current honbasho should not be diminished by the composition of his torikumi. When it comes to an Ozeki run however, we must watch the final days of “Act 3” for signs that one of sumo’s up and coming rockstars will be more than a one-hit wonder.