Five Interesting Matches on Day 13

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With the Kyushu basho wrapping up, many of the matches on day 13 are in some ways more about the New Year tournament than the current one. Several rikishi, such as Okinoumi, Endo, and Kagayaki, will be facing opponents five or six ranks above them tomorrow, as the schedulers try to get an idea of what the Hatsu banzuke will look like. Here are just five interesting matches to keep an eye on for day 13.

Aoiyama vs. Daiamami

Although it wouldn’t do much to improve his current situation, I do think Aoiyama deserved a win on day 12. From the replays, it was pretty clear that Kotoyuki’s arm touched the clay a split second before the big Bulgarian’s heel stepped out, and I was very surprised there wasn’t at least a monoii. Aoiyama will have to leave the past behind and focus on tomorrow when he meets Daiamami, who despite losing the majority of his bouts has been giving it his all in the last half of this basho. Day 13 will be the first time these two rikishi meet.

Aminishiki vs. Ikioi

Everyone’s favorite uncle will once again try to secure his spot in the top division tomorrow. Aminishiki’s tournament started off strong, but he has faded a bit in the later half of this basho as his opponents began to figure out his tactics. Yet there is a man who may just fall for the wily veteran’s tricks, and his name is Ikioi. On any given day, Ikioi can show incredible skill and determination on the dohyo. But then there are days where he wrestles like a man with banana peels taped to his feet. It’s impossible to predict which Ikioi will show each day and if he decides to lace up the peels tomorrow, Aminishiki shouldn’t have much trouble making a fool of him.

Endo vs. Tamawashi

Apparently, Okinoumi isn’t the only one putting his health issues behind him, as crowd favorite Endo has been having another great tournament. Coming into day 13 with a 9-3 record, Endo is fighting much like he did when he first emerged on the Makuuchi scene and captured the hearts of sumo fans. His impressive showing has resulted in a massive jump up the torikumi, and he will face Maegashira 1 Tamawashi tomorrow. These two have had a very interesting series, with Endo dominating their first six bouts and Tamawashi taking the last five.

Onosho vs. Shohozan

It would be quite the comeback story if Onosho could somehow get his kachi koshi after an abysmal start to the tournament. Since donning the red mawashi once more, he has only lost once and will need to win his last three matches to get an 8-7 record. His first and perhaps greatest challenge comes in the form of Shohozan, who has also underperformed this basho. Onosho has faced off against the Fukuoka native three times before and has never beat him. Can Onosho keep his kachi koshi dream alive, or will Shohozan hand him his first Makuuchi losing record?

Ichinojo vs. Mitakeumi

Ichinojo has definitely been one of the MVPs of this basho. He dominated Kisenosato, gave Hakuho his first taste of real competition, and had a highlight bout with Goeido on day 12. While I don’t know if Ichinojo will have a good enough record by the end of the basho to contend for the opening(s) in the Komusubi rank, he does have a pretty good shot at Maegashira 1. Ichinojo may also be in the running for a sansho special prize if he can bring his record up to ten or eleven wins. His day 13 opponent is Sekiwake Mitakeumi, who will want to get back in the win column after a concise loss to Hakuho. Mitakiumi will be  looking for his eighth victory to secure his kachi koshi and keep his Sekiwake rank for January. He has met Ichinojo on the clay twice, and the two are tied at one win apiece.

Kyushu Day 9 Highlights

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Let’s start with this – what on earth is Kisenosato doing? I do love some “Great Pumpkin” sumo, especially this close to Halloween, but he is fighting at mid-Maegashira level now. He certainly should not be out there as a Yokozuna, and I am sure that the Sumo Kyokai and the YDC are in an uproar that he returned to the dohyo well ahead of his full recovery. Last night prior to my US bed time, I was scanning all of the “usual sources” looking for the expected announcement that Kisenosato had withdrawn from the Kyushu basho with <insert malady here>. None came. I would guess that he is being counseled otherwise tonight.

In the race to catch Hakuho, all of the rikishi going in today one loss behind each went down to defeat, leaving “The Boss” out in front of everyone, undefeated, and with a 2 win lead starting the second week.

Highlight Matches

Kotoyuki defeats Okinoumi – Okinoumi has been on a winning streak, and it was a bit of a surprise to see Kotoyuki take control of this match and lead Okinoumi to his demise. People with skill in predictions have already been forecasting Kotoyuki’s return to Juryo for Hatsu, but perhaps he can in fact rally and stay in the top division.

Asanoyama defeats Nishikigi – The happy sumotori gave Nishikigi a solid fight right from the tachiai. Both men battled to the tawara where Nishikigi started the throw, but Asanoyama finished it. Asanoyama is not quite as genki as he was at Aki, but he still has some room to recover.

Takekaze defeats Aoiyama – Aoiyama needs every win he can squeeze from the remainder of the Kyushu basho. Getting off balance around Takekaze is a recipe for a loss, as Takekaze is experienced enough to make you pay.

Myogiryu defeats Ikioi – Ikioi gives up the inside grip in spite of clearly being a step ahead at the tachiai. Myogiryu is looking quite genki this basho – maybe he is back to his old self? Flagging Ikioi needs to pull himself together. I am going to assign this as another casualty of the intense jungyo schedule.

Daieisho defeats Aminishiki – Now that the push-me-pull-you pattern has run its course, Aminishiki is struggling to dominate matches. We all love uncle sumo, but the reality is he has damaged legs and there are limits to what he can do in a power battle with a young rikishi.

Chiyomaru defeats Kagayaki – Kagayaki clearly owns the start of this match, but Chiyomaru keeps giving ground, and Kagayaki is all too happy to chase him around the dohyo. This, of course, is a mistake as he gets his balance too far forward, and Chiyomaru pulls him down.

Kaisei defeats Shodai – Fairly good mawashi battle from these two, Shodai gave it everything he had and established moro-zashi almost right away. However, the massive Brazilian kept his defense solid. The match ended with a throw attempt at the tawara that Kaisei thought he lost, but Shodai touched down a split second earlier.

Endo defeats Tochinoshin – It was Endo from the start. I am going to guess that Tochinoshin’s knee is bothering him greatly, and he is unable to push against it with his massive strength.

Daishomaru defeats Ichinojo – The great boulder of Mongolia was not dialed in today, and Daishomaru got him high and out before he could gather his moss and recover. A bit surprising given how solid Ichinojo has been for the first 8 days. Hopefully, Minato Oyakata switches him back to Frosted Flakes, as the Count Chocula makes him seize up and idle rough.

Hokutofuji defeats Chiyoshoma – There was some naughty business just after a matta, with Chiyoshoma putting an extra “post matta” thrust into Hokutofuji’s face. Matta, matta again. On attempt 4 they get a successful launch, and with Hokutofuji now completely pissed off he blasted Chiyoshoma straight back and out.

Tochiozan defeats Arawashi – Now that he has his make-koshi secure, Tochiozan decides to win one. It’s clear that Tochiozan’s left knee can barely support doing sumo. The first match ended with both men touching down / out together, so a torinaoshi was called.

Chiyotairyu defeats Shohozan – “Sumo Elvis” takes down local favorite Shohozan in this mawashi match. Both men prefer to win by bludgeoning their opponents to victory, but for some reason, they decided to go chest to chest. Solid match, and with any luck, we are seeing a shift in Chiyotairyu’s strategy.

Onosho defeats Takakeisho – Onosho’s magic red mawashi is doing its job and seems to have reversed his fortune. For today Takakeisho got gravely off balance, and Onosho swung to the side and put him on the clay. So help me, the kimarite looked like a dog groomer trimming a collie. But it’s a win, and Onosho needs them.

Tamawashi defeats Kotoshogiku – Kotoshogiku launches out of the tachiai and applies maximum pressure, but Tamawashi was able to pull out a kotenage at the edge. From the crowd reaction, they thought that local favorite, Kotoshogiku, had prevailed.

Takayasu defeats Mitakeumi – A messy, crazy match. They both opened with tsuppari, but Takayasu tried to go chest to chest. Mitakeumi wanted no part of that (Was it the Rolling Stones that sang “I’m Not Your Teppo Pole?”) and Mitakeumi danced away from Takayasu’s embrace. This unrequited invitation to support his burly bulk seemed to drive Takayasu into a rage and he chased down a now fleeing Mitakeumi and drove him to the clay.

Goeido defeats Yoshikaze – Yoshikaze dominated this match, but kept overcommitting to each attack. Goeido worked to just stay on his feet and stay inside, waiting. His persistence was rewarded with Yoshikaze put himself off balanced and Goeido was able to flick him out with minimal effort. Very sloppy match that Yoshikaze should have won.

Hakuho defeats Chiyonokuni – I am not sure anyone can stop Hakuho if he remains uninjured, and it was certainly not going to be this form of Chiyonokuni. I am surprised to see Hakuho go for the mini-Henka two days in a row. Perhaps he is bored and wants to see how many times he can deploy it before his opponents get wise.

Takarafuji defeats Kisenosato – I am sure they gave Kisenosato a solid but middling Maegashira 5 in order to define just how poorly he is doing. The answer is – quite poorly. I love some Takarafuji in the mornings, yes I do. But Kisenosato should have been able to bag and tag this guy in the blink of an eye. Instead, the match raged on as a mighty yotsu battle that saw Kisenosato take Takarafuji to the edge and run out of gas. Go kyujo, Great Pumpkin. High marks for your enthusiasm to return to competition, but you are not quite ready yet. You and Takayasu need to spend a couple of months hulking out again.

Five Quick Thoughts on Day One

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Five Quick Thoughts

With Bruce knocking it out of the park with his daily highlights, I thought I would write up five quick thoughts on a few things I noticed while watching today’s action. I’ll try and make these posts every day that my work schedule allows me to.

1. Aminishiki Returns

Right from the start, it was obvious that Aminishiki’s popularity from Aki had carried over into November, and he had one of the biggest crowd reactions of the day. The old veteran also attracted the attention of sponsors and had a fairly large kensho parade before his match. While I was expecting wile Aminishiki to make Kotoyuki pay for his multiple mata with a quick sidestep, Uncle Sumo surprised me with a beautiful throw to win his first bout. It was clear in his post-match interview just how much being back in Makuuchi means to Aminishiki.

2. Injury Woes Continue for Tochinoshin

Despite being the bigger, stronger rikishi in his bout today, Tochinoshin continues to suffer from a nagging lower-body injury. He was unable to overpower Chiyoshoma, who deftly threw the Georgian strongman down to the clay. Things may go from bad to worse for Tochinoshin, as he seemed to be limping as he made his way back to the dressing room.

3. Less of a Kaiju, More of a Kitty cat.

Any hope of Terunofuji returning to the Ozeki rank may have died today, as Hokutofuji easily manhandled everyone’s favorite Kaiju, and sent him flying off the dohyo into the crowd. As Bruce pointed out, Terunofuji barely had any fight in him, and he’s lucky he didn’t injure himself further when he landed on the floor.

4. A Heroes Welcome

Hometown boy Shohozan got the largest reaction of the day from the Fukuoka crowd, which erupted in cheers when he ascended the dohyo for his bout. Taking on Yoshikaze in a blistering brawl, the Fukuoka native sidestepped the veteran Yoshikaze at the tawara’s edge to get his first win. Despite prevailing in front of his hometown, Shohozan didn’t seem too happy with the way he won his match; a rikishi’s harshest critic is usually himself.

5. East Vs. West

Taking a look at the scorecard today, we see that the East and West sides of the banzuke are tied, taking ten wins each. Now I’ll admit, this is pretty much a pointless statistic and does not affect the basho nowadays. In the past, however, East and West were treated like teams and competed for an award called the Tozai-sei, which went to the side with the best overall record. For a bit of fun, I’ll be keeping track of each sides records throughout the tournament, and I’ll announce the unofficial Tozai-sei winners when the Kyushu basho comes to an end.

Nagoya Day 5 Preview

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Act One Draws To A Close

At the end of day 5, the first third of the Nagoya basho will be complete, or as I like to call it the first act. Scheduling for the first third of the basho is pretty much by formula, and the goal of this period is to find out who is out of gas, who is getting by, and who is really genki.

For the closing scene of the first act, you don’t get more genki than the undefeated dia-Yokozuna Hakuho up against the undefeated berserker Yoshikaze. Hakuho is looking very good thus far, even better than he did during Natsu, if that is possible. When he is in this state, there are few rikishi who can defeat him. But then there is Yoshikaze, a man of such explosive sumo that he reasonably can beat anyone on the right day. It’s a great way to see if anyone is going to slow down Hakuho.

Speaking of “The Boss”, another zensho yusho remains possible, but not predictable at this time. There is an odd thought ratting in the back of my sleep-deprived mind. Hakuho wanted to to break the all time back to back win record held by Futabayama, but some pipsqueak named Kisenosato stopped him short. Now the Futabayama record is from an earlier time in sumo, long before the 6 x 15 day basho per year death march started. But Hakuho is a man driven, and you can be sure that should he be able to go 15-0 in Nagoya, he will steel himself for another run at the “unbreakable” record.

Going into day 5, we have still more of those fantastic first ever matches between the old guard and the young blood. Will it be as chaotic as day 4? Ask me in about 8 hours.

Matches We Like

Gagamaru vs Kaisei – Gagamaru has been doing poorly this basho, and really seems to be walking wounded. Due to Kakuryu’s kyujo, Kaisei visits from Juryo for a battle of the rotund. Kaisei was really out of gas during Natsu, so I am hoping he is now drinking the same juice that Nishikigi seems to have enjoyed last basho.

Arawashi vs Nishikigi – Nishikigi is still undefeated. so it’s time to give him over to Arawashi. Arawashi is capable, but very much hit-or-miss as of late. He has strength, speed and skill, but Nishikigi seems driven. They are perfectly tied 4-4 for career bouts.

Takekaze vs Shohozan – Takekaze has a solid start to Nagoya, and he faces “Big Guns” on day 5. This might be a very good time for Takekaze to employ his oft favored henka rather than face a battle of the belt with Shohozan.

Ishiura vs Onosho – This match has a lot of potential. Onosho has been fighting very well, and steps onto the dohyo ready to win, even if he has to eat someone to do it. In contrast, we only saw real fire from Ishiura on day 4, so maybe he can supply his offense oriented sumo again today. Onosho leads the series 9-5.

Tochinoshin vs Ura – This is either going to be a match of the day, or a complete blow out. Tochinoshin is straight ahead strong man sumo, which if he connects will make quick work of Ura. Ura is a mobile attack platform, he can make 2 moves for every 1 of Tochinoshin. So it will come down to who takes control. Might see Ura’s reverse tachiai today, which would make me very happy. Tochinoshin won their only prior meeting, so let’s see if PlasticMan has studied his loss.

Tamawashi vs Mitakeumi – Mitakeumi had a tough couple of days, and can recover some momentum against his fellow Sekiwake. Clearly Tamawashi is working to make the case for an Ozeki promotion run, and will need to box in Mitakeumi early. Interestingly enough, Mitakeumi has won all 7 of their prior matches.

Takayasu vs Takakeisho – This will be a radically different match than the one Takakeisho faced on day 4. Fans expect Takayasu to blast this youngster hard from the start, and push with nearly impossible strength. Goal for Takakeisho should be to stretch out the match and wait for Takayasu to overcommit. Takakeisho took quite a bit of punishment from Hakuho on day 4, let’s see what he can do with the big Ozeki.

Shodai vs Goeido – This is only interesting in that I want to see if Goeido 2.0 shows up for this match as well. If he does, we could have some great Goeido matches coming in the next 10 days, which would make me very happy.

Kisenosato vs Ikioi – Ikioi is winless! He needs to pick up a white circle or two, but he may have a challenge from the injured Kisenosato. I am still predicted Kisenosato goes Kyujo within the next 5 days.

Hokutofuji vs Harumafuji – Another huge potential match of the day. Hokutofuji has really impressed fans so far, he is fighting at a much tougher level this basho, and he has risen to the challenge. It’s clear that Harumafuji is holding it together under sheer force of will and stubborn Yokozuna pride. So this could be a chance for another kinboshi, sadly.

Hakuho vs Yoshikaze – Hakuho felt at ease to toy with Takakeisho on day 4, but he has no such luxury on day 5. In addition to having a very strong start in Nagoya, Yoshikaze has changed up his sumo somewhat. Hakuho is great at being able to think and move in an instant, so could be a great match up, even if Yoshikaze has only beaten Hakuho once in their 15 prior matches.

Nagoya Day 4 Highlights

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Nagoya Crazy Train Still Rolling On.

Many sumo fans assumed that at some point this week, the Nagoya bahso would settle down to a standard sumo grind, but this basho is a run away beer truck rolling down hill. The only hope we have is to climb on board and drink the contents while the ride lasts.

With Yokozuna Kakuryu’s withdrawal from the basho, the noises of his retirement have returned at an elevated volume. I think it would be a great loss for sumo, given that his style is fairly unique. But it’s clear that his body is not up to the challenge of supporting the intense schedule of the modern sumo year.

There was a good amount of concern and confusion in today’s match between Ura and Onosho. To the fans in the Aichi Prefectural Gymnaisum, it must have looked that Onosho was a clear winner. In fact it seems that both rikishi were not quite certain who had won. As the gyoji handed the kensho to Ura, the shimpan rose, and Ura assumed that a monoii had been called. Looking confused, he tried to hand the kensho back to the gyoji. In fact it was simply the half way break, and the Shimpan were changing over.

Lastly, in a bout that I loved, but that many in Japan are criticizing, Hakuho completely and utterly deconstructed fast rising star Takakeisho in the final match of the day. It’s quite understandable that Takakeisho would be in awe of his first ever match against the dai-Yokozuna, and Hakuho played on that. After a series of tsuppari delivered to the young challenger, Takakeisho backed off and waited. This prompted Hakuho to encourage him to attack, and it devolved into butsugari geiko. This may not quite make sense, but in that 30 second bout, Hakuho reduced Takakeisho from challenger, to student. Personally I found it endearing, but it seems that a good amount of the sumo mainstays in the NSK found it quite insulting.

Selected Matches

Nishikigi defeats Sokokurai – Nishikigi continues to look renewed in his return to Makuuchi. He is now 4-0 and half way to his kachi-koshi. Sokokurai put up a good fight, but Nishikigi was not going to lose.

Tokushoryu defeats Chiyonokuni – Tokushoryu completely overpowered Chiyonokuni in this match, which resulted in a monii. I have to wonder if Chiyonokuni is nursing some injury from Natsu, as he continues to turn in dismal results.

Aoiyama defeats Shohozan – Aoiyama the man mountain continues to dominate, and remains unbeaten thus far. I am certain that Maegashira 8 is the perfect rank for Aoiyama, as he seems to be doing very well with this degree of difficulty.

Ishiura defeats Chiyotairyu – Ishiura showed up with some really solid sumo today, and the crowd loved it. I am not sure if he has physical or confidence problems, but everyone is hoping to see that same hard-charging sumo machine that first entered Makuuchi in January.

Ura defeats Onosho – In addition to the post-match confusion, this was some really solid sumo from both men. Onosho really pushed hard from the tachiai, but lost momentum moments from victory. His final pulling throw at the edge saw his foot out for just a moment as Ura took flight.

Tochiozan defeats Endo – Something happened at the tachiai, and Endo more or less stopped trying just after the initial charge. All of sumo hopes Endo is not harboring some performance limiting injury.

Takayasu defeats Mitakeumi – Takayasu’s initial shoulder blast seems to have disoriented Mitakeumi, who was never able to get stable and attack. Takayasu continued to press the attack and move forward, and prevailed. This is two days in a row where it seems Mitakeumi became disoriented after a really solid blow to the head on the tachiai.

Goeido defeats Ikioi – Example of Goeido 2.0 behavior. Explode into the tachiai, carry that momentum into your opponent’s chest and just run him off the dohyo. Sadly Ikioi is winless.

Hokutofuji defeats Terunofuji – Hokutofuji is holding up very well against sumo’s top ranks. If he can stay healthy, he will join them before long. It’s clear that Terunofuji is struggling daily to compete through the pain.

Kisenosato defeats Shodai – All of the sumo world breaths a sigh of relief. Not only did he win, but he was producing power through his left side. Maybe he can make a go of it after all. Shodai, of course, had a terrible tachiai.

Harumafuji defeats Tochinoshin – Excellent deploy of Harumafuji’s mini-henka, against an opponent who sort of expected it.

Hakuho defeats Takakeisho – In what I can only call “Mole Boss Sumo”, Hakuho is cat to Takakeisho’s mouse. When they made this Yokozuna, they broke the mould. Much respect to Takakeisho for continuing to try to attack in spite of Hakuho batting him around like a piece of twine.

Kisenosato Prepares For Meiji

Rikishi From Oguruma, Sadogatake and Nishonoseki Help Weave The Rope

A pair of great videos showing the team work between multiple sumo stables to craft and fit the ceremonial rope or tsuna for new-Yokozuna, a day prior to his debut at the Meiji Jingu Shrine.

There are several notable rikishi present assisting with the weaving of the tsuna, of course we knew that Yoshikaze was present from his Instagram photos, but it seems almost all of Nishonoseki-Ichimon group of stables pitched in. Notables from Oguruma heya showed up, including Amakaze and Takekaze.  Shohozan is clearly designated as Kisenosato’s tsuyuharai (dew sweeper / herald) in their practice sessions for the dohyo-iri tomorrow.  It’s also notable that long time Kisenosato competitor and recently demoted Ozeki Kotoshogiku is there as well.

Somewhat longer video below with more details, and plenty of footage of retired Yokozuna Ōnokuni instructing Kisenosato on the mechanics of the Unryu style ritual.

 

The Meiji Shrine ceremony will take place at 15:00 Japan Standard Time on Friday, January 27th.  As always, Tachiai will work to bring you video of this historic event.

Hatsu Day 4 Preview

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Shohozan Can End Kisenosato’s Boredom

Sumo fans are now clear on some of the questions and stories unfolding during the New Years tournament. Harumafuji is clearly having ankle and foot problems, and has a fraction of his normal power. His second straight loss, to Shohozan, was stunning. Harumafuji was easily pushed around and once again forced to the edge of the dohyo, where he could find no way to maneuver. In his healthy state, he would have taken the radical forward position of Shohozan and used it to launch him towards the spectators. I am hoping that he decides to bow out and seek immediate treatment for his chronic problems Day 4 he faces a winless Arawashi, which had better be an easy mark.

Hakuho is back, or at least back enough to be interesting and dominant. His match against Mitakeumi was classic Hakuho, where Hakuho improvised in the blink of an eye and left Mitakeumi baffled, off balance and lost. Day 4 he faces a winless Tochinoshin, which should prove no challenge.

Shodai is good, but green. If he can stay healthy he is probably going to be a solid Maegashira, or possibly Ozeki. His youth and inexperience are fairly easy to exploit by the veterans, and he leaves many avenues for attack wide open. It may be a few years of work before he matures into his better form. Day 4 he faces Kotoshogiku, who is a shadow of the Ozeki who won Hatsu last year.

Mitakeumi is where we all hope Shodai will be in 2 years. He has transformed from a pure push and slap rikishi into a healthy blend with mawashi technique, which is improving quickly. Day 4 he fights the highly reactive Yokozuna Kakuryu, which will be highly instructive. Mitakeumi has shown some impressive reactions himself mid bout.

Notable Matches

Osunaarashi vs Sadanoumi – Both of these sumotori come into this with 3-0, and both of them are quite capable men who are slumming at the bottom end of the banzuke this tournament. Osunaarashi is clearly hurting a bit more each day, but the only way he is giving up is on a stretcher. Osunaarashi comes in with a strong career 3-1 advantage over Sadanoumi.

Kagayaki vs Ishiura – Ishiura is facing a rather embarrassing start to Hatsu. At this point I think he has probably been humbled, and I would like to see him re-assemble his sumo and win a few. But his sumo seems vague and frantic right now, and everyone knows you can slap him down. Ishiura has won all 4 of his prior matches with Kagayaki.

Takanoiwa vs Chiyonokuni – After having a string of mediocre to poor tournaments, Chiyonokuni seems to have finally adapted to his bulkier form. Takanoiwa has been doing very well, with a 3-0 record to date. Chiyonokuni will likely go for another thrust down (tsukiotoshi) in this pusher battle. Chiyonokuni has a career record of 6-3 over Takanoiwa.

Yoshikaze vs Endo – Battle of fan favorites today. Yoshikaze has added a nice blend of yotsu-zumō to his normal regimen of oshi-zumō. As a result it’s harder to guess what he is going to bring to any given bout. With Endo almost exclusively pushing, I would not be surprised to see Yoshikaze repeat his day 3 attack plan. It’s 4-4 between Yoshikaze and the younger rikishi, Endo

Tamawashi vs Takayasu – Takayasu skillfully dismantled a struggling Goeido on day 3. This is more of the form that had been present through much of 2016. Strong with the endurance to wait for his opponent to make a mistake, and the speed of mind and body to make them suffer. Tamawashi positively dismantled Shodai on day 3, and is looking strong. Their series is tied at 5-5.

Kisenosato vs Shohozan – Kisenosato has been bored. You can see his boredom clearly on day 2, where his match was clearly disappointing. The man looks like he is working out how to paint his house and for a moment remembered to Tamawashi aside. Shohozan has been bringing a lot of muscle and fierce energy to his bouts thus far. I am hoping that finally, Kisenosato has something to look forward to. Kisenosato has a career 9-2 advantage over Shohozan.

Kakuryu vs Mitakeumi – With Harumafuji hurt, Kakuryu is a clear contender for the yusho this early on. Today he will instruct Mitakeumi on assumptions. Mitakeumi will assume Kakuryu’s battle plan, and likely be mistaken. Or we could see a mighty zabuton snowstorm once again. Clear advantage to Kakuryu.
Note: Second match for Wakaichiro in the early hours of Wednesday in Tokyo. Again, if we can get video we will post it here.

Hatsu Day 3 Preview

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Can Mitakeumi’s Kensho Loot Pile Grow?

Day two is in the record books and it’s clear that some of the rikishi are still struggling to clear the cobwebs and settling into their sumo.

  • Osunaarashi – He came in locked down and ready to win. After his brutal kyujo demotion in 2016, all the man has wanted was back in the top division. Clearly he is still hurt and in quite a bit of pain, but he is laying the doom on the Chiyo crowd.
  • Kaisei – After so many poor tournaments, it’s really good to see Kaisei actually winning again. Maybe he has dropped own the banzuke far enough that he is competitive. I think he may have gotten too much mass to effectively work.
  • Kisenosato – Kise is bored, let’s be honest. No one has put up much of a contest to the Great Pumpkin so far. It sometimes irks me that everyone wants to take a great Ozeki and cast him as a Yokozuna. Because his does Ozeki so very very well.
  • Mitakeumi – The kid is on fire right now. We may see a second week collapse, like we did for Okinoumi, but right now he is moving well. The fact that he shut down Harumafuji’s death spin impressed me quite a bit.
  • Hakuho – I would guess he is done with his recovery and back to what is the new Hakuho normal. Still amazing but not quite what he was. Everyone ages, and loses some physical strength in the process. He is still a joy to watch.

Notable Matches

Osunaarashi vs Chiyotairyu – Just how many Chiyos can one man take? Let’s see if it’s at least three! This would be Osunaarashi’s first win against this Chiyo, should be prevail.

Nishikigi vs Sokokurai – Both of these guys has a strong first two days, and both are looking good this basho. Looks like the first match between these two.

Kaisei vs Takanoiwa – Can the Brazilian make it 3 in a row, or will the resurgent Takanoiwa keep his own record clean? Kaisei has a distinct 3-1 advantage in wins between them.

Ishiura vs Chiyonokuni – Two small and strong rikishi go head to head. Ishiura is suffering the NHK curse – he went on NHK World for a highlight piece, and now he is failing hard. Chiyonokuni has bulked up quite a bit in the last 6 months, and is still re-working his sumo to handle the extra mass. Ishiura has lot both of their previous bouts.

Tamawashi vs Shodai – in a Sekiwake head to head, we see them both come in 1-1, each trying to survive sumo’s toughest rank. In their only prior match, Shodai lost.

Shohozan vs Harumafuji – Shohozan brought a masterful attack against Yokozuna Kakuryu on day 2, losing because he mis-timed the throw. Given Harmuafuji’s ankle problems, it maybe time for another Kinboshi. It’s a long shot, as Harumafuji leads their series 12-2

Hakuho vs Mitakeumi – Mitakeumi has a good start, with one Yokozuna and one Ozeki scalp already. Now he faces the most difficult foe in sumo. Clearly Hokuho has the advantage here, but I am keen to see if Mitakeumi can gamberize. Hakuho has won both their prior meetings

Hatsu Day 2 Preview

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Kokugikan Sellout Continues

The popularity of sumo is on the upswing both in its home country of Japan and indeed world wide. For a good period of time I considered attending several days of Hatsu myself, but the entire venue quickly sold out. This happens at a great time for the sport, as there is a fantastic crop of young, eager rikishi who are present in the upper divisions to test and train with some of the greatest men ever to wear a mawashi.

Day one was a really solid opening day, but there were very few upsets, and as Andy quipped, things turned out pretty much as expected. I note that Ishiura is still working hard to get a consistent attack plan together for these mid and upper level Maegashira, but I have a lot of faith that under Hakuho’s tutelage he will get winning recipe.

Notable Matches

Chiyootori vs Osunaarashi – Osunaarashi pulled a fantastic utchari twisting throw at the edge of the ring on day 1 to win over Chiyoo. In his second bout against the Chiyoo twins, he faces to much larger Chiyootori, who is a far more even match at 3-5 in favor of Chiyootori. Strong chance of a Chiyootori henka or early pulling attack.

Sokokurai vs Ishiura – Ishiura’s day 1 bout was nothing special, and he was pretty easily contained. Early basho bouts, and Hatsu specifically see a lot of cob webs being cleared as the rikishi get back into their sumo. This will only be the second meeting between these two, with Sokokurai winning the last match by getting behind Ishiura and pushing him out. (okuridashi)

Kotoyuki vs Yoshikaze – Yoshikaze is prone to have streaks of amazing sumo performance. The last example was Nagoya 2016, and it was a joy to watch. With his strong opening day disposal of Chiyoshoma, Yoshikaze fans globally are hoping that his new mawashi has brought renewed vigor. Yoshikaze has a slight edge over Kotoyuki. These two really love to let the slaps fly, so I expect Yoshikaze to get the expected battle damage to his face in today.

Endo vs Ikioi – Two crowd favorites face off in a match where you wish they both could win. Endo looked to have a flat tire on day one, hopefully his cobwebs are gone now and he is ready to bring his sumo. Sadly Ikioi tends to dominate their matches, with a 6-1 advantage.

Arawashi vs Shodai – On day one, Shodai got the Tsukiji treatment from Hakuho. It’s time to see if that rattled his confidence as he faces Maegashira 2 Arawashi on day 2. The have only met once before, with Arawashi prevailing with am underarm throw on day 15 of Kyushu.

Terunofuji vs Takayasu – It kind of hurts to watch Terunofuji. He has, in the past, been one of the most feared men in sumo. Now he struggles just to get off the line. Takayasu, if he still wants a shot at Ozeki, needs to help Terunofuji vacate a slot for him. Takayasu has been struggling, and he needs to really step up before he has too many losses for a shot at Kachi-koshi and a return to contention for Ozeki. His record with Terunofuji is an even 6-6, and I am hoping we see some great yotsu-zumō.

Kakuryu vs Shohozan – It went largely unnoticed, but Shohozan looked very good day 1 against Terunofuji, doing just as much to win the match as Terunofuji did to lose it. Now he faces a very strong Yokozuna Kakuryu, who is clearly fired up and ready to defend the Emperor’s cup. Their prior 10 matches have all gone to Kakuryu. Shohozan’s chance comes if he can wrap up the Yokozuna and fight the match via the belt.

Mitakeumi vs Harumafuji – Mitakeumi handled Goeido very cleanly on day 1. Now it’s time to face the frenzied attack of Yokozuna Harumafuji. I would expect The Horse to deploy his famous nodowa today, as is his custom against Mitakeumi. Mitakeumi’s one chance before he lands the death grip is likely a henka.

NOTE – Monday is the day of Wakaichiro’s first bout. He will face Tatsunofuji in the second match of the day, at a fairly early hour of the morning. Eternal gratitude to any soul that can put video of this on YouTube.

Kyushu Day 14 Preview

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The Final Drive To The Finish

The last weekend of sumo for 2016 is upon us now. While we now seem to have good indicators of who will with the championship for both Juryo and Makuuchi, I am sure that there are a few surprised, and several great matches left to enjoy.

The popularity of sumo seems to once again be on the upswing in Japan. Tickets are becoming harder to get, and venues outside of Tokyo are selling out more frequently. World wide, there are more opportunities today than at any other time in history for people do start following and enjoying sumo. Enough opportunities for me to suggest, short of some hideous scandal, that sumo is on the cusp of a broader global following.

There are distant rumors that NHK plans to expand sumo coverage as part of their world service, and frankly – I can’t wait. In fact, I have personally offered NHK heaps of my money on demand to let me stream the full Juryo and Makuuchi program at will. I have to imagine that I am not the only one.

Before we can close out Kyushu, we get to see the rest of the Yokozuna head-to-head matches, and watch the rikishi with marginal records scrap for the final wins, hoping to stave off demotion.

Notable Matches

Myogiryu vs Arawashi – Myogiryu only needs to defeat Arawashi to secure his rank.

Takekaze vs Daishomaru – Can the veteran seal his winning record and deal a losing record to Daishomaru at the same time? Historically, the two are evenly matched.

Shohozan vs Sokokurai – Local sumotori Shohozan goes up against to try and finish with a winning record. These two are separated 9 slots in the banzuke, so it should be an easy win for Shohozan.

Ishiura vs Shodai – An even bigger mis-match than the previous bout, it’s time for rising star Ishiura to test his performance against Shodai, who has done very well this tournament. The mini-henka is not working against the upper Maegashira, so I am hoping that Ishiura deploys some real sumo today. Shodai already has a strong winning record, and will likely be san’yaku come January, so I am hoping for a really fun upset.

Tochiozan vs Endo – Tochiozan received a dirty henka on day 13 to deal him a make-koshi. Now it’s Endo’s turn to try and lock up a winning record, and a promotion towards the top of January’s banzuke. Historically, Tochiozan beats him up and steals his lunch money. So we will look for Endo to do something new and useful here.

Harumafuji vs Hakuho – Hakuho faded fast once he started his matches against the great San’yaku Battle Fleet. Now he faces his nemesis, Harumafuji. I am hoping the The Boss can escape without any further damage to his undercarriage. Under normal, healthy conditions – this is a Hakuho win. But for day 14, the edge goes to Harumafuji.

Goeido vs Kakuryu – The only thing to consider here is Goeido’s pride, and the yusho. If Goeido wins, there is a strong chance that the yusho will come down to the final day match between Harumafuji and Kakuryu. There is a great deal of rivalry between Goeido and Harumafuji, so it may worth considering that a loss by Goeido could put Harumafuji out of the running for the yusho. Ah, decisions decisions… My money is on Goeido taking his sumo to the Yokozuna. In the long game, Goeido must perceive that this is simply a warm up for his next Yokozuna run. However the career records strongly favor Kakuryu

Kyushu Day 13 Preview

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If you do not control your opponent, your opponent will control you

Book of Five Rings

Sumo fans could not ask for a more exiting final Friday of 2016. Across the two upper divisions (Juryo and Makuuchi), there is a mad scramble for the championship. With just a few bouts remaining, there is a broad group of rikishi that could claim the yusho. Recall that by this time during the Aki basho, we were very sure it was going to be Goeido, we just did not know if it would be a perfect record or not.

Going into day 13, no one remains with a perfect record, and the mightiest men in Sumo now face each other, as the Yokozuna will compete against both the upper Ozeki, and their fellow Yokozuna during the last three days. As each of these men are leading contenders for the championship, which sekitori has the lead in the yusho race to change moment by moment during the final bouts of each day.

The idea scenario for maximum drama would require Hakuho to beat Kakuryu, Harumafuji to beat Goeido, Kisenosato to beat Tochinoshin, and Ishiura to beat Arawashi. That would create a 4 way tie for the lead, with 2 days left.

Notable Matches

Ishiura vs Arawashi – Ishiura faced a very capable Ikioi on day 12, and Ikioi did not charge head-long into Ishiura’s mini-henke. Time to see if Arawashi learned this lesson as well. I expect Ishiura to face at least one more higher level rikishi before the end of the basho. Ishiura is very evenly matched against Arawashi, with a 2-3 record.

Sokokurai vs Takarafuji – Takarafuji is going for his kachi-koshi again today, this time against Sokokurai. Thus match will likely be a strength test between the two men, with a slight edge to Sokokurai.

Shohozan vs Ichinojo – Shohozan should pick up his kachi-koshi today, as Ichinojo is really struggling this tournament. To his credit, Ichinojo is at .500 with three days to go, and kachi-koshi is still possible for him. Slight advantage to Fukuoka home town favorite Shohozan.

Endo vs Okinoumi – It has been a surprising basho for both of these rikishi. Endo had a very strong start, and has faded as of late. He needs a win here against the injured Okinoumi to make a credible case for finishing the tournament with a winning record. Slight advantage to Endo on this one.

Tamawashi vs Terunofuji – Tamawashi will attempt to score a winning tournament record today against the man-mountain Terunofuji. Tamawashi has been doing well, and Terunofuji is injured – but Terunofuji also just beat Hakuho, so I would say Tamawashi won’t find his eighth win today.

Tochinoshin vs Kisenosato – In the strangest match up of day 13, Maegashira 6 Tochinoshin faces off against Yokozuna killer Kisenosato. Tochinoshin has been (in the past) sort of a one trick pony – he likes to lift people up and carry them around. That won’t work against Kisenosato in any reasonable scenario. One of two things (or both) are happening here. First, it could be that the schedules want to give Kisenosato an easy match to make sure he can play spoiler in any potential play-off. Second, it may be the case that they want to see if Tochinoshin can recuse himself well against a solid Ozeki. Worth watching, but my thought is that Kisenosato will take care of him without too much bother.

Hakuho vs Kakuryu – This is one of the two highly anticipated matches for day 13. Hakuho has to be smarting, having been handed a third loss by Terunofuji. I am going to expect that he is hungry for revenge. Kakuryu has been winning, but he has been reactive to my eye, rather than dominating his matches. Hakuho dominates matches, even in his injured state. I can’t wait to see how this one turns out. Historically, Hakuho has a huge advantage over Kakuryu.

Harumafuji vs Goeido – Harumafuji should be gunning for Goeido. The path to Goeido’s Aki yusho went through Harumafuji, and their match was won at the last moment when Goeido engaged a twisting throw at the edge. I have absolute confidence that the “Good” Goeido will be on the dohyo today. After the brutal “codpiece throw” that is part of the NHK intro, Goeido has a large supply of payback to throw at Harumafuji. This will be, in my mind, possibly the most exciting sumo of the day, even though the Hakuho match will go farther to determine the yusho race. Harumafuji has a huge lead in their career record, 29-10. Go boldly Goeido!

Juryo Note

The Juryo-yusho race is every bit as wild as the one in Makuuchi. The sole leader, Seiro (10-2) faces off against Osunaarashi (9-3) early in the Juryo matches. Shortly afterwards, Satoyama (9-3) faces off against Sato (9-3). One of these rikishi is likely to be to Juryo tournament winner, and it’s great to see the schedule putting them head to head during the last few days.

Kyushu Day 11 Preview

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Finish Strong.

We now start the last 5 days of sumo for 2016. It’s fascinating that Harumafuji and Kisenosato are stilled tied at the top of total wins for 2016, a tie that will be broken soon, possibly on day 11. After watching Kisenosato dismantle Hakuho on the NHK highlight reel, the accomplishment is ever more impressive. Again, the sumo Kisenosato brought to day 10 was some of the best I have seen in some time, and I think the fans in Fukuoka and watching around the world were amazed.

To be fair, Kisenosato finally laid bare the extent of Hakuho’s recovery from surgery this past September. It is clear that the Boss has been artfully keeping the true extent of the remaining weakness in his foot and knee hidden through outstanding technique and clever tactics. But Kisenosato brought a full power maneuver battle to day 10, and in the end Hakuho lost.

But there are some really ugly questions left to resolve. First and foremost in my mind is how badly will this end for Takayasu. Mathematically, he cannot even reach 10 wins this basho. Had he gotten 10, his Ozeki run would have carried forward to Hatsu in January. But now the best he can hope for is 9, and that requires him defeating at least 2 Yokozuna. Realistically he is going make-koshi, and headed down in rank, at least to Komusubi for January. If he somehow manages 9, he remains Sekiwake – but his Ozeki count to 33 starts over again at zero.

Speaking of which, we can start to see who will advance, and who will be demoted for January. In short, it’s a Makuuchi blood bath:

  • Day 10 Makuuchi Kachi-koshi : Kakuryu, Harumafuji, Ishiura, Hakuho, Kisenosato, Arawashi
  • Day 10 Makuuchi Make-Koshi : Okinoumi, Yoshikaze, Sadanoumi, Hidenoumi, Aoiyama, Kyokushuho, Kaisei

For Juryo – There is a lot more bunched up int he middle, showing that for Kyushu, Juryo is much more balanced than the upper division Makuuchi

  • Day 10 Juryo Kachi-koshi : Osunaarashi, Seiro
  • Day 10 Juryo Make-koshi : Tokushoryu, Asasekiryu, Sadanofuji

There is still time to derail the Osunaarashi Juryo Yusho train, but that mighty Egyptian locomotive shows no sign of slowing down.

Notable Matches

Daishomaru vs Ichinojo – First time match up between these two, both of them in the middle of the pack pushing to exit Kyushu with a winning record. Both rikishi are at risk of demotion back to Juryo if they finish with losing records.

Chiyoshoma vs Sokokurai – Chiyoshoma bringing oshi-zumō vs Sokokurai’s yotsu-zumō. Their only prior meeting went to Chiyoshoma, but this is going to be an even match. I expect Sokokurai will prevail on this one.

Myogiryu vs Ishiura – Ishiura, please no mini-henka today. You are facing someone 6 steps up the banzuke, and everyone wants to see if you can handle the harder matches. The degree of your coming promotion is defined by the next 3 matches. This is the first match between these two.

Shohozan vs Takarafuji – These two are fairly even in Kyushu, but historically Takarafuji has yet to win against Shohozan in any of their prior 6 matches.

Ikioi vs Shodai – Winner is kachi-koshi from this bout. Slight edge to Shodai on this, they have only faced each other 3 times. They will be slapping each other around for a few seconds, grapple and figure out the winner.

Day 11 Battle of the Sanyaku Fleet

Goeido vs Terunofuji – First, a resurgent Terunofuji facing a very inconsistent Goeido. Goeido was back to his winning ways, and in good form on day 10. Terunofuji, though still injured, seems to be in very competitive form. Terunofuji, once he gets set, is very tough to move. He has legs like tree trunks and a back that could lift an ox. To win, Goeido needs to take him off balance in the first few seconds before he can get his stance planted, and his attack underway.

Harumafuji vs Kotoshogiku – Kotoshogiku make-koshi today. I am hoping that Harumafuji uses him to practice the kind of sumo he deployed on day 10. Statistically a slight edge to Kotoshogiku, with history showing a 33-27 lifetime between the two. But let’s get serious, Kotoshogiku is going make-kochi, and will once again be kadoban.

Hakuho vs Takayasu – Chances are very small that Takayasu can rally and defeat Hakuho, in spite of the fact that Kisenosato showed his stable mate Takayasu the recipe. Takayasu is still very capable, but he is likely going back to Komusubi with a 7-8 record.

Kisenosato vs Kakuryu – Likely the highlight match of the day. Career statistics, it’s advantage Kisenosato, 30-17. Kakuryu would love to go Zensho Yusho for the last match of 2016, and everyone is hoping that he can suffer at least one loss to open up the yusho race. Kakuryu will have watched the Hakuho match multiple times, and will be studying this new fearsome, mobile Kisenosato.

山: Mountain (with a side of Hokusai)

WP_20160419_18_22_45_ProIt’s been a while since I posted about kanji. A great example to mention when it comes to sumo is 山 because it’s used in so many shikona. There’s two basic readings for this kanji, yama and –san. Either way, it means mountain and accurately reflects the girth of guys like Aoiyama (碧山). After some characters the s-sound is changed to a z, like in Tochiozan (栃煌山) and Shohozan (松鳳山). Other makuuchi warriors with related shikona are Satoyama – perhaps with a touch of irony – and Akiseyama (otherwise known as the body of Kim Jong-Un).

Mount Fuji, or Fuji-san, is an important symbol in Japanese culture. Many works of art feature the mountain, the most famous being Hokusai’s “36 Views of Mount Fuji.” I’ve posted a picture of one of them that I have at home, “The Kazusa Province Sea Route” (上総の海路). In this picture, you can just make out Fuji-san on the horizon near the full sail.

A few years ago, the whole collection toured at the Smithsonian Museum here in DC. Some great blog posts here: http://bento.si.edu/tag/thirty-six-views/. If anyone has a chance to visit Washington, DC, I would encourage stopping by the Freer and Sackler Galleries. They’ve got great works from all over Asia, including frequent exhibitions from masters like Hokusai.

November 2015, Day 14: Harumafuji Goes for Yusho

Harumafuji hit Kakuryu with the same fierceness he displayed against Hakuho…and Kakuryu bumbled as he did against Terunofuji. With Hakuho’s iffy loss to Terunofuji, Harumafuji leads alone. Hakuho met Terunofuji at the tachiai rather softly and then they leaned against each other for a long while before Terunofuji drove Hakuho out. Terunofuji secured kachi-koshi with that win and I expect him to pull out, giving Kotoyuki a 9th win tomorrow.

Ikioi will fly up into sanyaku, likely taking over the komusubi slot which will be vacated by Tochinoshin. Yoshikaze’s impressive win over Goeido will likely bring promotion into sekiwake. If Goeido loses tomorrow, he could take the sekiwake slot away from Yoshikaze but I think it’s highly unlikely. He fights Tochiozan, who already has his kachi-koshi and thus little incentive to do anything but keep himself from getting injured. However, if Tochiozan wants to start another ozeki run, 9 wins could be helpful.

Osunaarashi is out, injured, as is Kotoshogiku. Endo should be resting. He’s obviously hurt and will likely be little challenge tomorrow for Myogiryu, who’s been woeful with a weakened ankle.