Tachiai Interviews Kintamayama, Part 1: “It’s like breathing for me, I love sumo so much.”

Kintamayama / Moti Dichne Live in Concert
Moti Dichne, better known to many sumo fans as Kintamayama, prepares for his Tachiai interview

If you’re a sumo fan who lives outside of Japan, then it’s almost certain that you’ve encountered the work of Moti Dichne. Under the shikona Kintamayama, he has been present almost everywhere in the English speaking sumo community for over two decades. Between his popular newsletter, his presence on forums such as SumoForum, and his essential YouTube channel, he has not only provided outlets and lifelines for fans seeking content, but also introduced thousands of foreigners to the sport.

During the recent Natsu basho in Tokyo, I sat down for an extended conversation with Kintamayama. This is the first of several parts of that conversation which will run here on Tachiai. In this segment, we touch on how Moti discovered sumo, and the rikishi who inspired and continue to inspire him. It has been edited in places for length and clarity.

Tachiai: So, where did your love affair with sumo start?

Moti Dichne: When you’re growing up in Japan, in the late 50s and the early 60s, and you’re a kid and you like sports… then, all you have is baseball… and sumo. There was no soccer! Not like today. The only soccer was a league for companies. So, what could I like?

You [would] turn on the TV, and it was black and white, still. Sumo was on for 15 days, and I even got to watch it at Kuramae, the former stadium. Those were golden years, because it was [the time of] Taiho, Kashiwado, Wakanohana I… and you couldn’t miss it because it was everywhere. As a kid you love it, because there were the backstories. 

Without us actually knowing and saying, “yeah, that’s it,” the backstories are what’s important… what makes it fun! You know that Ikioi never lost a day [to kyujo], and you know he’s totally injured. It gives you a difference. It’s not that there are these two guys that you got nothing with, you know? You know each guy’s story. You know this guy, he always chokes, and this other guy needs to get the belt.

That’s part of the whole thing. It’s like a series: ‘Game of Fat Thrones.’ And you say, “wow, what’s going to happen?” [Nowadays] you don’t give it a second thought, because you know. 

I was sitting at the Kokugikan on Day 1, and there were 2 young Americans sitting next to me, a boy and a girl, and the girl said “wake me up – this is boring.” I said, “OK, you will listen to me from now on!” And by the end of the day, she was standing up, screaming, “Here come the towels!” I explained every bout. “You will see: the small guy’s going to go out there, grab the guy’s leg, and push him out.” “No! He’s 100 kilos more!” I said, “he’s gonna go under, he gonna get his leg, and push him out.”

And when Kotoshogiku’s up, it’s going to be X-Rated.

He’s gonna bump… and he did it! Not always, but he did on that day. 

Back to the story: I just grew up in Japan, I had no choice. We had baseball. I loved the Yomiuri Giants of course growing up in Tokyo. There was a saying: Jō-jin, Taiho, Tamagoyaki. That was what everyone was into. I never missed a day, it was great! School was over at 2 o’clock, so 4-6, that’s a very comfortable time zone. You can go out later.

I think everybody knows who your favourite guys are now, but back then, who were the guys?

Back then, it was of course Taiho. And Kashiwado, Taiho’s rival. And then there was a guy called Myobudani who had a dark complexion, thin and tall, completely different from the others and I guess that’s why he stood out. And of course there was Wakanohana I, he was the old man of sumo. He was incredible. Tochinishiki as well. As a kid, you go with the Yokozuna, you don’t go with the underdogs. You want the winners. I don’t want to be sad every day! Like, you know, going with Ikioi! 

Ikioi’s my favourite too.

Ikioi was always my favourite. 

We could talk about Ikioi for a long time. He has what I call… heavy metal sumo, high octane sumo. He goes full throttle.

And his heart is like a four year old. That’s the whole thing, and when it’s over, he’s limping. When it’s going on, he’s like a tiger.

Do you know his story? His background is a really interesting story. There was a guy called Kotokanyu, who was 39 years old. He was in Makushita. They had a bout, and Ikioi went in with slaps. Ikioi was 19. And won.

Kotokanyu put a towel across his hand and went – after his bout, not the next day – to the other shitakubeya, where Ikioi was in the bath, and beat the shit out of him. He beat the crap out of the poor guy. Because Ikioi slapped him, like Aoiyama slaps. And, the next day, Kotokanyu retired of course.

They both went kyujo, because Ikioi was injured. And Kotokanyu retired. Kotokanyu had been in Israel with Sadogatake-beya, with his wife and his two kids. He was gentle, but I guess that really humiliated him. Lower Makushita, Ikioi was just coming up! Whoever was there then, look it up, you’ll see it. It finished Kotokanyu’s career. At 39 years old, he could have gone on, he was OK, he wasn’t that bad.

That’s the Ikioi story. It was the first time I noticed Ikioi. I said, “OK, this guy is going to be my man.”

You couldn’t see Makushita then. It was a dream to see it, Juryo was a dream. Because we didn’t really have any idea who was where.

It predates a lot of information.

We had no idea what was going on. Today we know every guy all the way up from Jonokuchi, and who to look out for. You can see it. 

How hard is it for you to stay on top of sumo news? It seems like you get a lot of inside information.

You get the same internet in Israel! The camels are not on the streets anymore. We get everything, in real time, and also, every morning I read the papers!

Since I read the papers in Japanese, I know exactly what’s going on at every given time. [I know] Who was injured, who was in keiko, who was this, who was that. [I read it] with my morning cup of tea, at 9 o clock in the morning. If there’s something interesting to translate, I translate. I put it in the forum, and then my newsletter. If there’s nothing really interesting, then I don’t. It’s very easy, it’s all a question of wanting to do it. If you want to do it, and you love it, then you do it! It’s like breathing for me, I love sumo so much. I wouldn’t mind doing much less. But if no one else is doing it, it’s something that I feel I have to do! 

And I was at the Kokugikan, and I was astounded by the number of foreign fans! First of all, all the guys I was sitting next to got their tickets from BuySumoTickets because that’s the only way we can buy tickets now. 5 years ago, we used to walk in, and sit on a masu seat… alone… the whole day!

Now, it’s very difficult for foreign fans to get tickets through the Association.

BuySumoTickets is able to buy blocks. And other [vendors] buy blocks. Takakeisho’s sudden popularity, and new [female] fans, with the good looking rikishi: that’s a new thing, that wasn’t there ten years ago when I came, no way! The youngest guy there was a 70 year old, everyone was old!

The first basho I went to, it kind of felt like that, and then Kisenosato got promoted. After that, everything changed.

Oh, yeah. That was the moment. You used to [be able to] buy tickets at the entrance, the one day tickets, for 2000 yen. You know what we used to do? It’s called zabuton bingo. We would go and sit [in the masu] and then at 2:30, some guy would come, and we moved to the next seat. The contest was who could stay the longest [without having to move]!

I once made it to the middle of Juryo without having to move – in the 4th row! That’s an incredible experience. It’s nothing at all like anything else. And then… the old lady [whose seat it was] came!

Today you go, and they want tickets. They say, “where’s the ticket?” We used to walk around and only at the very end did you go to your actual seat. [This basho] I was sitting in the nosebleed seats, I started getting dizzy from the height!

I know what this experience has been like for me, so I’m curious about someone like you who’s been in the game as long as you have: What is the reaction of people you work with, who you know, who you play music with, when they find out how much you do with sumo?

They all give me the phone numbers of the nearest institution! Always! They say, “it’s right around the corner, they’ll be happy to have you. Shall I make the phone call?”  Everyone thinks I’m nuts. 

So they find out that you’re interested in sumo, and then…

They know! I came from Japan. There’s not many people in Israel who can say, “I grew up in Japan.” And nobody calls me between 9 and 12 in the morning, at all, because I don’t answer.

I don’t talk with my friends about sumo, unless they ask me. The guys in my band, they know nothing. They know about sumo stuff, but they don’t know how deep I’m involved, or what I do on the channel. I don’t tell them, because they think I’m crazy anyway. So, more than that, that’s institutionalised madness! But I really couldn’t care less. My [family] knows. My daughters grew up on this, they know everything.

I don’t think anybody knows the extent of my involvement, that’s for sure. It borders on crazy, so I’d rather it’s “maybe he has a passing interest, whatever.” I really don’t tell anyone.

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.