Pre-basho warm up: a kanji review

A couple weeks ago, our reader Kiran asked me to write an article about usual kanji we see in the sumo world. What a great warm up idea, prior to the basho! I hope we’ll be able to translate a few new names without effort, come the last tournament of the year. I’d like to point out the fact that I’m no Japanese born speaker (actually, not a Japanese speaker at all), but did my best to produce a serious, reliable article. Please don’t recommand an intai, should you spot mistakes along the way!

Back to basics

A few kanji are not too hard to remember, I think:

  • 海 (“umi”, as in “Mitakeumi”) means “sea”
  • 風 (“kaze”, as in “Yoshikaze”) means “wind”
  • 竜 (“ryu”, as in “Kakuryu”) means “dragon”
  • 富士 is “fuji”, as in “Midorifuji”
  • 丸 (“maru”, as in Daishomaru”) means “circle”

Not as commonly seen, but not too difficult to remember are:

  • 若 (“waka”, as in “Wakatakakage”), meaning “young”, “youth”
  • 里 (“sato”, as in “Kisenosato”) refers to a small village, or “hometown”
  • 魁 (“kai”, as in “Kaisei”) means “pioneering”, “charging ahead” (thank you, @TheSumoSoul!)
  • 聖 (“sei”, as in, well, “Kaisei”) means “holy”, or “sacred”
  • 照 (“teru”), meaning “shining”, or, again according to @TheSumoSoul, “blasting”. Notable holders of that kanji are Isegahama beya rikishi: Terunofuji, Terutsuyoshi, etc.

Even less used, but as easy to spot are:

  • 碧 (“aoi”), meaning “blue”, as in “Aoiyama”
  • 翔 and 猿, giving the now famous shikona “Tobizaru”, meaning “flying monkey”!

Apart from the “Teru”, it has to be noted that these usual kanji do not give indication of the rikishi’s stable. Being common, they are used by everyone, so to say. For example, Mitakeumi and Okinoumi do not belong to the same stable; the same applies for Terunofuji and Hokutofuji.

Two kanji simply indicate the belonging: の and 乃, who both are pronounced “no”. More on that later.

Going further

What about 山 ? It means “mountain”, or “hill”. But here’s the first trick: it is pronounced either “yama”, or “zan”, like in “Asanoyama” or “Shohozan”, who share that kanji. That kanji is very interesting. It reminds us the fact that Japanese language has Chinese origins, which explains the fact that many words have at least two types of pronunciation. But both pronunciations refer to exactly the same thing – so it would be wrong to say that “yama” means “mountain”, while “zan” would mean “hill”, or the other way around.

Back to 山. Pronouncing it “zan” refer to ths Chinese origins of the kanji – where, by the way, it is rather pronounced “shan” (in Mandarin Chinese) or “san” (in Cantonese Chinese).

So, when should it be pronounced “yama”, and when is it “zan” (or “san”) ? Actually, the “yama” pronunciation is correct, only when the kanji is isolated. As a matter of fact, Mount Fuji (富士山) should be referred as “Fujisan”, not “Fujiyama”.

Less of a debate are:

  • 琴 (“koto”), actually a Japanese instrument, a kind of zither made of thirteen strings. That kanji is of course used by Sadogatake wrestlers: Kotoshogiku, Kotonowaka, etc.
  • 大 (“dai”, as in “Daieisho”; or “tai”, as in “Chiyotairyu”), meaning “large”, or “great”. Quite logically, a 大 横綱 is a “dai-yokozuna”, a great yokozuna. Contrary to common belief, it does not refer to each yokozuna who won at least ten yusho, but rather to one dominant champion, in a given period. For example, Harumafuji ended his career with nine yusho in his belt – but had he won a tenth, he would probably not have been given that title, as Hakuho naturally holds it.

Now let’s dig into the “taka” maze!

  • First of all, Takarafuji does start with “Taka”, but the first kanji, 宝 actually is “takara”, meaning “treasure”
  • 貴 (as in “Takakeisho”: 貴景勝) can mean “expensive”, “costly”, or can express nobility.
  • 隆 (as in “Takanosho”: 隆の勝) has a similar meaning: “noble,” “prosperity”.
  • 髙 (as in “Takayasu”: 髙安) means “tall”, “high”, and can only be used in first or last names.

If many rikishi possess another common kanji – the “Chiyo”, that one is fortunately easier to translate!

Indeed, 千 litterally means “thousand”, whereas “” refers to years, or eras. Put it together, the “Chiyo” – 千代 – is simply translated into “eternal”.

One kanji curiosities

  • 輝, Kagayaki’s only kanji, means “radiance”. That kanji is actually the last one of Kotoyuki’s shikona: 琴勇輝
  • 勢, Ikioi’s kanji, means “strength”
  • Sakigake’s kanji is actually the afore mentionned 魁 – “kai”!

A few entire translations

I hope not being miles off target with the last part of that article, but I think we have amassed sufficient knowledge for some not too difficult translations:

  • 碧山: “Aoiyama”, of course, means “blue mountain”.
  • Let’s try with former sekiwake Wakanosato: 若の里. We have 若, meaning “youth”, 里, the small village or hometown, and の, referring to the belonging. 若の里 could therefore be translated into something like: the hometown of the youth.
  • Nishinoryu is currently ranked sandanme 8. His shikona is written as follows: 西乃龍. 西 means “West”, 龍 is “dragon”, 乃 is also referring to the belonging. 西乃龍, hence, means “dragon of the West”.
  • Former komusubi Chiyotairyu: 千代大龍. 千代 means “eternal”, means “big”, means “dragon”: eternal big dragon!

Feel free to give it a try; there’s no nothing better than pre-basho practise! Hakkeyoi!

And the best basho of the 2010 decade is…

Admittedly, this article could have taken place at the end of last year. But slowly putting myself in the mood for the final basho of the year, I was thinking of past great sumo moments, and wanted to switch from an internal monologue to a broader discussion with you guys, sumo fans.

So my question is: in your opinion, which basho of the past decade would you consider as “the best” ?

Before we start, I’d like to point out the fact that this article will be purely subjective, and does not aim to be scientific or exact. I myself haven’t seen several basho from the beginning of the 2010 decade, so it’s likely I missed some great moments along the way!

I’d like to thank once again Jason Harris for his awesome coverage during the past decades, and his videos I took the liberty to upload here.

The favorites

1. Natsu basho 2012

Had this basho taken place somewhere between 2018 and 2020, the final outcome would not have appeared that weird. But back in 2012, that basho was truly an anomaly.

Seeing an under-par Hakuho losing to Aminishiki on shonishi quickly made it clear the yusho would be up for grabs.

The eventual winner, Kyokutenho, started indifferently, with a 2-3 record after five days, whereas the ozeki were largely disappointing. All, except one: Kisenosato, who had a comfortable two win lead after ten days. But Kisenosato being Kisenosato (and Tochiozan being Tochiozan)…

To sum up this basho, I could of course have selected the playoff, but Kisenosato’s final bout, against Baruto, impressed me quite a lot. The Estonian’s stubborn resistance at the edge, even though nothing was at stake for him at this point, is stunning. Kisenosato’s inability to finish the big guy off is all the more painful.

May 2012, day 15: Kisenosato v Baruto

2. Osaka 2017

Definitely one of the blockbusters of the 2010 decade. The Osaka basho 2017 is the tale of three men, one yokozuna, one ozeki and one sekiwake. Two months ago, all three were ozeki. Kisenosato got promoted to yokozuna, Kotoshogiku could not save his ozeki rank, whereas Terunofuji entered the basho being sadly kadoban yet again. And all three entered the dohyo in fine form.

The shin-yokozuna pleased a delighted crowd, day after day, winning the first twelwe bouts. Terunofuji’s knees seemed to finally let him produce his A-game, having lost just once in the process. Meanwhile, Kotoshogiku grabbed eight wins, and has to win the last two in order to complete what an ozekiwake wants to do: getting his ten, and reaching sumo’s highest rank again.

The rest is already part of the legend: an injury ending career, an infamous henka, a forgettable showing up on day 14, and a playoff of the crippled.

This time, I definitely chose to show the playoff, and not to bring further images of that Kotoshogiku – Terunofuji bout.

Osaka 2017, playoff: Kisenosato v Terunofuji

3. Hatsu basho 2019

My personal favorite, and the perfect definition of sumo chaos.

I can’t help but introducing that event with the usual pre-basho “bold prediction” thread from Grand Sumo Breakdown. Feeling that the upper ranks were far from their best, I predicted a total of no more than 30 wins, for all ozeki and yokozuna combined – that included Goeido, Takayasu, Tochinoshin, Kakuryu, Hakuho and Kisenosato, so an average of five wins per rikishi! Jason thought I was losing it; I held on my prediction. How many wins did those six eventually get? 30.

Back to chaos. First of all, this was Kisenosato’s last basho. After an encouraging 10-5 in September of last year, the injured yokozuna could not grab one single win in November or in January, and had to call it a day.

Kakuryu and Tochinoshin also did not end the tournament – with two wins for the yokozuna, zero for the ozeki. Goeido and Takayasu got their kachi koshi, but varely more (9-6 for both).

What about Hakuho? During the first days, he miraculously saved himself from seemingly hopeless situations – not without a bit of help of Tochiozan, who self destructed once again. Hakuho’s desperate fight against Hokutofuji was a particular highlight. He snatched the win, but injured his knee in the process, as we were to know several days after.

After the first days scares, the dai yokozuna seemed as good as ever – Herouth advised his stable to book a fish in advance, as Hakuho entered the last third of the basho with a two win cushion. From there, the yokozuna’s knee could not stand the effort anymore, and the basho ended up – of course – with a surprise winner.

I enjoyed Takakeisho’s win over Hakuho :

January 2019, day 13: Hakuho v Takakeisho

The outsiders

There were, of course, many more delightful sumo moments to enjoy during that decade. I remember Kisenosato’s fine effort on his quest for his first yusho, in May 2013, where he won the first thirteen bouts before succumbing to Hakuho and ending the basho 13-2.

Kotoshogiku’s unstoppable gaburi was fun, back in January 2016. After getting his kashi koshi as soon as on day eight, things became serious when he defeated Kakuryu, then showing Hakuho and Harumafuji who the boss is. His 14-1 yusho was stunning; perhaps even more than Goeido’s zensho yusho in September 2016, where  Hakuho was kyujo.

January 2016, day 11: Hakuho v Kotoshogiku

The Aki basho 2017 was symbolic in more than one way. The basho almost became a no-kozuna, as the only remaining yokozuna, Harumafuji, was seriously struggling with his elbow (how many no-kozuna have we witnessed since ?). It was also the Mongolian’s final yusho, before his sudden retirement a few weeks after. That basho was yet another anomaly – the last rikishi to win a yusho having sustained four losses was Musashimaru, in 1996.

Goeido’s meltdown was truly shocking – he had a three lead cushion to Harumafuji at some point. All in all, this basho’s scenario was really entertaining, much to Jason’s delight. 

Aki basho 2017, playoff: Goeido v Harumafuji

Jason would surely single out the Aki basho 2012, too. It saw Harumafuji’s second zensho yusho in a row, which prompted a fully deserved yokozuna promotion. On the other hand, Herouth might stress out Kakuryu’s yokozuna promotion, which took place in March 2014.

Aki basho 2012, playoff: Hakuho v Harumafuji

I would finally recall 2019’s Aki basho¸ which was really fun too, with many yusho contenders, and an enjoyable sekiwake duel between Takakeisho and Mitakeumi.

The Aki basho has definitely been entertaining during the past years. Would you pick one of the previous editions as your last decade’s favorite basho?

Quiz ! About shikona changes…

As we previously mentioned it, Shodai decided to keep his shikona following his promotion to the ozeki rank. Let’s try to figure out how much we know about rikishi’s shikona, shikona changes and real names…

As usual, try your best to get your kashi koshi!

1. Let’s start this quiz quietly. Ama became ozeki…

a. Goeido

b. Kakuryu

c. Harumafuji

d. Baruto

2. Which one of these wrestlers is currently fighting with his real name ?

a. Takarafuji

b. Takayasu

c. Takanosho

d. Takagenji

3. Who started wrestling using his real name – Fukuoka ?

a. Hokutofuji

b. Okinoumi

c. Ryuden

d. Daieisho

4. Who is the other Mr. Fukuoka in makuuchi ?

a. Abi

b. Terutsuyoshi

c. Meisei

d. Enho

5. Who started his sumo career with the shikona Wakamisho ?

a. Kiribayama

b. Tamawashi

c. Ichinojo

d. Terunofuji

6. The Bulgarian wrestler Aoiyama was given his current shikona after being asked a few questions about things he likes. What does “Aoiyama” mean ?

a. Red wind

b. Red mountain

c. Blue wind

d. Blue mountain

7. And by the way, Big Dan’s (Aoiyama) real name is…

a. Petkov

b. Dimitrov

c. Kotov

d. Ivanov

Big Dan: Aoiyama Kosuke.

8. Let’s now have some fun (and a few headaches !) with Sadogatake’s wrestlers. Who used to be called Kotokikutsugi ?

a. Kotoosho

b. Kotoeko

c. Kotoyuki

d. Kotoshogiku

9. Kotokamatani, on the other hand, is now known as…

a. Kotonowaka

b. Kotoeko

c. Kotoshoho

d. Kotoshogiku

10. Whereas Kotoenomoto has become…

a. Kotooshu

b. Kotoeko

c. Kotoshoho

d. Kotoyuki

11. And finally, Kototebakari is currently known as…

a. Kotoshoho

b. Kotoyuki

c. Kotonowaka

d. Kotoshogiku

12. Takanohana and Wakanohana are one of sumo’s most famous brothers. Their real name is :

a. Hanada

b. Koga

c. Sawai

d. Hagiwara

A sumo legend: former yokozuna Takanohana.

13. Which one of these rikishi used to be called “Sato” and changed his shikona as he got promoted to makuuchi ?

a. Takakeisho

b. Asanoyama

c. Mitakeumi

d. Shodai

14. Hanakaze is known for his incredibly long career, which started back in 1986 (!). Under how many names has he wrestled so far ?

a. One

b. Two

c. Three

d. Four

15. And finally, the great Hakuho has changed shikona :

a. Once

b. Twice

c. Thrice

d. He never changed his shikona

The answers :

1. Let’s start this quiz quietly. Ama became ozeki…

c. Harumafuji. Of course ! He took that name after his promotion to ozeki, following the Kyushu basho 2008.

Nine time grand champion: former yokozuna Harumafuji.

2. Which one of these wrestlers is currently fighting with his real name ?

b. Takayasu Akira.

3. Who started wrestling using his real name – Fukuoka ?

b. Okinoumi. He actually semmed to have some remorses after changing his shikona to Okinoumi, in March 2009. Two basho after, he went back to Fukuoka Ayumi, during just one basho. He then changed once again – for good – to Okinoumi Ayumi.

4. Who is the other Mr. Fukuoka in makuuchi ?

b. Terutsuyoshi. He has used only one shikona so far : Terutsuyoshi Shoki.

Terutsuyoshi Shoki, also known as Fukuoka Shoki.

5. Who started his sumo career with the shikona Wakamisho ?

d. Terunofuji. Terunofuji likes changes : he used to be called Wakamisho Yoshiaki, then Wakamisho Noriaki, then Wakamisho Yoshiaki again, then Terunofuji Yoshiaki, then Terunofuji Haruo.

6. The Bulgarian wrestler Aoiyama was given his current shikona after being asked a few questions about things he likes. What does “Aoiyama” mean ?

d. Blue mountain. Aoiyama likes blue color, and prefers mountain over sea.

7. And by the way, Big Dan’s (Aoiyama) real name is…

d. Ivanov. Daniel Ivanov, to be exact.

8. Let’s now have some fun (and a few headaches !) with Sadogatake’s wrestlers. Who used to be called Kotokikutsugi ?

d. Kotoshogiku. His real name is Kikutsugi Kazuhiro.

9. Kotokamatani, on the other hand, is now known as…

a. Kotonowaka. Outside the dohyo, he’s Kamatani Masakatsu

10. Whereas Kotoenomoto has become…

d. Kotoyuki, also known as Enomoto Yuki.

11. And finally, Kototebakari is currently known as…

a. Kotoshoho. His real name : Tebakari Toshiki

12. Takanohana and Wakanohana are one of sumo’s most famous brothers. Their real name is :

a. Hanada. Koga is Kaio’s name ; Sawai is Goeido’s name and Hagiwara is former Kisenosato’s name. Some great wrestlers down there.

13. Which one of these rikishi used to be called “Sato” and changed his shikona as he got promoted to makuuchi ?

a. Takakeisho. Asanoyama did change his shikona, but after promotion to juryo. Mitakeumi took just one shikona, whereas Shodai is fighting under his actual name.

14. Hanakaze is known for his incredibly long career, which started back in 1986 (!). Under how many names has he wrestled so far ?

c. Three. He started fighting under his real name, Yamagushi Daisaku, then switched to Tatsuyamagushi Daisaku, and to Hanakaze Daisaku. He holds that name since July 1999 !

15. And finally, the great Hakuho has changed shikona :

d. He never changed his shikona. Hakuho Sho. That’s the GOAT’s shikona.

Simply the best: yokozuna Hakuho Sho.

 

Tokyo July Basho – Day 1 preview

Sumo’s back! Finally! I believe many of us have never been as excited as today, looking forward for the great return of our favorite wrestlers.

The mock Natsu basho, conceived by our colleagues of Grand Sumo Breakdown, has provided us some nice moments while we were waiting, including an unlikely Ishiura run, and Mitakeumi’s eventual triumph.

I believe, however, we have grounds to expect quite different results. Indeed, the mock basho was supposed to fake the May tournament. Rikishi, on the contrary, have been able to have some welcomed rest, and there’s no doubt some of them have taken all benefit of it.

So, first day’s torikumi is up, and brings the promise of an exciting start :

Terunofuji v Kotoyuki. So, the very first makuuchi bout will be the one I’ll expect most! It’s Terunofuji’s long awaited makuuchi return, and it’s fair to say he comes back from hell. If his road back certainly deserves much praise, the final steps almost proved to be stumbling blocks. More worringly, he still practises under painkillers, and it’s doubtful whetever he’ll successfully defend his makuuchi status. He defeated Kotoyuki last time in March; if he manages to avoid Kotoyuki’s early tsuppari attacks, he should edge that one.

Nishikigi v Kotoeko. A bout between two recent demotees to juryo. Nishikigi’s makuuchi has been underwhelming in March, with a 6-9 record that barely allowed him to keep a makuuchi spot. It’ll be their third meeting, and Nishikigi is yet to defeat his smaller opponent. I expect that trend to go on.

Kotoshoho v Chiyomaru. It took just three basho for Kotoshoho to move from juryo debut to makuuchi debut, which will take place this Sunday! Interestingly, he has won his last five basho’s shonichi, but Chiyomaru has done better: that’s eight win in a row during shonichi! From a more practical point of view, Chiyomaru’s experience may well prevail over newbie Kotoshoho.

Kotoshogiku v Wakatakakage. The former ozeki is slowly running out of energy. Furthermore, he struggled against other pixies: 0-2 v Enho, 1-2 v Terutsuyoshi. Remarkably, Wakatakakage is still undefeated in makuuchi, as he went kyujo after a 4-0 record in November of last year. He’ll eventually suffer his first loss, but I do not think this will happen on Sunday.

Takayasu v Kotonowaka. Takayasu’s elbow is still a major concern, although the break might have given him a lift. Kotonowaka had a good 9-6 makuuchi debut, and usually starts decently. I think he’ll edge this one as well.

Sadanoumi v Shohozan. An interesting style opposition between two experienced rikishi. Neither of them has been performing extremely well recently, with just one kachi kochi combined, during the last three basho. I tend to favour Shohozan on that one, and so do the matchups: 10-5 for the veteran.

Shimanoumi v Tochinoshin. The Mie-ken born has been largely disappointing lately, after a bright makuuchi debut in 2019. If Tochinoshin is given time to heal his knees, he still can do wonders. I’m sure he relished the time he has been given to heal, and I expect him to start strongly this basho.

Kaisei v Myogiryu. Another battle between two experienced battlers – they’re both 33. Maegashira 10 is Kaisei’s highest rank for a while, and it’s Myogiryu lowest for a while. Advantage to Myogiryu, who also leads their matchups 11-7.

Tamawashi v Ikioi. Ikioi’s resurgence after his feet troubles is quite impressive. Tamawashi’s sekiwake days, on the opposite, seem to be a century ago. The dynamic is on the Osaka born’s side, despite the matchups favouring the one time yusho winner (11-6).

Ishiura v Chiyotairyu. That should be an interesting matchup. Ishiura has been repeatedly yo-yoing between makuuchi and juryo, but his results have appeared to settle up a bit lately. His larger opponent has left the joi by the end of last year, and will look to regain a place in the upper maegashira spots.

Terutsuyoshi v Tokushoryu. Right after Ishiura, the Isegahama pixie will take another big boy, the surprise yusho winner back in January. It unfortunately appears Terutsuyoshi is suffering from a knee problem, which is likely to hamper his results here. He’ll need to push on his knees if he wants to move heavy opponents like Tokushoryu.

Enho v Ryuden. Enho will to bounce back after the only third make kochi of his young career. So far, Ryuden has not found the key against the last pixie of the day (0-2), although Enho’s last tachi-ai against Ryuden was henka-ish. Will the latter find a way to defeat him, this time ?

Abi v Hokutofuji. An interesting battle between two members of the « komusubi quartet », back in November of last year. If staying in san’yaku has proved too difficult for Hokutofuji (three make kochi), Abi has left the higher ranks after your consecutive appearances due to injury issues. Let’s hope the break has enabled him to fix this, although he has the bad habit of losing on shonichi (just one win over the last nine occurrences !).

Kagayaki v Aoiyama. Kagayaki is definitely on the rise again, after two double digit wins, and a 8-7 tournament in March. After six straight losses to Aoiyama, he finally defeated Big Dan two times, including an oshidashi win in January. I expect Kagayaki to fare well this tournament, although the maegashira 4 spot has been a ceiling glass to him so far.

Daieisho v Kiribayama. I became a massive fan of Kiribayama, who undoubtly benefited of Kakuryu’s advice. But he lacks first division experience, to say the least, and he’ll enter the joi for the very first time of his fledging career. Therefore, I consider the reliable Daieisho to dominate their coming encounter.

Takarafuji v Mitakeumi. If the discreet Takarafuji has granted us a rare pre-basho interview, let’s be clear : his brand of sumo remains defensive, no-nonsense. If it could be useful during Mitakeumi’s regular mid-basho meltdown, he’ll have a hard time containing Mitakeumi’s power. The two time yusho winner should dominate the yotsu zumo debate.

Shodai v Onosho. Not an easy one to call. Their early career was full of promise, and both have largely failed to deliver so far. Shodai is currently trying to establish himself as a sekiwake, if not more. If their matchups is level (2-2), Shodai has started excellently his six last basho, being 2-0 five times, and 1-1 the sixth time. On the contrary, Onosho has lost four of the last five shonichi. The sekiwake has to be touted as the favourite.

Takanosho v Asanoyama. Takanosho has caught the eye with a formidable 12-3 basho in March. If Asanoyama has his ups and downs during a basho, I’m sure he’ll do his best to have a bright ozeki start. He has won their only meeting so far, and I expect him to double his lead.

Takakeisho v Yutakayama. That’s another match where both rikishi’s dynamic are going the opposite way. Yutakayama has rosen quite impressively through the maegashira ranks recently, but will it be enough to defeat the kadoban ozeki ? His lack of san’yaku experience might prove too big a disadvantge against Takakeisho, who desperately needs eight wins, and a good start.

Endo v Kakuryu. Endo seemed to be a big threat to the yokozuna in recent times. After a san’yaku breakthrough, Endo seemed to have lost his way again. Here too, I expect the break to have helped the Mongolian healing his injury troubles. Kakuryu has to win that one.

Hakuho v Okinoumi. The dai-yokozuna is of course the big favorite of that pairing. Let’s not underestimate Okinoumi’s, those solid yostu zumo has provided stern opposition to Hakuho. I expect the Mongolian to edge comfortably that one, nevertheless.