Frequent followers of Tachiai will note that I did not write very much in the run up to Hatsu, and that this was quite unusual. Normally I like to set up and preview the storylines that are likely to unfold over the 15 weeks of the tournament, and help all of our readers put the matches into a broad context. But with the exception of some bits bout Ura, and some things around Wakaichiro, there was nothing.
There is really one story that must be discussed, and I dreaded writing it. Its time for Kisenosato to “man up”, gamberize and put an end to this farce. Some background if you would.
Kisenosato was a perpetual bridesmaid, he had an amazing string of jun-yusho, but had never lifted the Emperor’s Cup himself. Meanwhile, the sport of sumo slowly took a diminishing stance in the mind of the Japanese public, as it had been so totally dominated by a string of Mongolian dai-Yokozuna. To some it seemed that it was hardly Japan’s national sport at all. Then Kisenosato won Hatsu 2017, and everything changed.
Kisenosato was a solid Ozeki. He may have been what could be called a dai-Ozeki. His sumo was low, heavy and unquestionably effective. But the moment he won Hatsu 2017, the campaign was on to bring a Japanese born man into the Yokozuna ranks for the first time in a generation. It would transform the sport of sumo, and breath new life into the flagging fortunes of the NSK. The Yokozuna Committee concurred, and it was announced that Kisenosato would become 72nd Yokozuna. There were some who stood firm that he had not earned the rope, as the criteria is thought to be 2 back to back yusho.
But Kisenosato proved them fools as well. He won Haru in one of the most dramatic and compelling yusho runs in memory. Badly wounded, he managed to defeat Terunofuji twice on the final day to take the cup. Neither man has since recovered, but in fact Kisenosato had won his back to back yusho, and had proven he was a Yokozuna.
But that injury was grave, and for reasons we will likely never understand, the choice was made to let it try to heal naturally. A torn pectoral muscle on his left side left his primary weapon useless, and month after month passed with no real improvement. Herouth covered “how did we get to this point” with her usual stellar clarity, and it’s worth it to read it again.
Two days into Hatsu 2019, and Kisenosato is a mockery of his former sumo, and of the rank of Yokozuna. A comparison to his own form in 2016 or 2015 proves out that his sumo is gone, and can never return. The body is broken, the muscles de-conditioned, and there is no path that brings them back to top form. Below is sumo fan’s exhibit 1
Could today’s Yokozuna Kisenosato beat this guy in the dark red mawashi? I think not.
Sumo fan’s exhibit 2. Watch the guy in the dark red mawashi. Look at his low stance, how when he moves his feet barely leave this clay. This is “heavy” sumo, and it bested Harumafuji on this day.
How would today’s Yokozuna Kisenosato fare against this guy? 2014 Kisenosato would call himself today weak and pathetic, a disgrace to sumo. And he would be correct.
I am very sad for him, for his fans, and for sumo. But each time he mounts the dohyo to lose to an opponent of the calibre he used to “toy” with, just tears at the fabric of the sport. There is no shame in exiting after such a terrible injury, I said at the time it was likely “career ending”. There is shame in letting this mockery continue.
Furthermore, as we saw in day 2, the whole sport – from the fans to the rikishi to the Oyakata, are on edge waiting for him to do what needs to be done. the NHK commenters noted there was an odd feel in the hall – everyone is dreading what is going to happen next. Hoping that somehow this will pass, and everyone can enjoy sumo. It’s like waiting for a beloved friend to die in some ways.
There is word that Tagonoura Oyakata is declaring he will continue to compete, and that his fan club will be there to cheer him on. With all due respect to Tagonoura Oyakata, this is (or at least should be) out of his hands. As a Yokozuna (which Tagonoura Oyakata never was), Kisenosato’s behavior is a direct reflection of the NSK, and as such I am assuming the NSK is in specific discussions with Kisenosato about what he needs to do.
No sumo fan of good fiber is happy at this situation, but it must end. And only one person can end it. Kisenosato.