（本名 小柳 亮太、時津風部屋）は引退しました。
— 日本相撲協会公式（九州場所まで あと4日！） (@sumokyokai) November 28, 2022
In somewhat of a surprise announcement, the Sumo Association announced today that Juryo rikishi Yutakayama of Tokitsukaze beya has decided to retire.
A veteran of six and a half years in the sport at professional level, Yutakayama will be well known to readers of Tachiai for his significant presence in the top division over the past several years.
Yutakayama burst onto the scene as a college recruit in 2016, arriving as a Sandanme tsukedashi on account of his collegiate achievements alongside future Ozeki Asanoyama. Then named Oyanagi (his last name), it looked at the outset of his career that the powerful pusher-thruster could provide a foil to Asanoyama’s (also then fighting under his real name Ishibashi) yotsu-zumo techniques.
Indeed, Yutakayama made swift work of the lower divisions and arrived in Makuuchi in just his 8th tournament. Upon arrival, he took a very notable shikona, reflective of the hopes pinned on him with respect to the huge achievements of other Yutakayamas of Tokitsukaze beya of generations past. As a prospect, his abilities were easy to dream on: a slew of oshi-zumo enthusiasts including Onosho and Takakeisho also arrived in the top division in 2017, but Yutakayama’s greater physicality marked him out as a special talent and someone who may rise quickly to challenge those in the joi and san’yaku ranks.
After a stop-start beginning to his top division tenure in which he yo-yo’d between the divisions, Yutakayama gained his footing in the upper tier of sumo. At 2018’s Nagoya basho he achieved his finest performance, coming runner-up to yusho winner Mitakeumi by a single loss at 12-3, and also notching the only special prize of his career. A tour de force performance in total, the basho was punctuated by Yutakayama’s Day 14 win against Ozeki Takayasu in their first ever meeting, and bettered the following day on senshuraku by a stunning rally against the champion Mitakeumi. Yutakayama came back twice from the bales, defeating the star of the tournament with a hooking inner thigh throw which he deployed at the third attempt in a battle and manner of victory that was not typical of his sumo style.
However, injuries were to prove too much for Yutakayama to manage, and twice sapped his runs to the joi. He never made it to san’yaku, topping out at Maegashira 1, and suffering heavy losing records on his trips to the uppermost heights of the rank and file. While it seemed his infusion into the top division would provide a challenge to Shodai’s position as top dog at Tokitsukaze beya, we never got to see Yutakayama in a position to display his abilities consistently at the upper end of the division due to the undoubted toll that his injuries took on his ability to commit power to his oshi-zumo skill set. His intai at the age of 29 is perhaps a reflection of knowing that the game was up, as he looked overmatched even in the lower reaches of Makuuchi in recent years, and most recently suffered a heavy double digit makekoshi in Juryo in Fukuoka.
While his departure feels premature, for many sumo fans it will feel difficult to take simply because it felt like it wasn’t that long ago that he could have been projected as a force in the sport. I remember tracking him as a prospect and while it’s one feeling to see a long-time top division star or personal favourite leave the sport for blue-jacketed security detail, it’s another thing to see a top talent who we can remember in a chon-mage – or even zanbara – departing before his time might otherwise have come. Indeed, the Sumo Association normally will reference as part of the intai announcement whether a retiring sekitori has taken up an elder name, and while Yutakayama qualified for a kabu on account of the duration of his service, we can infer that he will not be staying in the organisation and will be leaving sumo entirely.
In the immediate future, with interest to banzuke prognosticators, Yutakayama’s intai and the swift announcement following the basho and ahead of the banzuke meeting will open an additional place in Juryo for the 2023 Hatsu basho. My prediction is that Ms5 Hakuyozan will take his place, although I will defer to our own lksumo for how this impacts his already comprehensive analysis of the January banzuke.
An announcement as to Yutakayama’s future was not immediately given but we can expect more details in the coming days. Whatever it may entail, we wish the Tokyo University of Agriculture and Tokitsukaze-beya alum the best of luck in his “second life!”