Heyabiraki at Naruto Beya

Today, June 8th 2019, the new Naruto Beya was officially dedicated in an event similar to a house-warming, called a “heyabiraki”.

Although Naruto beya’s new building has already been put to use for the past two basho, this marked its opening in an official way. The event included a dohyo matsuri in the presence of NSK board members Oguruma and Shibatayama, as well as Sadogatake oyakata, master of Kotooshu’s original heya. Following the dohyo matsuri, the sekitori of the Nishonoseki ichimon, to which Naruto beya belongs, led by Ozeki Takayasu, practiced on the newly dedicated dohyo.

Nishonoseki ichimon includes many san-yaku and well-known sekitori

The new heya is located five minutes away from the Tokyo Skytree station on the Tobu Skytree line, at the Mukojima quarter of Sumida. It includes four floors spread over 178㎡ of land. It took two years, and more than ¥300M ($2.8M) from the time Naruto oyakata bought the land for it to be completed. The floor plan is as follows:

  1. Keikoba (practice space) and two baths
  2. Common room, chankoba (kitchen/dining area)
  3. Dormitory, three private rooms for future sekitori
  4. Oyakata and okami-san’s residence
Folding the Natsu banzuke at the dormitory area

Two points were most important to Naruto oyakata in the planning of his new heya. One was its proximity to the Kokugikan (“It’s the center of things. It also has a medical facility”), and the visibility of the practice sessions. The side of the keiko-ba that faces the street has large windows that allow passers-by to see the practicing rikishi. Naruto oyakata is fully aware that this close to the popular Tokyo Skytree, his heya may draw a lot of foreign tourists. Being foreign-born himself, he doesn’t see that as an issue – he wants to expose sumo to the world.

Naruto beya’s daily keiko. The street facing windows (on the right) are actually half covered by wooden blinds.

This is not the only form of visibility in the new keiko-ba. In addition to it having full air conditioning and a water dispenser on hand, two video cameras are installed in it.

Camera and monitor – next to the street-facing window

The cameras allow the oyakata as well as the individual deshi to review their practice sessions and improve their technique.

All this extra visibility may also keep some problem behavior away – at least away from the sacred practice grounds.

When Kotooshu retired and became Naruto oyakata, he stayed at first, as is customary, at his original Sadogatake beya, learning the ropes and doing his blue jacket duties. However, it’s generally expected of an ex-Ozeki to form his own heya if he does not inherit one. And in April 2017 he left the heya with his two uchi-deshi – Oshozan and Honma. Until this new heya was to be completed, he set up camp at a temporary place near Kinshichi station.

He soon added what he hoped would be his foreign talent, Torakio, from his own homeland of Bulgaria, and Sumidagawa, a Sumida local with experience in Judo. These two additions turned out to be less than fortunate, though, as Sumidagawa bullied a minor deshi using Judo choking techniques, unsettling the young heya with scandal.

Torakio was apparently not connected to that scandal, but his progress turned out to be slower than he and the oyakata had hoped, and then, all of a sudden – after the heya has already moved to the new residence – it was announced privately to the koen-kai that he has retired mid-April and returned to Bulgaria in a rush.

Torakio’s privately-held danpatsu-shiki

The heya now has 12 rikishi, 6 of whom are freshmen who made their first steps in Natsu 2019. These, however, include the heya’s first recruits with actual sumo experience: Motobayashi was considered a rival of Takakeisho’s when he was in high-school, but unlike the current Ozeki, chose to continue his education at Kinki university, where he won the West Japan Student Championship yusho. He is probably the heya’s leading sekitori hope. Sakurai is a graduate of Nippon Sports University, and Maruyama graduated from Kaiyo high school.

In addition to the rikishi, the heya has two additional young members – a yobidashi and a gyoji. It also has two hired managers, which is one of the lessons learned from the Sumidagawa incident – more adults were needed on hand, and the oyakata – who did not live in the temporary heya – has to be on-site a greater portion of his time. Hopefully, now that his residence is in the fourth floor, the heya’s character will reflect his good intentions.

Answering questions from the press during the Heyabiraki, Naruto said: “This is the real start. The feeling is different than in the temporary heya. I want all of us, my deshi and I, to lower our eyes and work together without complaints about this and that”. He adds “I want to bring up humans, not just sumo wrestlers”.

“My dream is to bring up a deshi who will surpass me” – this means a yokozuna – “and to have those three private rooms we prepared filled up. But to get there, my first goal has to be getting my deshi into Makushita”.

Preview – Tachiai’s “Ones to Watch”

At Tachiai, we have a group of talented or unique rikishi we follow each tournament in the lower divisions. Some of them are young up-and-coming potentials who are fighting their way to the top. Some are injured veterans struggling to return to the limelight of the top divisions. We call them the “Ones to Watch”.

The Osaka basho featured intense competition in the lower divisions, with some of our favorites going down in flames, but others rising to the cusp of promotion into the salaried ranks. The Natsu basho looks to have some of the most full-throttle action in a while, with an elite crop of rikishi gathering in the top 10 ranks of Makushita, and a few beloved veterans pushing hard up the ranks to return to their former glory. Lets take a look at who we will be following this May.

Wakamotoharu – After a 1 basho visit to Juryo, Wakamotoharu’s 5-10 record sees him relegated back to the top of Makushita. A simple kachi-koshi should be enough to return him to sekitori status, but in Makushita this is no easy task. He will be in fierce competition against the likes of Kotokamatani, Kizakiumi and Ryuko.

Ichiyamamoto – Returning to his highest ever rank of Ms3e, he will need to maintain a winning record to press for promotion. He has been kachi-koshi in his past 3 basho, and he will be working hard to overcome the same competitor that Wakamotoharu must out-shine to gain a handful of possible promotion spots to Juryo.

Hoshoryu – The young Mongolian powerhouse finds himself inches away from breaking into the salaried ranks, and he has yet to rack up his first make-koshi tournament. But the top 4 ranks of Makushita feature 4 rikishi who are fighting at their highest ever ranks, and a pair who are near their top posting. The competition in this bracket may be some of the toughest in many years.

Wakatakamoto – Just outside the Makushita meat grinder at the top, the lowest ranked Oanmi brother will be looking to pick up his 4 wins and inch closer to “the Wall”. His two prior tournaments have resulted in solid 5-2 results, and he looks to have his sumo in good form.

Midorifuji – Competing at his highest ever rank of Ms13e, he will face off day 1 against flagging former Juryo man Gokushindo on day 1. The top half of Makushita is frequently inhabited with former sekitori struggling to find a way back to the top. Note: Gokushindo has since withdrawn from the tournament.

Akua – Speaking of men who bounced out of Juryo and are still trying to find a way home, we find Akua, who I would predict is still suffering from one mechanical injury that saw him go kyujo from the 2018 Aki basho on day 12. If he has his body in good condition, he should be a tough competitor and we will see him start is long climb back upwards.

Naya – Another young rikishi with a lot of promise, Naya has size, his family heritage and all of the training they imparted on him in his favor. He finished Osaka with an impressive 6-1, and will find the competition quite a bit more challenging.

Musashikuni – Two consecutive make-koshi tournaments have put the scion of the Musashigawa heya back into the bottom range of Makushita. Musashikuni has had physical problems with his undercarriage, and his fans are simply waiting for him to get his body in good working order, and return to his normally powerful ways.

Ura – Note that we are unlikely to see Ura any time soon. He has once again had surgery to reconstruct his knee, but both Ura and his Oyakata have stated flatly they are looking for nothing short of perfection in the repair before he begins training again. I would guess no sooner than next year, by which time he will be well down the banzuke.

Roga – After finishing 7-0 in Osaka, and taking the Jonidan yusho, risking Mongolian star Roga finds himself in the top quarter of Sandanme. Given the strength and focus of his sumo thus far, I am guessing he will be a strong contender against the Sandanme regulars.

Terunofuji – The injured Ozeki made his return in Osaka, and finished 7-0 in Jonidan, losing the yusho in a playoff match with Roga. He is subsequently ranked a bit further down the banzuke at Sd49e. Terunofuji looked physically out of sorts in Osaka, and we hope he has been training and working on his conditioning since then. If he’s mechanically well, he should be able to make swift work of most of his opponents.

Torakio – It has been announced that the one time scion of Naruto heya has left sumo. He was struggling quite a bit as of late, and he has decided to pack it in and return to Bulgaria.

Shoji – A one time up and coming rikishi, Shoji peaked at Makushita 52 last year at Natsu, and has been trending lower since. Now near the middle of Sandanme, he has a real opportunity to regroup and get his sumo back on track.

Amakaze – A former Juryo mainstay, Amakaze became injured and took and extended kyujo, re-entering competition in Osaka, and turning in a respectable 6-1 from Jonidan. Now ranked towards the bottom of Sandanme, he should have a fairly easy kachi-koshi if his joints stay healthy.

Wakaichiro – Tachiai favorite Wakaichiro has yet to find the formula to hit and stick in Sandanme. During 2018, he faced a number of physical challenges, and each consecutive match saw him mount the dohyo with an increasing amount of tape on his body. Since then it seems he may have turned a corner on his health, which will delight his fans.

Kitanowaka – New sumotori Kitanowaka will have his first professional sumo matches in Tokyo this may. An impressive young man from Yamagata, he starts his sumo career at Jonokuchi 16e.

Ones To Watch – Post Haru Round Up (Sandanme to Jonikuchi)

He’s Back! (Terunofuji)

I have to start by complimenting Herouth’s coverage of the jungyo, which is (if anything) even better than its already typical awesome. The gaps between the basho seem less vacant, and we fans to get to see a different aspect to the sumo world. So a big THANK-YOU to Herouth for bringing us these features.

In our last post, we looked at 9 rikishi in Makushita for Haru, and discussed just how tough the competition can be in the Makushita joi-jin. Today we discuss the rikishi in the divisions below Makushita, each of whom is working hard to improve their rank each and every match. Our coverage at Haru featured some returning favorites, who found themselves in the middle of Jonidan,

Torakio – Naruto heya’s scion took a terrible pounding in Osaka, finishing a dismal 1-6, with the win coming on his final match of the tournament. This was Torakio’s highest ever rank (Sandanme 15), and he had been on a steady path of improvement. We can hope that he did not sustain some mechanical injury, and will return to Tokyo to regroup and refocus on the upcoming Natsu basho in May.

Shoji – A young rikishi from Musashigawa heya, he finished 2-5, ending the tournament with a 3 bout losing streak. He had previously been ranked as high as Makushita 52, but has only scored one kachi-koshi tournament in the past year. The Musashigawa rikishi almost all had terrible tournaments in Osaka. Bad luck? Poor training? Poor quarters? We will never get to know, but we hope that returning to Tokyo will help the crew score better for May.

Wakaichiro – Our favorite Sandanme rikishi ended the tournament with a disappointing 3-4 record, which came down to his final match on day 14. Wakaichiro has shown that he is susceptible to placing his balance forward, and at times is open to hatakikomi or other moves that exploit his center of gravity. As with many of the Musashigawa clan, they fight better in Tokyo, and we expect he will be back in better form for May.

Kenho – The massive Kenho ended Osaka with a deep make-koshi at 1-6, and frankly had little offensive sumo to offer in any of his matches. Once a rikishi get to be his size, there body struggles to manage all of that flesh, and multiple problems with joints, muscles and metabolism come to the front. We hope he can re-group and recover his sumo, as he is great to watch when he is healthy.

Roga – The Mongolian sensation blasted through the pack in Jonidan to finish 7-0, with a day 15 playoff for the Jonidan yusho against none other than returning favorite Terunofuji, which he won to claim the division title. At 20 years of age, he is clearly on a solid upward path, and we will eagerly watch to see where he starts to find the competition challenging. But I would expect him give the Sandanme title favorites in May a series of tough matches.

Terunofuji – Everyone was happy to see Terunofuji return. After holding the title of Ozeki for a long time, he withdrew from sumo to attempt to clear up multiple problems with his body. It was announced that he would be competing in Osaka, sumo fans around the world hoped to see him return fit, trim and powerful. Instead, Terunofuji looked like death warmed over. Clearly his problems with his knees and his metabolism are not much better than a year ago. But at his size and level of skill, the Jonidan rikishi are mere playthings to amuse the Kaiju. As mentioned above, he finished 7-0 with the Yusho-doten, losing to Roga. Please Terunofuji, find a way to get healthy.

Amakaze – Former Juryo mainstay also returned to action after an extended kyujo. Unlike Terunofuji he actually did look like he had some energy and drive. Amakaze has a big round fellow, but has solid sumo skills. He ended Osaka with a 6-1 record, and I expect he will continue to improve for a while.

Hattorizakura – In spite of putting on some weight, and what looked like a bit of muscle mass, Hattorizakura could not find a way to a single win in Osaka, ending the tournament with a solid zenpai (0-7), and in doing so keeping the universe in balance. In the process he seems to have possibly done something unique, losing the same match twice.

Haru Day 13 – Ones To Watch

Naya is ready to rumble

As we enter the final 3 days of the basho, the lower division rikishi are facing their final match. For a large number of our “Ones to Watch”, their final match will decide if they exit Osaka with a winning or losing record. In Day 12 action, Hoshoryu battled back to even his score at 3-3 with a win over Sakigake (video below). After a rough period with 3 straight losses in a row, Hoshoryu has battled back to even.

Day 13 Matches

Akua vs Chiyosakae – A 3-3 bracket match, the winner will be kachi-koshi, and the loser make-koshi. Chiyosakae is a 39 basho Makushita veteran who will not be an easy match for Akua.

Ichiyamamoto vs Irodori – Ichiyamamoto takes on Makushita 1 East Irodori in a 5-1 bracket match. Irodori is already likely headed to Juryo, but this match might determine if Ichiyamamoto joins him.

Naya vs Churanoumi – The Makushita yusho playoff match, both rikishi are 6-0 heading into their final match. The winner takes the tournament, the loser gets a nice promotion.

Torakio vs Sekizuka – Neither of these rikishi have a single win. For Torakio this has been a total collapse, and I have to wonder what kind of injury has prevented him from executing really any good sumo for the past 2 weeks.

Shoji vs Komakiryu – Both rikishi are already make-koshi (2-4 bracket), so this match determines how stiff of a demotion is coming to them.

Roga vs Kotomiyakura – Split Jonidan / Sandanme playoff, due to the odd number of undefeated rikishi in both divisions. If Roga wins, there will be a follow-on playoff match later in the tournament to decide the Jonidan yusho.

Terunofuji vs Sadatsuyoshi – Jonidan yusho playoff match, this one may or may not determine the yusho given how the Roga match turns out. Sadatsuyoshi is another young rikishi, who has never before had 6 wins in a tournament, so this is a big moment for him. If Terunofuji repeats his day 11 performance, Sadatsuyoshi will get a rough ride.

Hattorizakura vs Hakuyo – The found someone in Jonikuchi for Hattorizakura to lose to! Hakuyo has been kyujo up until now, but returns for his final match against sumo’s most losing Jonidan.