Terunofuji’s Tsuna-uchi takes place today

Yesterday, Ajigawa oyakata, from Isegahama beya, gave us the heads-up tweeting this “riddle”:

“Well, what is this then?

Tomorrow we’ll be using it

It’s something that goes inside something”

The answer to the riddle is, of course, that this is raw hemp. And it goes inside a Yokozuna’s rope. So today is Terunofuji’s tsuna-uchi – the preparation of a Yokozuna’s rope.

A tsuna-uchi is always a festive occasion, even for veteran Yokozuna. But a Yokozuna’s first one is even more festive. Expect to see Isegahama’s practice ground walls draped in white and red, and the rikishi preparing the rope to be wearing a twisted red and white headdress called nejiri-hachimaki.

The hemp is rubbed with rice bran to soak out the remaining oily essence. it is then lain in the middle of a long sheet of white cotton, together with a copper wire which help retain the rope’s shape. Three of those are made, and then twisted together into the Yokozuna’s rope. It takes an entire heya to braid a rope, and sometimes the heya needs external assistance.

At the end of the tsuna-uchi, the Yokozuna wears his rope over his kesho mawashi. Veteran Yokozuna simply check it fits. But for a new Yokozuna, this is where work start. A former Yokozuna (or even an active one) teaches him to do the dohyo-iri in the style that he has chosen.

Hakuho and Harumafuji have been taught by Isegahama oyakata. Kakuryu has been taught by Takanohana. Kisenosato learned his dance from Shibatayama oyakata.

The first tsuna-uchi is done soon after promotion, and therefore there is no time to wait for the Yokozuna’s first set of three kesho-mawashi to arrive from the artisan’s. Why three? Well, the Yokozuna wears one, and his two assistants, the sword bearer and the dew sweeper, wear the other two.

So for the first dohyo-iri, the new Yokozuna will wear some other Yokozuna’s set of kesho-mawashi. This is often a set on loan from the Sumo Museum. Kisenosato performed his first dohyo-iri in a set that belonged to the “Demon of the Dohyo”, the first Wakanohana. Kakuryu performed in a set that belonged to the late Kitanoumi.

But if you happen to have access to another set, you may use that. And of course, it’s usually a great pleasure to a heya’s master who is a former Yokozuna, to bestow both his set of kesho-mawashi and his guidance upon his deshi.

Terunofuji has chosen the Shiranui style. The difference between the two Yokozuna styles are in the shape of the rope, and in the way the Yokozuna positions his arms when he rises during the dohyo-iri. Here you can see, on the left, Kakuryu performing the Unryu style, and on the right, Hakuho performing the Shiranui style.

And here is the distinct shape of the ropes – on the left, the Shiranui rope, which has two loops. Remember that copper wire? That’s what makes the loop and the tail stay firm. On the right is the Unryu rope, which has a single loop. The Unryu rope is asymmetric – one side of it is much longer, to form that loop. The Shiranui rope is symmetric.

It is the tradition of Isegahama ichimon for its Yokozuna to perform the Shiranui style. And it is also almost unheard of that a new Yokozuna will choose a different style from his master, if that master is a former Yokozuna.

So Isegahama oyakata will be teaching Terunofuji the performance today. In addition, it’s highly likely that Terunofuji will be wearing one of Asahifuji’s old kesho mawashi sets (Asahifuji is, of course, Isegahama oyakata), as Harumafuji did before him.

We still don’t know when the first official dohyo-iri will take place. During normal times, the tsuna-uchi comes the day after the promotion ceremony, and the ceremony and dohyo-iri at Meiji Grand Shrine takes place the next day. But currently Tokyo is under a state of emergency due to COVID, and of course, the Olympics are taking place there. So the tsuna-uchi has been postponed a few days, and it’s likely that the ceremony and dohyo-iri will be postponed further.

Will we get to see any of the Tsuna-uchi? Many Japanese fans have been hoping that the NSK will stream the event live on its YouTube channel, but so far there is no indication of such a stream. If it suddenly materializes, we’ll publish a link here.