Tachiai Interviews Kintamayama, Part 1: “It’s like breathing for me, I love sumo so much.”

Kintamayama / Moti Dichne Live in Concert
Moti Dichne, better known to many sumo fans as Kintamayama, prepares for his Tachiai interview

If you’re a sumo fan who lives outside of Japan, then it’s almost certain that you’ve encountered the work of Moti Dichne. Under the shikona Kintamayama, he has been present almost everywhere in the English speaking sumo community for over two decades. Between his popular newsletter, his presence on forums such as SumoForum, and his essential YouTube channel, he has not only provided outlets and lifelines for fans seeking content, but also introduced thousands of foreigners to the sport.

During the recent Natsu basho in Tokyo, I sat down for an extended conversation with Kintamayama. This is the first of several parts of that conversation which will run here on Tachiai. In this segment, we touch on how Moti discovered sumo, and the rikishi who inspired and continue to inspire him. It has been edited in places for length and clarity.

Tachiai: So, where did your love affair with sumo start?

Moti Dichne: When you’re growing up in Japan, in the late 50s and the early 60s, and you’re a kid and you like sports… then, all you have is baseball… and sumo. There was no soccer! Not like today. The only soccer was a league for companies. So, what could I like?

You [would] turn on the TV, and it was black and white, still. Sumo was on for 15 days, and I even got to watch it at Kuramae, the former stadium. Those were golden years, because it was [the time of] Taiho, Kashiwado, Wakanohana I… and you couldn’t miss it because it was everywhere. As a kid you love it, because there were the backstories. 

Without us actually knowing and saying, “yeah, that’s it,” the backstories are what’s important… what makes it fun! You know that Ikioi never lost a day [to kyujo], and you know he’s totally injured. It gives you a difference. It’s not that there are these two guys that you got nothing with, you know? You know each guy’s story. You know this guy, he always chokes, and this other guy needs to get the belt.

That’s part of the whole thing. It’s like a series: ‘Game of Fat Thrones.’ And you say, “wow, what’s going to happen?” [Nowadays] you don’t give it a second thought, because you know. 

I was sitting at the Kokugikan on Day 1, and there were 2 young Americans sitting next to me, a boy and a girl, and the girl said “wake me up – this is boring.” I said, “OK, you will listen to me from now on!” And by the end of the day, she was standing up, screaming, “Here come the towels!” I explained every bout. “You will see: the small guy’s going to go out there, grab the guy’s leg, and push him out.” “No! He’s 100 kilos more!” I said, “he’s gonna go under, he gonna get his leg, and push him out.”

And when Kotoshogiku’s up, it’s going to be X-Rated.

He’s gonna bump… and he did it! Not always, but he did on that day. 

Back to the story: I just grew up in Japan, I had no choice. We had baseball. I loved the Yomiuri Giants of course growing up in Tokyo. There was a saying: Jō-jin, Taiho, Tamagoyaki. That was what everyone was into. I never missed a day, it was great! School was over at 2 o’clock, so 4-6, that’s a very comfortable time zone. You can go out later.

I think everybody knows who your favourite guys are now, but back then, who were the guys?

Back then, it was of course Taiho. And Kashiwado, Taiho’s rival. And then there was a guy called Myobudani who had a dark complexion, thin and tall, completely different from the others and I guess that’s why he stood out. And of course there was Wakanohana I, he was the old man of sumo. He was incredible. Tochinishiki as well. As a kid, you go with the Yokozuna, you don’t go with the underdogs. You want the winners. I don’t want to be sad every day! Like, you know, going with Ikioi! 

Ikioi’s my favourite too.

Ikioi was always my favourite. 

We could talk about Ikioi for a long time. He has what I call… heavy metal sumo, high octane sumo. He goes full throttle.

And his heart is like a four year old. That’s the whole thing, and when it’s over, he’s limping. When it’s going on, he’s like a tiger.

Do you know his story? His background is a really interesting story. There was a guy called Kotokanyu, who was 39 years old. He was in Makushita. They had a bout, and Ikioi went in with slaps. Ikioi was 19. And won.

Kotokanyu put a towel across his hand and went – after his bout, not the next day – to the other shitakubeya, where Ikioi was in the bath, and beat the shit out of him. He beat the crap out of the poor guy. Because Ikioi slapped him, like Aoiyama slaps. And, the next day, Kotokanyu retired of course.

They both went kyujo, because Ikioi was injured. And Kotokanyu retired. Kotokanyu had been in Israel with Sadogatake-beya, with his wife and his two kids. He was gentle, but I guess that really humiliated him. Lower Makushita, Ikioi was just coming up! Whoever was there then, look it up, you’ll see it. It finished Kotokanyu’s career. At 39 years old, he could have gone on, he was OK, he wasn’t that bad.

That’s the Ikioi story. It was the first time I noticed Ikioi. I said, “OK, this guy is going to be my man.”

You couldn’t see Makushita then. It was a dream to see it, Juryo was a dream. Because we didn’t really have any idea who was where.

It predates a lot of information.

We had no idea what was going on. Today we know every guy all the way up from Jonokuchi, and who to look out for. You can see it. 

How hard is it for you to stay on top of sumo news? It seems like you get a lot of inside information.

You get the same internet in Israel! The camels are not on the streets anymore. We get everything, in real time, and also, every morning I read the papers!

Since I read the papers in Japanese, I know exactly what’s going on at every given time. [I know] Who was injured, who was in keiko, who was this, who was that. [I read it] with my morning cup of tea, at 9 o clock in the morning. If there’s something interesting to translate, I translate. I put it in the forum, and then my newsletter. If there’s nothing really interesting, then I don’t. It’s very easy, it’s all a question of wanting to do it. If you want to do it, and you love it, then you do it! It’s like breathing for me, I love sumo so much. I wouldn’t mind doing much less. But if no one else is doing it, it’s something that I feel I have to do! 

And I was at the Kokugikan, and I was astounded by the number of foreign fans! First of all, all the guys I was sitting next to got their tickets from BuySumoTickets because that’s the only way we can buy tickets now. 5 years ago, we used to walk in, and sit on a masu seat… alone… the whole day!

Now, it’s very difficult for foreign fans to get tickets through the Association.

BuySumoTickets is able to buy blocks. And other [vendors] buy blocks. Takakeisho’s sudden popularity, and new [female] fans, with the good looking rikishi: that’s a new thing, that wasn’t there ten years ago when I came, no way! The youngest guy there was a 70 year old, everyone was old!

The first basho I went to, it kind of felt like that, and then Kisenosato got promoted. After that, everything changed.

Oh, yeah. That was the moment. You used to [be able to] buy tickets at the entrance, the one day tickets, for 2000 yen. You know what we used to do? It’s called zabuton bingo. We would go and sit [in the masu] and then at 2:30, some guy would come, and we moved to the next seat. The contest was who could stay the longest [without having to move]!

I once made it to the middle of Juryo without having to move – in the 4th row! That’s an incredible experience. It’s nothing at all like anything else. And then… the old lady [whose seat it was] came!

Today you go, and they want tickets. They say, “where’s the ticket?” We used to walk around and only at the very end did you go to your actual seat. [This basho] I was sitting in the nosebleed seats, I started getting dizzy from the height!

I know what this experience has been like for me, so I’m curious about someone like you who’s been in the game as long as you have: What is the reaction of people you work with, who you know, who you play music with, when they find out how much you do with sumo?

They all give me the phone numbers of the nearest institution! Always! They say, “it’s right around the corner, they’ll be happy to have you. Shall I make the phone call?”  Everyone thinks I’m nuts. 

So they find out that you’re interested in sumo, and then…

They know! I came from Japan. There’s not many people in Israel who can say, “I grew up in Japan.” And nobody calls me between 9 and 12 in the morning, at all, because I don’t answer.

I don’t talk with my friends about sumo, unless they ask me. The guys in my band, they know nothing. They know about sumo stuff, but they don’t know how deep I’m involved, or what I do on the channel. I don’t tell them, because they think I’m crazy anyway. So, more than that, that’s institutionalised madness! But I really couldn’t care less. My [family] knows. My daughters grew up on this, they know everything.

I don’t think anybody knows the extent of my involvement, that’s for sure. It borders on crazy, so I’d rather it’s “maybe he has a passing interest, whatever.” I really don’t tell anyone.

Find out more from Kintamayama and subscribe to his mailing list at dichne.com, and keep an eye out for the next parts of our conversation, which will run soon on Tachiai.

Rikishi of the Future – The Hakuho Cup 2018

Following the two hana-zumo events, the dohyo in the Ryogoku Kokugikan was not left unattended. On Monday, February 12, the 8th Hakuho Cup took place.

hakuho-cup

The Hakuho Cup is a children’s sumo event, second only to the annual Wanpaku National Championship. Its origins are actually in the Asashoryu Cup. The Wanpaku National Championship is an all-Japanese event, and Asashoryu wished to put some Mongolian kids on the dohyo in the Kokugikan. This dream has finally come to fruition in August 2009, in an event for boys age 8-12, won by the Mongolian delegation winning all of its bouts. Asashoryu wanted to make this an annual event, but unfortunately he was forced to retire a few months later, and the event was never repeated.

With Asashoryu gone, Hakuho took his place as the leading (and only) Yokozuna, and starting in 2011, established his own event. And as usual with Hakuho, anything Asashoryu did, he improved upon. The Hakuho cup in its current form is an event for boys from first to ninth grade. No less than 1300 boys attended this year’s event, hailing not only from Mongolia and Japan, but also from the USA, Taiwan, Hong-Kong, Mainland China, Thailand and South Korea.

The Mongolian delegation practiced at Tomozuna beya:

mongolia-tomozuna

While the “Aloha State” team practiced at Musashigawa:

Other heya have also opened their dohyo to the various sumo school clubs and delegations.

On the day itself, many bouts took place on temporary dohyos spread around the kokugikan. At lunch break, Hakuho and Yoshikaze – always involved in children sumo – sat down for a public chat on the dohyo. They were joined by a surprise guest:

hakuho-cup-talk-show
Hakuho, Hanada, Yoshikaze

This was none other than the 66th Yokozuna, the former Wakanohana, Mr. Masaru Hanada. Yes, Takanohana’s older and estranged brother.

This was the first time for the 66th and the 69th Yokozuna to meet face to face, and also the first time for the former Wakanohana to step up the dohyo in the Kokugikan since his retirement in 2000. Hakuho told Hanada that he has been watching his videos since he entered into the sumo world, and always thought he would be a tough one to engage with. Hanada said “You’re huge!”, and then addressed the child wrestlers: “Don’t worry. Even small ones can become Yokozuna, like I did. Just be diligent with your keiko!” (Wakanohana was merely 181cm tall).

Among the participants in the event was Hakuho’s own eldest son, Mahato. That’s the same kid who participated in the 2017 summer Jungyo and asked to engage Mitakeumi, to take revenge (Mitakeumi has beaten Hakuho in the Nagoya basho).

Hakuho Jr. is 9 years old, in the third grade, and therefore this has been his third appearance in his father’s tournament. And for the first time, he actually won a bout – he was winless in the previous two occasions. He overcame a henka, got a brief migi-yotsu and finished with an uwate-nage. The proud father said “Keiko doesn’t lie. He does 200 shiko stomps… but not every day.” The boy was defeated in his next bout, though.

hakuho-comforting-son
Hakuho, comforting his son Mahato after his loss in his second bout

The tournament winner for the second grade was Takaaki Uno from Kanazawa.

hakuho-cup-yusho

The Kanazawa delegation got a lot of support from the latest Kanazawa sekitori, Enho:

enho-kanazawa-team

And finally, here is a video with a summary of the events of the day, including the Hakuho jr. bout and various other bouts:

Yes, they are children. The tears are real.

 

Legends of the Dohyo #5: A Family Divided Part Two

Takanohana Wakanohana

Part One

By the early 90’s, Takanohana II and Wakanohana III, the young princes of sumo, were poised to dominate the future of the sport. They emerged at the forefront of a new generation of talent and had already amassed several awards and accolades, adding to those of their legendary father and uncle. The Hanada family dynasty had never looked stronger. Held up as the model of a perfect Japanese family, few could have predicted their downfall.

For much of their early careers, the Hanada brothers were considered near equals. As time went on, however, it was becoming clear that the bigger and stronger Takanohana was eclipsing his elder brother. In 1994, Takahanohana took four of the year’s six yusho and earned a promotion to the sports highest rank of Yokozuna, while Wakanohana suffered from injuries and remain out of yusho contention for the majority of the mid 90’s. The elder Hanada brother briefly stepped out of his sibling’s shadow at the 1995 Kyushu basho, where he won the yusho in a sudden death play-off against Takanohana. This bout would mark the first, and only time the two brothers ever competed against each other, due to rules forbidding siblings and stablemates from facing off outside of playoffs. In commenting about losing to his own brother, Takanohana stated that he “couldn’t come to terms” with the outcome of the match. Never the less, He carried his brothers yusho-ki banner as Wakanohana celebrated with fans. The first cracks in their relationship began to surface in 1998 when Takanohana developed a liver disorder. To combat this disease, the young Yokozuna consulted with physical therapist Tashiro Tomita. Tomita had a significant impact on Takanohana. In following his therapist’s teachings, Takanohana began to seclude himself from his family. This caused great concern for his father, who believed Tomita was brainwashing his son. During this time, Wakanohan finally managed back to back yusho wins and became sumo’s 66th Yokozuna. Despite making history by becoming the first brothers ever to be Yokozuna simultaneously, Takanohana and Wakanohana scarcely spoke to each other. Although Takanohana eventually reconciled with his family, this had opened the eyes of the world to the underlying issues that afflicted their perceived perfect family.

By the early 2000’s, both brothers had retired from sumo due to persistent injuries. While Wakanohana sought a career first in American football and later as a chanko-nabe restauranteur, Takanohana remained in the sumo association, taking over his father’s prestigious stable. Upon the death of their father in 2005, the Hanada family was divided by an incredibly bitter and public dispute between the two former Yokozuna. As an active member of the association, Takanohana demanded that he be the chief mourner at his father’s funeral, and not his older brother who had left the sumo world to chase fame and celebrity. Rumours also circulated that their quarrel was the result of uncertainty regarding the late Takanohana I’s estate, as he left his children no will.  Although Wakanohana did not give into his brothers demand to be cheif mourner, he did forfiet his claim to their father’s estate. Giving up his inheritance would not be enough to make peace with Takanohana, and from that point on the two brothers became like strangers, rarely if ever speaking to one another.  The once mighty Hanada dynasty, who had ruled the sumo world for nearly five decades, had been shattered.


 

Takanohana (left) vs. Wakanohana (right), Kyushu basho, 1995.


 

Legends of the Dohyo #4: A Family Divided Part One

Takanohana Wakanohana 2

Sports have a unique power to bond and connect us. New friendships begin on rinks, courts, and fields all over the world, and many a companion has been made cheering for the home team. Even the bond between siblings can be strengthened by a shared love of sports, and the storied history of athletics is full of brothers competing side by side, and sometimes, against each other. Competition drives us to become better, to push each other to new successes. But just as it can strengthen us, competition and the will to succeed can turn family into foe and tear the bonds of brotherhood apart. Such is the case of the Hanada brothers, Takanohana II and Wakanohana III.

The Hanada brothers were born into sumo royalty. Thier uncle, Yokozuna Wakanohana Kanji, was one of the most popular rikishi of the 1950’s. Nicknamed the devil of the dohyo, he had a prosperous career spanning twelve years and ten yusho championships. Wakanohana I opened the highly successful Futagoyama beya upon his retirement in 1962. One of his most promising students was his own younger brother, Ozeki Takanohana Kenshi. Although Takanohana never went on to reach the rank of Yokozuna, he was incredibly popular with fans throughout the 1970’s. Like his older brother before him, Takanohana would open his own stable (Fujishima beya) in 1982. After a successful junior high sumo career, Takanohana’s youngest son Koji joined his father’s stable in 1988. Not wanting to fall behind, he was soon joined by his older brother Masaru, and the two began to train together. Heya life would be an adjustment for the two brothers. When addressing their father, they were instructed to use the traditional name of oyakata, and they lived alongside their fellow rikishi in the stable, performing all the duties of rookies, regardless of their lineage.

Koji and Masaru adopted the shikona of Takahanada and Wakahanada respectively, and made their debut in March of 1988 alongside future rival Akebono. They made quick progress through the lower ranks amid much fanfare, as it was believed by many that the two “princes of sumo” were destined to continue their family’s prestigious legacy. Both earned promotions into the Maegashira rank in 1990, and by 1993 the brothers had become sumo superstars. With a combined four yusho and six jun-yusho, the brothers were widely credited for the sport’s restored popularity. 1993 also saw both men earn ozeki promotions, with Takahanada’s coming in March and Wakahanada receiving his in September. With these promotions the two were permitted to adopt the shikona of their father and uncle, officially becoming Takanohana II and Wakanohana III. Within six years, the Hanada brothers had taken the sumo world by storm, yet their greatest achievements and most challenging trials were still ahead of them.

End of part one.


Takahanada (left) vs. Chiyonofuji (right), Natsu basho, 1991.