Haru Basho 2021

According to the handy-dandy Countdown widget on the website, we are just under a month away from Shonichi. Once again, I’m breaking the content in this article into three sections, the lead-up (Hanamichi), the action (On the Dohyo), and the awards/prizes (Trophy Room).

Table of Contents

  1. The Hanamichi
    • Sekitori Promotions
    • Venue Change
    • Tokitsukaze Excursion Scandal
    • Joint Practice
    • New Recruits, No Maezumo
  2. On the Dohyo
  3. Walking to the Bank (銀行散歩)
    • Yusho Winners
    • Special Prizes
    • Kensho Kin

Hanamichi

Here you will find news and updates leading up to the Action. Any news that impacts the tournament, the banzuke, or rikishi participation will be summarized here. Covid remains a serious issue and small scale outbreaks continue, and the Kyokai reported one such outbreak among 6 wrestlers at an unnamed stable on 2/17, just days before the planned joint practice session.

Sekitori Promotions

Leonid posted about the new promotions when they were announced as well as keeps us up to date on the latest banzuke predictions. To recap, a large chunk of Juryo wrestlers were absent due to Covid restrictions in January. This surely made for difficult decisions related to the promotion and demotion picture. As difficult as it may have been, the committee in charge of the banzuke duly honored their posts and created the Haru banzuke. Though the full banzuke is still unknown to the public, the Kyokai published the names of wrestlers promoted to Juryo, and into the all-important sekitori (professional) ranks.

Takakento (L) and Bushozan (R), pictured in the tweet above, are new sekitori, having each made quick runs through the top of Makushita with three straight kachi-koshi records starting back at Aki. Neither performance was particularly dominant but their consistency is being rewarded with the right to wear a kesho mawashi and perform the Juryo dohyo-iri.

Nishikifuji and Ichiyamamoto will return to the division after recent short stints in the division. Nishikifuji won the Makushita yusho from a rather low position in Osaka last year. After a solid kachi-koshi from the Makushita joi, he earned his first chance in Juryo where he hit a bit of a wall. After a 3-12 drubbing in November, he was demoted back into Makushita for Hatsu but secured a spot in the playoff with a 6-1 record — and a chance to return.

Ichiyamamoto’s star shone quite brightly in 2019 when he shoved his way through the makushita joi with his Abi-like, oshi-style. After a strong 9-6 debut and then a follow-on 9-6 in Aki 2019, he suffered a terrible injury to his right knee in his Day 1 bout against Kyokutaisei. He left the tournament and was kyujo from Hatsu as well, returning to action in the silent basho. A string of five consecutive kachi-koshi tournaments earns him a spot in Juryo when the gang travels to Osaka stays in Tokyo.

I am eager to see the full banzuke, scheduled to be announced on March 1.

Venue Change

Japan has clearly been affected by the global pandemic and since the sumo world does not exist in a bubble, the Sumo Kyokai are doing what they can to mitigate risk of spread through policies and action. One of the most significant actions is the decision to hold the Spring tournament in Tokyo again, instead of Osaka.

Venue Change Announcement on Sumo.or.jp

There will likely be the same conditions placed on audience attendance such as limiting the number, the times that they can access the stadium, pushing back the available seats, and prohibitions against cheering.

Tokitsukaze Excursion Scandal

Updated 2/27/2021

Tokitsukaze-oyakata, ex-Tokitsuumi, got into trouble in the Fall by breaking Covid regulations with a golf outing. However, after Hatsubasho, news broke that Tokitsukaze had broken the restrictions multiple more times during the tournament, frequenting a red-light district club and a mahjong parlor, having dinner with a large group, and visiting a hotel with a woman who was not his wife. After originally trying to offer explanations for why he had broken the rules, and as more details leaked out, he handed in his resignation while the Kyokai launched its own investigation.

On Feb 22, the Kyokai had a board meeting to discuss his punishment. The verdict was two fold: retirement + financial sanction in a 30% reduction in severance pay, courtesy of this update from Herouth. His replacement is former Tosayutaka. Tokitsukaze stable was not hard up for coaching staff with three more waiting in the wings, including Toyonoshima. One could argue that with so many options for delegating and sharing duties, the former Tokitsumi had the free time to slip away for the odd golf and mahjong outing.

Tokitsukaze-beya Twitter Presence

Tokitsukaze beya is home to Shodai and Yutakayama. As I mentioned above, recently retired Toyonoshima has moved into a coaching role at the heya. Those three feature prominently in a picture with the other wrestlers on the stable’s official Twitter account and website. There will certainly be a shake-up in the leadership there but we hope the wrestlers are able to move past the drama.

Joint Practice

Beginning on February 20, several top sekitori participated in joint practice sessions. The Kyokai set up a live stream beginning February 21 at 8am. Hopefully this video will stay up, so I’ll embed it here as long as it stays available.

Day One participants were helpfully highlighted here by Herouth.

New Recruits, No Maezumo

Herouth picked up an an important detail in this article about a new recruit. Maezumo has been canceled for the upcoming March tournament. This is striking because March is usually the biggest recruiting class of the year. Maybe their preference for ineffective face masks has something to do with it?

Since all of the maezumo wrestlers compete in rapid fashion, and then are introduced as a class on the dohyo together, the larger class may have been seen as a bigger risk than during January. This would have likely been the one opportunity many of them will have of wearing kesho mawashi, so I hope that they will get a chance after the pandemic.

On Feb 25th, the Kyokai welcomed 35 young men into The Heya Life after the official recruitment exam. The criteria require wrestlers to be at least 167cm tall and 67kg. Middle school students, though, are able to join at 165cm and 65kg, presumably as they’ve got more growing to do. I will have a few posts trickling out as the tournament progresses about those shin deshi.