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
- The Hanamichi
- Sekitori Promotions
- Venue Change
- Tokitsukaze Excursion Scandal
- Joint Practice
- New Recruits, No Maezumo
- Kakuryu Intai
- On the Dohyo
- Walking to the Bank (銀行散歩)
- Yusho Winners
- Special Prizes
- Kensho Kin
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.
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.
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.
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
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 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.
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.
During the second week of action, Kakuryu shocked the sumo world with his sudden retirement. Former tsukebito, Abi, who was in the midst of his own comeback, was surprised and didn’t know what to say. Quickly, the tributes and well wishes poured in. It seemed quite the switch from the rather negative tone of before. “When will he retire?” switched overnight to, “Not Kakuryu, he was the nicest guy!” But he really is the nicest guy. It was just very odd to see how the tone of the conversation changed from focusing on kyujo counting to looking forward to him opening a stable. Virtually no mention of that Endo bout (Endo was kyujo, oddly enough).
Your humble correspondent retweeted a few Kakuryu posts that he saw in his timeline, to much enjoyment of readers. The Shodai/Kakuryu video in the tweet above was quickly the most liked tweet in the history of Tachiai. Kakuryu with a hacky sack is up there, too. This adulation really underscores the dearth of coverage of the sport for English readers. We do not get much information from formal media sources about who these gladiators are, as people. So while fan forums, Twitter, podcasts, and blogs may be derided, at least we’re trying.
The Banzuke was announced on March 1 and the biggest story came in the form of an under-promotion of yusho-winning Daieisho. Rather than earning a Sekiwake slot, he was moved up one slot to Komusubi. The slight means Daieisho finds himself ranked just below Mitakeumi and set up for a Day 1 bout with Yokozuna Hakuho.
On The Dohyo
March 14 and we’re finally back to action in Tokyo. You will be able to find Tachiai’s coverage aggregated here. The biggest pre-basho bombshell was Kakuryu’s sudden kyujo in the days before the torikumi was announced. Due to the positive Covid results of their coach, Onoe stable was also forced to go kyujo.
Walking to the Bank
In this section, we’ll outline the winners of the yusho and special prize winners. I’ll also add a little feature to wrap up the kensho kin doled out during the tournament.
Interestingly, all of the lower amateur division yusho races were decided heading into the final weekend. There would be no playoffs on senshuraku in those divisions.
Makuuchi: Terunofuji (Isegahama beya)
Terunofuji claimed his third title in dramatic fashion. It is hard to know whether Terunofuji or Takayasu were the “fan favorite” for the win. Both efforts were well supported but Takayasu crumbled down the stretch, yielding to the consistent dominance of Terunofuji. March was a two-fish tournament for the top man at Isegahama stable as he also reclaimed the rank of Ozeki. His next challenge is to climb to Yokozuna. That will require two consecutive titles, a feat that we have not seen since Kakuryu’s two-titles in 2018. It is astonishing to think that Terunofuji’s first yusho was six years ago. Since then, he had an injury-plagued Ozeki-reign that ended in demotion and an agonizingly slow fall through makushita before going kyujo and ending up in Jonidan. His comeback run since then has been historic and will likely stand as one of the sport’s great stories.
Makuuchi Special Prizes
The Kyokai awarded Terunofuji the Outstanding Performance prize to go with his yusho (and re-Ozeki promotion). March 2021 will surely go down as one of the greatest performances in Terunofuji’s career, if not one of the greatest sumo stories. Sharing in this moment were brilliant efforts from Meisei and Aoiyama, who received the Fighting Spirit Prize, and Wakatakakage, who won the technique Prize.
Meisei picked up 10 wins from a brutal schedule in the “joi” maegashira ranks, having to face all of the top wrestlers. He defeated four of the sanyaku-ranked wrestlers, including two Ozeki (Takakeisho & Shodai) and a Day 1 win against yusho hopeful Takayasu. Aoiyama was recognized for his Fighting Spirit for his 11-win jun yusho which included final weekend wins against Wakatakakage and Takayasu.
Juryo: Hakuyozan (Takadagawa beya)
Makushita: Abi (Shikoroyama-beya)
In what turned out to be no surprise, Abi clinched the Makushita yusho in dominant fashion. He virtually decapitated the competition with forceful tsuppari and even seemed to take it easy with nonchalant throws! Does this mean Abi has quietly been developing new tools for use in the upper divisions? We shall see! At this rate, he may reclaim sekitori status in July. However, his competition in the Makushita joi will be much more fierce than during the opening rounds of this tournament. Since he was near the bottom of the division, he even had the pleasure of fighting a Sandanme opponent in the run-up to his yusho.