Welcome to the permanent page for aggregating Tachiai’s Hatsu Basho coverage. The posts will continue to be posted, as usual, on the root Tachiai.org page. But if you find yourself lost in the infinite scroll after a few days, this will be where you can find your bearings and all the links to tournament coverage.
If you want to skip ahead, these links will help. This page is broken into the following sections:
- The COVID situation
- The Banzuke
- Demotions and Retirements
- The Action
- Concussion Protocol
- Yusho and Prizes
The COVID situation
No conversation about a public event can really begin without a discussion of the local COVID situation. With 66 Million cases and 1.5 Million deaths worldwide, it will be an issue for any public event in the near future. Great data for individual countries and states here. The wrestlers and the fans’ safety must be the priority (安全第一) so re-opening will take time. However, we have found out via Herouth that financial condition of the Kyokai may push them to reopen faster because they have a $53 Million hole to dig out of so the tournament is on and fans will be present.
The initial plan for Hatsu is to have the tournament with a small increase in fans, from 5200 to 5300. This is in spite of recent increases in COVID infections in Japan. These would include three outbreaks at sumo stables, with sekitori Hakuho, Wakatakakage, Wakamotoharu, and Akua among the infected. Just days prior to the tournament, the government declared a stated of emergency for Tokyo and three neighboring prefectures. That will cap fan attendance at 5000.
On December 12, Herouth reported of another COVID-19 outbreak at an unnamed stable. Initially, three symptomatic wrestlers had tested positive for the virus and were in isolation, being treated. After the initial tests, follow-up tests conducted the following day confirmed a total of 10 positive cases, including Akua.
With this disclosure, we learned the outbreak impacted Tatsunami-beya. Other sekitori at the stable, Meisei and Hoshoryu, did not test positive. The stable also disclosed more information on the lower-ranked wrestlers, including their ages. Unfortunately, it appeared Hanakaze also tested positive but is asymptomatic. With such swift action, the Kyokai hopes to contain the outbreak and the wrestlers could recover in time for Hatsubasho.
But the hits kept coming as on December 15, the Kyokai announced that Minato-oyakata had tested positive for Covid. As Herouth reported, he had not been at his stable for three days so risk of spreading infection was perceived as low. But the Kyokai decided to test all at the stable as a precaution, which includes Ichinojo.
At the New Year the Kyokai announced more positive tests at Arashio-beya. Wakatakakage was the first to fall ill, leading to wider testing of 24 people at the stable. Arashio-oyakata, Juryo-ranked Wakamotoharu, and a hair dresser were among eleven additional positive tests. The other eight tests were from wrestlers Makushita and below. Then, a week before the basho, Hakuho tested positive. This forced the entire Miyagino stable into quarantine and kyujo. And then, the day before the tournament, Kokonoe and Tomozuna stables were added to the kyujo because of positive results from organization-wide testing.
While various companies continue to work on vaccines and other treatments for the Coronavirus, a few are already in the final stages of study and seeking/acquiring emergency approval from the US FDA and other global health regulators. Japan is among the many countries working out deals with manufacturers for millions of doses. Those with jobs of high-risk and high-importance will be provided with the vaccines first, like healthcare workers.
Early on Christmas Eve, Japan time, the Kyokai officially released the banzuke for January 2020. Leonid’s Crystal Ball came in very close to the real thing. He correctly predicted the sanyaku ranks, Terunofuji’s promotion, leap-frogging Takanosho, and no expansion of the komusubi ranks to accomodate Hokutofuji’s November performance.
|East (東)||Rank||West (西)|
Along with the news of ranking, we also got news of shikona (name) changes for low-ranking wrestlers. While Oho and Tohakuryu were announced with their sekitori promotions, these name changes usually pass without much mention. However, Hattorizakura’s name change to Shonanzakura will have an outsized impact on the sumo fan universe.
At the very least, punchlines will be out of date. His status as cannon-fodder for rikishi who needed a win to stay on the banzuke has earned him eight losses in some tournaments — when everyone else in his division only has seven bouts. But this name change may signal more significant change in his fortunes on the dohyo, and perhaps his attitude in general toward the sport. One wonders if his heya’s spontaneous field trip to a karaoke box in Chiba rekindled something. His effort, at times, offered fleeting glimmers of promise in November that he may actually break his streak of kuroboshi, which currently stands at 75.
Yusho winner Midorifuji will rise into Makuuchi as “Shin-nyumaku,” likely along with Akiseyama who makes his return to the top division. He has been making his rounds on a little PR tour, including a visit to his home town and old high school. Hiryu high school sponsored his brand-spanking-new kesho mawashi, featuring the school’s emblem. They’re probably quite proud of their program and this last tournament as another alumnus, Atamifuji, had a very successful maezumo debut for Isegahama-beya and wore this very kesho mawashi for his debut ceremony.
This does mean that the very pretty hummingbird kesho mawashi will be sidelined, at least for a little bit. That one was sponsored by a Ginza sushi restaurant, Ishihara. His two-year slog through Makushita has a very interesting characteristic as his favorite technique is katasukashi. Here you can find him demonstrating his skill against chanko film star, Itadaki. He’s not 250 pounds in this video, that’s for sure. So perhaps he’s been spending more time under Itadaki’s tutelage at dinner time, too. (Virtually, of course.)
Akiseyama dipped his big toe in makuuchi back in 2016, only to suffer two terrible results in a row, sending him down into Makushita. He’s started out well with his favored yotsu-style wins against Kitataiki and “sexy sugar mountain,” AKA, Satoyama. (Yes, I’m aware that’s not what his shikona meant. I swear, though, that’s what the English-speaking su-jo yelled when he came up.) But he faced a hangry Osunaarashi on Day 3. That set him on an 8-day streak of losses. Demotion assured, he finished 4-11 and only managed one win in Juryo in May (one of his losses was to a tubby bloke named Sato) and two more makekoshi records in Makushita to bottom out at Ms21. He has clawed his way back into the division at a time that the lower ranks are an interesting mix of grizzled veterans who’ve seen better days and several young up-starts.
We also know the Juryo promotions. Naya and Shiraishi are “Shin-Juryo” while Yago and Ryuko will make their returns to full-time status. Both Naya and Shiraishi have new shikona for the new year. Naya will be known as Oho and Tohakuryu, respectively.
Ryuko’s brand new Kesho Mawashi also features the emblem of his high school.
Demotions and Retirements
Leonid’s hat is safe as Fujiazuma joins Abi and Nishikifuji down in Makushita. I’m particularly upset as I had an amazing gag prepared with a purple hat but my terrible ume boshi joke must wait for another day.
Sadly, Hatsu will be the first tournament since 2002 without Kotoshogiku on the banzuke. Gagamaru and Hitenryu followed Kotoshogiku into the sunset during the tournament and nine other lower ranking wrestlers officially left. In Makushita, Giku’s stablemate Kotoseigo retired, as did Dewanoumi’s sandanme-ranked Kihonoumi. In Jonidan, four wrestlers retired: Asahijo, Sasazaki, Wakaryusei, and Uminishiki. Jonokuchi-ranked Haruku also called it a career. Two wrestlers who had fallen off the banzuke hung up their mawashi for the last time, Taiga and Naruto-beya’s Oshu.
Kakuryu was granted Japanese Citizenship and this may have implications for the Hatsu basho. Since he is now eligible to take over Itsuzu-beya, as was the dying wish of Itsuzu-oyakata, it is possible that he will retire before the tournament. If he does participate on Shonichi but fails to perform, he may now retire during the tournament, as well.
After two months of drama and uncertainty, it’s finally shonichi! The dohyo matsuri takes on added significance as the impact of Covid sinks in. Nearly 100 wrestlers kyujo, many because a stablemate tested positive in the days before the tournament. With all of the absent wrestlers, the torikumi for the first two days seems quite Spartan.
Yusho and Special Prize Winners
Daieisho won the Makuuchi Yusho, his first. Tsurugisho won the Juryo yusho and Sakigake won the makushita yusho after a 9-way playoff! Sandanme was the only title claimed before senshuraku, by Oginohama. Jonidan was won by Nogami; and in Jonokuchi, Atamifuji prevailed in the play-off against Arauma and Toshonishiki, despite his opening day loss.
For the special prizes, Daieisho’s yusho run also earned him the Outstanding Performance and Technique Awards. Terunofuji and Midorifuji (in his Makuuchi debut) were also awarded Technique Prizes.
He may not have won a special prize but Akiseyama won the hearts of sumo Twitter in his delayed return to sumo’s highest division. With his kachi-koshi record, he has earned the right to return in Osaka.
There is a small class of recruits at this tournament. Naruto-beya, again, looks to have a very strong young recruit, despite being smaller than some of his peers. Murayama is new from Naruto, Nagata from Dewanoumi, and Fujisen from Nishikido. We look forward to seeing them in Jonokuchi in Osaka! My early yusho pick will be Murayama.
Young Murayama had an impressive performance. He was able to wear his oyakata’s kesho mawashi. Naruto competed as Kotooshu. Back then he was sponsored by “Bulgaria” brand yogurt from Meiji. He is from Bulgaria, after all.
The recruits met again, at the end of the tournament, for the ceremonial gyoji-toss. I hope all of the bad mojo from 2020 is effectively banished, now.
In an interesting turn, there were no further kyujo announcements until Day 10 when Takakeisho pulled out over a previously undisclosed ankle issue. Okinoumi received the fusen win but likely lost out on a big payday since the bout was scheduled to be the musubi no ichiban. Then, Ikioi bowed out on senshuraku with a broken bone, his first ever kyujo! Will he retire?
Head Injuries/Concussion Issue
The concussion issue really came to a head (pun NOT intended, for once) during a Makushita bout between Asagyokusei and Shonannoumi. During the initial tachiai, both wrestlers charged forward with a serious clash of heads. The gyoji called a matta because their hands were not down. Due to the hit, Shonannoumi stumbled and collapsed as he tried to come back for a second tachiai. Hat-tip to TheSumoSoul for tipping the crew off to the incident which occurred while I was asleep.
The gyoji looked around at the shimpan, like, “dudes, y’all going to let this happen?” The shimpan finally conducted a mono-ii to discuss the situation. In consultation with the wrestler, who wanted to continue, they decided to let the wrestler wait and “come around” so he could still fight. The wrestlers got back up, fought, and Shonannoumi won. However, if I had just knocked a guy out and I didn’t think he should be there, I doubt I’d try my hardest to beat the guy.
I’m sure we’ll debate this issue in the future but after the tournament the Kyokai will meet and discuss the issue and future protocols for similar situations. I would hope this will extend to head injuries in general, not just situations like this. It is clear that wrestlers are injured on the dohyo and then left much to their own devices to stagger back down the hanamichi, or possibly to one of the wheelchairs. We will recall the Kizakiumi/Ikioi bout or Takayasu’s injury for times when the injury response has seemed delayed or inadequate.
Looking Toward Haru
Finally, to close things for this crazy Hatsubasho, Leonid takes a look at the implications for the Makuuchi and Juryo portion of the Haru banzuke. The retirement questions we had to open this tournament remain unsettled. Neither Yokozuna participated, despite the YDC warning. Hakuho has a giant excuse. Will Kakuryu skate?
At this point, it is still an open question as to whether there will be a Haru basho. Did the Hatsubasho give the Kyokai and stables enough of a cushion to last through May? Or will our troupe make the journey to Osaka in March?