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2010 Aki Basho
Post-basho Report | Pre-basho ReportHelmut Newton sumo.
In my 20 years of actively watching sumo, I can never remember a time when the yusho was completely taken out of play. And I mean completely. Currently, there is no such thing in sumo as a yusho race. And it's not because Hakuho has won the last four yusho, a feat equaled by multiple rikishi in the last 25 years. Rather, it's due to the margin of victory we see in Hakuho championships. Yeah, I know guys like Takekaze and Yoshikaze were technically on the board at the end of day 13, but trust me, they weren't really on the leaderboard.
The last time a Maegashira scrub won the yusho was March 2000 when yaki-niku connoisseur, Takatoriki, backed his way into the yusho with a 13-2 record from the M14 rank. The jun-yusho that tourney was Akebono at 12-3, and the reason Akebono (who clobbered Takatoriki head to head that basho) only managed a 12-3 record was due to the mass carnage occurring at the top of the banzuke. Back then, M14 was the bottom rung of the ladder because the Yokozuna and Ozeki ranks were just stacked, and the sanyaku was tough as nails as well. How's this for a banzuke and results that basho:
Yokozuna Takanohana 11-4
Yokozuna Akebono 12-3
Yokozuna Musashimaru 11-4
Yokozuna Wakanohana (kyujo)
Ozeki Dejima 11-4
Ozeki Chiyotaikai 8-7
Ozeki Takanonami 7-8
Sekiwake Musoyama 12-3
Sekiwake Miyabiyama 11-4
Sekiwake Tochiazuma 8-7
Komusubi Tosanoumi 8-7
Komusubi Kaio 8-7
That, my friends, is a virtual bloodbath. The door was opened for Takatoriki at the bottom because there were simply too many good rikishi at the top of the ranks capable of beating each other...and they did just that. All three Sekiwake that basho would shortly become Ozeki with Komusubi Kaio not far behind.
These days, there definitely are a few guys near the top of the ranks like the Ozeki and maybe Tochiohzan beating each other up, but they're beating each other up for 10-5 records, not the 12 wins expected of at least one Ozeki/sanyaku rikishi every basho. The yusho race that everyone hoped would take place with Asashoryu gone is definitely occurring; the problem is it's for the jun-yusho. The real yusho has become absolutely inconsequential because Hakuho can have a bad 13-2 basho and still win the yusho by two bouts.
Hakuho's keeping that win streak alive and Kaio's finagling of eight wins yet again will provide two weak storylines heading into the Kyushu basho, but those aren't the kind of storylines that are going to put fannies in the seats or butts in front of the television set. So on one hand, while Hakuho's current run is historic to say the least, on the other hand, the rikishi surrounding him couldn't hold the jocks of their peers back in Haru 2000. It makes me wonder if the Mongolians have been bad for sumo's popularity because they have raised the bar too high.
Let's breakdown the rikishi that mattered meaning we probably won't hit most of the Maegashira ranks.
A zensho-yusho up until a year ago was a prestigious milestone, and you had guys like Akebono who won double digit yusho yet never went 15-0, but Yokozuna Hakuho is just making a mockery of the feat now having accomplished it four basho in a row. Is it any coincidence that this comes on the heels of Asashoryu's ouster from the sport? Clancy speculated shortly after Asashoryu's retirement that he wouldn't be surprised if Hakuho showed no mercy due to the mistreatment his fellow Yokozuna and countryman received at the hands of the Association. Well, go ahead and upgrade that analysis from speculation to scripture.
Regarding Hakuho's sumo, the Yokozuna found himself in a bit of danger during a couple of bouts in Nagoya, but he was never tested at the Aki basho. The beauty of Hakuho's sumo is that there's no way to attack him. Come in too low, he'll simply slap your ass to the dohyo. Don't come in low, he'll grab the inside grip, a position from which none can escape. Henka him, his footwork and ability to recover is too good. There's just no way to beat the Yokozuna right now, and this streak could conceivably reach 90 before he gets bored with it.
In the Ozeki ranks, Harumafuji lost to the usual duo of Tochinoshin and Kotoshogiku, and now you can likely add Tochiohzan and Kakuryu to the list of sanyaku rikishi he can no longer beat. I won't get too down on his 8-7 finish, though, since he obviously gave away that win to Kaio. I mean, look at this picture. How did Kaio manage to pull Harumafuji to the dirt where Kaio's arm was on the outside of Harumafuji's shoulder?
Kotooshu's 10-5 led the way for the Ozeki, and that was due to his fast start, but the Bulgarian let Aminishiki and Hakuba of all rikishi ruin his basho. You can see a pattern emerge here with Kotooshu where as soon as he loses that first bout, he goes directly into the tank. Hence his 2-5 finish after that 8-0 start.
Baruto didn't seem to let those two extra ST groupies following him around this basho bother him too much, but that talk about having an injured hip in Nagoya means nothing now. 9-6 for the Estonian? There just aren't any more excuses Estonian fans. Baruto has fallen into that category of relaxed Ozeki alongside Harumafuji and Kotooshu. The reality is, Baruto is a physical beast, but he's not athletic enough to parlay it into a Yokozuna run.
If I were to describe the emotions on Kaio's face in one word after he picked up yet another kachi-koshi, it'd be "guilt." Nuff said there.
Sekiwake Aran is perfecting the art of polishing a turd. His 7-8 record may not look so bad, but he achieved some of those wins with henka and unsavory sumo. Fact is this: every rikishi he beat with forward moving sumo was ranked in the Maegashira except Kaio who may as well have been ranked in the Maegashira. The two sanyaku rikishi he beat...he had to pull them down. Aran can be great as he showed in Nagoya, but the Russian can't keep it together in terms of mental toughness for more than one basho.
Contrast that with Tochiohzan who woulda been 12-3 if Aran hadna henka'd him in their day 13 contest. The beauty of Tochiohzan--and it's something I think the Sekiwake has realized the last few basho--is that he absolutely cannot win with pull sumo. He's monkeyed around with the tactic for years and had no success, but now that he's cleaned everything up and learned that he needs a solid tachi-ai with a dedicated forward-moving charge, it's worked wonders for him. His list of kimari-te is as badass as Bob Lee Swagger and second only to Hakuho. Clancy touted Tochiohzan in his day 3 Nagoya report as a future Ozeki, a rather brazen prediction at the time, but go ahead and change "future" to "next" because Tochiohzan has figured out what it takes.
In the Komusubi ranks, you could argue (correctly) that Kisenosato sacrificed his kachi-koshi by bowing to Kaio on day 14, but when assessing the basho as a whole, Kisenosato certainly didn't deserve a sanyaku kachi-koshi. He started strong with a rare win over Baruto on day 2, but Kisenosato was just lackluster the rest of the fortnight. The Kid has got to reinvent himself if he ever wants to reach Ozeki. His problem is a tachi-ai where he worries too much about obtaining an outer grip thus leaving him exposed on the inside. Without fail, Hakuho goes for the inside grip from the tachi-ai and then works his way out from there. Kisenosato needs to adopt a similar policy.
I've always maintained that Sekiwake was too high of a rank for Kakuryu, but the Kak has cleaned his act up to the point where I'll now tout him as a legitimate Sekiwake, a rank he will rightfully assume in Kyushu. In fact, I could argue that Kakuryu is a better rikishi right now than Harumafuji. Early on in his Makuuchi career, the Kak was as slippery as his nickname drawing particular ire from those biased against Mongolian rikishi, but no one can deny now that Kakuryu is a legitimate sanyaku mainstay. He suffered one bad loss at the hands of Homasho, but he more than made up for it with straight forward wins over Aran, Harumafuji, Kisenosato, Baruto, and Tochinoshin. Furthermore, I always see it as a sign of respect when the Association pairs you against a Makuuchi scrub still on the leader board down the stretch. And was there any doubt that Kakuryu wouldn't kick Yoshikaze's ass on senshuraku? I'm as high on the Kak right now as...well, better not go there.
In the Maegashira ranks, you could say M1 Tokitenku struggled in his 2-13 performance, and the most significant aspect of his basho was that he manhandled Aran, which says a lot more about the Russian than Tokitenku.
Counterpart Wakanosato actually did well to finish 5-10. All of those wins came against Maegashira rikishi, so there are no upsets to note.
M2 Homasho over achieved with his 7-8 performance that included good wins over Kisenosato and Kakuryu; hence the difference between his basho and Wakanosato's. Generally, Homasho is a 4-5 win guys from this rank, so props to him on a good performance.
Counterpart Tochinoshin had to come back with a solid effort after a horrible showing at Komusubi in Nagoya. And the youngster didn't disappoint finishing 9-6 against the same competition the Ozeki faced. Still, Tochinoshin didn't exactly shine, and I don't believe things have quite clicked for him the way they have for Tochiohzan and Kakuryu.
M3 Kotoshogiku was solid as expected posting a 9-6 mark of his own that included impressive wins over both Sekiwake, Kakuryu, and two of the three Ozeki he faced. Still, how can we get geeked about the...Geeku when he can't put two good basho in a row together?
I was impressed with M4 Tokusegawa in that he was able to withstand his tough schedule and finish with a 6-9 record. He didn't receive quite the onslaught that I had expected, but he largely beat up on the scrub rikishi and lost to the sanyaku on up. It's not bad for one's first basho among the jo'i. Counterpart Aminishiki finished 8-7, and it was clear that the Association was skipping over Tokusegawa to make things tougher for the upper guys dipping low in the ranks by giving them Aminishiki. And Shneaky didn't disappoint toppling the likes of Kotooshu and Baruto on his way to as nice'a kachi-koshi as you please.
M5 Takamisakari was worked to the tune of a 4-11 finish, and because his competition wasn't that different from what he'd normally face lower in the ranks, it's logical to deduct that the rank just got to him this basho and he folded under the pressure. Either that or the increased kensho caused his opponents to gun for him extra hard.
Counterpart Hakuba (8-7) is as bigga fraud as he ever was, and his win over Kotooshu was definitely more a case of Kotooshu's mental woes being exposed than it was a display of good sumo by Hakuba. I'll waste no further bandwidth on him.
We're now getting to the level on the banzuke where no one fought any jo'i rikishi, so let's finish up our bidness by highlighting a few notable rikishi.
M11 Yoshikaze took full advantage of the weak banzuke this basho, and while I don't fault Cafe for taking what was given, is it too much to ask for the Japanese media to not get so stiff over a 7-0 start? Especially a winning streak that was stopped by Kimurayama of all rikishi? For some reason, Yoshikaze was touted by the media as the "last Japanese rikishi without a loss" as early as day 3, but trust me, that's not a healthy spin on things by the press. If anything, it highlights just how dismal the domestic rikishi have become. Anyway, as Yoshikaze continued to rack up the wins in week two, he was once again put in his place by Kotoshogiku and Kakuryu in the end. I don't think he deserved his special prize at 11-4.
M12 Takekaze, Yoshikaze's stablemate, sorta snuck up on us at the end after overcoming two early losses by posting nine straight wins. Still, his run was completely innocuous as indicated by his day 14 defeat to Tochinoshin. Takekaze did manage to beat Kotoshogiku and pick up a special prize (you can't deny him at 12-3), but it's a shame that he'll be ranked higher on the Kyushu banzuke than guys like Toyonoshima, Goeido, and Miyabiyama.
It was extremely hard to focus on our first rookie, M13 Sokokurai, just because the bouts the first two-thirds of each day were so boring, and without going back and looking anything up or watching any of his bouts, my impression is this: he started with a lotta nerves, used some cheap tactics to pick up early wins, but then really settled into his own down the stretch and actually picked up a kachi-koshi with a 3-0 finish. Still, it's really hard to gauge these newcomers without a proper banzuke. Props too him, though, for that tsuri-otoshi win over Kakizoe on day 7.
M14 Tamawashi was as doomed as doom can be after an 0-3 start but certainly turned things around with a 10-2 finish that will keep him in the division for a few more basho...which may not necessarily be a good thing.
I was not surprised that M15 Gagamaru turned things around and skated to 10-5 basho. He can move better laterally than he sometimes shows, and it makes me wonder if he's more concerned with the bidness-side of sumo than climbing up the ranks.
Counterpart Kakizoe disappointed Staind fans around the world (myself included) with a paltry 3-12 finish that will send him to Juryo rehab.
And let's conclude with our final Makuuchi rookie, M16 Kyokunankai, who promptly showed why he didn't deserve his promotion by going 4-11 on as worse'a banzuke as we've ever seen.
In the words of Elmer Fudd, the Kyushu banzuke will still be a bit scwewy, but things should be back to normal by January. Which unfortunately means more of the same at the top.
2010 Aki Basho
My recent blog entry actually
started out as the opening for my Aki pre-basho report, but it was growing
larger and larger, so I decided to post it to my blog instead. It's also easier
for new sumo fans to catch up on the history of things the last few years by
reading my blog instead of scouring older basho reports and year-end reports
from the archives. So, the intro here will be very short where I will just point
out a very interesting parallel in the way Asashoryu was treated leading up to
his retirement and the way in which the Association has been treated the last
For years, I have defended Asashoryu and claimed that the Sumo Association was
mistreating him and allowing the Japanese media to publicly belittle him. I
deducted that it was due to racism and have spelled out my reasoning in other
blog entries and reports, but regardless of the reason, it was clear to me that
Asashoryu was being punished for the same kind of behavior that was overlooked
for decades in regards to his Japanese predecessors.
As for the Sumo Association, illegal gambling activities by oyakata, rikishi,
hair stylists, yobi-dashi, etc. and ties to organized crime have been part of
the sport for centuries. Kotomitsuki didn't just suddenly come up with this
hair-brained idea to start betting on baseball; rikishi passing the time at
exhibitions by playing card games for money in plain sight of everyone wasn't a
new practice; and oyakata and rikishi putting money on rounds of golf was simple
camaraderie. Similarly, Matsugane-oyakata wasn't the first oyakata to come up
with the idea to patronize organized crime groups in return for easier access to
the sumos and sweet seats at the venues. Gambling and associations with the
yakuza were just as much a part of sumo as tying one's hair up in the shape of a
As I wrote in my Nagoya post-basho report, I don't know who or why sumo has been
outed these last few months, but everyone has been punished for doing the exact
same things as their predecessors...going back decades for sure and likely
centuries. What's funny, though, is that I have no sympathy for the Sumo
Association due to the way that they unjustly treated Asashoryu. The sumo gods
always make things right in the end, so call this latest incident comeuppance.
I joked with Martin a few days ago that I could probably copy and paste an
entire report from earlier this year regarding the rikishi, and no one would
even notice since it seems I say the same things over and over, but for the sake
of tradition, let's examine the rikishi starting from the top.
Not only is Hakuho's act getting ridiculous in terms of rewriting the record
books, but has there ever been a rikishi in the history of sumo where the
biggest questions going into a basho are prioritized as follows?
1. What's the probability that he could get injured
2. Will he even lose
3. Will he take the yusho
Normally, I'd say that if Hakuho doesn't get injured, then there is no way that
he wouldn't yusho, but there is just one factor out there where Hakuho would
step aside and give up the yusho for the sake of breaking up the monotony of it
all. That scenario would entail Baruto making it to day 13 or 14 with no losses,
but that's incumbent upon the Ozeki at this point. So, the two key factors to
watch regarding Hakuho are: can he stay injury free and will Baruto go on a run.
The probability of the Yokozuna getting hurt is extremely low. First, no one in
the division can hurt him. Second, his sumo is so stable that he's never put in
an awkward situation that could invite injury. As for Baruto, I think he will be
gifted a token yusho (not to say he can't take one on his own) somewhere down
the road, but I don't think it happens quite yet. Therefore, Hakuho skates to
his fourth straight yusho and the chances are 80% that it's another 15-0. Four
straight zensho yusho was unthinkable several years ago, but that's just how
crazy good Kublai is compared to the rest.
Harumafuji leads the way in the Ozeki ranks, but that's akin to being the
prettiest woman at the "Bearded Ladies" convention. Having ridden the coattails
of Asashoryu and Hakuho to the rank, Harumafuji has now drifted into a rut where
he can take advantage of tired Ozeki at basho's end but gets worked by the
stronger rikishi below him in the beginning. It's no longer prophesying to say
that Harumafuji will finish with 10-11 wins.
Ozeki Kotooshu doesn't quite seem to be the presence he once was in the
division. You've got some bruisers now in the jo'i with Aran, Tochiohzan, and
Tochinoshin, and then there's the typical taller rikishi like Tokitenku and
Aminishiki to give the Bulgarian problems. Add to that a feisty Kakuryu who
isn't intimidated, and the result is too much interference for Kotooshu too
fully keep his concentration the entire fortnight. Sure, percentages say that
maybe there's a 10% chance Kotooshu can shake all that off and go 14-1, but
precedent says there's no way in hell that will happen in Aki. All it takes for
him is that first loss. 9-10 wins.
According to Mario, Ozeki Baruto suffered a hip injury on day 11 or so of the
Nagoya basho, which contributed to his poor finish. I know this sounds a bit
cruel, but so what? Withdraw so you don't risk further injury. The fact'a the
matter is Baruto won a total of eight bouts last basho, and if nobody knows
you're injured and then they go out and beat you, it only gives them more
confidence and makes you less intimidating. Due to the dearth of keiko reports,
I have no idea what's going on with the Estonian physically, but I don't think
he's in the shape to dominate as he did earlier this year. 11 wins.
I mentioned this in my Nagoya post basho report, but it's worth repeating. Ozeki
Kaio is in a lot of trouble now that the Sumo Association has been forced to
clean up its act. And I mean all of its act. They just can't afford another
black eye nor suspicion of any impropriety, so I believe Kaio will mostly be on
his own this basho. And that spells trouble. Yeah, you'd like to see him make it
to the sentimental Kyushu basho and retire there, but he's gonna have a helluva
time getting there. Kaio's race for eight will be the biggest talking point by
the end of the basho. I say he gets it in the end thanks to easy scheduling.
I love that we have new blood in the Sekiwake ranks since guys like Kisenosato
and Kotoshogiku haven't exactly carried their weight when slotted that high.
Aran proved last basho that he's a brute squad all by himself...when he wants to
be. And I think he'll be ready again at Aki because now he's realized there's
absolutely no one to be intimidated by save Hakuho. I like Aran to win 8-9 IF he
doesn't do one of his famous jo'i fold jobs. I don't think he will. As for
Tochiohzan, you could just see him building more and more confidence the last
few basho. Ranked at Komusubi a few basho ago, Oh lost a few boneheaded bouts to
end up 7-8, and at the time, you could just see how pissed he was at himself.
Tochiohzan solved that problem last basho, and I think he's convinced himself
that he can succeed at this level. I say he picks up a solid eight.
As long as I've been gushing about the Sekiwake, I'll go ahead and heap praise
on the Komusubi as well (trust me...it gets REALLY bleak once we get a few ranks
into the Maegashira). I think it's safe to downgrade Kisenosato from Ozeki
candidate to solid sanyaku rikishi along the lines of Wakanosato 6-7 years ago.
The Kid has trouble with consistency at the Sekiwake rank, but falling to
Komusubi always serves as a wake-up call. I like Kisenosato to win eight,
possibly nine. Counterpart Kakuryu isn't quite what you'd call a sanyaku
mainstay, but with some playuhs down in Juryo for this basho, he's as good'a
candidate as anyone, especially after his run in Nagoya. The thing I love about
the Kak is he's fearless. That's also a reason why we've seen less and less
shenanigan sumo from him recently. Kak will finish right on the kachi-koshi line
with 7-8 wins.
Heading up the Maegashira crowd is Tokitenku who has made a bit of a resurgence
the last few basho. Remember when he went something like 6 or 7 basho in a row
without a kachi-koshi? He's gotten his chit together again, and while too old to
really regain prime form, he's gonna battle and keep the jo'i honest. 6-7 wins.
Counterpart Wakanosato is fun to watch a few notches lower, but he's gonna get
his ass handed to him here. There are simply no pushovers among the jo'i, and
the competition for wins will be cut throat. Waka loses that battle mustering
four wins perhaps.
I like M2 Homasho in the jo'i again. Not that I think he's going to do well, but
this will be his cold shower after that prolonged stiffie in the dregs of the
division last basho. Homie will score five or so. Counterpart Tochinoshin will
be out for a bit of revenge after a horrible basho in July at Komusubi. With
little Maegashira competition and the fourth biggest body among the jo'i,
Tochinoshin will dare any of the current sanyaku to make-koshi. I like Shin to
M3 Kotoshogiku will steadily fall down the ranks now that Kotomitsuki is gone.
Still, the Geeku is famous for a great basho followed by a bad basho. Since he
was bad in July, he should redeem himself in Aki. I like him to win eight.
Counterpart Kyokutenho would do awesome if he was just one step lower in the
ranks, but at M3 and ALL of the rikishi with game ranked above him, he's gonna
allow himself to get worked. Five wins.
Tokusegawa finds himself in the dubious M4 slot. Dubious because he's number 16
from the top meaning he'll get everyone above him. It will be a good test for
him, and I see Tokusegawa holding his own, and although he'll compete in every
bout, he needs to learn how to finish at the this level. Tokusegawa will
probably finish 4-11, but it will be a hard fought basho. Counterpart Aminishiki
is just outside of the jo'i yet in the range of Kotooshu thanks to Kotoshogiku's
presence. Other than the Bulgarian, there isn't a rikishi below Shneaky worthy
to carry his jock, so I see this former Sekiwake having the best basho of the
rank and file. Double digit wins are in the cards if he's not hobbled.
I should really end my report here because everyone ranked M5 on down may as
well be slotted in the M15 range. The first two thirds of each day's broadcast
is just going to be brutal thanks to all those quality rikishi making a brief
stint in Juryo that would normally give us a good balance in the mid-Maegashira.
I'm going to
the banzuke here just so you can see how bad it's going to be and because I'm
not going to comment on them all. Let's just touch on the rikishi that may keep
Normally, you'd say Takamisakari would get worked at M5, but look at the
competition he'll face: it's the exact same as if he was ranked at M14. That
means a kachi-koshi interview is definitely in the cards. Counterpart Hakuba
will surely be able to fool the competition this basho into what could amount to
double-digit wins and a special prize. I actually think the ass kicking
administered to him last basho will help toughen him up. Let's hope.
If the veteran M6 Asasekiryu can't take advantage of this banzuke, he's done.
Keep your eye on M8 Masatsukasa who just tore it up in Juryo last basho. I know,
I know, it was just Juryo, but someone tell me what the difference between the
lower half of Makuuchi and Juryo is this basho. There isn't any. I just suspect
this kid may be on a roll, so I won't be surprised if he can pick up nine or
Regardless of where M9 Kimurayama's ranked, he's going to hit from the ladies
tees, my new term for the tachi-ai henka. And speaking of ladies tee(t)s,
counterpart Bushuyama sports 'em better'n anyone.
Normally I'd say M10 Hokutoriki would clean up with this kind of crap
surrounding him, but Jokutoriki has been limp for a year or more now.
If anyone finds themselves with insomnia this basho, just repeat these six
shikona (fighting names) over and over in your mind: Shimotori, Kotokasuga,
Yoshikaze, Koryu, Takekaze, Kasug....zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.
(Wiping drool off my chin) M13 Sokokurai is our first newcomer to the division,
but his 8-7 record from the J3 rank isn't exactly creaming anyone's Twinkie.
Sokokurai becomes the first Chinese rikishi to fight in the Makuuchi division
deserved or not.
Can't wait to see what M15 Gagamaru does this time around in the division. Dude
should just look at the faces around him and pretend he's back in Juryo. If I
was putting odds on how many wins each rikishi will have, I'd have no clue where
to place Gags. He could suck to the tune of four wins or just storm through
these guys for 12.
Kyokunankai is our second newcomer to the division rising from the J12 rank all
the way up to M16 with a 10-5 record. Still, this is going to be Juryo north
this basho, so he'll score the same amount of wins this tourney as he'da done in
Juryo. And since I don't watch the Juryo bouts, I'm not gonna speculate on his
wins...just pointing out his story.
Finally, one dude that deserves mention regardless of rank is M16 Tosanoumi.
It's good to see the Blue Collar Man back even if all his return does is conjure
up memories about some of his classic fights back in the mid-nineties. I'll be
rooting for him more than anyone else.
So the table is set for yet another basho. If you're new to sumo and this will
be your first tournament, be patient because the first two thirds of the
broadcast is gonna suck. After that though, the jo'i (top 16) is just stacked,
which should provide for some good sumo.
I should also mention that a few yayhoos will be making their way to Tokyo this
basho, namely Martin, Doc Mario, and Mark. I'm sure they'll be looking for a
free meal or two because I'm sure as hell not paying them. Yoroshiku.
My basho predictions are as follows:
Yusho - Hakuho (15-0)
Shukunsho - none
Ginosho - Tochinoshin
Kantosho - Aminishiki