Mike Wesemann.  Teach English in Japan.  Japan jobs.  Study Japanese.  Meet Japanese girls.

Mike's Profile


2012 Aki Post-basho ReportHelmut Newton sumo.
I keep telling myself that this basho will be different; that I'll get my post-basho report done by the Wednesday after the basho instead of three Wednesdays after, but every time I've sat down in front of my typewriter, the same thought has popped into my head: "there's nothing new to say." And so I'll rehash the theme that has pervaded Sumotalk for the past 11 basho and then weave in Harumafuji's promotion to Yokozuna since it has everything to do with an agenda set by the Sumo Association and less to do with Harumafuji's actual ability.

If you are new to Sumotalk--and I know we get a new influx of readers each Aki basho, you need to visit my blog and read the entry I posted after last year's Aki basho entitled Orchestrating an Ozeki Run. There I break down how Yokozuna Hakuho was reined in by the Sumo Association in order to aid the promotion of two Japanese rikishi to the Ozeki rank. I was only partially right in that blog, however, and you need to read my post-basho report from the Nagoya basho available in our archives to get further insight. In a nutshell, I have been proclaiming for nearly two years now that Hakuho is intentionally making himself vulnerable and dropping bouts in order to lessen the gap between him and the rest of the field. The reason for this is threefold:

1. With the imminent retirement of Kaio in early 2011, there would be no Japanese rikishi occupying the Ozeki or Yokozuna ranks, and that void had to be filled.
2. From the 2012 Hatsu basho, a portrait of a Japanese rikishi no longer hangs from the Ryogoku Kokugikan rafters meaning it has been more than six years since a Japanese rikishi took a yusho.
3. Hakuho must not be allowed to break sumo's most hallowed record, career yusho, currently held by Taiho at 32. Nor can he be allowed to reach Chiyonofuji's record of 31.

What I have just mentioned is not a conspiracy; it's a matter of survival. If Japanese rikishi do not legitimately occupy the sport's highest ranks or take the yusho on a frequent basis, the Japanese public is simply not interested, and we see evidence of that by all of the empty seats that are showing up at the venue. It used to be that the media would publish attendance figures and viewership numbers from NHK's television broadcast stating that this or that basho had reached a new low, but things have gotten so bad recently, the media has been asked not to follow that storyline any more.

What we are seeing in sumo right now is simply the Japanese people trying to protect their national sport to the extent possible. They may be getting their asses kicked atop the dohyo by foreign rikishi, but they can and are limiting the extent to which foreign rikishi will be remembered in the future, and I'm actually okay with it because I want sumo to survive. Just don't ask me to come on this website and bullshit you all by glossing over the obvious yaocho in the ring and pretending as if all of this is legitimate. I mean ask yourself...how in the hell has Hakuho only taken one yusho out of five this year? This last basho was perfect evidence about how sorry the banzuke is right now, and Hakuho can only go 1 for 5? I mean hell, Kyokutenho has more yusho than the Yokozuna does the last three basho.

The problem with the sumo right now is not the gap between Hakuho and the others lessening. The problem is that Hakuho is lowering the bar in order to make that happen, so by nature, the quality of the sumo is dropping as well. If we go back just over a year and look at the results of Hakuho lowering the bar, we can see the following anomalies:

Harumafuji yusho in July 2011
Kotoshogiku promotion to Ozeki
Kisenosato promotion to Ozeki
Baruto's first career yusho in Hatsu 2012
Kakuryu promotion to Ozeki and near-miss at Haru 2012
Harumafuji consecutive zensho yusho
Harumafuji promotion to Yokozuna

If Hakuho was fighting his hardest the last 18 months, not a single one of those events would have occurred, and so we're seeing the wealth spread around, but at what price?

I was fortunate enough to hop on the sumo bandwagon for the latter half of its golden era, and so I was able to witness the rise of Akebono, Takanohana, Musashimaru, Asashoryu, and now Hakuho. I know what it's like to have Ozeki on the banzuke so powerful that they are legitimate yusho contenders each basho. I know what it's like to have Sekiwake mainstays like Akinoshima, who holds the record for all-time kin-boshi, because they were true ass-kickers. I experienced the Golden Age of sumo, and so I watch the crap that passes for sumo these days, and it rings so hollow to me.

You can't argue that Harumafuji didn't deserve promotion to Yokozuna, but there was nothing impressive about it. Nothing. Name one big win he had during this Yokozuna run. There isn't one. On paper he beat Hakuho twice, but both bouts were clearly yaocho. The third-highest rikishi on the banzuke was Kisenosato, a rikishi he just toyed with at Aki, and then he was given another freebie against Kakuryu. Due to the withdrawals of Baruto, Kotooshu, and Kotoshogiku, his next biggest win on paper was against Myogiryu, but he lost the tachi-ai there and won by a desperate kubi-nage, the result of which was not superior sumo by the Mongolian; rather, Myogiryu isn't a finisher yet. In fact, I would submit that Kakuryu's run to Ozeki was far more superior and impressive than Harumafuji's run to Yokozuna. I don't blame Harumafuji a bit for taking what was given to him, but dude's a legitimate Yokozuna to the extent that Kisenosato is a legitimate Ozeki. Pretty watered down ain't it.

So why am I still interested in sumo? It's a fair question, and I guess my best answer can be explained by my reaction to the two documentaries NHK aired previous to the Makuuchi bouts on day 7 and then day 8. On day 7 they documented Chiyonofuji's rise to the Yokozuna rank and had him comment on what a rikishi goes through. They showed clips of his keiko, clips of fans just clamoring to get a glimpse of him, and then memorable bouts during his Yokozuna run where the crowds were just going crazy.

Then on day 8, they followed Okinoumi back to his hometown in the Okinoshima islands and showed scenes as Okinoumi visited old acquaintances, they showed scenes from a summer festival that includes bouts of sumo where young kids do battle after the spectators throw copious amounts of salt on them from the stands, and they interviewed the locals who are for the most part poor people trying to eke out an existence where their only joys in life are the simple things. I don't know why these two documentaries stirred me the way they did, but it reminded me that sumo does have a draw on me like it does you, and so I will always come back in hopes that we can relive some of the past glory.

Before I get too sappy here, let's shift that focus back to the rikishi starting from the top, which means we begin with Yokozuna Hakuho. Kublai's performance was perfect in Aki whether it was his sumo or his acting. With such a weak banzuke, I think it was too much to ask to have Hakuho look sloppy as he did the last couple of basho, but as soon as he lost to Tochiohzan on day 10, Clancy called the senshuraku yaocho. I don't know why the Yokozuna would choose Tochiohzan as the benefactor instead of someone else like Kakuryu, but if I had to speculate my guess is that the stench of that debacle knows as the Natsu basho was still in the Kokugikan air, and so losing to Tochiohzan sorta validated his coming in as the jun-yusho rikishi at Natsu because who can forget Tochiohzan and Kyokutenho's follow-up performance in July? Not the Sumo Association.

Ozeki Harumafuji did go 15-0, but I would rate his sumo as status quo. There were too many bouts where the Ozeki was pushed back from the tachi-ai for me to call his sumo great, but you have to credit him for not dropping any of the early bouts (losses referred to as tori-koboshi). It was evident after like two days that Harumafuji wouldn't be challenged until late in week 2, but that's due more to the lack of competition than stellar sumo. The Sumo Association knew this going in, and so for the first time that I can remember, they didn't even stipulate the number of wins necessary before considering promotion. Harumafuji will be just fine as a Yokozuna because the surrounding competition is falling apart, but I'm taking him as seriously as a Yokozuna as I did Wakanohana III.

Next up is Ozeki Kisenosato for whom I'm starting to feel a bit sorry due to the pressure put on him by the Sumo Association. Okay, I don't think sumo officials are visiting the heya and explaining their expectations, but the Kid's not dumb; he knows things are being set up for him, and he's unable to deliver. I thought the Ozeki looked great this basho...two seconds into his bout, but there's a reason why so much emphasis is placed on the tachi-ai. I frequently pointed out early on how well he forced his opponents out and I tried to find pics that showed just how good his positioning was when he went for the kill, but he is continuing to get crushed at the tachi-ai. How does he expect to even compete with Harumafuji if he can't help but give up moro-zashi at the initial charge? Kisenosato has got to develop an effective tachi-ai, and once that happens, he will be a legitimate Ozeki and one who's worthy to yusho.

There's no sense commenting on Kotoshogiku, Baruto, and Kotooshu, all of whom withdrew very early in week one other than to say I don't see Baruto and Kotooshu hanging around much longer. When even they can't dominate on this banzuke, it's time to move on.

Rounding out the Ozeki, Kakuryu was okay this basho but not great finishing 11-4. If you look at the list of his kimari-te, there's no consistency to his sumo...yori-kiri one day, hataki-komi the next day, then an oshi-dashi. Dude used six different kimari-te, which is too high for an elite rikishi. An Ozeki needs to settle into his strength and play off of that, not rely on finesse to get by. I don't know if Kakuryu is trying his hardest these days, but he's been a non-factor since his yusho threat in March.

Sekiwake Myogiryu has established himself as the next in line for Ozeki once a few of the white stiffs retire, but he's still a largely unpolished rikishi. I thought mYogiBear was average in Aki even though he did win in double digits. Look, with the banzuke they had this basho, a Sekiwake better win in double digits. His only win over a rikishi ranked above him was against Kakuryu, who for some reason insists on trying to pull Myogiryu down from the tachi-ai. Nothing really special to further point out except for the dude deserves props for at least finishing 10-5.

Because Sekiwake Goeido needed help to finish just 8-7. Six different kimari-te in eight wins spell instability, and that's probably the best word used to describe his sumo. The problem with Goeido is that he doesn't have a style. When he first entered the division, he was a yotsu guy, but now he's turned into a pull guy and a henka guy mixing in sound sumo only on occasion. I think he was the biggest waste of talent in the division until Chiyotairyu came along.

I really have no comment on the two Komusubi who were just worthless this basho. I get it that they have a tough schedule that first week, but they need to at least threaten the upper class. I guess Aoiyama gets a pass once due to the nerves involved with a sanyaku promotion, but his 4-11 was weak. Tochinoshin was able to muster a 6-9 finish primarily because he's been here before, but still, with that body and this bad banzuke, his inability to kachi-koshi shows how spent he is in the division.

Both M1 Shohozan and M1 Kaisei did well to finish 7-8, and there's nothing worth pointing about either of them. I think Shohozan's giving Kotooshu the business on day 4 is more about a dwindling Ozeki than it is about Shohozan's potential as a jo'i rikishi.

M2 Aran's 3-12 was pathetic, and I don't want to see him here again, and I can't even explain how Gagamaru floundered to a 4-11 record.

M3 Homasho will assume the Komusubi rank for Kyushu, and it's deserved due to his overall fighting spirit and big win over Kisenosato. Age-wise and physically, Homasho should not be able to out perform his peers at this level, but he's doing it with hard work. I believe that counterpart Toyonoshima is also trying his hardest, so when he stumbles in at 6-9, it goes to show that he's no longer a threat in the division.

M4 Aminishiki will fill out your other Komusubi slot coming in at 10-5 and like Homasho, he simply did it with hard work.

I'm not sure M5 Tochiohzan is comfortable with his 9-6 finish because that puts him at the M1 rank for Kyushu. I don't see how he doesn't get destroyed again in Kyushu, and his win over Hakuho was a gift. It just can't be explained any other way.

I was stoked to see M6 Masunoyama pick up his kachi-koshi on senshuraku, and I'm excited to see how he'll fare among the jo'i. I don't expect more than five win in Kyushu, but this dude's got some serious pop from the tachi-ai, and I think he can catch some of the Ozeki sleeping.

M8 Okinoumi will get another shot at the jo'i after his 11-4 showing, but there's no use gushing over such a record at this level. Is there such a thing as a big win from this level of a crappy banzuke?

M9 Takayasu made noise early with his 8-0 start, but there's concern when they gave him slightly tougher competition in week 2 and he only mustered a 10-5 finish. Still, on this banzuke, you've done nothing in Makuuchi until you kachi-koshi from the jo'i.

Ditto for M10 Kyokutenho who finished 10-5 after a 9-0 start. Yeah, yeah, I know he's got a yusho this year, but remember the crap opponents they gave him even down the stretch? Kachi-koshi from the jo'i, and then we'll talk.

As previously mentioned, M12 Chiyotairyu assumes the title of biggest waste of talent in the division. When this guy first entered the division and started bludgeoning his opponents, I really hadn't seen that kind of domination since Baruto. But all it took was that one hataki-komi, and this guy hasn't been the same since. A 6-9 finish for this lad at this level is a complete failure. The Japanese rikishi just don't have the hunger that existed a decade or two ago.

And finally, let's conclude with our Makuuchi rookie, M14 Asahisho, who picked up kachi-koshi at 8-7 but sputtered a bit after his 6-2 start in week one. His youth and size alone will allow him to stay in the division for several years and I like it how he tried to take it to all of his opponents from the tachi-ai with his oshi-attack. I didn't see any fear or hesitation from him, and he's a welcome addition to the division.






hit counters