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2011 Nagoya Basho
Pre-basho ReportHelmut Newton sumo.
The pre-basho news has been the
usual bland stuff focusing on Yokozuna Hakuho's activities and even Ozeki Kaio's
movements as well with him on the brink of surpassing Chiyofuji's career win
total, but reality really struck on July 4th when I read three separate news
articles that inadvertently highlighted the problems with sumo. I'll start with
a survey conducted by the Mainichi Shimbun, the only newspaper in Japan that
actually provides top-notch, impartial reporting. Mainichi conducted a survey
among its Japanese readers where they asked two simple questions, but they also
published the demographics of the respondents, which to me was an even greater
indicator of sumo's future. The questions were roughly as follows: 1. Do you
think the latest policies put in place by the Sumo Association will rid the
sport of yaocho? 2. Do you think the timing is right to restore hon-basho with
the Nagoya tournament?
Regarding the first question, 78% of respondents indicated that no, the new
measures adopted by the Sumo Association will not rid sumo of yaocho. 12%
weren't sure, and then the remaining 10% answered yes, which essentially means
that last group will believe anything they're told. If you split the
fence-sitters down the middle and give each side six percentage points, the
result is 84% of Japanese people who believe that yaocho is still a part of
sumo. It's really an incredible number, especially if you're familiar with the
way things work in Japanese culture where achieving harmony is more important
than things like thinking outside the box, questioning authority as conveyed by
the media, and forming an individual opinion based on one's own rational
analysis. The funniest headline I read after the Natsu basho came after the
Yokozuna Deliberation Council convened in their uselss post-basho meeting. The
headline afterwards read, "Yokozuna Deliberation Council Declares Natsu
Tournament Free of Yaocho," and the article went on to say how the members of
the council scrutinized the bouts each day and were satisfied that each rikishi
was giving it their all and that no bouts were suspicious. Whether you side with
the 84% or with the Yokozuna Deliberation Council's stance is inconsequential.
What does matter is that 84% of Japanese fans believe that yaocho is part of
sumo. The emphasis of my Natsu pre-basho report talked about why this was so
important, in particular when I talked about Kaio. I opened with it and I closed
that report with it. I'm not going to rehash my take here, but it's worth the
read to go back and review my comments (my Natsu pre-basho is tacked on below
this report). In short, nobody is fooled anymore by the favors given to some
rikishi, especially the Ozeki, and even the Japanese public at large thinks so.
I know a lot of fans have lost their passion for sumo, and the reason is this:
the lack of fierce competition atop the dohyo among the elite rikishi is being
overshadowed by obvious yaocho. Kaio defeating Hakuho on senshuraku in May? It
is physically impossible for Kaio to topple the Yokozuna in a straight up bout.
What sumo is missing is someone who can do
That all aside, the second and more important aspect I gleaned from the survey
were the demographics of the people who actually bothered to take it. Mainichi
asked the respondents to provide information on where they lived, and they gave
the following three choices: Tokyo or one of the 12 major cities (like Osaka,
Nagoya, Fukuoka), a smaller city (like Shizuoka or Nagasaki), and a town or
village. Of the respondents who wanted to see the hon-basho resume in Nagoya,
10% were from Tokyo or the larger cities, 14% were from smaller cities, and 25%
were from villages and towns. What that means is the people who care about sumo
are dwindling in the big cities, and it's most popular in the outlying areas,
places which frankly can't buoy up the sport. The Sumo Association has got to
find away to appeal to the people with money again, the people living in the
Okay, the next point from the July 4th articles were the lack of ticket sales
heading into the basho. I scanned the headlines today (the day before the basho)
and sure enough, I saw another article talking about how only 60% of tickets had
been sold. It's a number that's been steadily declining the last few years, but
until sumo appeals to the demographic I mentioned above, nothing will stop this
And then the third article from July 4th talked about major sponsors coming
back. The timing of this is not coincidence. I've lived and Japan, and I've
worked there in industries such as government and banking, and the way it works
is if you need a favor and you have any sort of name or clout, you visit the
people you need help from, bow deeply, and say yoroshiku o-negai shimasu. Big
name companies like Nagatani-en are coming back just because they've been
requested to do so. I haven't read that specifically in a report, but I'm
reading between the lines. Just like NHK who is obligated to lose money...er...uh
broadcast the sumos because they are a publicly funded company, major companies
are coming back for the good of Japan and it's national past time.
I hate it that I always seem to talk about the negative, but what I'm really
doing is pointing out the trends in sumo and why they're happening. That said
trends are all negative is a consequence of where sumo is heading, not my
attitude towards the sport. On that note, let's get to the rikishi.
I am of the opinion that Yokozuna Hakuho would give up the yusho if someone
would just rise up and take it. The only other guy who could do that in recent
years was Asashoryu, and now that he's been ousted, there just isn't anyone who
can string together 13 wins anymore. The pre-basho keiko reports surrounding
Hakuho's workouts have been boring, but then boring probably describes how the
Yokozuna feels about his competition. Hakuho is the easy favorite and could
easily win this thing 15-0 if he wants. I suspect he might since this would be a
record-setting 8th consecutive yusho.
In the Ozeki ranks, Baruto leads the way, and if he's going to get a career
yusho, now's the time. I don't necessarily mean this basho, but while he's the
easy number two guy. Goeido looks healthy again and Kotoshogiku and Kisenosato
are making some noise, so while Baruto's the clear second best, it'd be nice to
see him string together a bunch of wins that would put him in the yusho race. I
haven't read any reports regarding him pre-basho nor as the good doctor said
anything, so I assume Baruto to pick up his usual eleven wins.
I haven't read anything about Harumafuji as well, but this Ozeki has actually
fallen below the level of the Sekiwake and possible the Komusubi. I see HowDo
struggling to get 9 or 10.
You know my feelings on Kaio who is one win away from tying Chiyonofuji's career
win mark at 1,045 and two away from surpassing it. If he gets it, will he
promise to go away as I don't believe they'll be any other records for him to
achieve. Physically, Kaio cannot compete at this level basho in and basho out.
Dude had to ride in a special car just to go to a shrine for a special event. An
Ozeki near 40 with an ailing back who can't even sit upright in a bus physically
cannot win 9 bouts in a tournament. That he does goes back to the 84% of
Japanese people who think yaocho is still in sumo. Those folks remember
Chiyonofuji, so when they see Kaio in his current state about to set this
record, the make the mental comparison, and it's a no brainer. Kaio was my
favorite rikishi for a long time, and he was an outstanding rikishi, but he is
hurting sumo worse than anyone else right now. Speculating on his win-loss total
is of no consequence.
Rounding out the Ozeki, Kotooshu is kadoban which means he will get his eight
one way or another. It's useless to speculate on his win total as well.
I love the Sekiwake rank with Kotoshogiku and Kisenosato. These two aren't
necessarily rivals, but I think they feed off of each other because both have
game and both are legitimate Ozeki candidates in the future. I also like the
fact that these two are better rikishi than all of the Ozeki except Baruto, so
good basho by these two is key to excitement in Nagoya. Both win 10 at least.
The third wheel..er..uh..Sekiwake is Kakuryu who simply earned the rank with an
outstanding performance from Komusubi in May. The Kak is just below the class of
Kotoshogiku and Kisenosato, but he hustles so well and is ring smart, so expect
him to kachi-koshi fairly easy as well.
You know my mancrushed was heightened when I read that Goeido's keiko has looked
great in Nagoya, and even though he is a Komusubi, I expect him to be a player
this basho. He's had so much time to heal from nagging injuries beginning with
sitting out this tourney last year and then extremely weak competition in Juryo
and the lower Makuuchi ranks. I expect--no demand--that his roll continue with a
double digit win total in Nagoya. Across the aisle is Tochinoshin who was the
jun-yusho rikishi in May with 12 wins. All I know is that I saw about three of
his bouts on the news, and in all three of 'em he sidestepped at the tachi-ai to
get the cheap outer grip. His current rise is inflated, and that point will be
manifest in Nagoya. Six wins?
When I tout so many guys up to this point as shoe-ins for double digit wins, it
means those will be balanced out by a ton of losses from the upper Maegashira.
Leading the way is Tosayutaka who will be spanked like a naughty girl in Tokyo
brothel. He'll be lucky to win 4. I like the cat, but he's not jo'i material.
Same goes for counterpart Yoshikaze who may max out at 3 wins.
M2 Kyokutenho has the experience, but he is so old now, even Kaio refers to him
from time to time as a senpai by mistake. Kyokutenho should hold his ground
against the guys below him, but he'll get few of those. I'd be surprised to see
him beat anyone ranked above him, so that will equal 4-5 wins max. Counterpart
Toyonoshima is the only guy who has a shot at kachi-koshi from these parts. I
think he falls short (urp) at seven wins, but he will keep the sanyaku and above
M3 Wakakoyu is also highly over ranked, but that's what's gonna happen when 17
sekitori are eliminated from the ranks in one basho. 3 wins? Counterpart
Aminishiki is the veteran of the bunch along with Kyokutenho, but his age and
dwindling speed will make it very tough to beat any of the elite rikishi. 6 wins
M4 Okinoumi is a guy who could threaten the sanyaku one day. I see him sort of
as a Homasho where if everything goes right, he could actually kachi-koshi from
this level and flirt with a sanyaku berth. I don't see that happening in Nagoya
because the guys in the sanyaku just won't fall, and Toyonoshima is the best
Maegashira, but within the year, we could call this cat Komusubi Okinoumi.
Counterpart Takekaze is useless filler at this level.
I love the M5 rank with Kaisei and Wakanosato. These guys are just out of reach
of the jo'i, and I believe they'll flourish in Nagoya. I saw a few of Kaisei's
bouts once he began making that run in May, and my impression is that he's a
great belt fighter, but if there's one weakness it's that he's too top heavy. I
like him to Akebono...not has Yokozuna material, but a strong guy whose legs are
so skinny that I think he'd turn more than a few heads in a mini-skirt and
heels. I expect Kaisei to cruise again and achieve 8-9 wins. Wakanosato will
struggle more than the Brazilian, but this veteran is simply better and more
wiley than the competition near him old as he is. I say 7-8 wins.
M6 Tamawashi should stay at this level for some time simply because the guys
filling the bottom of the division aren't good. Same goes for Aran. Both of
these guys will hover right around 8 uneventful wins.
I don't believe that M7 Tokitenku can handle this rank anymore, especially with
quite a few former sanyaku rikishi so close by. I see him checking in with about
6 wins. Same goes for Gagamaru. I like the Georgian, but he hasn't figured out
how to parlay his size into more wins. Size yes...good technique no. 6-7 wins.
M8 Tochiohzan should repent straightway in Nagoya and work his way back up to
the jo'i. Unless he's injured, I see Oh toying with the guys at this level and
winning somewhere around leven (as my mom would say). Counterpart Miyabiyama is
there in name only. This guys is running on fumes and is only still this high
because there's no one below him to replace him yet. I see the Sheriff losing
control of the town with about 6 wins.
Our M9's are solid in Homasho and Asasekiryu. I expect both guys to kachi-koshi
thanks to the weak banzuke below them.
You know I get excited by the M10 rank with (sigh) Kitataiki leading the way.
While unable to break into the top-heavy jo'i for the next few years, it will be
easier to kill a roach than it will be to knock Kitataiki from the division. I
see a steady 8 wins. His counterpart is Takarafuji, our first rookie whom I have
never seen fight. I believe he did earn his promotion and didn't get it just
because they had to replace 17 guys, but I'll with hold comments on him until I
can actually see him in the ring.
Just below at M11 is someone I can already tell will be one of my favorites in
M11 Takayasu. I see him as a Goeido type, and the thing I like about him most is
that he's half Filipino. He's seen hard times, and he understands that hard work
has brought him to this level in society. With Japan as affluent as it is these
days, sumo is no longer a "way out" for many of the kids trying to get out of
the smaller towns. The internet has opened up a whole new world for Japan's
youth, and sumo just isn't appealing to them. Takayasu, however, has had to live
part of his life in the Philippines, and he knows already what it's like to work
in order to help provide for the family. Watch this kid, the first Heisei-born
guy to reach Makuuchi.
He's flanked by Tochinowaka, a newcomer in May who I haven't seen fight at all.
I'll withhold comments until I see him in action.
M12 Daido is our third rookie this basho, and same goes for him. Let me see him
fight a few days. I will mention that he was promoted to this level after an 8-7
performance from the J4 rank in May. Don't expect much. His counterpart,
Toyohibiki, is underachieving big time. The ranks below him are just
that--rank--so I expect him to at least kachi-koshi.
M13 Sagatsukasa. Need I say more? He's joined by Shotenro who is here as filler.
Doesn't mean either of these two can't kachi-koshi, though, as they're
essentially fighting at a Juryo level.
Takamisakari slips all the way down to M14, and like Toyohibiki, he's another
guy who should be higher but just can't put it together anymore. I think he gets
his eight meaning we get our kachi-koshi interview, but I see him struggling the
rest of his career. No comment on counterpart Tochinonada.
Rounding out the bottom rung is M15 Fujiazuma, our final rookie. He doesn't
deserve the Makuuchi division yet, and I think it will show here in Nagoya.
Haven't seen him fight yet, so let's see what happens. Last and probably least
is Kimurayama who went 7-8 last basho from the M17 rank. Kimurayama is the
perfect example of why the first half bouts will be largely unwatchable for the
next few basho. If we wanted to see the Juryo bouts, we'd tune in earlier.
That's a wrap on the pre-basho report. Hakuho will skate to the yusho, and the
second most intriguing storyline will be the battle for supremacy among
Kotoshogiku, Kisenosato, and Goeido. Normally, four newcomers would be exciting,
but not when two of them are here because 17 others were forced to retire.
Here are my predictions:
Yusho: Hakuho (15-0)
2011 Natsu Basho
Pre-basho ReportHelmut Newton sumo.
Since the Sumo Association saw fit
to release it's "junseki" today, I guess I can find it deep within me to
crank out a pre-giryou shinsa report. If you haven't heard the term "junseki"
before, it can be largely translated as "silliness". Okay, maybe a more direct
translation for junseki would be "seeding" for the upcoming tournament,
but is it too much to ask the Sumo Association to stop these little games and
call things what they really are? This is a hon-basho, and the rankings are
called a banzuke.
One thing that really makes Sumotalk work (at least my analysis anyway) is my
knowledge of the Japanese culture and my ability to weave it into the happenings
within sumo. I will largely defend Japan and its perceived strange ways from
ignorant foreigners, but when Japan deserves criticism for certain aspects of
its culture, I have no problem declaring it. And the point I want to start off
with today is the cultural aspect of self-torture as in the Japanese people will
actually go out of their way to make sure life is as difficult as possible. It's
almost if it's impossible to be content with life unless you're miserable, and
for those who have lived in Japan or married into the culture know exactly what
I'm talking about. An extreme example of this mentality is Japan's view on
suicide where someone will take their life, not because of something they have
done or dire circumstances that they are facing, but because they're assuming
responsibility for someone else's actions whether it be a relative, employee,
I had all but given up on this basho after scouring the media websites and the
Sumo Association's website for any useful details on the Natsu basho like the
new rankings, but assuming this self-torture mentality, the Sumo Association
didn't make anything official until the Friday before the tournament. They
actually released the current rankings to all stables two weeks before the Haru
basho would have been held, and I know at least NHK had them at this time
because they showed like a half second clip of the new rankings on their TV news
broadcast back in March, but for the Sumo Association and the media to wait
until now to publicly release everything is meaningless and silly.
And what's more, once the NSK finally updated their website on Friday with the
new details of the Natsu basho, they declared that they would stream all bouts
live over the internet. That's not surprising, but then they actually mentioned
that there would be commentary from the oyakata on the internet stream for the
Juryo and Makuuchi bouts. Commentary from the oyakata means that someone will
have to lead the discussion, and that someone will be the usual NHK announcers.
In short, the full-fledged broadcast of the Natsu basho will occur; it will just
be streamed over the internet. So the second point of silliness is why doesn't
NHK just broadcast the stupid tournament on television since they're doing the
same thing on the internet? It's all pointless and yet another example of how
they have to make things as difficult as possible in Japan for no logical
As a result, Sumotalk will not provide the usual daily comments because I for
one ain't staying up from 1:30 AM - 3:30 AM to view sumo on the internet for two
hours. Porn? Maybe. Sumo? No. I will chime in if I have something to add, and
I've emailed the other contributors letting them know they're free to post what
they want on any day, but this will be pre-Sumotalk days when Kenji and I
emailed each other a few paragraphs every other day.
Having said that, I can still put together a pre-basho report because regardless
of how this is being spun in the media, this is a hon-basho. Let's examine the
rikishi that matter keeping in mind that I haven't read any keiko reports since
I wasn't taking this tourney seriously until the NSK posted things officially on
I'm going to start with Ozeki Kaio because his results are critical to the
future of sumo. Allow me to explain. It is no secret that Kaio has been allowed
to maintain his Ozeki rank due to bout fixing. Whether money changed hands,
whether cell phones were used, whether his opponents realized the situation and
took dives for free is all inconsequential. What matters is moving forward has
sumo really changed its stance on yaocho? I know, I know, Hanaregoma Rijicho is
spewing the usual crap during his press conferences saying a hon-basho won't be
held again until firm measures are in place to prevent yaocho from ever
occurring again, but that's just more of the silliness that I've been ranting
about. The Sumo Association's stance from here on out will be measured by Kaio's
results in the ring. If the Ozeki is allowed to continue to achieve ridiculous
kachi-koshi through bout fixing, Sumo has not changed its policies a lick and
will continue to invite scandal in the future. If Kaio suddenly comes up injured
early on in the tournament and announces his retirement, then maybe sumo does
have a brighter future. For that reason, I will be most interested to see how
Kaio performs in Natsu.
The next compelling rikishi is Sekiwake Kisenosato. Just after the Hatsu basho,
Takanohana-oyakata stated that Kisenosato and Kotoshogiku would actually be
considered for promotion to Ozeki pending their results at the Haru basho. And
speaking of the Haru basho, that tourney was damned from the beginning innit? If
it wasn't cancelled for the yaocho scandal, it would have been cancelled due to
the quake and tsunami. And yes, our thoughts and prayers are with the victims
and their families because no one has ever come up with that hollow line before.
Back to Kisenosato. The next likely rikishi to yusho this tournament is
Kisenosato. Sure, Hakuho is the favorite, but sumo could sure use a boost these
days, and I wouldn't put it past everyone to somehow see a domestic rikishi make
an improbable run to the yusho. All records aside, I think Hakuho gets the game,
and he for damn sure gets it now because the Association could have taken him
down as well in this whole yusho scandal as the Yokozuna has been involved in
his fair share of foul play. When Clancy and I posted the best-of during the
Haru basho, we started day 1 off with talk of the infamous Asashoryu-Hakuho bout
during the Nagoya 2006. That bout was yaocho all the way, and Hakuho's
stablemaster confirmed it for us getting caught on tape admitting as much, but
how convenient that no one within the Sumo Association, the media, or that
useless committee created to investigate yaocho seemed to remember this during
the recent investigations. That fact alone tells you that everything is
negotiated behind the scenes among all parties: the NSK, the police, the gumment,
and the media.
The point is, though, without this being an official basho (cough, sputter),
it's the perfect opportunity for someone like Kisenosato to rise up and pick up
that first career yusho. I don't think the odds of that happening are greater
than say 25% (because Kisenosato has to do a lot of work on his own), but it
wouldn't surprise me in the least to see Hakuho not take the yusho. Not because
he's rusty but because he gets it.
Let's move onto the other Ozeki starting with Baruto...not because I have
anything to say about him but because as much as I've ignored sumo the last few
months, I sure as hell caught that news article that stated police were called
to investigate a car that was stationery in the middle lane of one of Tokyo's
busiest thoroughfares at 10 AM on a weekday morning. Police discovered two
things at the scene: Onoe-oyakata asleep at the wheel, and--sit down for this
next revelation--the oyakata had alcohol on his breath. I don't know that the
Sumo Association has ever handed down a punishment yet, but I'm pretty sure I
read a report that they have now demoted him to become the organization's new
One day we'll have Mario reveal just exactly what is causing Onoe-oyakata to
drink, but since the Doc has the Ozeki's number on speed dial, it would be
ludicrous to cut that vine until after Baruto has retired. I really have no
other comments on the remaining Ozeki, Kotooshu and Harumafuji.
I've talked about Kisenosato, so let's address Sekiwake Kotoshogiku, who is also
coming off of a great Hatsu basho. The problem is that was four months ago, a
lot has happened in between, and these rikishi have got to be rusty. Kisenosato
is the more consistent of the two Sekiwake, so I don't see the Geeku faring as
well as the Kid. Still, let's see how he handles the pressure of at least being
mentioned as an Ozeki candidate.
I really like Kakuryu in the Komusubi slot. There's no doubt in my mind that the
Mongolian rikishi are hungrier than the Japanese rikishi, and Kakuryu's the type
of guy that can take advantage of this long lay-off. I think everyone's gotten a
little fatter, but quick guys like the slippery Kak can recover faster. I look
for Kakuryu to at least kachi-koshi.
Counterpart Toyonoshima also has a shot at kachi-koshi, and I think he'll
outwork the Ozeki this basho. I'm sure with an elite rank such as Ozeki comes a
feeling of entitlement, so while Baruto, Kotooshu, and Harumafuji are coasting,
these littler guys are gunning for them. Toyonoshima was on a roll the last few
basho, and I expect that to continue. I don't see both Komusubi getting their
collective asses kicked in May.
Before we get to the Maegashira rikishi, let me just comment on the 17 or so
sekitori who were forced into retirement. None of 'em were worth a damn to
sumo's future, and now that guys like Hakuba and Kasugao are gone, it's really
going to eliminate a lot of the crap sumo. The biggest loss of the bunch was M1
Tokusegawa who was on the brink of sanyaku promotion, but dude was a late
bloomer, and didn't have tons of gas left in his tank. As for everyone else,
they will not be missed in the least. The one problem it does present, however,
is that 17 guys from Makushita are going to have to fill the vacancies among the
sekitori ranks. It will be unavoidable this tournament, but a lot of guys with
make-koshi records are going to get promoted...some from Makushita into Juryo,
and some from Juryo into Makuuchi. What it does is greatly weaken the sekitori
ranks, but the Sumo Association fully realized that the elite rikishi had to be
protected at all costs, so while sumo will be extremely top-heavy for the next
two years, at least the bouts we all care about will still remain intact.
Goeido leads the way from the Maegashira ranks, and it's time for this guy to
make his way into the sanyaku and stay there. I think the long layoff hurts the
older guys and those lazy-asses who are gifted enough physically to generally
show up and kachi-koshi (like the Ozeki), so for younger guys like Goeido, they
need to capitalize. Furthermore, Goeido has no excuse not to have recovered from
any nagging injuries. I'm not saying watch for him to excel because he's a
headcase, I'm just saying nothing is stacked against him this basho.
I have really enjoyed M2 Homasho the last few basho and will admit that I had
written him off. Dude suffered a neck injury and didn't spend as much time
complaining about it as he did trying to fight through it. The results weren't
grand, but Homie has recovered, so I expect him to flirt with kachi-koshi in
Natsu. Counterpart Tochiohzan has sorta been forgotten during this long layoff
stemming from his lackluster coupla tournaments before the big break. I'm just
not sure how hard he has worked to get back into shape, but a genki Tochiohzan
would really add to the basho. I'll say he comes up just short with 7 wins.
M3 Kitataiki would rather find himself at this level now than with everything
running as normal. First, he hasn't had to test his knees in four months, and
second, I think he can catch a few guys sleeping. Not quite the carnage we'd see
as usual, but I see Kitaiki winding up with 6 wins or so. Counterpart Aminishiki
is a complete wildcard. Dude hasn't looked healthy to me (talking about his
legs) in about half a year. I think it's gotten to the point where he can't
sneak his way to those eight wins. Seems people read him too easily these days,
which means he's lost a step. Same fate as Kitataiki.
M4 Okinoumi is sandwiched in between tough, veteran guys on the banzuke. You'll
also recall this kid's had a bit of instability the last year as he was one who
was demoted to Juryo for gamblin' ways. Okinoumi is thankfully just out of reach
of facing all the top guys, but he's going to get more than his fair share. I
don't see how he wins more than five. As for counterpart Takekaze, I don't know
how his name never surfaced on anyone's cell phone. Course, the head of that
committee that investigated yaocho said that some rikishi claimed to have
dropped their phones in the toilet and didn't want to retrieve them. Some savvy
plumber should nose around the Oguruma-beya because Takekaze is involved in
enough unorthodox bouts that he reeks of yaocho. With everyone supposedly clean
in May, I see him flopping miserably.
M5 is a solid rank with Aran and Wakanosato. I'm not a huge Aran fan, but he's
low enough that I think (I hope) he goes for the bully sumo instead of the
evasive, ballerina shtick. I like Aran's chances for kachi-koshi. I'm on the
fence with counterpart Wakanosato. The Barometer enjoyed a brief resurgence a
year or so ago, but he looked rather slow to me the last time these guys danced.
M6 Tamawashi and counterpart Tochinoshin are two lucky guys who really can't
fall further than this with 16 sekitori below them having vanished from the
sport. But having said that, with the banzuke to become so top-heavy the next
few years, these two will have a tough time fighting their way into the sanyaku.
When Shin was hot a year ago, he'd have a great basho, get promoted to the
sanyaku, then struggle and come back down only to make it to the sanyaku again.
Lately, though, he's not doing well even from outside the jo'i. It'd be a shame
if didn't win at least eight in May, but I don't see him winning in
double-digits. Who knows with Tamawashi?
We're entering the region of the banzuke where guys were forced into retirement,
so I don't see the sense of continuing on down the ranks. I do want to recognize
three rikishi before closing. First, I think M14 Gagamaru is guilty as hell of
yaocho. Lucky for him he didn't turn up in anyone's black book. Thing about him
is he doesn't need to throw bouts to succeed in sumo. I think he was doing it
for the caish. Now that he's got to stay clean for a season, I expect him to do
Second, we have two new rikishi in the division (two guys who actually earned it
as opposed to the influx we'll see starting in Nagoya) in M11 Tochinowaka and
M16 Kaisei. Couldn't tell you a lick about either of them other'n Kaisei is of
Brazilian descent. Someone will have to tell me how they look because according
to the most handsome guy on NHK's payroll (no offence, Murray), they'll only
feature four or so bouts a day on their news programs, and I'm guessing neither
Tochinowaka nor Kaisei will be featured after their first Makuuchi win.
Finally, let me conclude by addressing two issues: yaocho and its history in
sumo and letting the crowds in for free. When this yaocho scandal first broke,
NHK did a rather lengthy piece on yaocho, and they showed a clip of Wakanohana I
(when he was Futagoyama-oyakata and the commissioner) from about 1990.
Wakanohana was so upset with the horeshit sumo going on at the time that he
recorded a speech on tape and then distributed it to every sumo stable. NHK
played a few cuts from it, and he was just railing on the rikishi and oyakata
for their half-assed sumo. He couldn't come out and say the word yaocho, so he
used other words like "mukiryoku sumo", or uninspired sumo. Everyone knew what
he was talking about, and he threatened everyone by saying “the government will
shut us down if this continues.”
Wakanohana was a badass. I of course never saw him fight live, but all I had to
do was see a clip from 1990 of him at a press conference smoking a cigarette.
Sure, people smoked heaters three or four decades ago on TV all the time, but
for a bitter oyakata to still do it in the 90's was awesome. Anyway, that
Wakanohana would go to that extent to try and clean up sumo of yaocho lets you
know that this isn't new to sumo.
Also consider two rules put in place by the Sumo Association who knows how long
1. Stablemates shall not fight each other during a hon-basho unless they meet in
a playoff for the yusho
2. Brothers shall not fight each other regardless of stable affiliation unless
they meet in a playoff for the yusho (remember how painful that was when it
Those rules were established for one reason--to reduce the number of obvious
yaocho in sumo. Words like gachinko (rikishi who refuse to throw bouts) or
mukiryoku sumo exist because guys do throw bouts and guys do let up in the ring
in order to let an opponent win. It is that way, and it has always been that
The latest efforts to clean up yaocho in sumo is meaningless. I think when they
said get rid of the pus, they weren't talking about yaocho but were referring to
guys like Hakuba and Kasugao.
That sumo booted out 17 sekitori for yaocho is a complete sham, especially when
you consider none of them were vital to sumo and Kaio was allowed to hang
around. It's all a game, and the quicker you figure it out (i.e. the quicker you
stop doubting what's said on ST), the easier it will become to stomach the next
scandal...because it will come. I will know by results alone just how serious
the Association is about limiting yaocho; that's why I will scrutinize Kaio so
Finally, the Sumo Association will let the crowds into the Kokugikan free of
charge the entire basho. They're not going to do this because they're too
obtuse, but they should closely examine the type of people who show up for free.
This demographic (be it foreigner, old person, or groups of school kids) are the
people you already have in your back pocket. You don't need to market to these
people because they come anyway. Identify types of people who aren't showing up
even though the sumos are free and figure out a way to appeal to them. With so
much turmoil surrounding the sport, now is as good'a time as ever to make those
necessary and perhaps revolutionary changes to the sport that will allow the
Association to make itself available to the masses again and compete with all
the other distractions available to hard-working members of society. I offer my
solutions about once a year, but the Sumo Association will never adopt such
measures, and so the sport will sadly continue to dwindle in popularity as
scandal after scandal reduces its presence in Japanese culture that much more.
On that bright note, see ya at least once during the basho.