Category Archives: sumo

Sumo’s No-throw Zabutons

This year’s Kyushu Grand Sumo Tournament is at the halfway point, and Kyushu-based blogger Ampontan explained after the first day how the Japan Sumo Association has reconfigured the zabuton (lit. ‘seat futon’) in the box seats in order to discourage fans from throwing their seat cushions when some lower-ranking rikishi upsets a yokozuna. Since the yokozuna fight last, cushion-throwing opportunities tend to come at the very end of a long day of sitting.

The new, difficult-to-throw zabuton made their debut at the Kyushu tournament at Fukuoka City’s Fukuoka Kokusai Center on Sunday the 9th. The space in the box seat areas have been expanded, and instead of having four individual square zabuton for each of the patrons in the box, they will be provided with double zabuton sets. These consist of two rectangular cushions measuring 125 centimeters (49 inches) by 50 centimeters and attached by a cord. A fan would have to be seriously upset to get one of those things airborne.

The reactions to the new cushions have been mixed. One member of a local Kyushu group with ringside seats (called suna kaburi in Japanese, or “covered with sand”) said, “I’ve been hit by flying zabuton before, and it didn’t hurt. But some people who have been hit said that it hurt a lot, so I’m glad they’re doing something about it.”

In contrast, one woman in her 20s from Fukuoka City who plans to attend the tournament said she was disappointed that she wouldn’t be able to see any flying zabuton because she thought it represented the real sumo atmosphere. A housewife in her 50s said she thought it was a bit frightening because people might decide to throw something else instead of the zabuton. (Are not those views representative of the classic difference between youth and age?)

The first day must have been frustrating for would-be launchers of zabuton torpedoes because the lower-ranking veteran Aminishiki gave the live audience a perfect opportunity by defeating reigning champion Hakuho.

After Day 8, however, Hakuho remains tied for the lead, at 7-1, with Miyabiyama, another lower-ranking veteran who is currently the heaviest rikishi in the top division, tipping the scales at 179 kg, just 2 kg more than the giant Estonian Baruto.

Among the fresh foreigner faces in the top level this time around are: the Mongolian Koryu, the Russian Aran, and the Georgian Tochinoshin. There are now eight Mongolians in the top division, and six more in the Juryo rankings, along with two Georgians, one Bulgarian, one Estonian, one Korean, and one Russian.

Now if they could just prevent the wrestlers from throwing matches …

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Another Basho, Another Scandal

Japan’s Fall Grand Sumo Basho is underway, and Jack Gallagher, writing in The Japan Times, updates us on the latest scandal to hit the sport.

The resignation of Japan Sumo Association chairman Kitanoumi last Monday was just the latest in a litany of black eyes for sumo.

In fact, the 55-year-old former yokozuna illustrates precisely why sumo is in its current state.

He was the head of the JSA for more than six years, but under his tenure things didn’t stay the same, they got progressively worse.

What defies comprehension is his seeming unawareness to what was going on around him and refusal to take responsibility until an incredible amount of harm had been done to sumo’s standing with the public.

So clueless was Kitanoumi that he practically had to be strong-armed out the door. It is precisely this kind of stubbornness and arrogance that has brought sumo to this point.

Kitanoumi should have been forced out last year, following the beating death of Tokitaizan, a young wrestler in the Tokitsukaze stable, but passed the buck and continued on.

When Russian wrestler Wakanoho was expelled by the JSA last month following his arrest for possession of marijuana, Kitanoumi again had a chance to take responsibility but refused. It was a pathetic show of power.

Only after the most recent embarrassment, the failure of Russian wrestlers Roho and Hakurozan (a member of Kitanoumi’s stable) to pass drug tests administered by the JSA, and prodding from his colleagues, did Kitanoumi finally go.

Gallagher also suggests some innovations that might help revitaize the sport.

• Make better geographic use of the six annual tournaments. Having half of them in Tokyo every year makes no sense at all. Hold one in Sapporo and another in Sendai.

• Change the starting times of the makuuchi bouts. Having them on television between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. each day makes it very difficult for a large number of viewers to see them live. People are either at work, on their way home, or otherwise occupied.

• Establish a marketing department that knows how to do something besides just pick up the phone. Take a page out of the J. League’s book and be aggressive. Target youngsters and female fans.

• Archive all of the tournaments’ videos on the Internet with commentary in English. With the time difference it is tough for folks outside of Japan to see the bouts live. The one place that sumo has retained its interest is with fans overseas. Give them a better chance to follow the sport and increase the international fan base.

via Japundit‘s Japan News Junkie

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Kotooshu, Gambare!

I haven’t been following sumo very closely these days, but this week when I checked the standings of the May tournament that concludes this coming Sunday, I noticed that the undefeated Bulgarian ozeki Kotooshu had handed the senior yokozuna Asashoryu the latter’s second loss. But I didn’t get my hopes up because Kotooshu was scheduled to face the other yokozuna, Hakuho, yesterday, even though he has a better record against Hakuho than against Asashoryu. Well, this morning I saw that Kotooshu was now 12-0, having handed Hakuho (10-2) his second loss. Better yet, veteran Japanese ozeki Chiyotaikai (4-8) had saddled Asashoryu (9-3) with his third loss. If Kotooshu can win two out of the three remaining bouts, he won’t have to face either yokozuna for a tie-breaker, and will win his first tournament championship in sumo’s highest division (Makuuchi).

UPDATE: Reader Thomas of Nihonhacks provides a JapanProbe link to video of the two bouts on Youtube.

DAY 13: All the leaders lost, so Kotooshu (12-1) now has to win just one of his two remaining bouts to win the Emperor’s Cup. Hakuho dropped to 10-3, Asashoryu to 9-4.

DAY 14: He did it! Kotooshu (13-1) got behind the scrappy Mongolian Ama (another crowd favorite) and shoved him down to clinch his first Emperor’s Cup. The last day’s results won’t matter to him, but they will matter to everyone who is 7-7 and needs a winning record to maintain their ranking, like Tochinoshin (‘horse-chestnut-heart’), the Georgian rookie who just made his Makuuchi debut this tournament.

Of the 42 rikishi in the top division this tournament, there are 8 Mongolians, 3 Russians, 2 Georgians, 1 Bulgarian, 1 Estonian, and 1 Korean.


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Akebono: From Rikishi to Pro-Wrestler

Japan-based blogger Ampontan backs into a retrospective of former yokozuna Akebono’s spectacular career in sumo and his troubled career afterwards. The story starts with a wrestling match at Yasukuni Shrine and ends up being a requiem for a yokozuna. Here are a few paragraphs to whet your appetite.

There is a long tradition of professional wrestlers fighting at Yasukuni Shrine. The most recent occasion was April 23, 1961, when Japanese wrestling legend Rikidozan presided over a card that featured youngsters Giant Baba and Antonio Inoki, who would become stars in their own right. (Inoki also would later form his own political party and win election to a seat in the upper house.) The event attracted 15,000 people….

Holding wrestling matches for the divinities at a Shinto shrine is not as outlandish as it may seem. There is a very long tradition in Japan of festivals with competitive events at Shinto shrines. In addition to sumo, which is closely linked to Shinto, competitions at shrines include archery, tug-of-war, and, according to my reference, even cock-fighting. The idea is that the divinities will favor the more deserving competitor, and the victors in these events will have good fortune in the year ahead….

The primary draw this year was the appearance in the ring of the former sumo yokozuna Akebono fighting as one member of a six-man tag team match….

Akebono’s career match record was 654 wins and 232 losses. He won 11 tournament championships, ranking him 7th in the modern era at the time. (After Akebono retired, another foreign rikishi, Musashimaru, racked up 12. Today’s fallen superstar, the Mongolian Asashoryu, later broke Akebono’s records for speed of promotion, and won 22 championships to place fourth on the all-time list. But that’s another story.)…

Eight years ago, Akebono appeared in a sumo ritual at Yasukuni at the pinnacle of his professional fame. Last weekend, few even in Japan noticed as he threw his weight around once again to take down his opponents. He said he was nervous at first, but happy to be back.

He seems to have found his niche. He said he wants to continue his career as a professional wrestler as a single instead of being part of a tag team.

Rikidozan and Giant Baba were the first pro-wrestlers I ever saw—and that was on a black and white Sharp TV in Kyoto in the 1950s, the same place I used to catch the end of sumo tournaments after school. Sumo captured my imagination in a way that pro-wrestling never did.

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Osaka Grand Sumo Finale and Freakonomics

Going into the final day of this year’s Osaka Grand Sumo Tournament, the two Mongolian yokozunas, Asashoryu and Hakuho, are tied for the lead with 2 losses each and will meet each other for the deciding match. Right behind them are two mid-level maegashira, the Georgian Kokkai and Estonian Baruto, with 3 losses each.

Seven rikishi are going into their final day with records of 7 wins and 7 losses, and therefore must win to retain their rank. It will be interesting to see how many of them win. (According to stats compiled in Freakonomics, about 5 out of 7 them will win.) All but one are facing opponents who have already secured a winning record, and the sole exception (Asasekiryu) faces an opponent who has no chance at securing one.

  • Goeido (M8, 7-7) vs. Kakizoe (M14, 8-6)
  • Wakanoho (M4, 7-7) vs. Tochinonada (M8, 8-6)
  • Miyabiyama (M2, 7-7) vs. Baruto (M7, 11-3)
  • Asasekiryu (M1, 7-7) vs. Aminishiki (M2, 6-8)
  • Kotoshogiku (S, 7-7) vs. Kisenosato (K, 8-6)
  • Ama (S, 7-7) vs. Kyokutenho (M4, 9-5)
  • Kotomitsuki (O, 7-7) vs. Chiyotaikai (O, 8-6)

UPDATE: Sure enough, six out of seven won their final bouts. (The winners are in boldface.) Baruto had too much to prove to go easy on Miyabiyama. He and Kokkai ended up at 12-3, tied with Hakuho, who lost his final match with fellow yokozuna Asashoryu. Baruto and Kokkai both shared the Fighting Spirit Award for the tournament.

Did the losers intentionally take a fall? Maybe not. Maybe the winners were just hungrier for that last win. Also, except for the ozeki (O) and Baruto, the winners also outranked their respective opponents, which meant they had better records in the previous tournament than today’s losers did.

UPDATE 2: Like every major sport worldwide, sumo has its ongoing scandals. Washington Post foreign reporter Blaine Harden updates us on one of them, the beating death last year of a trainee.

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Mongolians, Estonian Dominate Sumo Tourney

In the absence of Asashoryu, who has been under suspension, the junior and better-behaved Mongolian yokozuna, Hakuho (12-3), won his 5th Grand Sumo Tournament, while the smallest Mongolian, Ama (10-5), won his 2nd Outstanding Performance Award; the giant Estonian, Baruto (11-4), won his 2nd Fighting Spirit Award; and Fukuoka native Kotoshogiku (9-6) won his 2nd Technique Prize. I think they should hold the Natsu Basho (in May) in Ulan Bator instead of Tokyo each year. There are now seven Mongolians in the Makuuchi ranks and five in the Juryo ranks.

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Hakuho Wins Osaka Basho

OSAKA, Japan [AP] — Mongolian Hakuho defeated compatriot Asashoryu in a playoff today to win the Spring Grand Sumo Tournament.

Hakuho sidestepped a charging Asashoryu at the faceoff and then swatted the grand champion down to win his second Emperor’s Cup.

Asashoryu lost his first two bouts of the 15-day tourney at Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium and then reeled off 13 straight wins to force the playoff with his Mongolian counterpart.

Sumo’s lone grand champion was bidding for his 21st title and entered the tournament on the heels of accusations that he was involved in fixing matches.

The Japan Sumo Association cleared Asashoryu of any wrongdoing but it was clear he was not himself during the first two days of the tournament.

Hakuho showed a lot of poise throughout the tournament but elected to dodge to his side in the playoff, a move that is frowned upon by sumo purists.

Asashoryu forced a playoff when he swatted down ozeki Chiyotaikai in the final bout of regulation to improve to 13-2.

Chiyotaikai attempted to use his trademark arm thrusts but was no match for Asashoryu.

Hakuho ensured himself of at least a place in the playoffs when he hauled down Bulgarian Kotooshu to move to 13-2.

Ozeki Kotooshu finished at 8-7, good enough to maintain his ozeki rank for the next tournament.

Ozeki Kaio wrapped up a winning record on the final day when he forced out Mongolian Ama to improve to 8-7. Komusubi Ama also finished at 8-7.

Hakuho has now won two tournaments and compiled a record of 179 wins and 70 losses in the highest division. He’s very likely to be the next ozeki (champion) promoted to yokozuna (grand champion).

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Mongolia and Polynesia Have Japan Surrounded

The Champions List has now been posted for the most recently concluded Grand Sumo Tournament, the first for 2007. The winner of the highest division (Makuuchi) is, for the 20th time, the Mongolian yokozuna Asashoryu (14-1). Ho-hum. The winner of the lowest (Jonokuchi) division is Hisanoumi (6-1), who hails from Tonga. About time another Polynesian worked his way up the ranks! And the winners of all the divisions in between—Juryo, Makushita, Sandanme, and Jonidan—are Japanese. That, too, is good for the future of Japan’s unique sport.

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Daniel Drezner on the Globalization of Baseball

International relations professor (and Red Sox fan) Daniel Drezner has compiled a range of responses to the signing of Japan’s top pitcher, Daisuke Matsuzaka, by the Boston Red Sox. One of the excerpts he cites comes from Bryan Walsh at

Most Japanese fans … are celebrating Matsuzaka’s signing as further proof that Japan’s best players can compete on baseball’s premier stage. Japanese players who move to the majors are no longer seen as leaving Japan behind; they are seen as representing their country in the international game. It’s a sign that the globalization of sport is finally penetrating this often isolationist country, that many fans here would rather watch an international game with the top players in the world than settle for a lessened domestic product. As one Japanese baseball blog put it: “Finally, all the dream matches will come true in 2007. Matsuzaka vs. Godzilla Matsui, Matsuzaka vs. Genius Ichiro, Matsuzaka vs. Igawa! I wish the MLB 2007 season would start soon.” He’s not the only one.

I suspect Mongolians feel the same way about the success of their countrymen in Japanese sumo, as people in Hawai‘i once did. Japanese professional sumo is, I think, more internationalized than Japanese professional baseball, but the latter is rapidly catching up. However, if Japan’s Central and Pacific Leagues are at the AAA level relative to the North American major leagues, sumo outside Japan is barely at the A level, in my opinion.

Last Saturday, I caught the last half of “Sumo World Challenge from Madison Square Garden in New York” on ESPN2. The final four were from Japan, Poland, Bulgaria, and the Netherlands. The Japanese wrestler won, and they were all rather skillful, but I found the dumbing down of sumo ritual for the benefit of those provincials in NYC pretty jarring. I got the distinct impression that the low-key—even taciturn—color commentator, retired pro sumo grand champion Musashimaru, was slightly embarrassed.

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Mongolia Extends Its Reach in the Pacific

Korea-blogger The Marmot, who keeps a weather eye out for Mongolia (where his in-laws reside), has noticed some unusual signs of Pacific outreach by that landlocked nation.

In August, Mongolia hosted a military contingent from Fiji for joint exercises in global peacekeeping. The Fiji military has posted photos from Mongolia on its website. Let’s hope they weren’t teaching the Mongolian military how to stage a coup. I wonder if any Mongolian sumo scouts have their eyes on any likely Fijian recruits. The Pacific is no longer adequately represented in Japanese sumo.

Also in August, Flickr photographer Joe Jones in Hakodate snapped the stern of one of the growing number of ships registered in Mongolia, homeported in thoroughly landlocked Ulaan Baatar. A 2004 article in the New York Times explains the origins of Mongolia’s bluewater fleet.

Mongolian flags are not expected to become a common sight at American docks. But it was an unexpected twist of fate that brought Mongolia, a nation of nomadic herders, to the high seas.

In the 1980’s, a Mongolian university student known only as Ganbaatar won a scholarship to study fish farming in the Soviet Union. But the state functionary filling out his application put down the course code as 1012, instead of 1013. As he later told Robert Stern, producer of a documentary on the Mongolian Navy, that bureaucratic error detoured him from fish farming to deep-sea fishing. Upon graduation, he was sent to work with the seven-man Mongolian Navy, which patrolled the nation’s largest lake, Hovsgol. The lone ship, a tug boat, had been hauled in parts across the steppes, assembled on a beach and launched in 1938. After the collapse of Communism here in 1990, Ganbaatar wrote Mongolia’s new maritime law, which took effect in 1999.

The registry opened for business in February, 2003. Perhaps to play down any negative connotations of being landlocked, the glossy color brochure of the Mongolia Ship Registry shows Mongolia surrounded on three sides by a light blue blob that, on closer inspection, turns out to be China. One clue to the international intrigue behind the registry may be in plans to reopen the North Korean Embassy here this fall.

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