AKA “Everything you could ever want to know about the upcoming tournament,” that is, minus whether or not it will actually be held or cancelled. Even though PR director Shibatayama has said outright that the JSA’s intention was to hold the tournament despite the virus’ recent infiltration into Takadagawa-beya and possibly beyond, the decision has not been made clear enough yet for those of us wondering.
To be or not to be, the Natsu Basho banzuke has been published all the same, and there are several interesting points on it to be discussed. Reporters interviewed newest top division wrestler Kotoshoho, comeback kid Terunofuji, new Ozeki Asanoyama, and the man holding the top spot for the 3rd tournament in a row, Hakuho.
For a rundown of the latest stable and origin stats, see the previous article: “Natsu Banzuke is Published!”
Excited to be entering Makuuchi for the first time, last month’s Juryo champion, 20 year old Kotoshoho of Sadogatake-beya joins his stablemate Kotonowaka, who is enjoying his second top division banzuke. East Maegashira 15 Kotoshoho told reporters, “I felt strong, reaching my highest level. But I still have higher to go, so I want to stay motivated.”
The relatively quick rise of the Sadogatake wrestler comes along with a sense of confidence in his growing abilities, “I’ve been able to know when to push and when to go for the belt,” owing his skill acquisition in no small part to having four other Makuuchi wrestlers to train with, including a former Ozeki in Kotoshogiku, “I get to practice with them a lot and I study them carefully,” said Kotoshoho.
Not hiding his friendly rivalry with stablemate Kotonowaka just a few ranks ahead, “He’s become a major incentive for me. As he makes steady progress forward, it makes me want to chase disparately.”
In a historical comeback, former Ozeki Terunofuji has climbed back to the top division all the way from Jonidan. 14 tournaments have passed since Terunofuji fell from Makuuchi status mainly due to issues with his knees as well as complications from diabetes.
“I’m looking forward to seeing how well I can do if I can compete at this level (again),” he told reporters.
Terunofuji sits at the very last East side slot, Maegashira 17. Other than him, there are three rikishi rejoining the top ranks, including Wakatakakage (after 3 basho in Juryo), Kotoeko, and Kotoyuki (both after 2 basho below).
With his name written in bolder letters than ever before, “I’ve been watching my name grow little by little since entering sumo at the Sandanme level, and it is quite the feeling,” Asanoyama told reporters over the phone, “I feel the urge to take the lead and stir up the sumo world now!”
When asked his feelings about the virus, “I heard the news that a stablemaster and sekitori had the virus and I got scared. Hearing of the entertainers who have died from it as well, I realized it was a scary illness.” Asanoyama has been keeping to himself in a private room when not at training.
Takasago stable, just like the rest, has been doubling up on stomping, footwork, and weight training type solo exercises to avoid physical contact. Asanoyama specifically says he’s been doing what he can on his own to keep his signature right inside grip sharp and focusing on the footwork of his tachiai.
Shin-Ozeki Asanoyama takes the west spot, just under kadoban (for the second time) Ozeki Takakeisho, who was himself promoted to sumo’s second highest rank just one year ago. Former Yokozuna Asashoryu was the last Takasago wrestler to be promoted to Ozeki (in 2002), and the last Ozeki to come out of Toyama-prefecture was former Yokozuna Tachiyama, promoted to the rank 111 years ago (1909). Asanoyama’s own stablemaster, former Ozeki Asashio, was the last Kindai graduate to achieve the rank (37 years ago).
“I’m honestly happy to see the banzuke is out,” said 45th title seeking Yokozuna Hakuho, amid shaky prospects concerning the May tournament, “I think what happens in Tokyo regarding the Golden Week holiday will affect the decision on whether or not to cancel.”
Daily practice at Miyagino-beya has been well ventilated, and personally Hakuho has been carrying sanitizer around with him and making sure to eat plenty of vitamins and salad. All this in the fight against the virus which has already come to 7 members of the sumo association. To those infected he sends his encouragement, “There is still time before the basho, so get well soon,” he said optimistically.
On his long time goal of carrying the torch at the Tokyo Olympic Games this summer, “It’s a shame that I couldn’t this year, but since it is postponed and not cancelled, I’m still aiming for it,” said a clearly rejuvenated Hakuho. He had previously made it clear that he would retire this year, but the torch relay seems to be more of a motivating factor than previously thought, and perhaps the Emperor’s Cup in March didn’t hurt either.
Despite a gradual slide down the banzuke on a string of six makekoshi, East Maegashira 14 Kotoshogiku holds a place on quite a few all time record lists and continues his march towards another spot, this time for the top ten list of career victories.
At 817 currently, Kotoshogiku has 43 to go before matching former Sekiwake Terao (now Shikoroyama-oyakata)’s record of 860 and tying for 10th place. The only active rikishi in this category’s top ten at the moment, at the top of the list of course, is Hakuho with 1160 career wins — 113 more than second place, former Ozeki Kaio (Asakayama-oyakata).
This will be Hakuho’s 95th basho ranked in the top division, and for Kotoshogiku it will be his 90th. Third place among active wrestlers, but not listed in the top ten all time, is Kakuryu. This will be the West Yokozuna’s 80th top division tournament. All time? Kaio, at 107 Makuuchi basho.
As far as individual top division bouts, won or lost, Kotoshogiku holds a spot on that list as well. 1306 bouts puts him at number 6, while Hakuho actually trails at 10th all time, with 1253 bouts. Spending this tournament in Juryo, Tochiozan ranks 3rd among active rikishi in this category with 1132. 1470 Makuuchi bouts earns the all time spot for former Sekiwake Kyokutenho (Tomozuna-oyakata).
All time top division victories is another first place for Hakuho, once again blowing second place Kaio out of the water, 1066 to 879. Eighth place is Kotoshogiku with 708 Makuuchi wins. Four more and he matches former Yokozuna Harumafuji’s record; six more and he will be tied with former Yokozuna Kisenosato (Araiso-oyakata) in sixth place.
For most gold star victories, there are no currently active wrestlers on the top ten list, but Hokutofuji at seven gold stars has a chance to slide into 10th place in May if he beats both Yokozuna. For him, sitting at West Maegashira 5, the likelihood of facing both Yokozuna is slim, but if it did happen it would most likely come in the form of yusho race elimination bouts.
Day 1 and 2 match-ups will be arranged on May 22nd, two days before the projected start of this most uncertain of sumo tournaments. Stay tuned for training and health updates!