April 4th was a big day in sumo news media, with 18 articles in the Grand Sumo section of Nikkan Sports alone. Public relations director Shibatayama offered a bit of insight into the Japan Sumo Association’s decisions to cancel Natsu Basho and to move the July tournament from Nagoya to Tokyo, and popular rikishi gave their opinions and personal updates.
Shibatayama-oyakata explained that the main reasons for canceling the summer tournament were to comply with Japan’s state of emergency guidelines and, “with the entire world shutting down economically, holding a tournament would be very difficult.”
“This has never happened before. I’ve been a part of this organization for over 40 years, and had never expected something like this to happen in my lifetime,” said Shibatayama, “The spread of this could ruin everything. All you can do is take precautions and be patient.”
He went on, “It was tough to make the decision to cancel the May tournament today, but we have to look at what’s going on in the world. Everyone in sumo is preparing well for the next tournament to take place.”
Apparently the COVID cases within the JSA were not part of the decision, “Just because there were infected people, it does not mean that is why we canceled Natsu Basho.” He clarified, “That’s what I really want to get across to everyone. There is one still in the hospital, but all the others are discharged.”
As for the July basho, which always takes place in Nagoya, he explained that even if the state of emergency is not extended past May, that tournament will be held in Tokyo. Shibatayama explained, “To transport 700 to 800 people from Tokyo to Nagoya is very dangerous. We don’t know how the situation will develop, so our association will hold another tournament without spectators.”
Many fans have wondered if the current rankings will be used in July, and Shibatayama has confirmed that that is the case. The obvious positive to all of this is that injured rikishi will have more time to rest and heal without the danger of demotion until the next meet is held.
According to Shibatayama, advanced measures against the spread of infection are being observed at all stables, including the wearing of masks whenever possible, even during training. Stables have been asked to serve chanko-nabe in individual dishes, and to refrain from talking at the table as much as possible, as there is no way to wear a mask while eating.
At Maegashira 1 West, Yutakayama seeks a Sanyaku promotion, which he would have been fighting for this month had the tournament not been canceled. Nevertheless, he reportedly has not lost motivation to reach his goal, needing only a winning score next time to achieve it.
The ever popular lightweight Enho extended his sympathy to those who were counting on seeing sumo this month. “I know there were people who were looking forward to it, and we practiced as if it were going to happen, but it can’t be helped,” said Enho, “We’ll be preparing thoroughly for July.”
Mentor to Enho, Yokozuna Hakuho similarly acknowledged the disappointed fans. “Having trained every day for this basho, it really is a sad feeling to have it be canceled, but I think with the way things are right now, there’s nothing we can really do about it.”
Specifically to the Nagoya fans who will have their once-a-year chance to see sumo in their region taken away, “It’s sad to think about the sumo fans in Nagoya who wait all year and look forward to Nagoya Basho more than anything,” going on to cite the helpless worldwide situation once again, “I look forward to interacting with the Nagoya fans once the coronavirus has subsided,” said Hakuho.
“We’re continuing to do what we can,” commented fellow Yokozuna Kakuryu, “I’m preparing well so that everyone can see me in my best form in July.”
Much the same, newly promoted Ozeki Asanoyama said, “We’ll take every day seriously until the July basho, just continuing to do what we can at the moment.”
And always straight to the point, “I’m continuing to train with a focus on foundational exercises,” echoed Ozeki Takakeisho, with a stressful kadoban situation hanging over his head for an extended period due to the cancellation.