thursday sumo: big goings-on

I tend to watch sumo tournaments on a time delay–that is, I download them, and make my way through the thirty hours worth of video where I can, usually while doing dishes.  When I’m catching up, I tend to avoid sumo news sites for fear of spoilers.  As of right now I’m only on day six of the January basho, but when sumo news makes it onto BoingBoing, I figure I should come out of my hole and check for my shadow.  This week, we get a double header:

First off, after an incident in which Asashoryu allegedly punched a dude in the face during a bout of extreme drunkenness, the yokozuna has announced his retirement.  The news feed at Sumotalk has a fine account of the details of the altercation, and its aftermath, so I’ll leave the technicalities to them.  I’m sad to see him go–he was a dynamic, powerful figure who, despite his attitude problems, brought a lot to the sport–but given the stoic, traditional culture that exists around Japan’s national sport, there isn’t really another path.

My main curiosity is: what does this mean for the sport?  The two yokozuna have been completely dominant for years now, to the point where there’s no real candidate to fill the vacuum at the top level.  Only two of the ozeki, Kotooshu and Harumafuji, have recent tournament wins, and both have been inconsistent at best.  Still, there will be pressure on the Sumo Association to fill the vacancy, and with the recent withdrawal of Chiyotaikai, I expect we’ll see some unusual movement at the top of the rankings.  Perhaps Asashoryu’s absence will make it a little easier for somebody-or-other to really shine?  Kisenosato, I think we’re all looking at you, here.

Meanwhile, in less punchy news, Takanohana-oyakata seems to have staged a coup, sidestepping the Sumo Association’s normal political process and getting himself elected to the board of directors (normally, elections are perfunctory, and members are selected by their own ichimon, or collection of training stables).  This has caused a great deal of murmuring amongst the various coaches, council members, and stable heads, with those who voted for Takanohana being branded traitors (again, Sumotalk has better details than I can provide).  It’s difficult to say. especially as an outsider and a foreigner, what impact this will have, but, schismatic that I am, I think this shake up may bring a new energy to the Association, and hopefully help them cope with the loss of a great, if troubled, yokozuna in a creative, intelligent way.

Or maybe it’ll look like this:

(you guys may recognize Akebono from that Glee commercial from last week.)

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