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.)

thursday sumo: he’s toyotomi hideyoshi

File:Asashoryu and Hakuho glare at each other 2008 May.jpgYokozuna Asashoryu (朝青龍) is a controversial figure–the Mongolian Grand Champion has a well-deserved reputation for being brash, even disrespectful, but the last few tournaments have proven that fans, Japanese or not, will fill stadiums to see him fight.  However, despite what some perceive as his attitude problems, he often exhibits surprising kind-heartedness, both on and off the dohyo, as evidenced by this encounter at the recent Soken keiko session:

The moment generating the most buzz came afterwards when Asashoryu walked over to YDC member and perceived enemy Makiko Uchidate and wished her well after her illness and heart surgery performed last December. Uchidate has been out of the public spotlight for most of the year, but cameras flashed as the Yokozuna said, “Sensei, you had me worried there. Are you doing okay? I’m glad you’re getting better.” Asashoryu gave Udate a light hug causing her to comment to reporters afterwards somewhat in jest, “He’s Toyotomi Hideyoshi,” a term used by women in Japan to refer to heroic men they are in love with.  

 (from SumoTalk, linkage mine)

(Asashoryu vs. Ozeki Kotomitsuki, January 2004, day 10)

(This is a nice CNN interview with the Yokozuna, in three parts: here’s two and three, or you can just click through.  And yes, it is still technically Thursday–I never said I’d be prompt.)

thursday sumo: Hakuho’s 10

NHK did a nice little clip recap after Yokozuna Hakuho (白鵬) won his tenth championship last month.  It’s a great collection, some of these matches are really astounding:

(Ring commentators: Hiro Morita and David Shapiro)

Matches 1, 3, 6, and 9 are especially impressive, and 2, while a disappointing bout, is priceless just for the expressions of Yokozuna Asashoryu (朝青龍)–you can see an initial spark of rage, quickly giving way to a bemused respect, with just a hint of vengeful malice (Asashoryu is always good for some classic facial expressions).

I don’t know if Hakuho will ever match Asashoryu’s twenty-some-odd championships (this may depend largely on the performance of Asashoryu himself), but he’s definitely good for at least sixteen or so.  At this point, there doesn’t seem to be much standing between these two men and complete dominance of the sport.