[sumo] Gaijingai's Kisenosato Story

Harold Shaver hal6671 at gmail.com
Sat Jun 4 13:47:09 EDT 2016

Here is the Kisenosato story from the Japan Times that Gaijinai referenced
in his last post.


The struggles of a local sumo hero



JUN 4, 2016


An oft-repeated question these days, and one not necessarily confined to
sports media, is whether 29-year-old wrestler Kisenosato will make it to
sumo's highest rank. Or is he destined to remain a perennial bridesmaid?


Clearly at the peak of his career, the ozeki (champion) and Ibaraki
Prefecture native finished the previous tournament in March in Osaka as
runner-up, with a strong 13-2 record. A tournament victory would have
guaranteed his promotion to yokozuna (grand champion).


It matters to many fans, because sumo, the quintessential Japanese sport,
hasn't had a native-born grand champion since Takanohana retired in 2003.
The last five to be promoted to the top rank - one born in American Samoa;
all others, Mongolia - were Musashimaru (promoted in 1999), Asashoryu
(2003), Hakuho (2007), Harumafuji (2012), and Kakuryu (2014). The latter
three are still active.


Sumo being Japan's native sport, it goes without saying that many fans are
becoming impatient to see this insufficiency addressed - and soon. That's
why the media's attention had been directed at Kisenosato, who got off to a
brilliant start in the May tournament. He defeated all comers up to the 13th
day, when he was solidly trounced by Hakuho. His hopes of tournament victory
and possible promotion were then dashed beyond redemption when he lost to
yokozuna Kakuryu the following day. Hakuho, meanwhile, went on to achieve a
perfect score of 15 wins, while also extending his all-time record to 37
tournament victories.


Though disappointing to many, Kisenosato's failure to win the tournament,
and thereby gain promotion, should not diminish the fact that his rivalry
with Hakuho has become legendary. Flash magazine (June 7) noted that on the
second day of the 2010 Kyushu tournament, it was Kisenosato who ended
Hakuho's string of consecutive victories at 63 - just six wins short of
sumo's all-time record set in the 1930s by the late Futabayama. Kisenosato
also halted another string of Hakuho's consecutive victories at 23 in the
January 2011 tournament and again, in July 2013, at 43.


If Kisenosato was devastated by his failure to win the Emperor's trophy in
the May tournament, at least he didn't let on in public. On the night the
tournament ended, May 22, Friday magazine (June 10) reported that about 120
of Kisenosato's supporters gathered to fete his runner-up performance at a
hotel in the city of Ichikawa, Chiba Prefecture.


Mounting the stage, he crooned a practiced version of "Shimanchu nu Takara,"
a song recorded by the Okinawan trio Begin. But later that evening in the
privacy of Tagonoura stable, his home base in Tokyo, he reportedly cast off
his typically stoic mien. According to an unnamed source at the stable,
"After Kisenosato came back, we heard noises from his room during the night
that sounded like things were being kicked around."


Friday noted that after Kisenosato narrowly missed a tournament victory at
the Kyushu competition in November 2013, he cut back on his alcohol
consumption and trained even more rigorously, while refraining from
extracurricular activities such as TV variety show performances. In his 27
tournaments at the rank of ozeki, his win-to-loss percentage is an
outstanding .701 - said to be highest of all the ozeki during the postwar
period. Yet up to now, he still hasn't managed to win a single tournament.


"Each tournament, Kisenosato feels 'This is going to be the one,' but then
suffers a letdown," sumo critic Kiyoshi Nakazawa told Friday. "He goes
all-out during practice, but the workouts are mostly with lower-ranked
wrestlers in his own stable, which is no good. He won't be able to defeat
yokozuna unless he works out with stronger wrestlers. He needs to work out
with stronger partners, to give him the self-assurance and mental strength;
otherwise, he's not going to win a tournament."


While sumo deserves credit for its remarkable achievements in assimilating
foreigners into its ranks, nationalistic sentiments surface as occasional
irritants. Shukan Bunshun (June 2) noted that in "Nippon Kaigi no Kenkyu"
("Study of the Japan Conference"), a current best-seller about a nonpartisan
conservative group, author Tamotsu Sugano quoted remarks by former komusubi
(sumo's fourth-highest rank) Mainoumi, who appears frequently as a sumo
commentator on NHK. In the Feb. 2015 issue of Nippon no Ibuki (Breath of
Japan), a monthly publication produced by nationalist political organization
Nippon Kaigi, Mainoumi had supposedly said, "Japan's complacency toward
peace and disinclination to fight is also demonstrated in sumo." Such
weakness, he suggested, stemmed from "Japan's masochistic education system
and brainwashing by the postwar military occupation."


But when the magazine asked, "In the tournament that just ended, it was too
bad about Kisenosato (not winning), wasn't it?" Mainoumi - perhaps out of
deference to NHK's policy of political neutrality - did a 180-degree
flip-flop, replying: "Yes, that's right. Foreign wrestlers harness know-how
and techniques when they fight. I'd like to see Japanese follow their


Tokyo resident David Shapiro, a long-time sumo commentator and author of
"Sumo: A Pocket Guide," disputes the notion that the powers that be in sumo
are under that much pressure to bend the rules on the basis of nationality.


"They're not all that concerned with the birth of a Japanese-born yokozuna,"
Shapiro told The Japan Times. "The gate at all of the annual tournaments is
once again quite strong. Daily TV ratings during said tournaments are
equally so. Applications to host the jungyo (provincial tours that take
place between the tournaments) are coming in left, right and center.


"A Japanese-born yokozuna would be nice, but one is not absolutely essential
as far as the greater good goes," Shapiro said. "Is Kisenosato close to
promotion? Absolutely. Will he make it? As improved as he is over the past
two tournaments, it still remains a 50-50 proposition. As yokozuna Hakuho so
aptly put it, 'Those who are strong, become ozeki. Those who are destined,
become yokozuna.' "

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