Where Sumo is A Way of Life
Location - Amami Exchange Centre (奄美市住用町 奄美体験交流館), Sumiyo Town, Amami City, Kagoshima Keiko - Tuesdays (from 5pm), Fridays (from 5pm), Sundays (from 9am)
Founded in 1991, Sumiyo Sumo Club (住用相撲クラブ) is located in the heart of the Amami Oshima Islands, where sumo has been extremely popular since as far back as the Edo Period. Even though Amami Oshima isn't too big (it's only 700 sq km), there are dohyos spread all over the island, and it is home to quite a number of sumo clubs / dojos. Amami Oshima has also produced a large number of talented wrestlers, many of whom are familiar names in Ozumo (such as Satoyama and Daiamami).
Our focus today is on one of the most successful clubs there - Sumiyo Sumo Club.
There are many sumo clubs in Japan who can boast of a talented member or two. Some of them, such as Kashiwa Junior Sumo Club, are home to even more talented wrestlers. However, the golden generation that Komatsuryu Dojo (John Gunning's club) were able to produce during recent years, where no less than FOUR members from the SAME year group (Tsubasa, Koshi, Yudai and Soma) were all national quarter-finalists, is extremely rare.
Imagine then how good of a job Sumiyo's coach Morita Jiro (森田 次郎) must have done to nurture these three talents, all of whom are from the same year group I might add.
Talent #1 - Sakae Ryusei (栄 龍征)
Ryusei has one of the biggest bodies in his year group. He was one of the favourites for the entire tournament when he made his Wanpaku debut back in the summer of 2013, but when he reached the semi-finals, he came up against a familiar adversary (from 20:14). However, Ryusei would come back the following year to claim the Wanpaku title by beating Kawazoe Fuma's conqueror, Ochiai Tetsuya, in the final.
Ryusei would not qualify for the Wanpaku Tournament in Grade 6 because he couldn't win the Amami Oshima qualifiers. The person who did is actually a club-mate of Ryusei's, and he goes by the name of Hamaguchi Hayato.
Talent #2 - Hamaguchi Hayato (濱口 颯翔)
The incredibly tall Hayato first rose to prominence when he beat out his club-mate Ryusei to qualify for the Wanpaku Tournament when he was in Grade 6. He performed incredibly well during the tournament, and ended up winning it. His opponent in the final was someone called Kanzaki Oki, who got to the final by side-stepping, of all people, Kawazoe Fuma. You've probably realised by now that in this one year group alone, Sumiyo Sumo Club had not one but TWO national champions. Quite an achievement eh?
However, things don't stop there, because......
Talent #3 - Nishika Haruto (西加 陽斗)
With such strong opponents such as Ryusei and Hayato in his club, the relatively short Haruto's elementary school days were tough, as you might expect. He is a strong kid, no doubt about that, but Ryusei and Hayato were also strong, and much bigger. You can see how difficult it was for Haruto in the following video, where he went up against Ryusei in a best-of-3 match:
However, that isn't to say that Haruto didn't have a chance to shine when he was young. Although he never made it to the Wanpaku Tournament because only the winner in Amami Oshima can qualify, he did qualify for the national finals of the Primary School Championships when he was in Grade 4, because you "only" need to be in the top 4 in the Kyushu region to get there. Haruto did very well in that tournament, making it all the way to the semi-finals, where he lost against a certain Narita Rikido (Rikido is a year younger than Haruto). This was Rikido's first eye-catching moment. Incidentally, the opponent whom Haruto beat in the quarter-finals that year was Uchida Kyota, who has a famous rivalry with the aforementioned Narita Rikido.
Although Haruto's primary school days weren't as glamorous as Ryusei and Hayato, he would improve leaps and bounds during his middle school days, eventually overtaking his two club-mates. Last summer, during the National Middle School Student Championships, Haruto would go on to win the whole thing, and become a national champion himself.
The Eternal Nemesis
And so, we have Sakae Ryusei, Hamaguchi Hayato and Nishika Haruto. Three members of Sumiyo Sumo Club, three national champions, and all three in the same year group. Despite all of their achievements, there is one shadow that hangs over all of them. One opponent who is so strong and whose sumo is so well-rounded, that he has tormented the three of them both at regional level and at national level for years and years. I am, of course, referring to the star of Kumamoto - Kawazoe Fuma (川副 楓馬).
The three members of Sumiyo are all very good in their own right, but Fuma is just better. It was Fuma who knocked out Sakae Ryusei during his first Wanpaku tournament, when it looked like no one could stop him. It was Fuma who beat Ryusei again on his way to becoming Primary School Yokozuna during Grade 6. It was Fuma who has such a big presence in the Kyushu region that at least one of them would not qualify for the Primary School Championships. Sometimes one, sometimes two, but never all three. It's like a Sword of Damocles hanging over their heads.
So imagine the pressure on Haruto's shoulders when he went up against Kawazoe Fuma inside the Kokugikan last year, in the championship bout. His team-mates watched on from the hanamichi......
They have finally banished their demons, and have finally defeated Fuma on the national stage. During the team competitions last summer, Team Kagoshima, which was made up of Haruto, Ryusei and Hayato (which was really cool to see), finished in the semi-finals in one tournament, and were runner-up in the other. It was a very strong team on paper, with all three Sumiyo stars working together, but they couldn't quite go all the way.
And now onto the 9th Hakuho Cup earlier this week, where there was to be one final chapter to our story. Sumiyo Sumo Club upset the national champions Yaizu Sumo Club to earn a final match against Kawakami Dojo, who are captained by none other than Kawazoe Fuma. The three musketeers have one final score to settle with their arch nemesis, with Nishika Haruto given the responsibility to take him down. Highlights of the match will be available later this week on Chris Gould's YouTube channel.