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mikawa

Mikawa's Amateur Sumo Awards 2019

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First of all, Merry Christmas everyone!

It's that time of the year again when we celebrate another exciting year in amateur sumo. We've had the Hakuho Cup become a viral topic across Japanese media, even spilling over to Western sumo fans.We've had English content creators on YouTube covering more amateur sumo tournaments than ever before, with one of them even becoming friends with an izakaya-owning sumo family in Kashiwa, bringing us some amazing insights about their sons, Kotoshoho and Taiki.

 

However, this was also the year when one of the greatest wrestlers in amateur sumo history, two-time High School Yokozuna and two-time University Banzuke-topping Shiroyama Seira, decided to quit his sumo club at Toyo University. No official reasons were given, but there are rumours to suggest that Seira, pictured below, may have suffered a severe injury of some sort. Being in his fourth and final year of university, Seira was expected to grab multiple titles this year, but instead, the spotlight belonged to someone else.

Shiroyama.jpg

 

These awards are not necessarily given to the most successful rikishi in each category (we've got the amateur sumo banzukes for that), but are awarded to the individual or team who impressed me the most during the past year. Nine days, nine awards, here we go.

Edited by mikawa
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Grade 4 Rikishi of the Year

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It's been four years since a TV show called Guru Guru 99 visited a wrestling club in Aomori to try and persuade a couple of their talented youngsters to give sumo a go. Unbeknownst to the producers however, the club's Kanazawa siblings actually had a third member - Kanazawa Towa. Kinboshi Sumo Club duly became a hit on Japanese TV, and the three Kanazawa brothers instantly became household names in amateur sumo.

Four years later, it's great to see that Towa's training at Kashiwa Junior Sumo Club has paid off. He is now one of the best sumo wrestlers in his year group, and reached two semi-finals and a round of 16 in national level tournaments in 2019. With his background in wrestling being a major part of his sumo, Towa has certainly been a breath of fresh air on the dohyo, and because Towa started sumo much earlier than his older brother Sorato, he has been able to develop a style that's a a blend of both sports.

His first round bout at this year's Wanpaku Tournament shows just how good Towa has become. Against a difficult opponent in Ozawa Kaito, Towa's solid sumo stance and wide range of wrestling techniques kept him in the bout long enough to find that one opportunity that he was waiting for, and when it arrived, Towa took it brilliantly. The patience that he showed in that bout, as well as the killer instinct at the end, were both amazing to watch.

 

And even on the rare occasions when Towa does lose, the bouts are still very exciting to watch. His Hakuho Cup semi-final match against Kumamoto's Sato Iroha for example, went to TWO mono-iis before the result was finally decided.

 

And for those reasons, Kanazawa Towa is our Grade 4 rikishi of the year for 2019.

Edited by mikawa
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Grade 5 Rikishi of the Year

When I was contemplating who to give this award to, the first name that popped into my mind was Toyoda Rinnosuke. After all, he is the defending Wanpaku Yokozuna and 2-time defending Primary School Yokozuna, and he looked pretty much unstoppable this year.

Toyoda.jpg

Then I considered giving it to Batnaa Byanbu (credits to Chris Gould for the romanization). He's a tall, strong Mongolian kid who beat Shigemura Konosuke (Japan's #2), Ogasawara Kosuke (Japan's #3) and the aforementioned Toyoda Rinnosuke (Japan's #1), in consecutive bouts, to win the Hakuho Cup in February. Now that's quite the feat. You can watch his heroics in this video.

Batnaa-Byanbu.jpg

But then, it suddenly dawned on me that there was one kid, one bout, which really put amateur sumo on the map this year. The bout was all over Japanese media and social media, and the kid became an internet sensation almost instantly. People from all around the world were talking about it, and for many of them, it was the first time they discovered how exciting sumo could be. It was truly amateur sumo at its best, and the kid at the heart of all this, just happens to be in Grade 5 (well, Grade 4 at the time).

I am, of course, talking about the incredibly talented Motomura Kosei, the Gino-Sho winner from this year's Hakuho Cup, and the star of the entire tournament.

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Kosei joined Kitagata Sumo Club in Saga Prefecture when he was in Grade 2, upon the advice of the club's coach, Matsuo Kiyoshi (father of Makushita rikishi Kotoryusei). According to coach Matsuo, young Kosei never shies away from training, no matter how tough they get, and that he is used to facing bigger opponents, as Kosei's club rival, Ide Natsuki, is 63kg (9 stones 13 lbs). Kosei is only 30kg (4 stones 10 lbs).

You can watch, or relive, that incredible bout right here:

 

And that's why Motomura Kosei, more than anyone else in this year group, deserves to be the Grade 5 rikishi of the year for 2019. I'll leave you with Kosei's bout from his Hakuho Cup team quarter-final. Somewhat less spectacular, but certainly no less impressive.

Edited by mikawa
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Grade 6 Rikishi of the Year

It seemed to be fate that Kagoshima's Yamashita Masakiyo made history in summer 2018 by becoming national champion. To this day, he and his older brother Yamashita Shosuke are the only siblings in the tournament's 43-year history to both achieve Wanpaku Yokozuna.

Yamashita.jpg

I say "fate" because Masakiyo's two biggest rivals, against whom he has a combined record of 0-X against, were both knocked out earlier in the tournament, so Masakiyo was able to pick up where they left off and win his first and only national title to date.

Aside from that one tournament where the stars aligned for Masakiyo, every national level tournament in this year group have been won by either Kumamoto's Kuraoka Yuta or Tokyo's Kodama Hayato. In 2019, Yuta was able to continue his dominant form to claim the Hakuho Cup and the Wanpaku Tournament, while Hayato bounced back from a somewhat disappointing couple of years (by his standards) to win his maiden Primary School Championships earlier this month.

Kuraoka.jpg     Kodama.jpg

 

Both of them have achieved enough this year to warrant winning this award, but I had no doubt in my mind that someone else deserved it more.

Enter Ito Hirohide, Yuta's friend and rival from Kumamoto.

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Hirohide had been a complete unknown prior to 2019, but all that changed when he took second place at this year's Hakuho Cup. His opponent in the final? None other than his club-mate Kuraoka Yuta. Hirohide then followed that up with a round of 16 finish in the summer (losing to Kodama Hayato), and capped off a very successful first year in the spotlight by reaching the semi-finals of the Primary School Championships (losing to Kuramochi Yuto, we'll mention him again in two days' time).

Having such a stellar year in 2019 is very impressive, but results-wise at least, there are those who have achieved more. So why does Hirohide deserve to be the Grade 6 rikishi of the year? Let us revisit the team event at the Hakuho Cup in February for the answer.

 

At the Hakuho Cup, each club have 5 slots to fill in the team event - Grade 4, Grade 5, Grade 6 and two middle-schoolers. Going into the tournament, 2-time defending champions Kawakami Dojo (Uto Junior Sumo Club in disguise) had a decision to make about who they wanted to send out for the Grade 6 slot. They don't have a good enough Grade 6 to give them enough of a chance in that match-up, so the logical option would be to put a Grade 5 there. However, whichever Grade 5 they chose would have a tough match in every single round, because all of their opponents would be from the year above.

In the end, Kawakami Dojo settled on Ito Hirohide for the Grade 6 slot, and Kuraoka Yuta for the Grade 5 slot. Their thinking was that Yuta can pretty much guarantee them a win in his match (he is the national champion after all), and Hirohide can try his best against whoever he faces. If he loses, no big deal; but if he somehow manages to win, then that's an extra point they would otherwise not have been able to get.

What they didn't expect however, was how important of a role Hirohide would play in the tournament. First up, Hirohide's bout in the team quarter-final against Team Kotoshogiku:

 

Such a valiant effort, Hirohide was so so close to pulling it off.

Then comes the semi-final against Team Mongolia A. The match was tied at 1-1 when Hirohide stepped onto the dohyo. Considering who are coming up in the final two bouts (Kawazoe Fuma for Kawakami Dojo in bout #4 and then Sosorofu for Team Mongolia in bout #5), Hirohide's bout was effectively the match decider. Whoever won this match, their team should be heading to the final:

 

And now, onto the final against Sumiyo Sumo Club, a powerhouse from Amami Oshima (Kagoshima). Kawakami Dojo stormed to a 2-0 lead in the match, and Hirohide had a chance, by winning his match, to keep the trophy in Kumamoto. Once again, he had to face an opponent who was a year older than him:

 

Not much was expected from him before the tournament, but Ito Hirohide showed everyone what he was made of. From the way his matches went, it was almost as though there wasn't an age gap at all. To achieve great things is impressive in and of itself, but to achieve great things when you're not expected to do so, now that's even more impressive. Great job, Hirohide-kun!

Edited by mikawa
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Middle School Rikishi of the Year

Sosorufu.jpg

Nearly four years ago, a tall, strong but thin kid named Arutangereru Sosorufu was recruited by Team Mongolia (not for the first time) and travelled with them to Tokyo to participate in the 6th Hakuho Cup. Sosorufu has impressed everyone in this tournament in previous years, but this time around, he wanted more. He wanted to make sure that the trophy went back with him to Mongolia. A full day of competition led to this moment, the Grade 5 final, Sosorufu vs Narita Rikido. A bout that made sure we took notice.

 

Unlike most of the other Mongolian rikishi participating in the Hakuho Cup, Sosorufu actually had more serious aspirations in sumo - he wanted to turn pro. That desire led him to enrolment at Tottori Nishi Middle School, where he became school-mates with Ochiai Tetsuya and, as fate would have it, Narita Rikido. This was so that Sosorufu could eventually join Tottori Johoku High School, thus following in the footsteps of fellow Mongolians such as Terunofuji and Ichinojo.

It must have been incredibly difficult for Sosorufu. Yes, he is incredibly talented at sumo, but it couldn't have been easy adjusting to life in Japan, and having to learn a new language so quickly must have involved a lot of hard work. However, Sosorufu has fitted in very well in Tottori, and represented his school both last year and this year in national level middle school tournaments, doing very well in them.

His results from 2019 alone shows that Sosorufu has a bright future ahead of him:

9th Hakuho Cup - Quarter-finals
29th National Middle School Student Championships - Winner
49th National Middle School Championships - Semi-finals

These results are actually even more impressive than they look, because the Hakuho Cup takes place in early February, while the Japanese school year begins in April. This meant that Sosorufu reached the quarter-finals as a second year, amongst mainly third year opponents.

 

Sosorufu's training in Tottori has already helped him develop a more orthodox stance, and add that to his already strong physique and skills and techniques developed from his roots in Mongolian wrestling, means that he'll be an incredibly valuable member of Tottori Johoku over the next few years.

If there's a bout from this past year that shows what Sosorufu's sumo is all about, then I'd say it's his round of 16 match at the Middle School Championships in August. In this bout, the various movements that Sosorufu made, the various techniques that he used to try and gain an advantage, and the subtle grip changes that he made to get that winning opportunity, were all amazing to see. Certainly keep an eye on him, as Sosorufu is here to stay.

 

Edited by mikawa
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Sumo Club / Dojo of the Year

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"Taira-sensei, as everyone calls him, isn’t a dyed-in-the-wool traditionalist. While the bouts and main parts of the training follow professional style routines, the warmups were innovative and constantly changing. New movements and ways of lifting or moving were introduced almost every weekend. Muscle groups never got a chance to fall into easy patterns with kid and adult members engaging in proto-CrossFit-style activities on Saturdays and Sundays." - John Gunning, 2019

I had a hard time deciding whether to give this one to Komatsuryu Dojo or to Uto Junior Sumo Club. Yes Komatsuryu won their first ever National Club Championships back in October, but it wasn't really a "national" event, as there weren't any teams from Kansai and beyond (due to time constraints). Whereas Uto managed to three-peat the Hakuho Cup, which features teams from not only all across Japan, but also from other countries such as Mongolia, Thailand and United States.

However, two reasons tipped the balance in Komatsuryu Dojo's favour. Firstly, what their maiden victory at the National Club Championships meant for them. October was the one year anniversary of the passing of one of their star members - Yanagisawa Tsubasa. Everyone at Komatsuryu Dojo trained harder than ever, and fought harder than ever, to try and bring it home for Tsubasa. They had to face their biggest rivals in Katsushika in the final, but they were able to take the match in convincing fashion. Komatsuryu Dojo are officially the best sumo club in Japan in 2019.

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Secondly, so many of Komatsuryu Dojo's members had outstanding performances in national level tournaments this year. So much so that the Hirano siblings from Tachikawa Renseikan Sumo Dojo, Shurato, Noato and Juito, have now switched over to Komatsuryu. The reason for this is that there are so many high level rikishi in Komatsuryu that all three brothers feel that they can become stronger wrestlers through training with them. 8-year old Hirano Juito is already a multiple tournament winner, being as talented as he is, I can't even begin to imagine how far he will be able to go with his new club. Komatsuryu have certainly added a real gem to their already strong squad.

Hirano.jpg

 

Let's take a look at some of Komatsuryu's most successful members from the past year. First up, Grade 2 winner from the Hakuho Cup, Kumagai Kyuta (left in video):

 

Next up, Wanpaku Grade 4 semi-finalist Suekawa Atsuki (right in video):

 

The not-so-tall and not-so-talkative but incredibly clever Wanpaku Grade 6 semi-finalist Yoshioka Ryudai (right in video):

 

The huge and Grade 6 national quarter-finalist Mashiko Takuya (right in video):

 

The not-so-huge but also a Grade 6 national quarter-finalist Nakazawa Musashi (right in video):

 

Grade 6 national finalist and Komatsuryu's best new additional in the past year Kuramochi Yuto (right in video):

 

Everyone at Komatsuryu Dojo did a great job in 2019, they've certainly made their coaches and their senpais incredibly proud.

Edited by mikawa
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High School Rikishi of the Year

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Introducing our 2019 Heavyweight Champion of the World (Junior Division), Kawabuchi Kazuma!

2019 has been a strange sort of year for high school sumo, where no one truly stood out from the crowd. The favourite on paper, Kumamoto's Kusano Naoya, only reached two finals, one of which was in his previous school year, and lost them both. And our High School Yokozuna Okuwa Genki? He didn't even make it to the latter stages of a tournament this year aside from winning the Inter-High and a semi-final finish at the Kokutai. Even the Wakayama phenom, Hanada Hidetora, had a somewhat disappointing year by his standards, with two tournament wins (including one at Worlds), but not much else really.

The only consistent factor this year has been Kanazawa Gakuin High School's Kawabuchi Kazuma, who won both the Towada Tournament and the Usa Tournament, and had good results in most of the other tournaments as well. His sumo is built on power, a bit like Chiyotairyu actually, but is less reliant on a thrusting attack:

 

On top of having a really good year, Kazuma also impressed at the World Championships against rikishi from other countries, which is not always the case when Japanese wrestlers step up to the world stage. But as you can see from the Heavyweight final, his Brazilian opponent just didn't have an answer:

 

Although, having said all that, Kazuma is NOT our high school rikishi of the year.

The actual winner of this award is...

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Dawaaninji the Tall (far right in photo), third year sumo wrestler from Tottori Johoku High School, and a boxer in an alternate universe.

Aryuunaa Dawaaninji may or may not have Mongolian origins, but he definitely grew up in Hokkaido. An important member for Team Tottori for two years running, Dawaaninji has been close to winning a tournament multiple times this year, with a second place finish at the Kanazawa Tournament being the closest.

There are two reasons why I chose Dawaaninji over Kazuma, the first of which has to do with a keiko that I watched in Tokyo last year.

During a training bout, a boy was pushed to the edge of the ring by his opponent, but he just managed to keep both of his feet in bounds. Time and time again his opponent tried to finish him off, but time and time again he somehow resisted the push, until finally he got the opportunity that he needed, and executed a superb utchari (rind-edge reversal). The boy got so excited after winning that bout that he punched the air in celebration, but was immediately reprimanded by one of his coaches.

"Hey, you shouldn't do that."

"That was an amazing reversal though."

"But you're a Grade 6 (one year older than his opponent)."

This taught the boy that in sumo, respecting your opponent is incredibly important, no matter who you are, no matter how the bout went.

And thus, what Kawabuchi Kazuma did at the end of his match in the World Championship final, what with that needless extra shove and that stare, automatically disqualifies him for this award, no matter how good his results have been. @Katooshu didn't know what his problem was, and quite frankly, neither do I.

 

The second reason for choosing Dawaaninji is that his results are actually more impressive than they seem, considering how many times he gave away a morozashi (double inside) grip to his opponent this year. I can say from experience that there is a huge difference between getting an inside grip and an outside grip, so to give away both inside grips to your opponent is just asking for trouble. Unless if your name is Tochinoshin and, apparently, Dawaaninji.

The number of times he was able to use his height to his advantage despite giving away a morozashi grip was just incredible. And that's why he impressed me the most in 2019. I'll leave you with a few of his bouts from the past year, with the final video being a super-long match against Kawabuchi Kazuma:

 

 

 

 

Edited by mikawa
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High School Club of the Year

We started 2019 with Tottori Johoku High School being the best high sumo team on paper, and they justified their tag as favourites by claiming the first three tournaments of the year - the Hirosaki Tournament, the High School Selection Tournament and the Kanazawa Tournament. The first two of those tournaments are for first and second years only, as they take place at the end of the Japanese school year, and third years are too busy with their graduation at that time.

Tottori-Johoku.jpg

Things were looking very rosy for Tottori Johoku as we entered the biggest high school sumo tournament on the calendar, the Inter-High. They looked odds on to bring home the trophy throughout the team competition that day, and were looking unstoppable going into the final.

Those words may seem oddly familiar, because this was the exact scenario when Kumamoto's Uto Junior Sumo Club went into the final of the National Club Championships in 2013. They were the heavy favourites to win that day, but came up short when it mattered the most, losing the final 3-2 to Aomori's Tsugaru Sumo Club.

Six years on, Tottori Johoku's opponents in the Inter-High final this year were Buntoku High School from Kumamoto. As fate would have it, this Buntoku side is more or less the exact same team that so agonisingly failed to win the National Club Championships all those years ago. They've just all grown up now.

Buntoku.jpg

Another 3-2 scoreline, another huge shock in the final, and Buntoku High School came away with the Inter-High title. As it so happens, Koseki Takudo was part of that winning Tsugaru side from six years ago, but this time around, he lost the final with Tottori Johoku. What goes around comes around.

Although, the word "huge" might not have been justified, as since the Inter-High, Buntoku High School would go on to win both the Towada Tournament and the Usa Tournament. It was until the final high school event of the year, the Junior Division of the Kokutai, that Tottori Johoku High School finally won another title.

It was incredibly hard to decide which of these two teams deserved this award. They pushed each other to their limits the entire year, and any time they faced each other, it would be treated as the final, as the winner would always go on to win the whole thing. In terms of the number of titles, it was Tottori 4-3 Kumamoto, but Kumamoto did win the Inter-High, which is worth more than any other tournament in high school school, and far more than any tournament other than the Kokutai Juniors.

And so, after due consideration, I have come to the conclusion that, both Tottori Johoku High School and Buntoku High School deserve this award.

After all, they gave us one of the most exciting team matches of the year, in the final of the Inter-High no less, and it wouldn't have been that way unless both teams were performing at the highest level:

 

Edited by mikawa
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3 hours ago, mikawa said:

it was Tottori 4-3 Kumamoto, but Kumamoto did win the Inter-High, which is worth far more than any other tournament in high school sumo.

And so, after due consideration, I have come to the conclusion that, both Tottori Johoku High School and Buntoku High School deserve this award.

I would agree with your assessment, except for one tiny detail - the Inter-High is worth more, but not far more than the kokutai juniors as a tournament in general. It could be worth far more for a single club, because at the kokutai they don't explicitly compete as one club, but as part of the prefecture team. In case of these 2, there is virtually no difference between club and prefecture as whole though.

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21 hours ago, Akinomaki said:

I would agree with your assessment, except for one tiny detail - the Inter-High is worth more, but not far more than the kokutai juniors as a tournament in general. It could be worth far more for a single club, because at the kokutai they don't explicitly compete as one club, but as part of the prefecture team. In case of these 2, there is virtually no difference between club and prefecture as whole though.

Good point, I'll re-phrase it to "but Kumamoto did win the Inter-High, which is worth more than any other tournament in high school school, and far more than any tournament other than the Kokutai Juniors".

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College Rikishi of the Year

Nakamura.jpg

I feel like Akinomaki and Katooshu will kill me if this award didn't go to Nakamura Daiki, this year's Student Yokozuna plus Kokutai Yokozuna. One look at his results from the past year shows you why:

All Japan College Sumo Uwajima Tournament: Quarter-Finals
All Japan College Sumo Usa Tournament: Semi-Finals
All Japan College & Corporate Sumo Wakayama Tournament: Winner
All Japan College Sumo Kanazawa Tournament: Semi-Finals
All Japan College Sumo Towada Tournament: Semi-Finals
National Student Weight Classes Championships (Heavyweight Division): Winner
Kokutai (Senior Division): Winner
National Student Championships: Winner

And if these results by themselves aren't impressive enough, please consider the fact that Nakamura Daiki is only a first-year at Nippon Sport Science University. For a freshman to tear up the college sumo scene like this is just simply amazing, and to become the first freshman Student Yokozuna in 29 years? That's just the icing on the cake.

The 193 cm (6 feet 4) and 165 kg (25 st 14 lb) Daiki, who wears the signature blue mawashi of Nittaidai, has a very powerful thrusting attack. Many of his bouts end up like this:

 

If you are somehow able to get to his belt before his thrusting attack can take into effect, then he's able to do this to you:

 

And if you think you've figured him out and able to counter against anything he can throw at you?

 

Seven years ago, a second-year Nakamura Daiki became Student Yokozuna. Six years ago, he added the Kokutai Yokozuna to his collection. Five years ago, he graduated Nippon Sport Science University with 13 national titles to his name. And now, he has returned to college sumo to finish what he started.

Edited by mikawa
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3 minutes ago, Yamanashi said:

Thanks for your hard work and insights while producing this series.

Absolutely, great work on this!

Edited by Katooshu

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@Yamanashi @Katooshu

Thanks for the support, it's much appreciated. I really enjoyed writing this series, and it has brought back so many great memories from the past year. One final award, and then it's onto 2020!

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College Club of the Year

Kumamon.jpg

2019 marked the end of the Toyo University era in college sumo. With their best member and team captain Shiroyama Seira going AWOL, Toyo University have gone from winning four national titles in 2018 to zero in 2019. Sure, they did reach four finals this year, but as Araiso-oyakata can attest, only Yushos can get you to Yokozuna.

Now that Toyo University are no longer winning as much as they used to, Nihon University, Nippon Sport Science University and Chuo University have all had multiple tournament wins this year, with the first two leading the way with three national titles each.

With Student and Kokutai Yokozuna Nakamura Daiki on their team, you may have expected Nippon Sport Science University to pretty much get a free win every match, but things didn't quite work out that way. Daiki may have dominated in the individual competitions, but when it comes to team matches, there's a Kazakh mountain who kept on getting in his way - Nihon University's Yelshin, a guy who came so so close to becoming Amateur Yokozuna.

Both Nippon Sport Science University and Nihon University having been so impressive this year, it was very very hard to decide which of them should be the college club of the year. And so, let's leave this decision to their incredibly exciting match at the National Student Championships, the most important team competition in college sumo. It was at the semi-final stage of the tournament, winner takes all. Nippon Sport Science University on the near side, Nihon University on the far side:

 

Congratulations to Nihon University, the college sumo club of the year. In the end, it was decided by a Kawazoe of Kumamoto.

Nihon.jpg

 

We started these awards with Kanazawa Towa's semi-final loss to Kumamoto's Sato Iroha, and we ended these awards with Nittaidai's semi-final loss to Kumamoto's Kawazoe Keita. That does seem very fitting doesn't it? Maybe I should have given the Sumo Club / Dojo of the Year award to Kumamoto's Uto Junior Sumo Club? Hmm......

Edited by mikawa
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Anyway, many thanks for taking the time to read through all this. I sincerely hope that more sumo fans find out about amateur sumo in 2020, and hence come to appreciate how well amateur sumo complements Ozumo. You'll never feel empty between Honbashos again.

Happy new year everyone, hope you have a great 2020!

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Great work as always. You continue to cement your position as one of the most knowledgeable commentators on amateur sumo in the world. (Applauding...)

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