nagora

Hi! What's happened while I was gone?

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I was introduced to sumo though the UK's Channel 4 coverage which I enjoyed a lot back in the day but sometime after Chiyonofuji's retirement I drifted away. I recently learnt of his early death and I've started to get back into it again. In the decades since I last watched it I have learnt some Kanji and Hiragana but certainly not enough to read Japanese coverage, let alone listen to the audio.

I was living in Northern Ireland then, now I'm in England for work (at a university - in a technical role) and married.

While looking around I see a lot of stuff about scandals and problems in the not too-distant past. And of course the sudden and sustained dominance of foreigners. So, here's my first question:

What's the state of sumo today? I know it's a bad year to ask that (what is in a good state after Covid-19?), but I mean in terms of popularity and trust in results. I'm particularly curious as to whether the apparent Mongolian invasion has put the Japanese public off at all?

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You missed out on the first foreign (Hawaiian) Yokozuna, Akebono, and his great rivalry with Yokozuna Takanohana, the youngest of two Yokozuna brothers, that lasted throughout the 90s. I recommend watching some matches between them on youtube; I believe their record against eachother was an even 25-25.

The "Mongolian invasion" began somewhere in the early 2000s I believe, which lead to four Mongolian Yokozuna in a row (two of them now retired, another may soon follow). One of them, Yokozuna Hakuho (promoted in 2007), has earned himself 44 championships, far exceeding the record of 32.

There have been many Mongolian high-rankers, some of which are currently active, such as former-Ozeki Terunofuji, who has been making a dramatic rise back to the top ranks after his fall to nearly the bottom division in 2018.

Besides Terunofuji, and the two current Yokozuna, the only other Mongolians in the top division right now are Tamawashi, Ichinojo, Kiribayama, Chiyoshoma, and up-and-comer Hoshoryu; the nephew of the first Mongolian Yokozuna.

I would say the Japanese public have grown more accustomed to the reign of Mongolians since the wave began . For those who did want to see Japanese rikishi return to dominance, there was the most recent Yokozuna, Kisenosato, who was promoted in 2017 to a very thrilled Japanese public. Unfortunately, due to an injury he was inflicted with around this time, he sat out nearly every tournament he had as Yokozuna, and retired at the dawn of 2019.

Right now, we seem to be in a phase between the old guard fading away, and the new guard taking the spotlight. The new guard have been rather lackluster so far, but there is potential in these younger rikishi. The most exciting stories right now are Terunofuji vying to become Ozeki once more (and perhaps even Yokozuna, but we shall see), and the last championship winner, Ozeki Takakeisho, aiming to become Yokozuna in the upcoming tournament. One of the Yokozuna, Kakuryu, is nearly assured to be retiring within the next two months. Two of the newest Ozeki are already kadoban. The ever-popular 5'4 Enho just hit a big wall with a sad 3-12 record. Relatives of former Yokozuna such as the aforementioned Hoshoryu (nephew of Yokozuna Asashoryu) and Ooho (grandson of Yokozuna Taiho) are making their steady rise to the high ranks.

Sumo isn't in an especially exciting phase at the moment, but there are certainly some interesting stories to follow. NHK World has a lot of great content to help refresh you, such as Sumopedia, and the Sumo Highlights during tournament days, all of which are commentated in English.

Welcome back to sumo!

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Japanese rikishi won 23% of yusho in this century, but doing better recently.  Other than the inter-heya knife fight and the gin-in-the-power-water scandal, it's been pretty quiet.(Beinghypocrite...)

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You missed Sugishita, but luckily you came just in time to catch the peak of Hattorizakura.

On a more serious note, pretty much what was said in the first reply, plus Asashoryu's dominance from 2003-07, which highlighted the difficulty of the Super Nintendo Generation raised in the 90's to catch up with strong and ambitious rikishi from abroad.   

The one foreign per heya rule and the fact that some foreigners have clinged to their posts despite their decline or lack of success has helped Japanese younger generations a tad bit.

 

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As you also asked about trust in results: in 2000, Itai (you might remember that name from the Chiyonofuji days) reported that many of his bouts were fixed. Apart from some sensation-seeking tabloids, allegations of bout rigging went on and off. However, 2011 several cases of fixed bouts in Juryo became manifest, leading to the expulsion of 23 rikishi (and the cancellation of an entire basho). No hard evidence for bout fixing (yaocho) in Makuuchi was found at that time. I don't have the impression that yaocho is an active topic right now (with the exception of a US-based fan site which adamantly claims that every won bout by a Japanese rikishi against a foreigner is rigged).  

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Thanks everyone, especially Taikoubana for his full answer.

I must have held on for a bit longer than I thought as I do remember Akibono becoming yokozuna but not Takanohana, who I remember being up and coming along with his brother (Wakanohana?).

I noticed that some of the retirees mentioned in another thread here were in their early 30s so would have been babies when Chiyonofuji retired so I guess I've missed two entire generations of sumo, but it's still surprising to see that all his records have gone, and by some margin too.

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You must've started watching sumo on Eurosport if you remember Akebono reaching yokozuna. His best rank was sekiwake when the C4 coverage ceased.

This is a very interesting time to get back into sumo. Both incumbent yokozuna are at the end of their careers and will retire in 2021 (Hakuho stated his intention to retire after the Olympics this year, then the pandemic happened). The last couple of years have seen numerous first time yusho winners, and this year has produced two M17 yusho winners! The unpredictability is great. 

Takakeisho, the senior of the three current ozeki (even though he's the youngest), has just won his first yusho at the rank, so he's on a tsuna run in January.

Btw, Hakuho is the GOAT, no doubt, but the Japanese public always place Chiyonofuji higher when polled about all-time greatest yokozuna... 

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Well, I must have seen Akebono on the news or something then - it was a reasonably big deal in terms of sport I guess.

It's basically impossible, I think, to claim that Hakuho is anything other than the greatest given his record. 15-0 might happen once or twice I suppose against a field thinned by coincidental injuries, say, but four in a row followed by two 14-1s is just astounding - 13 consecutive honbashos with a total of  just 9 losses?!

I don't think Chiyonofuji would have claimed to be the GOAT, but this is always the way - people remember the best in their lifetime and "best" can be coloured by things other than performance. Chiyonofuji was good-looking and very charismatic and was also distinctive in style and physical appearance with his muscular upper body. And he was bloody good too, of course. These things make a mark in the memory even before considering the issue of Hakuho being a foreigner.

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