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Ichimawashi

Nakabi idea

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For the first week of the 2021 Natsu basho, we were repeatedly told that the four Ozeki would stage a round-robin on day 13-15, because tradition.  No Yokozunas, but we were promised six exciting O vs O matches over the final three days.

We got two.

Anyone who has even casually followed sumo before knew the final weekend O vs O round-robin, to decide everything from the yusho winner to Shodai’s kadoban clearance to who might emerge from the lower ranks and be alive with a shot on day 15, was unlikely.  Something always happens.  The ironclad tradition of leaving the highest-profile matches to the very end more often than not results in those matches being missed, due to retirements, injuries, the occasional unexpected contender(s) that cannot be given weak opposition while the real men eliminate one another, and now hostess bars.

There’s no way we’re going to get the schedule makers to budge on a practice that is older than the combined age of the entire committee.  But there is a way to improve matters a fair bit.  Simply move one set of the obligatory final weekend matches to nakabi, day 8, whenever you have three or more in a group scheduled to meet in the final weekend.  If there are only two, obviously the tradition must hold and they meet on day 15, leaving 14 and 13 to test any unexpected contenders from the lower half.  But three or four at a top rank require three days to complete the round robin.  Take one of the day’s quota of matches and move it to day 8, and two good things happen: 1) you have space if needed to test the unexpected contenders during the last weekend, and 2) you don’t end up with two-thirds of the expected matches being missed out on entirely, when something happens, as it almost always does, in the second week.  Plus you have a highlight day in the middle of a long tournament to keep the interest up.

You could move it earlier, but Day 8 works because by that point we usually have a fair idea who will be likely to survive and be in with a real shot on Day 15, and we don’t schedule that match early, of course.  Sometimes it will be a complete guess, but guessing now is better than losing epic matchups later.  Senshuraku is just as exciting when the two contenders have to sit on zabutons and hope the other loses, as it is when they meet for all the marbles or a shot at a playoff.

In Natsu 2020 after six days, the score was Terunofuji 6-0, Takakeisho 5-1, Shodai(kadoban) 4-2, Asanoyama 3-3.  If the Day 8 schedule, released just before Day 7 bouts began, included Terunofuji v Shodai and Takakeisho v Asanoyama, that reduces the final weekend Ozeki matches from 6 to 4.  Maybe the leaders extend their lead and the losers have to bear down in week two to finish respectably.  Maybe the leaders lose and we instantly have a much more exciting race.  But most importantly, if (lately it is more often ‘when’) we lose one of the four in week two, the remaining three can still complete what’s left of the round robin in only two matches, leaving lots of room to handle the contenders.  Asanoyama comes down with a sudden tabloid fracture of the reputation and the final weekend still includes Terunofuji-Takakeisho on day 15 and Shodai-Takakeisho on day 14; and Endo, third after Day 12 and one back after Day 11, can fight the day 15 Ozeki combatants on day 13 and 14.  Instead, we have a playoff and the participants have faced different numbers of Ozeki (Takakeisho fought two while Terunofuji fought only one).

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Seems like a good idea!

How recent is the importance of Nakabi? There aren't any special rituals reserved for it, are there?

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1 hour ago, Jomangor said:

How recent is the importance of Nakabi? There aren't any special rituals reserved for it, are there?

The shinjo-shusse-hiro (presentation of new recruits in their anideshi's/oyakata's kesho-mawashi) takes place on nakabi, but nothing on the order of the goaisatsu or the dohyo matsuri/send off, no.

1 hour ago, Ichimawashi said:

There’s no way we’re going to get the schedule makers to budge on a practice that is older than the combined age of the entire committee.  But there is a way to improve matters a fair bit.  Simply move one set of the obligatory final weekend matches to nakabi, day 8, whenever you have three or more in a group scheduled to meet in the final weekend.

Er - quibble here, but isn't your very suggestion getting the schedule makers to budge on that practice? (Laughing...)

TLDR: ozeki-ozeki matches are a means to an end and not an end in themselves. Ozeki are meant to be leaders but not always. If they are, then their exciting matches should come at the end of the basho anyway. If they are not, then the unexciting matches are the ones that are ditched in favour of maegashira challengers on a hot streak if any. This backloads the basho with tension and a storyline.

Your post rests on the following unspoken premise/assumption: that ozeki-ozeki bouts are important enough to justify disrupting a schedule to make sure all of them take place; if we lose one we lose "epic matchups" etc. My response to that is: why? really? Is there anything about ozeki-ozeki bouts that is so compelling that they must take place at all costs, even to move them out of sequence? What if the ozeki were misfiring? Are two ozeki with 7 wins each on day 13 going head to head really an "epic matchup"? Shodai was in serious trouble by nakabi and Asanoyama wasn't that much better; that makes half of your 6 expected "epic matchups" pretty un-epic and neither was putting on particularly good sumo this basho anyway.

My answer is no, for the following two related reasons.

The first is it offends the Japanese sense of drama and theatre, specifically the concept of jo-ha-kyu. Put briefly, jo-ha-kyu envisions a slow start, a rise in tension, then a rapid conclusion to a harmonious ending. It's not for no reason that the last day of a basho is called senshuraku in common with noh and kabuki.

If we follow the general premise that the higher up on the banzuke, the better you are, then two related conclusions follow. First, the highest ranked on the banzuke are more likely to take the cup, assuming they complete all 15 days. Second, their opponents will proceed in order of difficulty from nakabi onwards. 

That means that the traditional scheduling is designed in such a way that in the first few days, the top rankers will be kicking ass and taking names. Ho hum so far. Then you get to nakabi, where your arasoi starts to shape up and you have a good idea of who's hot and who's not, and where you look forward to their matches in the second week, all while the opponents get more and more difficult. Then, the basho rapidly proceeds towards its conclusion, becoming more and more difficult for the contenders before finally releasing tension in the form of the matchup between the two leaders. Ideally, the yokozuna are the ones challenging for the cup, which is why their match is the very last of the basho, but in this day and age it's more likely than not to be two ozeki. 

The forum attitude to this basho sort of reflects that: zero drama before the basho other than Shodai's kadoban, then by day 10 you have a storyline shape up. It didn't hurt that Bunshun decided to drop the Asanoyama bombshell the next day, but even without that you had individual narratives shaping up already in a nice crescendo.

Putting an ozeki-ozeki match on nakabi just comes out of left field in this paradigm. If you put the two front runners against each other, you prematurely release tension because now you have things like "Takakeisho can force a playoff if he beats Terunofuji - oops, he's already fought him". If you put the ones who look like damp squibs next to each other, then if you were an ozeki going something like 3-4 and you got put in one of those on nakabi, it's effectively a premature backhanded insult from the schedulers that didn't need to happen if you preserved the traditional order of ozeki against each other at the end. Sure the misfiring ozeki will still know he's in deep water by day 10 or so, and that will be reflected in his matchups being earlier, but that's something that will be eminently clear by his score by then, and not something the scheduling committee needs to go actively rub in his face on nakabi. Not to mention there's tension also as to whether they can clear/avoid kadoban against credible opposition: Shodai got a very lucky break here because I'm not sure he would have cleared kadoban if he had had the full slate of ozeki opponents. If you aren't at least .66 by nakabi as a kadoban ozeki you're in deep trouble.

The second reason is that even when you break an ozeki-ozeki or other expected intrasanyaku matchup, this still adheres to jo-ha-kyu. The only time it is broken is when the ozeki need to deal with maegashira upstarts, who by their performance in that particular basho have shown themselves to be better than the misfiring ozeki. It's still tension, just of a different sort: you go from two equal rivals mowing through hordes of lesser foes for a showdown on senshuraku, to a dangerous upstart challenger who must be put in his place for all to be right with the world. At least the first is a hallowed hallmark of Japanese cinema, and I feel like the second is as well, which backs up the point that a honbasho is generally structured with a Japanese sense of drama and aesthetics. So that still maintains the basho storyline. If there are misfiring ozeki, well, they don't matter in the grand scheme of things here anyway, so no need to bend over backwards to make sure their matchups take place.

Naturally all of this can be somewhat generalised to when yokozuna are involved as well, but the point remains; the general flow of the bouts in a basho, specifically intrasanyaku matchups, are there as a default paradigm to generate tension, which is the primary aim. If there are any misfiring ozeki or yokozuna, then forgoing their matches with the other sanyaku in favour of sorting out the arasoi maintains that tension just as well. That said, yokozuna differ in one respect: even with misfiring yokozuna, they're still seen as the best candidate to take down another existing yokozuna on a hot streak, so yokozuna-yokozuna bouts are much less readily forgone, I would generally think.

Edited by Seiyashi
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That’s not a bad idea. Let’s look at July. Hakuho and Terunofuji, maybe the most hyped-up match of the year, will be on day 15; I don’t think there’s any way Hakuho makes it that far. I don’t think there’s any way he makes it to nakabi either, but if they were meant to fight then it would be somewhat more likely.

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Just now, ViscountessNivlac said:

That’s not a bad idea. Let’s look at July. Hakuho and Terunofuji, maybe the most hyped-up match of the year, will be on day 15; I don’t think there’s any way Hakuho makes it that far. I don’t think there’s any way he makes it to nakabi either, but if they were meant to fight then it would be somewhat more likely.

If Hakuho cannot make it that far it's almost certainly curtains for him. I don't think he will give up with the finish line in sight, unless the Olympics is definitively cancelled before Nagoya in which case we might well see an immediate intai announcement.

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If you're going to move it off the final weekend, why not go all the way, and open the tournament with a straight-up east versus west matchup at every rank, plus or minus adjustments for kyujo, intai, and odd numbers at sanyaku ranks and bottoms of divisions? Shonichi is kind of boring as it is, since no storylines have developed and you don't get any kind of picture of how the basho is developing going out of the day; why not add interest with some premium matchups? And it'd add interest to banzuke day, since you'd be effectively getting the torikumi for day 1 then.

That would get one good matchup out of a disappearing Yokozuna, at least.

Edited by Sue
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8 hours ago, Sue said:

If you're going to move it off the final weekend, why not go all the way, and open the tournament with a straight-up east versus west matchup at every rank?

I think the reason my idea is to move it to nakabi is that you can choose matches that probably will not be needed to be on the last weekend.  If you move them all the way back to the beginning you have a very high chance of dealing out a match that you may later have wanted on the final day.  Or you schedule a top level match involving someone who toughs it out for three days and then leaves with an injury that probably should have kept him out of the whole tournament, and now one of the top guys has a free win that the others cannot get.

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13 hours ago, Seiyashi said:

TLDR: ozeki-ozeki matches are a means to an end and not an end in themselves. Ozeki are meant to be leaders but not always. If they are, then their exciting matches should come at the end of the basho anyway. If they are not, then the unexciting matches are the ones that are ditched in favour of maegashira challengers on a hot streak if any. This backloads the basho with tension and a storyline.

I actually didn't mean to limit it to Ozeki, but the most recent example involved them.  We just exited a period where we had four yokozuna for several years and the vast majority of basho only one or two was still fighting by the end.  Admittedly, there probably weren't many in the 4Y era that had three or more still in it by Nakabi.  I could have taken a week or so to look closely at the last three or four years of basho matches to give data on the lost matchups, but instead I just fired off the idea because I have the distinct impression that we lose too many of these matchups, and the schedule makers often wait a day or two too long expecting Tokushoryu or Terutsuyoshi or Tobizaru to come back to earth before they have to break up the pre-set elite matchups, resulting in the underdogs getting a match or two more without having to face the leaders.

As for "isn't your very suggestion getting the schedule makers to budge on that practice?" -- well, no, it's just an idea for a slightly better way of doing things.

Certainly not TLDR: it was a nicely written argument and I appreciated it.  I too think it is important to have the big matches at the end; I just think that the current setup loses more top-level matchups than necessary and this tweak would reduce it with only a small effect on the flow of the tournament.

 

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12 hours ago, ViscountessNivlac said:

That’s not a bad idea. Let’s look at July. Hakuho and Terunofuji, maybe the most hyped-up match of the year, will be on day 15; I don’t think there’s any way Hakuho makes it that far. I don’t think there’s any way he makes it to nakabi either, but if they were meant to fight then it would be somewhat more likely.

I'll be surprised if Hakuho is in on Day 1 but I hope I'm wrong.

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Is Hakuho-Terunofuji the most hyped match of the year? I don’t about you, but I barely think of Hakuho at all these days. I’m much more interested in the current Ozeki Corp’s developing rivalries and emerging talents like Wakatakakage. I can’t say I’ve seen much talk about Hakuho v Terunofuji anywhere either.

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To have ozeki vs ozeki on nakabi was common until not that long ago. For example, on Kotoshogiku's yusho he had Kisenosato on day 8. They used to start scheduling these matches from day 8. But from around 2018 they stoped as half of the top rankers were always (and still are) kyujo by day 8. 

Maybe when we have a group of top rankers that last the 15 days they can go back to schedule some of these early matches. Nowadays I wouldn't do it and in my opinion they are correct.

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2 hours ago, Asapedroryu said:

To have ozeki vs ozeki on nakabi was common until not that long ago.

Back in the seventies, a few ozeki actually fought within the first five days iirc

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9 hours ago, Asapedroryu said:

To have ozeki vs ozeki on nakabi was common until not that long ago. For example, on Kotoshogiku's yusho he had Kisenosato on day 8. They used to start scheduling these matches from day 8.

Right, it's pretty normal when there are 6+ active Y/O, simply because they have to get through a lot more matches between them. There are also always ozeki left over and available to get paired with overperforming maegashira on second-week days in that case.

The ideas described in the OP strike me as a solution in search of a problem. If certain high-ranker matches are unimportant enough that they can justifiably be moved from the final days to the middle of the tournament, there's hardly much of an issue if they don't take place altogether either.

Edited by Asashosakari
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I always remember this basho when the two Hawaiian Yokozunas did not face each other. Both were still in the yusho race when their bout was cancelled. It was cancelled in order to allow eventual yusho winner, Takatoriki, to face them both. I remember at the time that one of the torikumi making oyakatas said that the public would much rather see the Yokozunas fight  the M14E Takatoriki than each other. Anyway, Takatoriki lost to both of the Hawaiians in rather underwhelming matches, I seem to recall.

As a fan, I felt robbed, as one of the highlight bouts for me each basho, at the time, was Akebono vs Musashimaru.

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