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Hakuho sets records, Harumafuji only raises questions

by Mark Buckton

Special to The Japan Times Online

As was expected before the recent Haru Basho in Osaka, both yokozuna, on the back of too little practice, and too many public engagements started the tournament less than convincingly.

The opening day saw Hakuho lucky to keep his balance against a spirited Aminishiki, with Harumafuji also less than impressive in opening his account with a disappointing backwards pedaling uwatedashinage (pulling overarm throw) in his bout with Tochiozan.

A fortnight later, however, Hakuho had once again demonstrated to his peers that benchmarks in sumo remain his, and his alone to set. Harumafuji had disappointed throughout and again has some questioning the validity of his promotion to the sport’s top rank. Finishing 9-6 on Day 15, his second attempt at rank to attempt big man sumo, like the first in November last year failed miserably. Come May, expect him to move back into his comfort zone, combining forward moving sumo with the hit ‘n’ move backwards moving sumo that brought him to this level.

Hakuho, meanwhile, finishing with a perfect 15-0 victory, his ninth to date, has now moved past the great Taiho (1940-2013), a man he idolizes and, in a highly unusual move requested all present in Osaka stand for a moments silence during his own awards ceremony on the final day. Taiho passed away in January in the middle of the last tournament.

Hak now has 24 tournament victories to his name. That puts him on par with Kitanoumi, the current head of the Sumo Association , and by year-end he will more than likely move past fellow Mongolian, the now-retired Asashoryu, with his own 25 career yusho.

Whether or not he will eventually retire having bettered the 31 yusho of Chiyonofuji – now Kokonoe Oyakata, or Taiho, with 32 will be addressed in the next Sumo Scribblings.

Harumafuji is raising more questions than making statements as a yokozuna and once more proved he is not capable of the full on “big man” sumo so many demand of yokozuna. Throughout he clearly had power issues with a weak ankle, something his stablemaster, the former Asahifuji, referred to as “all excuses,” according to a NHK commentator on Day 15.

A rank below the two yokozuna, Kiseonsato is still the best Japanese on the dohyo but was stunned early on. He lost on Day 2 to maegashira 2 Myogiryu (8-7), and again a couple of days later to Tochiozan, on his way to his fifth successive 10-5 finish. While disappointing overall for someone of his caliber, he did keep it together more consistently in the final few days than he has done of late. The Emperor’s Cup that he and all Japanese fans want him or any Japanese to win thus remains out of grasp for now.

A few ranks further down maegashira 2 ranked Chiyotairyu, a promising pusher-thruster we indetified as one to watch pre-basho here at Sumo Scribblings didn’t have to wait long to claim his first sanyaku scalp, defeating lackluster ozeki Kotoshogiku on Day 2. A day later he picked up his first-ever kinboshi in sending yokozuna Harumafufi to the clay in what was arguably the upset of the tourney. Sadly the youngster from downtown Tokyo eventually pulled out injured not long after beating the yokozuna, on his way to an eventual 3-4-8 record.

Another one that Sumo Scribblings recommend that you watch was Jokoryu, who finished with an excellent 9-6 at maegashira 11 in just his second basho in the division. He will move to a new high rank in May. Don’t stop watching this lad from north Tokyo, fighting out of Kitanoumi Beya. Still just 24, he will soon be causing those in sanyaku a few problems and may even make the rank of ozeki himself.

Away from the top division, the goings-on in juryo saw both Azumaryu and Kyokushuho turn in impressive 12-3 scores on the final day before the latter beat the former to take the yusho in a play-off. Both are Mongolian, but already in their mid-20s are too old to realistically replace the Hakuho or Harumafuji atop the sport even when they do make it to makunouchi.

Sadly, for all fans of sumo, but as we predicted would happen this year, former ozeki Miyabiyama, a stalwart in the top division for much of the past 14 years, called it a day after his final day victory against Oniarashi. His 3-12 score wold have seen him in the third ranking makushita division in May had he stayed. He is now known as Futagoyama Oyakata and will be working at raising new talent at Fujishima Beya for the foreseeable future.