There is something uplifting, even magical at times about the Natsu Basho each May.
The weather has more often than not started to get warmer; the days a little longer too.
Most of the rikishi have been out on the road pressing the flesh, and entertaining the general public at events around the Kanto area in the lead-up to the tournament.
And, of course, the Golden Week vacation helps lift the spirit of most around the nation.
Whether it is this lifting of spirits or the weather having improved, however, is anyone’s guess as to why the Summer Grand Sumo Tournament so frequently offers up so many firsts in the careers of so many notable rikishi.
In May 2006, yokozuna Hakuho won his first-ever Emperor’s Cup while still ranked at ozeki.
Two years later in May 2008, it was the turn of then-ozeki Kotooshu to claim his first top-flight title.
A year later, 2009 saw Harumafuji as an ozeki, although since promoted to yokozuna, win his own first yusho in the May tournament,
Roll on to 2012, and once again the May Natsu Basho offered up another first — this time the now-retired Kyokutenho’s first (and only) Emperor’s Cup victory while ranked at maegashira 7.
And last year, 2015, the May tournament saw current ozeki Terunofuji go 12-3 as a sekiwake to get his hands on the silverware for the first time.
But not all the May magic seen in recent years has been limited to the makunouchi division.
One man making his debut in the juryo division this year — Ura — last May won the jonokuchi title, four divisions lower. A definite one to watch from Kise Beya, Ura will soon be in the top flight if his current form (38-4 record to date) continues.
The year before — May of 2014 — saw Shodai top the jonokuchi rankings undefeated. Next month he will be facing the yokozuna trio having already made his way to the maegashira 2 rank on the banzuke. To date he has yet to suffer a losing record in any of his 12 career tournaments.
That same year Mongolian Ichinojo won the juryo division in just his third-ever tournament. He is also ranked at maegashira 2 on the upcoming banzuke having overcome a number of injuries in the past year.
Another makunouchi regular of late in the form of Egyptian Oosunaarashi was the jonokuchi champ in May 2012, the same year Kyokutenho stunned the sumo world in makunouchi (see above).
The list of Natsu Basho firsts goes on through the ages, more-so records seem to indicate than most other tournaments.
Whether or not a first championship in makunouchi will be added to this list come the 22nd of May and the final day of action in Tokyo, though, is anyone’s guess.
Could Kisenosato finally do what so many, myself included, have hoped for since he was first promoted to ozeki in 2012? Eight runners-up results in the past four years would indicate he has all the ability to win a tournament, but he has yet to produce the goods over the full 15 days.
Alternately, could one of the trio of career-high fighters in the sekiwake and komusubi ranks —Kotoyuki, Ikioi, and Kaisei, respectively — have that breakthrough required to get their hands on the Emperor’s Cup for the first time?
Kotoyuki would be the most likely to string together enough wins in the eyes of many, particularly so as he is still just in his mid-20s compared to Ikioi and Kaisei both approaching 30, and having had numerous chances already to get this high.
Kotoyuki has been floating around in the lower makunouchi and juryo rankings for a couple of years now, but something has happened of late with a 9-6 finish in January leading to a 12-3 in March. The subsequent promotion to sekiwake might prove too much in the end but at 25, time is still on his side.
The real ones to watch this May are the aforementioned Shodai and Ichinojo.
Shodai is from Kumamoto so much will be made of his “fighting for local pride” after a recent devastating earthquake in the prefecture. As long as he can keep his emotions in check, he should do well. A first championship from this rank with the formidable opponents ranked above him might be a tad too much, but remember this man in the future. He will go far.
Ichinojo meanwhile is returning to familiar territory at the top of the division. He has already taken two of the three yokozuna scalps in his time, and on his game can beat anyone.
If this May is to produce any magical firsts, this is the man who will achieve it.