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Wednesday, April 12, 2006

SUMO SCRIBBLINGS

Promotions, trips and an NHK departure


Special to The Japan Times Online

With memories of the Osaka Haru Basho starting to fade, a lot of sumo fans will be looking to May 7th and the first day of the Natsu Basho in Tokyo's Ryogoku Kokugikan.

News photo
Yokozuna Asashoryu is backed by four ozeki during a dedication ceremony at Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo April 7th.

Many, however, will be unaware that the sumo they see on the dohyo for each fifteen day stretch is just one part of the sport so via this column we'll be trying to get a glimpse at some of the goings on off the dohyo; the things that 'sumoites' around the world ponder between basho and as much more as can be squeezed in.

So, since the yokozuna packed away all the prizes and trappings of his latest yusho on March 26th what has happened?

The week following was pretty much centered on Hakuho's promotion to the rank of ozeki and a couple of promotions lower down but in large part, the majority of rikishi simply took some time for themselves and had a break.

Sumo's wheels didn't grind to a complete standstill though. A few sumo themed blogs carried humorous 'off-duty' stories and on April 3rd, the top rankers were back in quasi-work mode as they made the trip to Ise Shrine for an annual dedication service and one day tournament. Following it up on the 7th with an appearance at Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine in front several thousand and then a quick trip to Kanagawa Prefecture for a weekend of sumo demonstrations, by the 10th the majority were back home in and around Tokyo. After another week of R&R the serious preparations for May will be underway.

At 6am on the 24th the eagerly anticipated banzuke ranking sheet will be out and will finally reveal how far Estonian Baruto was promoted on the back of his 15-0 Haru Basho. Bearing in mind that the last time anyone went unbeaten in Juryo was over forty years go, precedence isn't that reliable in guessing the outcome but a significant climb up the rankings is a given. Add to the promotion talk the name Hakuho, remember that he is still just 21, has four years on the yokozuna and the better part of a hundred tournaments in which to take part before he hangs up his mawashi, and I for one am expecting something special from this youngster in the coming decade.

News photo
Rikishi are led in by a gyoji for a ring entering ceremony at Yasukuni Shrine.

Another promotion already announced is that of Ouga of Takasago Beya; from Makushita to Juryo. Although many don't see him staying there long as he is already in his late 20s, exactly what happens to his 'yumitori' bow twirling duties at the end of each day's bouts remains to be seen. For his part, Ouga has said he wishes to continue and there is precedence for that.

Off the dohyo, one sad announcement that emerged post-Haru was the imminent departure from Japanese shores of Katrina Watts. One of the sport's more informed fans, Watts is extremely well known for her work in amateur sumo circles with the International Sumo Federation in addition to being a regular guest on the bilingual NHK broadcast. It is understood she will still be active in amateur circles and will even make the trip to Estonia in August for the Junior World Championships.

As sad as Watt's departure for her native Australia is however, three other countries will be putting themselves on the sumo map this year. Israel will get to host a trip to the Middle East by Sadogatake Beya while a larger scale trip was recently announced by the Nihon Sumo Kyokai with Taiwan (reported here) the destination in late August.

Mongolia is another potential destination for a summertime trip being looked at by sumo's upper echelons and while it is arguably the single most deserving of nations to have the ozumo entourage visit, nothing has been put on paper in anything more than pencil as of yet.

One event that is written in ink is the April 29th Yokozuna Deliberation Council Practice. Like last year, the event will be open to the general public so expect a large number of fans to be waiting outside the Ryogoku Kokugikan for this rare chance to see almost all the Makunouchi rikishi in a communal practice session. Doors open at 7am and the session runs from around 7.30am to 11am. If you get the chance to visit -- enjoy!



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