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SUMO: Nagoya Basho 2017 (Day 5)

Day 5 of the Nagoya Basho dawns with a bit of bad news—M3 Endo has gone kyujo [withdrawn from the tournament due to injury] because of an ankle injury that it’s said will take at least two months to heal. Adding to yokozuna Kakuryu’s withdrawal yesterday, we’re seeing yet another thing that makes this basho different than most others . . .  and early rash of injuries.

Of course, the BIG difference is way most of the top-rankers have suffered multiple losses in the early days of Week 1, leaving the yusho [tournament championship] race wide open for a dark horse to seize control of. Well, except of course for yokozuna Hakuho, who continues the dominance he displayed in his zensho [perfect record] yusho in May. Yesterdays bizarre stand off against Takakeisho is the kind of thing that only happens when a rikishi is brimming with strength and confidence.

M16 Gagamaru (1–3) vs J1 Kaisei (3–1)—The Georgian rikishi Gagamaru only just fought his way back up to the top division after half a year in Juryo. But the way he’s been performing so far, it seems likely that he’s headed right back down unless he can stave off make-koshi [majority of losses]. Today he faces Brazilian rikisi Kaisei who just dropped to Juryo this tournament and is trying to win his way right back to the top division, and is making a good show of it so far. This match may well predict which of these rikishi we’ll see competing in the Maegashira ranks come September’s Aki Basho. (0:10)

M2 Tochinoshin (2–2) vs. M4 Ura (3–1)—A great match that pits completely opposite rikishi against each other. On the one side is the Georgian bear of a rikishi, Tochinoshin, who is all about raw power and overwhelming his opponents. On the other side is small, fast, and clever Ura who relies on speed and trickery to overcome opponents who generally are significantly bigger than he is. (8:40)

Sekiwake Tamawashi (3–1) vs. sekiwake Mitakeumi (2–2)—The two sekiwake, both of whom are looking very strong so far this tournament, go head-to-head today. I must admit, I’ve been lulled by Tamawashi’s quiet, unflashy style over the past few tournaments and probably haven’t given him the attention he’d deserved. After all, this is his third basho in a row as a sekiwake, and his fourth in a row in sanyaku. He very quietly has been putting up solid winning performances in the sport’s most difficult ranks. On the other side, Mitakeumi came up through the ranks like lightning and does have a flashy way about him. He’s had a more seesaw record than Tamawashi over the past year, but he’s also put up many more marquee wins and shown up in the interview room far more often. Here’s a chance for them to PROVE which sekiwake really is better. (9:20)

M1 Shodai (1–3) vs. ozeki Goeido (2–2)—Neither one of these rikishi has looked particularly sharp this basho. Well, that’s not really fair. On half the days, Goeido has looked VERY sharp . . . like he deserves his ozeki rank and can challenge just about anyone on a given day. It’s the other half of the days that I have a problem with. On those days he just looks lost, like he forgot why he’s here and he has no interest in figuring it out. Now, for most rikishi that’d be fine. Their fate on the banzuke would be to bounce up anddown depending on their overall tournament records. As an ozeki, though, Goeido has been thoroughly shielded from suffering the consequences of his unpredictability. Honestly, I would LOVE it if Goeido would perform up to his potential most of the time and become a worthy ozeki. But if he can’t do that, I want him to fail out of the position and go mix it up with the rest of the “elevator rikishi.” (11:00)

Yokozuna Hakuho (4–0) vs. komusubi Yoshikaze (4–0)—The only two remaining undefeated sanyaku rikishi go head-to-head in today’s final match. Both are looking strong, though the nod as always has to go to Hakuho. But it’s hard to count Yoshikaze out, especially since he’s already beaten two yokozuna, an ozeki, and a sekiwake this tournament. (13:25)

SUMO: Nagoya Basho 2017 (Day 4)

Holy cats! It’s just Day 4 of the Nagoya Basho and already we’ve got a leaderboard forming! After yesterday’s matches there are just five undefeated rikishi remaining, and only two of them are of sanyaku rank! Our 3–0 rikishi are yokozuna Hakuho, komusubi Yoshikaze, M6 Onosho, M8 Aoiyama, and M15 Nishikigi. Of course, there are still sixteen rikishi with just one loss, so it will be a few days at least until we get a real yusho [tournament championship] race starting to coalesce. In the meanwhile, we’ve got a wildly unpredictable tournament going on.

The biggest news of the day is that we have our first kyujo [withdrawal for injury]. Yokozuna Kakuryu has pulled out of the tournament citing a strained ligament in his right leg. 

One thing you may want to notice during the remaining twelve days is just how HOT it is. The rikishi will be sweating from the moment they enter the stadium. The audience will be constantly fanning themselves (sometimes so vigorously that the broadcast mics will pick up a faint hum from the swishing of the handheld fans). And the dohyo will have more cracks in its side than at most honbasho [grand tournaments].

Nagoya is in central Japan, where the average July temperatures run around 90F and the humidity generally runs about 90%. And the Aichi Prefectural Gymnasium does not have any air conditioning. I’m given to understand that with a full crowd at the end of a hot day, the temperature on the dohyo is usually over 100F and the air is so moist it can trigger asthma attacks.

But sumotori don’t care about any of that. All they know is that 8 wins means promotion and 8 losses means demotion, no matter what the weather conditions!

M4 Ura (2–1) vs. M6 Onosho (3–0)—Two of the hottest young rikishi squaring off against each other. And the match is every bit as exciting as you’d hope it would be! (7:17)

Ozeki Takayasu (2–1) vs. sekiwake Mitakeumi (2–1)—Takayasu is trying to get himself comfortable in his new ozeki rank, and Mitakeumi continues to be a threat to ANY champion (having already beaten a yokozuna this basho). (9:57)

Ozeki Terunofuji (1–2) vs. M2 Hokutofuji (2–1)—Hokutofuji has already beaten Takayasu and Kakuryu, can he add the ailing Terunofuji to his hit list? And just how bad is Terunofuji’s situation? He came out and promised that he’d fight for all fifteen days, but he really SEEMS like he’d be better off taking the tournament off and resting. (11:00)

Yokozuna Hakuho (3–0) vs. M1 Takakeisho (1–2)—This is one of the strangest bouts I’ve ever seen. Seriously, just sit back and enjoy the weirdest “maneuver” you’re likely to ever see. (12:50)

SUMO: Nagoya Basho 2017 (Day 3)

It’s only Day 3 of the Nagoya Basho and already a yokozuna and a pair of ozeki have two losses apiece. This really seems like the kind of tournament where ANYTHING could happen!

Yokozuna Harumafuji had better snap out of whatever is bothering him quickly. He hasn’t exactly looked bad in his two losses, but he sure hasn’t looked focused. The Kokai [Sumo Association] were already beginning to make noises about it being time for him to retire last tournament (where he looked pretty good until he turned his ankle). If he’s going to fall into a pattern of losing multiple times in Week 1, they’re going to do more than just grumble . . . and he may find his fate decided for him. (Yes, the Sumo Association can FORCE a yokozuna to retire. They just don’t like to be so unsubtle unless their will is outright flaunted.)

Ozeki Goeido ALSO seems to be falling back into old bad habits. In both of his matches so far he was out-thought and out-fought, leaving him looking befuddled as he bowed and exited the dohyo. He’s got to rack up at least five wins in Week 1 if he wants a realistic chance at kachi-koshi [majority of wins] . . . and really an ozeki should be aiming for double-digit wins. If he loses even one more match this week, I predict that he’ll be kadoban [threated with ozeki demotion] AGAIN in September.

Ozeki Terunofuji clearly is still recovering from his surgery. I can only hope that his oyakata [coach] prevails upon him to go kyujo [absent for injury] before he gives himself a major setback. However, this is the guy who when clearly injured stayed in a tournament and pulled in the worst ozeki record of all-time (2–13) just because he was too proud to take a few days off.

There are a few other popular rikishi who already show clear signs of injury. Both M3s, Endo and Ikioi, seem to be having leg problems, and M9 Okinoumi can barely put any pressure on his left foot. It wouldn’t surprise me to see all of them withdraw before the full fifteen days have elapsed.

Let’s hope, though, that everyone at least looks healthier today.

M11 Chiyokuni (0–2) vs. M9 Okinoumi (0–2)—Two pretty good rikishi who have started the tournament terribly. They’re both real fighters, though, and one of them will get to turn his fortunes around today. (2:55)

M4 Ura (2–0) vs. M4 Kagayaki (0–2)—It’s always fun to watch Ura, especially when he’s squaring off against someone much larger than he is. (4:45)

Sekiwake Tamawashi (2–0) vs. komusubi Yoshikaze (2–0)—Two sanyaku rikishi who are on a roll early in the tournament. Yoshikaze has beaten an ozeki and a yokozuna already (Goeido and Harumafuji), and Tamawashi has beaten an ozeki (Terunofuji). But only one of them gets to remain unbeaten after today. (6:10)

Ozeki Terunofuji (0–2) vs M3 Ikioi (0–2)—These two have both started slowly, and are looking for a way to turn their fortunes around. You can count on spirited sumo, but each also is nursing one or more injuries that leave them vulnerable. (7:55)

M2 Hokutofuji (1–1) vs. yokozuna Kakuryu (2–0)—Hokutofuji has made a rapid ascent up the banzuke, and this is his first match EVER against a yokozuna. (10:20)

Yokozuna Kisenosto (1–1) vs. M2 Tochinoshin (1–1)—Tochinoshin gave his usual strong effort against Hakuho yesterday, but came up short. He’ll probably take the same tactic against another yokozuna today, but Kisenosato’s left arm is clearly still bothering him, and that might give the Georgian rikishi an opening to apply his powerful attack. (11:30)

SUMO: Nagoya Basho 2017 (Day 2)

It’s Day 2 of the Nagoya Basho and already there’s been a BUNCH of surprises. All the ozeki and half of the yokozuna lost their opening matches! More than anything else, this certainly brings home the notion that the sport of sumo is sitting at the crossroads of a generational shift. The old guard isn’t as invincible as they once seemed, and the new “kids” are coming into their own and are ready to show the world what they’ve got. 

One sign of this is the number of former sanyaku-level rikishi who are now in the bottom third of the banzuke [ranking sheet], along with a bunch of others who over the last few years have often been in ranked at M1–3. Look at all the familiar names ranked M10 or lower—Takarafuji, Kotoyuki, Shohozan, Takekaze, Sokokurai, Arawashi, and Gagamaru (who only just fought his way back up from the Juryo division).

On the other hand, look at all the relatively young rikishi who are debuting at their highest rank ever—Ishiura (M8), Onosho (M6), Kagayaki (M4), Ura (M4), Hokutofuji (M2), Mitakeumi (sekiwake), and of course Takayasu (ozeki). There is a seismic shift in power (as measured by ranking) to the young folks. The question is who among them is strong enough to contend for the yusho (tournament championship)?

Guess we’ll just have to keep watching to find out. In the meanwhile, here are the best of today’s matches.

M6 Onosho (1–0) vs. M5 Tochiozan (1–0)—Onosho is one of the most exciting young rikishi to come break into the top division recently. Despite being only 21 years old, he fights with confidence and poise, and seems to have no fear or hesitation in the shadow any opponent, no matter what his rank. Tochiozan, on the other hand is the mirror-world Takayasu. Two years ago the pair seemed evenly matched and seemed to move up and down the banzuke in sync. In the last year, though, Takayasu has found his groove while Tochiozan continues to search for consistency. He has what it takes to be in sanyaku, or even to rise to ozeki . . . he just doesn’t always show it. (4:50)

M4 Kagayaki (0–1) vs. M3 Endo (0–1)—Kagayaki is a strange case. He’s tall, strong, and quick on his feet . . . but he doesn’t seem to have the “killer instinct” it takes to finish off opponents who refuse to fall after the first or second charge. He could be a contender if he would learn to go out and GET wins instead of waiting for them to happen to him. Today he’s facing Endo, another very popular rikishi with stellar skills, but a knack for FINDING ways to lose matches that he ought to win. (5:35)

Ozeki Takayasu (0–1) vs. M3 Ikioi (0–1)—After a surprise loss yesterday, Takayasu is still looking for his first win as an ozeki. Today he faces Ikioi, who lost because of an inadvertent step outside the ring (kind of an “unforced error”) on Day 1. Both are looking to change their fortunes right away. (7:30)

Komusubi Yoshikaze (1–0) vs. ozeki Goeido (0–1)—Yoshikaze started the tournament by proving why folks call him a “giant killer,” beating yokozuna Harumafuji on Day 1. Today he faces ozeki Goeido, who got out-muscled by Tochinoshin yesterday. Goeido needs to get as many wins as possible in Week 1 because he’s unlikely to do well against his fellow ozeki and the four yokozuna in Week 2, and he really NEEDS to stop this pattern of being kadoban (threatened with ozeki demotion) every other tournament. (8:00)

Yokozuna Hakuho (1–0) vs. M2 Tochinoshin (1–0)—Two of my favorite rikishi going head-to-head. Of course, in twenty-four previous matches Tochinoshin has NEVER managed to beat Hakuho even once. But he always comes back strong and puts in a good showing. This match is worth watching if only for the close up shot of Hakuho’s face in the middle of the bout. THAT’S a look of focus and determination … that’s the face of a YOKOZUNA! (8:30)

Yokozuna Kisenosato (0–1) vs. M1 Takakeisho (1–0)—This is the biggest, baddest, meatiest slap-fest of the day.  (10:00)

SUMO: Nagoya Basho 2017 (Day 1)

The long wait is over. The temperature is high in central Japan, and the big men are heading back onto the dohyo. Grand Sumo is back—it’s time for the Nagoya Basho!

Things are looking good this tournament. We have all four yokozuna—Hakuho, Kisenosato, Harumafuji, and Kakuryu—in the mix and relatively healthy. Kisenosato is still rehabbing his left shoulder and it seems to be an on again/off again thing. Over the past week or so he’s had some really dominant days of practice and a handful of “can’t lift my arm” days, so we’ll just have to cross our fingers that he stays healthy for the whole fortnight. On the other hand, Kakuryu has publicly stated that he’s still not 100% (something that yokozuna very rarely admit), but he seems to be giving strong sumo in his practice sessions. No word has come my way about how Harumafuji has looked in pre-tourney training, so he’ll be a complete mystery.

Hakuho has looked VERY strong in his practice bouts. What’s more, he’s coming off a zensho-yusho [undefeated tournament championship] in May and is pressing to break some records in the all-time wins category. If he can get nine wins this basho, he’ll pass the legendary Chiyonofuji for second place on the all-time wins list . . . but if he gets twelve wins or more he’ll ALSO pass the great ozeki Kaio and become the winningest rikishi EVER. 

Our current batch of ozeki are looking better this time, bolstered by the promotion of Takayasu (Kisenosato’s stable-mate) to sumo’s second highest rank. He joins Terunofuji (Harumafuji’s stable-mate)—who is still dealing with persistent knee problems—and Goeido. For the first time in many tournaments NONE of the ozeki are kadoban [threatened with ozeki demotion], so let’s just hope they all perform up to expectation. If they do, this is bound to be a hotly contested basho. 

The two sekiwake are Tamawashi, who has looked strong at this rank all year and may have started a press for ozeki promotion with his double-digit wins in May, and Mitakeumi, who now has been around long enough NOT to be dismissed as a “youngster” and is expected to show us his real mettle this time around.

The komusubi are Yoshikaze and Kotoshogiku, two older rikishi who are keen to keep anyone from talking about “retirement” by staking an ongoing spot in sanyaku.

That pretty much sets the table at the top of the banzuke [ranking sheet]. Now let’s have a look at the best of the Day 1 action.

M4 Ura vs. M4 Endo—Two of the most popular rikishi, both ranked at Maegashira 4, both dressed in colorful mawashi. And a hard-fought match to boot! (7:05)

Ozeki Takayasu vs. M2 Hokutofuji—Takayasu has been training hard to be able to shine at his new rank of ozeki. Hokutofuji, on the other hand, is also at his highest rank ever and wants to prove he deserves to be even higher (and beating an ozeki is a good way to make that statement).  (9:00)

M2 Tochinoshin vs. ozeki Goeido—Tochinoshin is one of my favorite rikishi, and having struggled through some chronic knee problems the last few years, he’s finally clawed his way back near the top of the banzuke. His reward? Having to fight an ozeki on Day 1. (9:40)

Yokozuna Kisenosato vs. sekiwake Mitakeumi—Practice matches are one thing, honbasho matches are another. Here’s where we get to see what kind of shape Kiseonsato’s left shoulder is REALLY in. (12:40)

Komusubi Yoshikaze vs. yokozuna Harumafuji—Yoshikaze is one of the few rikishi who regularly gives Harumafuji trouble. he’s 9–10 lifetime against the yokozuna, and would love to start off the basho evening the record. (Of course, since he’s a komusubi, he won’t get a kinboshi [gold star award] even if he does win.)  (13:10)

Yokozuna Hakuho vs. komusubi Kotoshogiku—Hakuho was undefeated in May, and he needs twelve wins here in Nagoya to break the all-time career record. Starting off against former-ozeki Kisenosato is a good way to judge how focused he is on that prize and what shape he’s truly in. (14:45)

JAPANESE TV ADS: McCalpis Shakes … Eeeewwww!!!

Summer’s here … and in Japan that means blistering hot days and bizarre TV commercials. Actually, the commercials are a year-round thing (as these videos attest), but they often get especially hyperbolic in the heat of the summer. 

This batch contains:

• Insect karate in a stick!
• The new McCalpis Shake at McDonalds (you kinda need some in-country experience for this commercial to even register, but if you have even an INKLING of what a “Calpis Shake” might be like, you’re already making a SAN check).
• “Kiki’s Delivery Service” reimagined as a Japanese High School drama in order to sell some Cup Noodle instant ramen. Honestly, I might watch a whole anime series if they ever made it.
•Want to beat the summer heat? Wear a nylon jacket with a built-in fan to keep you cool while you swelter.

JAPANESE TV ADS: Best of 2017 (So Far)

I’m not sure if these are the absolute best of the commercials we’ve seen out of Japan this year, but it is a really solid 10 minutes of WTF?!? Included are:

• Part 1 of the UFO Instant Yakisoba Ranger adventure
• The long version of Pocari Sweat: The High School Musical
• The “Don’t go in the bathroom, I just laid a stinker” dance (and song).
• The adorably squeezable mochi-faced critters.

Sadly, there are none of the Folklore Friends or talking dog Soft Bank commercials … and both of those series have had some good entries since January.

JAPANESE TV ADS: Ahoy, Admiral McPerry!

Did I say I was all caught up with crazy commercials fresh from the Japanese airwaves? My mistake . . . because a new batch just arrived full off summertime silliness. 

This collection contains:

• Dragonball 4D (new at Universal Studios Japan)!
• The impropriety of falling in love with a Boon
• Adrenaline by Try Sail
• The “Don’t Use the Toilet, I Just Dropped a Bomb” dance
• Admiral McPerry shakes 

JAPANESE TV ADS: Your Name

And with this, I’ve caught up to with all of the Japanese TV commercial compilations for the year so far. Going forward, I’ll try to keep up as they get posted every couple of weeks.

In this volume you’ll see (but probably not understand):

• Rubber chickens at a customs check
• Final Fantasy 13 in the boardroom
• Behind-the-scenes footage of the Pocari Sweat commercial … which itself is a Pocari Sweat commercial (how meta!)
• Rice Cat vs. Ramen Chicken
• Water Magic—how not to sweat
• An ad for the anime “Your Name,” which really is a GREAT movie, and you should watch it if you get the chance!

JAPANESE TV ADS: Hard Boiled Fettuccini Gummies

We’re nearly caught up with the best of Japanese TV commercials that have aired this year. This volume includes:

• The dangers of too much Baskin Robbins
• Rice Cat goes on a picnic
• I don’t understand what happens when you “switch on Sansei R&D,” but it sounds super funky!
• Hard Boiled Fettuccini gummies?!?
• More 8-bit adventures of the Cup Noodle Knights