VOX POPULI: Harumafuji looks anything but a yokozuna

November 27, 2012

Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a daily column that runs on Page 1 of the vernacular Asahi Shimbun.

Longtime sumo fans will never forget the 1961 Autumn Grand Sumo Tournament. It was the one in which ozeki Kashiwado (1938-1996) and Taiho were both recognized for promotion to yokozuna after competing for victory.

The tournament marked the opening of the “age of Kashiwado and Taiho,” although there was a tough wrestler who defeated both of the two ozeki by pushing them out of the dohyo. He was lower-ranked komusubi Maedagawa (1939-1998), who was dubbed “tokkan-kozo” (charging boy).

But that is not the only reason his outstanding performance is remembered. Although he defeated Kashiwado and Taiho, he lost all of his other bouts in the tournament. His record of two wins and 13 losses suggests he must have exhausted all of his energy fighting the two rising stars. In a later year, Maedagawa also left a bizarre record of losing as many as 59 bouts a year without falling to the lower juryo division. In its long history, the world of sumo is full of unusual stories.

In this year’s Kyushu tournament that ended Nov. 25, yokozuna Harumafuji must have left his mark not only in sumo’s official records, but also in the minds of sumo fans.

He marked a poor showing of nine wins and six losses, which is a bitter disappointment for a new yokozuna. The term “kunroku” (meaning nine wins and six losses) is used to slam weak ozeki. The score is far from satisfactory for a yokozuna. His five straight losses in the last five days of the tournament are also unprecedented for a new yokozuna.

Harumafuji’s fighting style, which relies on reflexes, makes me think of a circus performance. When Harumafuji made a tightrope performance at the edge of the ring in the Kyushu tournament, a judge mistakenly thought his leg went out of the ring and stopped the bout. Although speed is Harumafuji’s strength, his romping style is unfit for a yokozuna.

Apparently, he must have felt the mental stress of performing the ring-entering ceremony to which he is unaccustomed. Harumafuji put on a brave front, saying that the tournament served as “a good lesson.” I hope that he has finished learning that lesson.

I am once again impressed with Hakuho’s greatness of achieving his 23rd victory in the tournament while withstanding the pressure of being a yokozuna.

It was also the Kyushu tournament of 51 years ago that Kashiwado and Taiho debuted as yokozuna. With 13 wins and two losses, Taiho won the tournament, his second in a row, while Kashiwado also did well with 12 wins and three losses. A total of 12 wins is considered a minimum requirement for yokozuna.

Since yokozuna are never demoted, they have no choice but to retire when they have many losses. It is an unsparing rank symbolized by the cold feeling of the white rope only yokozuna can wear around their waist.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 27

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.

Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a daily column that runs on Page 1 of the vernacular Asahi Shimbun.
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