By Shuji Miki / Yomiuri Shimbun Senior WriterI couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw yokozuna Harumafuji’s hairstyle as he arrived for an early September training session at Ryogoku Kokugikan in Tokyo. The session was held for the official observation of members of the Yokozuna Deliberation Council ahead of the Autumn Grand Sumo Tournament.
His hair was tied together with a white band, and looked smooth and freshly shampooed. Although his hair resembled a topknot in a way, it was not properly combed and set with the special hair oil for rikishi.
Harumafuji’s topknot-like hair swayed in the air while he was practicing. I found it improper for the occasion, but none of the senior members of the Japan Sumo Association and members of the council appeared to reproach him. In fact, it was Harumafuji who most earnestly devoted himself to the training. He picked up-and-coming Mitakeumi as a sparring partner to train him.
Harumafuji also singled out ozeki Takayasu in the butsukari-geiko, a training exercise in which one wrestler pushes the another across the ring. In contrast, the other three yokozuna — Hakuho, Kisenosato and Kakuryu — only briefly appeared before departing.
It would be unfair to criticize Harumafuji for his appearance, comparing his superior efforts to the other yokozuna.
Harumafuji won the championship playoff against Goeido, both of whom were 11-4 on the final day of the autumn tournament. The yokozuna won his ninth overall title and first in nearly a year.
Despite relatively poor performances by the wrestlers compared to past tourneys, tickets for the 15 day-basho sold out. The tournaments in Tokyo have been very successful in this sense, with tickets selling out every day since the sixth day of the Summer Grand Sumo Tournament in last May.
However, Takayasu was forced to withdraw on the third day of the September basho, joining three yokozuna who dropped out before the tournament began.
According to a customer services center for tournaments in Tokyo, several regular tourney attendees began returning box seat tickets after the third day, with one saying, “I’m not going to watch the final days of the tournament.”
Matches grow more exciting and interesting as the tournament enters the final days with the championship battle heating up.
A person working at the customer services center remained upbeat, saying: “Well, only about 10 box seats got canceled. There are always other people who want to buy tickets.”
The stories about Harumafuji’s topknot and tournament tickets might be trivial. But even a minor incident could dent sumo’s stable management or efforts to maintain traditional arts and culture.
The yokozuna and ozeki set an example for all rikishi. I sincerely hope they take their position seriously.
— Miki is a sumo expert.
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