translated by Jelena Macan
proofread by Barbara Ann Klein
No new rikishi on the banzuke!
No new recruits presented themselves for mae-zumo trials last July, an extraordinary occurrence. Because of this, no new rikishi would make a banzuke debut in Aki basho 2007. Truly extraordinary!
Can we explain this situation? Only partially. First, we should recall that, recently, the number of recruits, although not dramatically low, was far from reaching heights. On several recent occasions, we already noted very low numbers of recruits: one sole recruit in September 2006 and very weak recruiting in 2006, in general (86 shin-deshi, compared to 115 and 138 in previous years). From that point of view, it wasn't very unlikely that some day, instead of one, two or three recruits, there would be none...
We should also recall the atmosphere at the time of the most recent Nagoya basho. Preparation for the tournament was marked by the death of a young deshi after a training session. It is probable that this death had "cooled down" some potential recruits (and their families) who were not so determined in their career choice.
Whatever the case, this exceptional situation will bring even greater attention to the future careers of new recruits.
Banzuke-gai and then mae-zumo
The absence of new rikishi is an opportunity to turn the spotlight on rikishi returning to the banzuke.
Let us go over the basics: a rikishi that is absent for a tournament (because of injury or any other reason) is demoted for the next basho, the same as a rikishi with all losses. Therefore, an absent wrestler descends the banzuke quite quickly, until he reaches the jonokuchi division. Once he has arrived there, the rule is simple: if a jonokuchi division rikishi is absent for a whole tournament, he is removed from the banzuke. To return to the rankings, he has to pass the mae-zumo trials just as he did at the very beginning of his career.
So five rikishi participated in the mae-zumo trials of the Nagoya basho. Paradoxically, although no new rikishi was present, there was quite a high number of candidates for returning to the official rankings.
Two rikishi particularly distinguished themselves during mae-zumo trials: Hakiai (3 victories) and Kinryuzan (2 victories, 1 defeat). Hakiai, after debuting in 2005 as makushita tsukedashi 15, hasn't exactly shone, not having passed the rank of makushita 5. He got injured during his fourth tournament; he would remain absent for 10 tournaments (with an aborted return attempt in May 2006). After almost two years of absence, this is a new start for the Kitanoumi-beya rikishi. Kinryuzan, on the other hand, is one of endless hopefuls undermined by injuries. The Korean debuted in May 2003, and rose quite quickly to sandanme 42 (in March 2005). Since that time, during 15 basho (2 years and a half), Kinryuzan participated in only two tournaments: mae-zumo trials in November 2006 (during which he got injured again) and a single bout in January 2007. So this is the third time in mae-zumo trials for Kinryuzan. We can only hope that this new comeback will be for good!
Three last returning rikishi are: Akinosato (debut in 2004, former jonokuchi 1, last bout fought in March 2007), Akai (debut at end of 2005, former sandanme 72, last bout fought in September 2006) and finally Sato (debut in 2005, former jonidan 67, last bout fought in November 2006).