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Heya, Heya, It's a Stable: Chiganoura-beya

Does this man look like a great oyakata? Or the cartoon cat on his shirt?

Overnight on September 25, 2018, Chiganoura stable essentially doubled in size. This is not a common occurrence in sumo. Usually, if a sumo stable does get suddenly significantly bigger, it’s because it was tiny to begin with and adding two or three new recruits makes a difference. Chiganoura didn’t recruit its new members from the amateur ranks. Instead, it became a franken-stable with the absorption of the wrestlers from Takanohana stable, after that stable was forced to fold with the dramatic resignation of its stablemaster.

Takanohana was, in many ways, much more than a stablemaster. Even describing him as simply a “former Yokozuna” isn’t nearly enough. Takanohana was a full-blown sensation. The second son of former Ozeki and stablemaster Takanohana Kenshi (and the nephew of former Yokozuna Wakanohana Kanji), Koji Hanada joined professional sumo as a 16 year old. His older brother quit high school and joined as well so he wouldn’t fall behind his younger sibling. The boys didn’t move into their new stable, but merely switched from the family lodgings to the communal room for rikishi in the Fujishima stable run by their father.

Taking the name Takahanada, because it was assumed he would take his father’s shikona only when he eventually became an Ozeki, the young man was a sensation. He was the youngest Makushita Yusho winner, the youngest wrestler to be promoted to Juryo, and the youngest ever member of the top Makuuchi division. When he won his first top division championship, he was just 19 years old, too young to drink the traditional celebratory sake. After he reached Ozeki and officially became Takanohana Koji, he was seen to stall out. Still, after two years as an Ozeki, he became a Yokozuna in November 1994 after getting two straight 15-0 yushos.

Takanohana and his brother Wakanohana, who also eventually became a Yokozuna, helped usher in a sumo boom in the 1990s. Takanohana was a Japanese icon and the dai-Yokozuna for the 1990s. He broke off an engagement to a television personality because she stated she would not want to be the wife of an oyakata and help run a sumo stable. Everything was pointed to becoming a top stablemaster, just like he was a great Yokozuna.

After his retirement in 2002, things began moving in that direction. He became Takanohana Oyakata, granted a special dispensation to keep his in-career ring name as an elder name. He initially worked as a coach in his father’s stable, Futagoyama-beya, which had been run by his former Yokozuna uncle as well. He also almost instantly was granted roles which usually do not go to recently retired rikishi. After his father passed away in 2004, he was in charge of the now-rechristened Takanohana stable.

Cracks began to appear in Takanohana’s ascent to the top of the Sumo association at that time. First he got into public spats with his mother and brother, which involved not talking to either one for years. Then he got into battles over the leadership of the Japan Sumo Association. He wanted to join the organization’s Board of Directors, which meant opposing the candidate from his Nishonoseki ichimon, or affiliated group of stables. Takanohana just left the ichimon, establishing his own group with allied oyakata. In 2016, he ran for the Chairmanship of the Sumo Association, but lost to Hakkaku oyakata.

November 2017 was when everything really began to go wrong. Shortly after that year’s Kyushu basho, reports came out that Yokozuna Haramafuji had assaulted Maegashira Takanoiwa, a member of Takanohana-beya, in September at a karaoke bar. Although it was his wrestler assaulted, Takanohana went into coverup mode with the Sumo Association. Although he reported the incident to the police, he didn’t make Takanoiwa undergo a medical examination that would have shown injuries for the Kyushu basho. Harumafuji immediately retired. Takanohana kept fighting against the Sumo Association over his actions.

The Harumafuji-Takanoiwa incident wasn’t the end of Takanohana-beya’s troubles. Takanohana once again tried to run for a spot of the Board of Directors and failed in early 2018, largely because his own ichimon didn’t even vote for him. In the March 2018 tournament, Takayoshitoshi, a young rikishi in the second juryo division, assaulted his tsukebito, a younger wrestler who serves as an attendant to sekitori. This, too, was something Takanohana attempted to cover up.

The ongoing investigations by the Sumo Association made Takanohana sit in a precarious position. Eventually, by September of 2018, Takanohana announced his resignation from the Sumo Association. The former Yokozuna said he could not admit to telling the Sumo Association false information, so he had to resign. That meant his stable, which was the legacy of his father and uncle, had to be disbanded, with the wrestlers being transferred to Chiganoura stable.

The craziest thing about this process was that the wrestlers of Takanohana-beya were performing quite well. Takanoiwa, despite the injury absence due to being attacked by a Yokozuna, was a Makuuchi mainstay. Half-filipino twins Takagenji and Takanofuji (the rechristened Takayoshitoshi after his bad behavior) were young wrestlers to watch in juryo. Most significantly, Takakeisho was a rising star as a 22 year old Komusubi. All of them became significant assets to Chiganoura-beya, who only had Takanosho as a sekitori.

Chiganoura oyakata is the former Maegashira Takamisugi, who had a respectable but unspectacular career. He was most famous as an active wrestler for bearing a strange resemblance to the Japanese manga icon Doraemon, a cartoon robot cat. As a stablemaster, he went through a number of borrowed elder names before being able to take over his own stable. To do that, he had to split off from Takanohana-beya. He was a good coach, but never had any superstars. He worked with the promising youngster Masunoyama, who was beset by injuries. He also coached the only Hungarian in sumo, Masutoo, who was a successful amateur and sought after new recruit, but never amounted to much. But both of those were in Chiganoura before the current oyakata took over.

That meant Takakeisho was, by far, the most successful Chiganoura rikishi as soon as he joined the stable. The turmoil could have put his career in a tailspin. Instead, he just got better. In November 2018, his first tournament in his new heya, Takakeisho won his first yusho. In March 2019, he achieved promotion to Sumo’s second highest rank, Ozeki. Chiganoura oyakata was, perhaps a bit awkwardly, there with him the whole time.

Things weren’t quite as rosy after that. While still performing at a high level, Takakeisho got injured in his first Ozeki tournament. Takakeisho kept insisting he would come back and defend his rank. Chiganoura insisted he would only come back when he was fully ready. Although that meant Takakeisho was demoted out of the Ozeki corps, he was able to come right back and earn a repromotion to Ozeki in September 2019.

That Aki tournament didn’t go entirely swimmingly for Chiganoura-beya. Takagenji flamed out of the Makuuchi division after two disastrous tournaments. More troublingly, his brother Takanofuji once again assaulted a Tsukebito. Chiganoura at least forced Takanofuji to leave the stable’s premises, even though Takanofuji wanted to fight the charges. Eventually, the young wrestler retired from sumo in October 2019. On that front, Chiganoura certainly seems to handle things better than Takanohana.

The future of Chiganoura is slightly unclear. The stable might be the favorite to have the next Yokozuna, but in the form of a man brought into and initially coached by a disgraced former Yokozuna. Chiganoura will certainly be able to claim Takakeisho as his own going forward, as well as any other wrestlers from Takanohana stable. Yet Chiganoura will also be a combined stable for a few years.

Chiganoura might be ideally suited for the task. He diligently made his way through the ranks as an elder until he was given the opportunity to have a stable of his own. He had to take over a stable in mid-stream to do it. Then he absorbed another whole stable of wrestlers. Since that point, he has handled everything well, even if he leads his oddly constructed stable in a Doraemon t-shirt.

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