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Heya, Heya! It's a Stable: Takasago-beya

Asanoyama with Takasago Oyakata

The basic element of a sumo wrestler's life is the stable. Every rikishi is in one of 47 stables, or heya in Japanese. You cannot even enter sumo without being accepted into a stable, and wrestlers must train, eat, and sleep at their stables. They are all under control of an oyakata, or stable master. This makes stablemates personally close, while also giving them similar styles. Stablemates also can't face each other during a basho. This series aims to understand stables a little better.

With his win at the Natsu tournament in May, Asanoyama became the center of the sumo world. Not only is the yusho winner always the story of a basho, Asanoyama stood out in other ways. He was the first champion in the new Reiwa era, the lowest-ranked winner in 18 years, and the first wrestler to win a yusho without Sanyaku experience in 58 years. It was a heck of a way to announce yourself as a big name in sumo. But for his Takasago stable, it was a return to form after nearly a decade without a championship. In the first decade of the twenty-first century, Takasago collected Emperor's Cups with regularity thanks to the highly controversial former Yokozuna Asashoryu.

Asashoryu was on pace to take fellow Mongolian Hakuho's eventual role as the greatest Yokozuna of all time. In 55 basho in Makuuchi, he won 25 championships with five of them being 15-0. Asashoryu was equally adept at pushing and grappling techniques, with a versatility that was accented by his rare combination of speed and strength. Fighting Asashoryu was a challenge because he could beat you so many ways.

And dealing with Asashoryu off the dohyo was a whole other challenge. Takasago oyakata, who originally was the head of Wakamatsu stable and brought Asashoryu into that stable before merging it with the older Takasago-beya, often battled his star. Asashoryu had a swagger rare in a sport that wants its athletes to be stoic pillars of dignity. He also was naturally inclined to trouble, arguing with his stablemaster around his wedding arrangements, missing an exhibition tour with injuries while also playing a charity soccer match, and assaulting his personal manager after a night out.

It was that last incident in January 2010 which abruptly ended Asashoryu's career as he was at his best (he won his 25th yusho in his last basho.) With the retirement of a Yokozuna, Takasago was a stable missing its signature star. There was still a top-division wrestler in Asasekiryu, another Mongolian who had been at Wakamatsu-beya. He fell to Juryo in 2013, and Takasago fell on harder times. When Asasekiryu went down to Makushita in 2017, Takasago was without a sekitori for the first time since it's foundation.

The rise of Asanoyama has reversed that slide. His promotion to Juryo came right after Asasekiryu's demotion. Although Asashoryu is clearly the best wrestler the current version of Takasago has had, Asanoyama fits more with the stable and oyakata's overall approach. While in charge of Wakamatsu stable, the former Asashio first had success with former college champions Asanowaka and Asanosho. Asanoyama, too, is a former collegiate standout. He also prefers an effective left-hand grip and a simple yet fundamentally sound strategy. The latter has also been a hallmark of the coach's wrestlers, which Asashoryu's varied and atypical approach went against.

As a name, Takasago dates well before Asanoyama, Asashoryu, or Asashio. The first iteration of Takasago stable joined the Japan Sumo Association in 1878. In the 14 decades since its founding, it has produced six Yokozuna and seven Ozeki. Among the second group are both the current head when he was known as Asashio and the American Konishiki. It should also be pointed out they were the fourth Asashio and third Konishiki in Takasago's history, and that both shared shikona with former Yokozuna. That is the history the current Takasago is aiming to uphold.

Takasago-beya also has a 21st century reputation. Their rikishi are likely to be college competitors and all will have good fundamental training. They also all will have ring names beginning with 朝, or Asa-, meaning morning. In Asanoyama, their current lead man has all three characteristics.

But all of them should be watched for if anyone else from Takasago makes it to the top division.

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