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The Weirdness of the Nagoya Basho

Nagoya 1972 Winner and American Sumo Legend Takamiyama

The Nagoya basho is, to put it politely, weird. As one of the three basho held outside Tokyo (the Haru basho in March is held in Osaka and the Kyushu basho in November is held in Fukuoka), Nagoya is naturally going to be different for the sekitori. They are not staying at their heya accomodations and their routine gets interrupted.

Yet Nagoya has another reason why it might be weird: the weather. The average temperature in Nagoya during July is 30.8 C (87.4 F) and its relatively humid. There is also usually rain during most summer afternoons, and the humidity is always high. It’s like holding a major sporting event over two weeks in July in Houston.

If you are saying that at least sumo tournaments are held indoors, you’re right. But also, the Aichi Prefectural Gymnasium has notoriously poor air conditioning. Built in 1964, the building does have AC, it just doesn’t reach the dohyo. The sumotori are facing incredible heat while competing. That’s what really makes it weird.

There will be wrestlers slipping for no good reason. There will be sekitori unable to get a grip on the mawashi. There will be matches that look like they are taking place on a dohyo made of molasses. Nagoya sumo isn’t normal sumo, but that can be fun. Or if not fun, it will be exciting.

Nagoya was the basho that produced shock yusho winners in the twentieth century. The most surprising was Takamiyama, the Hawaiian native that became the first non-Japanese yusho winner with his Nagoya 1972 championship. Tellingly, he also did it from the Maegashira ranks. In 1991 and 1992, Kotofuji and Mitoizumi also won their only yusho at Nagoya from a Maegashira spot. In 1999, Dejima got his only yusho in Nagoya, but he at least was a Sekiwake.

The 21st century saw Nagoya being dominated, like the rest of the sport, by Mongolian Yokozuna. From 2004 to 2017, only Asashoryu, Hakuho, and Harumafuji lifted the Emperor’s Cup in Nagoya. Last year, the insanity returned. By day 7, all three then-Yokozuna were Kyujo, with Ozeki Tochinoshin joining them. Tochinoshin’s injury was the first of three caused by a Tamawashi kotenage. The kotenage is the “arm lock throw,” and basically involves twisting someone’s arm to put him on the dohyo. Tochinoshin, Kotoshogiku, and Chiyonokuni all went out injured because of it.

That chaos and confusion gave some rikishi an opportunity to get a first yusho, and Mitakeumi stepped up. His 13-2 came with a fairly comfortable lead for the whole second week, but not without controversy. His Day 12 loss to Takayasu was his first blemish and a replay special involving careful attention to slow motion analysis of toe placement near the rice bales. It ended up not mattering, and Mitakeumi is certainly hoping it won't be his only yusho.

We could be in store for that kind of weirdness for Nagoya. We are definitely going to see some things we don’t see elsewhere. Big names with injury concerns like Hakuho and Takakeisho might need to be more careful than usual in the Nagoya heat. Young wrestlers trying to solidify their status could make a leap. Whatever happens, it all starts in less than a week.

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