Atamifuji - a spectacular debut of a teenager sumo wrestler

I've been enjoying sumo since I was a kid, and the way I enjoy it has changed a lot in the meantime. I think the major reasons that have changed the way we enjoy sumo are that it is now easier to buy tickets for watching games and that we can obtain various kinds of information on sumo wrestling through TV and the Internet.

Atmifuji at a TV interview after winning the Jonokuchi championship
In the old days, it was very difficult for ordinary sumo fans to get information about the matches of junior sumo wrestlers from the lowest division up to Juryo division. The media scarcely reported about lower ranking sumo wrestlers and their matches. The sales of tickets were monopolized by Sumo-jaya(1) and tickets were not easily accessible for ordinary sumo fans. Therefore, not many sumo fans visited the sumo hall in the early morning and watched the bouts of younger wrestlers. However, such situations have changed a lot.
(1)"Sumo-jaya" system has been continuing since the Edo era. Sumo-jaya have their shops in the sumo hall and they are entrusted by the Sumo Association for selling tickets. In addition to tickets, they always sell lunch box, drink and souvenir together and for their services a big amount of tip is required. As a result, sumo visit has beome a very costly entertainment. Nowadays, their monopoly of ticket sales has been abolished, though there are still 20 sumo-jaya in the sumo hall of Ryogoku.

When I was looking at the Internet site of the Isegahama stable, which I was interested in since I visited the stable, I learned that a new wrestler of the stable won the championship of the junior-most division, Jonokuchi. I then happened to watch the winning interview of the wrestler on NHK TV and I was immediately enchanted by the energetic, innocent and charming sumo wrestler all at once. That was Atamifuji aged 18 at the January tournament just a year ago.

Many of the sumo wrestlers' names are related to the place of their origin. In the case of Atamifuji, "Atami" is a very straightforward way of naming, as he comes from "Atami". In addition, "Fuji", which is used as a part of the name of many wrestlers because Mt. Fuji is the highest and most sacred mountain in Japan, is also a local mountain for Atamifuji, because Atami is located next to Mt. Fuji. When Atamifuji just made his debut, even if you searched for "Atamifuji" on the Internet, most of the search results were the advertisement pages of hotels in Atami boasting a good view of Mt. Fuji. But nowadays, the wrestler Atamifuji occupies at least first few pages of the results.

Atmifuji defeated Yago on the second day of January tornament 2022

Atamifuji defeated Kotoyusho on the fourteenth of the tournament day and secured his promotion to Juryo.
As soon as I started cheering, Atamifuji, who went up to the second division, Jonidan, won the championship of Jonidan with all the wins. It was the March tournament when Terunofuji, a senior in the stable, won the championship as Sekiwake and determined to be promoted to Ozeki. It was pleasant to hear in his interview that Terunofuji encouraged him to win together the championships both Makuuchi and Jonidan. After that, he was smoothly promoted to Sandanme and Makushita, and this January he got more wins than losses at the first place of West Makushita and secured his promotion to Juryo.

Wrestlers in the top two divisions are called Sekitori. They are full-fledged sumo wrestlers. Speaking of baseball, they are major leaguers. Only those wrestlers are allowed to get paid and have a big ginkgo leaf shaped hair style. In the sumo stable, they are allowed to move from a communal living in a large room to a private room. Very few wrestlers were ever promoted to Juryo in just seven tournaments after their debut at Jonokuchi. Moreover, Atamifuji is only 19 years old now and has spent less than a year after graduating from high school.

Atamifuji started steadily with two consecutive victories at the January tournament, but after losing in a power sumo wrestling with former Komusubi Ryuden(2), he suffered three consecutive defeats and it seemed difficult to get more wins than losses at this tournament(3). However, he was tenacious with two consecutive victories and achieved a splendid result of four wins and three losses. It should be noted that among the four wins, three wins were the ones that fought against Juryo wrestlers. Atamifuji won, not because the Juryo wrestlers were weak or ill. After losing to Atamifuji's powerful push on the second day, Yago continued to win and competed for the championship in Juryo. On the 14th day, Atamifuji was first attacked a little by Kotoyusho, but after shoving his right arm under the opponent's arm, he pushed down Kotoyusho at once. He might have been overwhelmed by the outburst of pleasure after days of tremendous pressure. Atamifuji crumpled his face and tried to contain his sentiment. At this moment, a referee raised his hand to urged to reconsider the judgement. It was questioned whether Atamifuji might have mistakenly put his left toe top outside the ring, but in the end, the victory of Atamifuji was reconfirmed.

(2)Ryuden did not fall to Makushita due to weakness, but because he was subjected to disciplinary punishment because of his mal-behavior during rampant COVID infection. When he restarted in December 2021, he won the Makushita championship with all the wins. In this January, Ryuden had 6 wins and 1 loss, and he is sure to return to Juryo at the next tournament.
(3) Wrestlers of Makushita and lower divisions have only seven bouts at a tournament.

Atamifuji's sumo isn't as simple as pushing with a big body. Yes, he is good at pushing out the opponent, but he is also good at wrestling with his hands grasping opponent’s belt. His lower body is robust and firm, which is the basis of strength in sumo wrestling. In one word, he is endowed with promising physical constitution to be a strong sumo wrestler. When Atamifuji won the Jonidan championship, Kitanofuji, former Yokozuna and a popular sumo commentator on TV, was paying special attention to him. Recently Kitanofuji praised Atamifuji as a would-be savior in the sumo world, just like Shohei Otani in baseball. Atamifuji fortunately belongs to the Isegahama stable, which is known for fierce training. The stablemaster is the former Yokozuna Asahifuji, a wonderful and talented coach, and he already raised two Yokozuna, Harumafuji and Terunofuji. Why not the third Yokozuna? There are great expectations that Atamifuji will truly grow into a wrestler who will lead the next generation of sumo.

Atamifuji's performance from the first tournament to the present

I have a villa in Ito, Izu, so I often go through Atami on the way there. The town of Atami is made only with steep slopes, and there is almost no flat land. Atamifuji's house must be on one of such steep slopes. Since he was a child, Atamifuji has been climbing up and down steep slopes, and his legs and lower body must have been trained. Last year, the surplus soil illegally dumped in a part of Atami by a construction company turned into a debris flow due to heavy rain, ran down a steep slope, washed away many buildings, and claimed many lives. Atamifuji has kept saying that he would like everyone in Atami to cheer up with his sumo wrestling. So, he must have desperately wished the victory and the promotion to Juryo, thinking that if he loses, he cannot encourage the people in Atami. I hear that he was crying while being interviewed by the media after the victory was decided. I want to support Atamifuji more and more.