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Interview with Izutsu Oyakata (May 2008)

by Harumi Hotta and Martina Lunau 


As a rikishi, what was your best memory? 

It was when I was promoted to Juryo. As you know, a rikishi who is promoted to Juryo starts receiving preferential treatment. The salary is increased, and other conditions of life are very much improved.  I think the moment of promotion to Juryo is one of the best moments for all rikishi, as everyone who becomes even Yokozuna and Ozeki point out.  

At the first basho after I was promoted to Makuuchi, I was injured and did Makekoshi. My record was 5-5, then I got injured, my final record was 5-7, with 3 absences.  So, Makekoshi ...

I dropped down to Juryo, but I was re-promoted to Makuuchi in one basho.  That time, I got kachikoshi in Makuuchi, so I was very happy.  It was the thirteenth day when I got Kachikoshi.  My opponent was Tochiakagi.  The gyoji declared me to be the winner, but the other referees (shinpan around the dohyo) did a "monoii".  Then they decided that we should take one more bout because they thought it was a drawn bout.  I did one more bout (Torinaoshi), won clearly, and got Kachikoshi.  I was very happy.  I was happy when I won aginst Yokozuna and Ozeki, but this bout meant more to me than that.

What is the most important responsibility as an Oyakata? 

As you know, there have been some sad accidents during the last year ... You know, Oyakata shouldn't spoil their disciples, but we shouldn't be too harsh on them.  It is difficult to find a balance. In my case, I trust my disciples and don't interfere in their lives too much. The important thing is to show my love for them. 

It is, of course, important to coach and to teach sumo entirely in the keiko, however, it is also important to watch their lives as well.  My daughter is a member of Takarazuka (one of the most well-known dance and play companies composed of women).  When I sent her to the company, I first understood how a "parent" in the world feels when they ship their children to another world.  Her world is strict, just like the sumo world.  I am often concerned if she is injured, or if she is sick. I always hope she is happy with her environment. So I am not so strict as an Oyakata (laughs).   

I carefully observe how my disciples feel and I have to come to understand their condition, watching their faces if they are not fine or if they are worried about something, etc. I take them out for dinner to find out what may be worrying them. 

I think an Oyakata should be a model as a man.  If I did something wrong behind their backs, then, they would know what I am and they could not become honest men. 

The current Tokitsukaze oyakata is doing his best. He cannot be strict with them, so, he is very careful to choose the way to express his love to his disciples. 

So, in my case, I think it was the huge turning point for me when my daughter joined Takarazuka, although I always worry about her ... (laughs) 

As for my responsibility as a member of Shinpan (referees) division, I judge bouts, set up bouts daily, and confirm all the bouts of the day, etc.  We also have to re-confirm the bouts using video in the video-room. When a monoii (a discussion on the dohyo among referees when a bout was difficult to judge or when they thought the gyoji's judgement was not appropriate) arises, the chief judge often contacts the video room, as you can see on TV.   

And ... what else?  I have to work with the Koenkai (a supporting group) of my heya ...

For example, we need two months to complete one chisho-basho (Osaka, Nagoya and Fukuoka).  Yes, the basho is only two weeks, but we go to the location one month before the basho starts and prepare and sort out many issues.  I think any heya does the same.  We don't have much time ...

How do you teach sumo to your disciples? 

In Kakuryu's case, as soon as he joined our heya I knew he had a great talent as a rikishi although he was so small.  There was a cultural difference as you know.  So, I first taught him what Japanese sumo was, and its discipline. It is important to keep his identity as a Mongolian but at the same time, he has to adjust to Japanese culture as well as long as he is a rikishi in Japan. It is very important to teach them this as soon as they come to Japan. It is unfair to blame them after years pass or after they became a rikishi.  It is too late because they are established by then.  It is the same as bringing up one's own children ... 

Kakuryu is very smart.  For example, as for sumo techniques, if I tell him one, then he understands ten.  So he will become a sanyaku quickly, maybe. 

Every rikishi has his own skills.  So I have to teach them adjusting their own skills one by one.  I - or any oyakata - shouldn't push them just my own way.  It is important for me to pull their talents out of themselves.

Sometimes, we need to be strict with them especially when their talent has almost bloomed.  He will understand my message (by being strict with him), so he will  achieve the outcome.  If someone has a twist in his nature, then I shouldn't be strict with him because I wouldn't be able to pull out his talent by being strict.  Although I scold my disciples occasionally, the important thing is how I follow up with them afterwards.  I try not to forget to praise them as well.  I think, "words" are very important to communicate even in the same language.  I think you understand.   

Not all the rikishi can be "sekitori".  What is your policy in educating your disciples? 

I think every rikishi senses if he is able to become a sekitori or not. However, even though they cannot, their life in the sumo world shouldn't be in vain. Not all employees can gain the position of directors in the business world as well. The point is that what they learn in the world to which they belong to and how they can build up their own career.

Hoshigane is a senior of Kakuryu, but he works for Kakuryu as a tsukebito.  He is not aggressive at all, he is gentle and quite.  As a rikishi, maybe he is too small.

He has many disadvantages as a rikishi, but he works very sincerely at everything he has to do - for Kakuryu and for himself.  I think he has been learning many things and has grown up in the sumo world, and I believe he can build up his career after he retires in the future.  This can be said to be "success" in the sumo world as well. 

Do you name rikishi shikona? 

Not always.  Some are decided by the Koenkai, some choose them themselves ...

As you know, my father was Tsurugamine (鶴ヶ嶺) because his master had a character (Chinese Character (Kainji in Japanese) ) in his shikona.  So now our heya pick the . My brother was Terao 寺尾 so  many of his disciples have Terao in their shikona such as Teraosho 寺尾翔.

My shikona was Sakahoko 逆鉾,  but it is difficult to use these characters. 

Izutsu - beya is a relatively small heya. How do you feel about that?

Is it good or not?

When I inherited the heya, there were about twenty disciples, however some retired and it is difficult to recruit new rikishi because there are many heyas nowadays.

I think "10 rikishi" is enough for me as I am a single oyakata (some heya have several oyakatas) in order to pay close attention to each rikishi.  Inosuke (Gyoji - Shikimori Inosuke) belongs to our heya and he helps me a lot. 

Do you often arrange De-geiko?  Do you often send your disciples to Shikoroyama-beya? 

Yes, usually my brother comes to my heya bringing his disciples. 

There are less and less Shindeshi (new disciples) jumping in the sumo world, what do you think of this? 

As you know, there are many heya (stables) nowadays.  And I think it is a basic idea to join the sumo world just after they complete junior-high school. However, nowadays, most parents want their children to finish at least high school. Many kids just after junior- high are not so mature. Although it is not so strict compared to the past, they think the sumo world is very strict. Nowadays, most children have their own room, so many of them cannot adjust to living as a group. Another reason I can observe is that there are many foreign rikishi. One heya has only one foreign rikishi, but as you see, many of them are promoted quickly. They are elite sportsmen because they are selected from a huge number of candidates in the country.  So, Japanese kids resist becoming rikishi because they think it is very competitive for them to become Ozeki and Yokozuna ...

I am very concerned that the Japanese sumo world is moving in a different direction ... .  

You know, nowadays, if they have graduated only from junior high school, it is difficult to build up their own career after the sumo world if they have not succeeded as a rikishi.

I, like all oyakata, try everything to find new jobs for them, but it is difficult to do it.  Some don't like to study anything at all ... 

There used to be many children in a family.  One could be eager to become a rikishi among 7-8 brothers and sisters.  Academic background was not so important to build up their careers.  But now, ... as I am a parent, I understand the trend of what other parents are thinking ... 

How do you recruit your new disciples?

There are many Oyakata who are university graduates.  It is easier for them to recruit new disciples because they have connections with their universities and their attached schools. It is harder for oyakata like me who are not university graduates. I sometime visit some high schools as well, but most high schools where there are talented rikishi already have strong connections with oyakata who are graduates from the high school or from other high schools or universities where they have established connections "Sects" I might call them ... 

As for Kakuryu's case, he was very small and he couldn't pass any sumo recruiting test in Mongolia. So he didn't have any chance to come to Japan. 

A friend of our youbidashi introduced me to Kakuryu and he joined our heya.

If Koryu was not there, Kakuryu might have gone to Hanakago-beya ...

I remember he was so thin and small as a rikishi - everybody worried.  He was short and weighed only 70 kilogrammes. 

Do you feel the spirit of sumo has changed since you started your career? What are the good and the bad things about it? 

The basic spirit has not changed since I became a rikishi about 30 years ago.  I was surrounded by rikishi since I was born, if I compare it with more than 40 years ago, the taste of rikishi has changed. 40 years ago, Japanese life style was more simple than now.  Now there are so many attractive things and our life is very convenient. At that time, rikishi wore yukata in the summer; they kept their yukata carefully maintained for a long time. I did as well. Now, they don't care much about their belongings ... you know, there are many convenience stores, games which they can play by themselves ... These are days of plenty, so a rikishi's taste seems different. 

Etiquette and common senses between seniors and juniors have been destroyed.

In this world, senior is senior no matter if a junior is promoted to sekitori faster than his senior or if the junior's rank is higher than his senior.  The junior should respect his senior.  But, now, I heard that when a junior becomes Sanyaku (Komusubi and upper ranks), the junior gives orders to his senior about everything.

Some rikishi don't have that kind of etiquette. Rank is not everything. 

Do you have something you want to change? 

Yes. For example, if a rikishi has belonged to the sumo world for 5 years they should gain at least an equivalent qualification to a graduate from high school, etc.  Now, it is hard to find another career after rikishi.

What do you wish for your disciples?

I want them to fulfill their life.  Everybody has only one life. I want them to make use of what they experience in their youth ... I want them to have passion.

For example, if someone is struggling in Sandamme, then, I want him to be determined to move on to Makushita before he decides to retire. This sort of experience is the key to their next life whether or not they can build up their career, and even though they move to a different world. 

What were you be if you were not a rikishi, or not an oyakata? 

Mafia ...(laugh) no, no, it is joke.  I haven't thought about it much but I like to cook and to eat. I might have opened my own restaurant.

If I left the sumo world after I retired as a rikishi ... mmmm ... yes, it is the same, I think I might have opened my own restaurant. In fact, I still want to manage a restaurant if possible ... 

What do you do when you have your own time? 

I like to read books. I always carry at least one book in my bag (showing us a book) and read whenever I can. I like mystery, other fiction, books on psychology. I read many genres. 

I don't play golf much ...  I am sometimes depressed.  I mean I am not suffering from heavy depression but I feel depressed especially in winter, or depending on the weather.  So, I am interested in psychology and I think I know a lot about it.

I watch movies as well.  

Just before I retired as a rikishi, I often experienced panic-attacks.  While I was sitting beside a dohyo waiting for my bout, suddenly, my heart was trembling. Since then, I am sometimes depressed, especially in winter. 

So, I like reading books ...  

We heard that you collected many sumo-books when you were a child. So, you liked to read books when you were very young? 

Oh, yes, I remember my sumo-books ... I collected many books on sumo when I was a child. I liked  sumo that happened before I was born, especially sumo in the Tochi-Waka (Tochinishiki & Wakanohana) era.

I saved my pocket money and bought books one by one. It was my pleasure to buy them and read them. In the end, I had a huge collection of sumo books.

Later, an acquaintance asked me for them because he liked the books as well.  So I gave them to him. I was happy to give them to him because I believed he wanted the books to read.  But, his purpose was to sell them. I was too naive ...

Thank you very much for your time.