04 July 2004

Sumo Onomastics

Among other things, July Fourth this year marks the beginning of sumo's Nagoya Basho. Former #1 maegashira ("leading" rank, the lowest ranking in the highest division) Hokutoriki, who forced the sole yokozuna (grand champion) Asashoryu into a playoff on the final day of the Natsu Basho in May, has been promoted two ranks, to sekiwake (junior champion), right below ozeki (champion, formerly the top rank). The Georgian Kokkai, who made his "big league" (makuuchi) debut in January, is now ranked a #2 maegashira.

As a backgrounder, I'll offer a glimpse into the onomastics of sumo, focusing mostly on the foreign rikishi. Corrections from experts in either the language or the sport would be most welcome.

The Mongolians Asashoryu ('Morning Green Dragon') and Asasekiryu ('Morning Red Dragon') belong to the illustrious Takasago-beya ('stable'), whose current master's ring name was Asashio ('Morning Tide'), a name that dates back beyond the 46th yokozuna (1959) Asashio, whom I used to watch as a kid, as he fought the 45th yokozuna (1958) Wakanohana and the later 48th yokozuna (1961) Taiho.

The Mongolians Kyokutenho ('RisingSun Heaven Roc/Phoenix') and Kyokushuzan ('RisingSun Eagle Mountain') belong to the smaller Oshima-beya, whose master fought under the name Asahikuni ('Morning Sun Land').

The Mongolian Tokitenku ('Time Heaven Sky') and his Japanese stablemate Tokitsuumi ('Time Harbor Sea') belong to the Tokitsukaze-beya (probably 'Time Harbor Wind'), which is reputed to be foreign visitor-friendly. The gloss 'harbor' doesn't really do justice to tsu, which is the first character of tsunami, literally 'harbor wave', which would sound no more fearsome than "tidal wave" would in English if we didn't know better.

The Georgian Kokkai ('Black Sea' in its "Chinese" pronunciation) and his Japanese stablemate Hayateumi ('Tailwind/Gale Sea' in its tricky native Japanese reading) belong to the fairly new Oitekaze-beya (probably 'Chasing Wind = Tailwind').

The Korean Kasugao ('Spring Sun King') belongs to the small Kasugayama-beya ('Spring Sun Mountain'), whose master fought as Kasugafuji (probably 'Spring Sun Wisteria').

Although they belong to different stables (Miyagino and Otake, respectively), makuuchi-division Mongolian rikishi Hakuho ('White Roc') and juryo-division Russian rikishi Roho ('Dew Roc') share the character ho 'large mythical bird' (hence 'roc, phoenix').

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