|Art by どすこいクマ|
As a fan of sumo, I have to say that the most recent Nagoya tournament in mid-July was most thrilling as it served as the stage for a good number of milestones in the sumo world. Among them were the indomitable yokozuna Hakuho's 45th title and perfect 15-0 run despite a year-long absence and the birth of a new yokozuna in the form of Terunofuji. Congratulations to them both!
It has been exactly a year to the basho since I started watching sumo and I've had the pleasure of witnessing the last leg of Teru-chan's comeback from the pits of the 2nd last division due to injury and illness. His inspiring comeback story and beastly performance on the dohyo made him a common favourite in my household, and we were all hoping he'd be the one with the perfect score and the title to add more pizzaz to his yokozuna promotion, but alas, ol' Haks was having none of it. Nevertheless, everyone's still stoked to have their 73rd yokozuna, one who seems to embody the sumo (Japanese) core value of perseverance, so sayeth the Yokozuna Council members, at least. For the time being, Teru had his tsuna (rope, i.e. that thick white belt with the lightning bolts) made and is in the midst of preparing for his dohyo-iri (ring-entering ceremony) during September's tournament.
Speaking of sumo and yokozunas, I bring to you today an enka tune that includes just that: Kiyoshi Hikawa's "Ninjou Toridejuku" (Kindness at the Toride station). It came early on in Hikawa's career on 7th July 2004 as the B-side to the successful single "Banba no Chutaro" (番場の忠太郎) and seems to be decently popular among fans. Like its A-side, there is a ronin element to "Ninjou Toridejuku" alongside the sumo one, the latter of which I couldn't quite comprehend, what with vocabularies like keisho-mawashi (decorative apron) not making any sense to my perenially struggling Japanese ability. I mean, I did vaguely understand that the words "dohyo-iri", sung once at the end, point to sumo, but I didn't see how it related to the whole assumed ronin-based narrative.
As with most songs I enjoy, what got me into "Ninjou Toridejuku" was its rousing melody courtesy of Hideo Mizumori (水森英夫). Making it stand out from most ronin-related enka in my opinion was the liberal usage of the taiko which seemed to suggest a protagonist with a powerful and/or stubbornly proud character... which is also not uncommon among this enka category. It took seeing Hikawa patting his kimono belt and taking on a shoulder-wide stance to finally allow me to fully connect the song to sumo. You can check out the video here.
After quite a bit of research, I believe that Yurio Matsui's (松井由利夫) words take inspiration from author Shin Hasegawa's (長谷川伸) novel "Ippon gatana dohyo-iri" (一本刀土俵入), which also served as the basis for many renowned rokyoku/enka-rokyoku pieces of the same name by the likes of enka greats like Haruo Minami and Michiya Mihashi. So, in a similar vein, "Ninjou Toridejuku" centers around the hapless (former) low-ranking sumo wrestler Mohei, who got kicked out from his stable for one reason or another. Intent on getting back into the profession so as to one day be able to perform the yokozuna dohyo-iri before his mother's grave, Mohei heads to Edo from Komagata, Gunma, to seek a new stable. Along the way, he ends up at the Toride post/pitstop in Ibaraki, broke in the wallet and probably spirit. There, he meets barmaid Otsuta, to whom he relates his story. Sympathetic to his cause, she provides him with some of her possessions and what little money she has to enable him to take the ferry to Edo via the Tone river, to which he swears to repay someday. I think Matsui's telling of Mohei's exploits ends here. Spoiler: Mohei never makes yokozuna... nor even returns to becoming a wrestler. He just turned into a gambler. I mean, he reunites with Otsuta and there's some sort of happy ending, though.
Frankly, considering what Mohei was up to, somehow Mizumori's score seemed to be on the extravagant side, but I suppose if you looked at it as representing Mohei's determination, Otsuta's graciousness and the powerful sport of sumo, it is rather apt. Also, it really gets the blood pumping when having it playing in one's earpieces on the way to Ryogoku.
To round off here's what yokozuna dohyo-iri are supposed to look like, as done by Kakuryu, Harumafuji, Hakuho, and Kisenosato. Can't wait for Terunofuji's.
P.S. J-Canuck had written an article on the other renditions of "Ippon gatana dohyo-iri", so you can check it out here if you're keen.