Sports have a unique power to bond and connect us. New friendships begin on rinks, courts, and fields all over the world, and many a companion has been made cheering for the home team. Even the bond between siblings can be strengthened by a shared love of sports, and the storied history of athletics is full of brothers competing side by side, and sometimes, against each other. Competition drives us to become better, to push each other to new successes. But just as it can strengthen us, competition and the will to succeed can turn family into foe and tear the bonds of brotherhood apart. Such is the case of the Hanada brothers, Takanohana II and Wakanohana III.
The Hanada brothers were born into sumo royalty. Thier uncle, Yokozuna Wakanohana Kanji, was one of the most popular rikishi of the 1950’s. Nicknamed the devil of the dohyo, he had a prosperous career spanning twelve years and ten yusho championships. Wakanohana I opened the highly successful Futagoyama beya upon his retirement in 1956. One of his most promising students was his own younger brother, Ozeki Takanohana Kenshi. Although Takanohana never went on to reach the rank of Yokozuna, he was incredibly popular with fans throughout the 1970’s. Like his older brother before him, Takanohana would open his own stable (Fujishima beya) in 1982. After a successful junior high sumo career, Takanohana’s youngest son Koji joined his father’s stable in 1988. Not wanting to fall behind, he was soon joined by his older brother Masaru, and the two began to train together. Heya life would be an adjustment for the two brothers. When addressing their father, they were instructed to use the traditional name of oyakata, and they lived alongside their fellow rikishi in the stable, performing all the duties of rookies, regardless of their lineage.
Koji and Masaru adopted the shikona of Takahanada and Wakahanada respectively, and made their debut in March of 1988 alongside future rival Akebono. They made quick progress through the lower ranks amid much fanfare, as it was believed by many that the two “princes of sumo” were destined to continue their family’s prestigious legacy. Both earned promotions into the Maegashira rank in 1990, and by 1993 the brothers had become sumo superstars. With a combined four yusho and six jun-yusho, the brothers were widely credited for the sport’s restored popularity. 1993 also saw both men earn ozeki promotions, with Takahanada’s coming in March and Wakahanada receiving his in September. With these promotions the two were permitted to adopt the shikona of their father and uncle, officially becoming Takanohana II and Wakanohana III. Within six years, the Hanada brothers had taken the sumo world by storm, yet their greatest achievements and most challenging trials were still ahead of them.
End of part one.
Takahanada (left) vs. Chiyonofuji (right), Natsu basho, 1991.