By the early 90’s, Takanohana II and Wakanohana III, the young princes of sumo, were poised to dominate the future of the sport. They emerged at the forefront of a new generation of talent and had already amassed several awards and accolades, adding to those of their legendary father and uncle. The Hanada family dynasty had never looked stronger. Held up as the model of a perfect Japanese family, few could have predicted their downfall.
For much of their early careers, the Hanada brothers were considered near equals. As time went on, however, it was becoming clear that the bigger and stronger Takanohana was eclipsing his elder brother. In 1994, Takahanohana took four of the year’s six yusho and earned a promotion to the sports highest rank of Yokozuna, while Wakanohana suffered from injuries and remain out of yusho contention for the majority of the mid 90’s. The elder Hanada brother briefly stepped out of his sibling’s shadow at the 1995 Kyushu basho, where he won the yusho in a sudden death play-off against Takanohana. This bout would mark the first, and only time the two brothers ever competed against each other, due to rules forbidding siblings and stablemates from facing off outside of playoffs. In commenting about losing to his own brother, Takanohana stated that he “couldn’t come to terms” with the outcome of the match. Never the less, He carried his brothers yusho-ki banner as Wakanohana celebrated with fans. The first cracks in their relationship began to surface in 1998 when Takanohana developed a liver disorder. To combat this disease, the young Yokozuna consulted with physical therapist Tashiro Tomita. Tomita had a significant impact on Takanohana. In following his therapist’s teachings, Takanohana began to seclude himself from his family. This caused great concern for his father, who believed Tomita was brainwashing his son. During this time, Wakanohan finally managed back to back yusho wins and became sumo’s 66th Yokozuna. Despite making history by becoming the first brothers ever to be Yokozuna simultaneously, Takanohana and Wakanohana scarcely spoke to each other. Although Takanohana eventually reconciled with his family, this had opened the eyes of the world to the underlying issues that afflicted their perceived perfect family.
By the early 2000’s, both brothers had retired from sumo due to persistent injuries. While Wakanohana sought a career first in American football and later as a chanko-nabe restauranteur, Takanohana remained in the sumo association, taking over his father’s prestigious stable. Upon the death of their father in 2005, the Hanada family was divided by an incredibly bitter and public dispute between the two former Yokozuna. As an active member of the association, Takanohana demanded that he be the chief mourner at his father’s funeral, and not his older brother who had left the sumo world to chase fame and celebrity. Rumours also circulated that their quarrel was the result of uncertainty regarding the late Takanohana I’s estate, as he left his children no will. Although Wakanohana did not give into his brothers demand to be cheif mourner, he did forfiet his claim to their father’s estate. Giving up his inheritance would not be enough to make peace with Takanohana, and from that point on the two brothers became like strangers, rarely if ever speaking to one another. The once mighty Hanada dynasty, who had ruled the sumo world for nearly five decades, had been shattered.
Takanohana (left) vs. Wakanohana (right), Kyushu basho, 1995.