Akebono New Year Update

While we are waiting for the last basho of the Heisei era, Sports Hochi published a series of articles featuring the 64th Yokozuna Akebono, one of the leading figures to usher in this era, interviewed at the hospital where he is currently admitted.

Akebono with a copy of Sumo Journal covering Takanohana’s retirement

I thought I should share this with the readers of Tachiai, as information about the ailing former Yokozuna has been scarce. If you recall, Akebono has been active in his pro-wrestling career and in social media, when suddenly, in April 2017, He seemed to have dropped off the face of the Earth. One news source revealed that he suffered heart failure and was in an induced coma. His family denied this at the time, claiming he suffered from a leg infection, but in fact, the original report has been true. Since then we have learned that he regained consciousness and was undergoing rehabilitation, but the full situation remained unclear. This Hochi article helps put things in order.

As it turns out, he was feeling unwell for a while when he had his last pro-wrestling event at Omuta, Fukuoka. Following the event, back in his hotel, he started feeling chest pains. The next day, April 12th 2017, he went to the hospital (by car, not ambulance), and walked on his own feet to the examination room. However, in mid-examination, he lost consciousness and went into cardiac arrest. His heart stopped beating for 37 minutes.

His daughter, Caitlyn, who is studying in Hawaii, took a flight back to Japan, and together with her brothers, Cody and Connor, joined their mother, Christine, in the care of their father, until he regained his consciousness on April 25th. During this time he was transferred, in a two-day overland journey, from the Fukuoka hospital to a Tokyo facility.

The former Yokozuna weighed 210kg, but his weight dropped during his hospitalization as low as 130kg, though now he has gained some back and weighs at 150kg. He suffers memory loss, and has lost the use of his legs. At first, when he gained consciousness, he mistook his own sons for his two brothers, George and Randy. This was quite a shock for his wife, Christine. He seemed to have switched back to his childhood. She decided to think of it as if she gained a third, big son.

Akebono recalls little of his restless pro-wrestling days, but he recollects his Yokozuna days well, and remembered the author of the Hochi articles, who used to be his personal beat reporter. He can move himself in his wheelchair by his own power. He exercises walking, but only when externally held upright. He has some difficulty communicating. He speaks in short sentences: “good times”, “I remember”, etc., and his wife helps him with some English mixed in with Japanese.

This post is mostly based on the first article in the series. The other articles are a walk down memory lane.

(Yeah, the titles of these articles are somewhat Waka-Taka centered…)

16 thoughts on “Akebono New Year Update

  1. Thank u so much for this update on Akebono. He was big part of my middle-sumo era as i call it! LOL
    have been looking for updates across social media sources so was thrilled to see this. Slow and steady recovery, hopefully in time he will regain full use of legs and recover memory loss spots.

  2. Thanks, Herouth. Yes, I had read last year that Akebono was having serious health issues. Oh my. I do wish him all the best in getting better. Like many of the Tachiai.org readers, Akebono was one of the big reason (along with the Take-Waka brothers, Musoyama and others) that I started following Sumo, and this incredibly talented and powerful man represents everything that a Yokozuma is! Please heal up, Chad.

  3. Wow! We think of wrestlers, especially someone who was a yokozuna, as being so strong, but at the end of the day, the human body, (especially the brain,) is so fragile, no matter who we are =-\

    • yes, it feels like a massive reality check so many things can (and do) go wrong esp after retirement…

  4. Thanks so much for this story. Akebono was a great Yokozuna. I watched him when I attended a basho at the Kokugikan for the first and only time. He had enormous, almost insane, ferocity, sort of at the level of Tochinoshin when he won the Yusho last year. I don’t remember who he defeated that day, but just watching him gave me the willies. I sure hope that he recovers.

    • Bad decision was to enter in MMA circuit… endure potentialy lethal hit is far of sumo wrestling….

  5. many of us out here well wishing big lovable bear
    thank you herouth for this informative update

    i really enjoy your upbeat spotlighting the highlights and spiritual heart of sumoworld
    so healthy for everyone

  6. Thanks so much for the update. Akebono was my guy back in the day and the reason I got into sumo. Hopefully his recovery continues to progress

  7. This may sound harsher than I mean to, but forgetting his pro-wrestling time may be preferable to remembering it?
    I really hope he gets well though!

      • Well, his condition is the result of heart failure. I haven’t heard about a connection between heart failure and physical trauma (well, if the trauma is an arrow to the heart, that’s a different thing…)

        I would suspect his weight and lack of endurance training were more likely causes of his heart problems (plus genetics, diet, and whatnot).

  8. Thanks for the update.
    I wish the Dai Yokozuna all the health he needs for the new year!

    I find it very fascinating that he seems to recall his sumo days rather than his pro-wrestling time, which is more recent. I always had the impression he started the pro-wrestling mostly to piss off the sumo bosses for not having been treated with the due respect after such a legendary carreer.
    Furthermore I wonder how it is with his language skills, now that his memory is giving in. If being bylingual is more of an advantage or an obstacle for his rehabilitation.

    • I’m not surprised by the fact that old memories are more easy to recall. This is the same with dementia patients. Apparently, memories which have been recalled a lot in the past are easier to recall when suffering memory damage.

  9. The entire Internet should tip their hats to Akebono. I came in way too late to see him in action but I have known his name for decades, all because of his wee slice of Internet history. (For you young’uns, akebono.stanford.edu was Yahoo’s original home and yes, it was named for him — Jerry Y was a fan.) A legendary athlete, a trailblazer, and the one shikona the whole damned Internet knew back in the day? All hail.


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