Hakuho Renouncing his Mongolian Citizenship

Sports media outlets in Japan have been reporting that Hakuho has filed the documents to renounce his Mongolian citizenship with the Mongolian President’s office earlier this month.

Report and video at NHK World

This has been reported in the Mongolian press and from there it spread to the Japanese media. Hakuho was asked to comment on it today, but was very guarded. “I’m surprised it made the news at this early stage. This is a matter relating to both countries, so we’ll have to wait and see what happens. I can’t say anything one way or the other at the moment.”

That is the raw story, and here are my comments on it.

It is clear that Hakuho does not renounce his citizenship because he has something against Mongolia. Quite the contrary. This is simply a necessary step in order to obtain Japanese citizenship, as Japan generally does not allow dual citizenship.

Hakuho has permanent residence status in Japan, and does not need citizenship to live and work there. There are only two main differences between his current status and citizenship. One is the right to vote or be elected, and the other is the right to become a member of the NSK. And I think we can safely disregard the idea that he decided to enter Japanese politics.

Hakuho has been talking about becoming a toshiyori (oyakata) for a long time now. And not just talking – he has taken four uchi-deshi already. Uchi-deshi are recruits scouted by someone who aspires to create his own heya. While he is still attached to his original heya, those recruits also belong to that heya. Once he is eligible to form his own heya, however, his uchi-deshi are allowed to leave the original heya together with him. Hakuho’s Uchi-deshi include Yamaguchi, Ishiura, Enho and the most recent addition, Toma from Okinawa.

To become a toshiyori, one must have Japanese citizenship. And one must have it by the time one retires from active sumo. Get the citizenship a day after you have filed your retirement documents – and it’s too late.

However, due to the strong sense of patriotism most Mongolians share, and Hakuho especially so, due to being the son of a national hero, he has been putting it off. His father’s death last year removed one obstacle, at least as far as filial piety is concerned. However, he did not make the move in the months that followed.

All this inclines me to believe that he determined to start the process only when he feels his retirement is imminent or at least highly likely. That is, I believe the fact that he has taken this step now means that he is preparing to retire soon, or at least acknowledges a strong possibility that he will have to.

Of course, we are not talking about forced retirement due to any scandal. Even if any of the little things that he does that annoy the NSK so much drive them to force him to retire – he wouldn’t be needing that citizenship in such a case, as of course he wouldn’t be able to continue as a member if that happened.

So my own interpretation of the situation is that the injury he suffered at the end of Haru basho, snapping his coracobrachialis at the tendon it shares with the biceps, may be at the bottom of this move. He has opted not to have surgery for it. Although he says that this should not affect his ability to grab a mawashi, he knows full well that a Yokozuna can only avoid retirement by winning 10 bouts or more every basho, and there is a limit to the number of kyujo he can enjoy – especially if there is no prospect of improvement following them. I believe he hopes he can still win those 10 bouts for a while yet, but he is sensible enough not to bet his future career on it.

31 thoughts on “Hakuho Renouncing his Mongolian Citizenship

  1. Hakuho is exaggerating his injury. As soon as he knew that Drumf was going to be in the next basho he changed he started talking about doing his best and forgot about resting. He wanted to sit out the May basho because he has nothing to prove for a while now that he got a zensho last basho, and he can take it easy, get paid his Yokozuna paycheck, and improve his chances of making it to the olympics. He also will have a better chance to win the July basho if he sits out the May basho. Look up most wrestlers who skip a basho due to injury, they almost always do well in the basho after. It’s common sense. A basho every 45 days is too much on the body. Sitting out a basho is a major advantage.

    • What are you talking about? What does Hakuho’s renouncing his citizenship have to do with sitting out a basho?

      • The last paragraph: the interpretation that his injury is the reason behind him renouncing his citizenship. I don’t think it’s the reason because I don’t think his injury is that serious.

        • Time will tell – but we don’t have any idea what his physical condition actually is. I am curious if his thoughts about retiring from the ring may have been the subject of some of those NSK discussions that were said to be about his yusho speech.

  2. How many foreign rikishi choose to tear up their old passports? Musashimaru and Kotooshu obviously did so as they are running their own stables but it must be a heck of a wrench to sever your legal ties with your homeland. I think I remember an interview with Aoiyama where he said that he would love to stay in the sport after his retirement but, as a proud Bulgarian, he couldn’t face renouncing his nationality. Coming from the UK, where dual-citizenship is common, it all seems a bit cruel and unnecessary.

    And another thing (as British pub bores always used to say) isn’t there some kind of dai-yokozuna convention which allows the greatest of the great to bypass the usual rules for becoming a stable master?Or did I dream it?

    • You dreamt it, I’m afraid. The citizenship issue is one of the foundation rules of the NSK. No citizenship, no membership. The only rule that’s special for dai-yokozuna is that the NSK may decide to allow them to become members without a kabu, using their own shikona, but only for “one generation” (until they retire). Taiho, Kitanoumi and Takanohana enjoyed that privilege (and Chiyonofuji passed it up and took the Kokonoe kabu instead). They still have to have citizenship, no matter what.

      And yes, Hakuho didn’t really want to do it. The first Mongolians who did were treated as traitors in their homeland.

  3. Those were my thoughts exactly. It meant that he is worried about that arm, and retirement was coming sooner than we all hoped. My husband and I argue about this: he thinks that it will help sumo for Hakuho to retire, because he’s so overwhelming. I think we enjoy him while we can. How lucky we have been to witness his career!

    • I think now is the sweet spot in many ways – he’s still the best on his day, but those days aren’t so often that he’s winning every single tournament. Some of his wins from the brink of defeat last time out were truly remarkable.

  4. I can’t imagine how emotional this has been for the man. If Hakuho can’t force a rule change, then I doubt we’ll see it for another few generations. No one’s done more for the sport, in terms of records, yusho, however you slice it, than Hakuho, in modern history at any rate.

    So Hakuho’s uchi-deshi include the smols? Hmm… (jk)

  5. ” there is a limit to the number of kyujo he can enjoy ” Kisenosato would like to have a word with you. Keeping in mind he came back on choice. The powers that be in Sumo were more then willing to let him sit out even longer then he did.

    • He did not exactly come back on choice. The “encouragement” from the YDC was interpreted as “get back or else”. And you know full well that the great lenience Kisenosato enjoyed is not something Hakuho will have the benefit of. Even Takanohana in his time got the “get back or else”.

  6. Japan and Mongolia both have a tradition of not allowing dual citizenship, but people originally citizens of Western countries simply don’t have to follow through with the renunciation process. Japan requires you starting the process to show you’ve started the bureaucratic necessities, but I’m sure there’s no country in the world now that would let you renounce your citizenship without having been granted another one. Plenty of ordinary people keep their US passport upon becoming Japanese citizens and simply don’t use it in Japan, and the Japanese have no way of knowing. It might be more difficult to do so as a celebrity, but there’s no reason why they couldn’t keep the citizenship even if they don’t use the passport.

    In addition, I am going to guess that Mongolia will fast-track citizenship applications of former citizens who retire from being oyakata.

    • I don’t think the question here is a practical one. For practical purposes, a Japanese passport is an excellent one and gets you almost anywhere in the world. And remember that both Hakuho’s wife and all his children are Japanese born, it will make no sense for him to go back to becoming a Mongolian at the age of 65.

      The issue is purely an emotional and symbolic one. You are saying “I no longer belong to my mother land. I have decided to become a member of another nation and I do not want to be a part of this one anymore”. This is something I would personally not want to do.

  7. It’s funny (not!) how the traditions of Japan go. In the West (UK for example), a princess marries a commoner, and the commoner becomes a prince. In Japan, a princess becomes a commoner, and the princess becomes a commoner.

    • That is actually not a tradition. It was part of the constitution forced on the Japanese by the USA…

        • Changing the constitution is not easy. You need a special majority. They tried to do so several times and the opposition always goes “this needs to be discussed”.

    • “In Japan, a princess marries a commoner, and the princess becomes a commoner.” Sorry for the typo. To complete my thought, I would not want to become a Japanese citizen. Japan seems too sexist to me.

  8. It is a real shame, actually. Hakuho clearly loves both countries. He’s greatly admired in Mongolia and highly respected in Japan. He’s got to very torn. And unfortunately, Japan existing national laws will not allowed him to have dual citizenship. Wow. And it matters not if you’re the G.O.A.T or not…Japan law is Japan law…whether you like or not as an outsider.

    It reminds me of the same situation that tennis superstar Naomi Osaka (LOVE this girl!) is facing herself in that she will have to choose either Japan or the U.S.A. for citizenship purposes (and based on reports I have read, she may be leaning toward her Japanese nationality). Both outstanding athletes, both AWESOME, and both facing tough emotional and financial decisions. And NO…I wouldn’t want to be in their shoes.

  9. It’s not just Japan, Mongolia doesn’t allow dual citizenship either. There are few places that see themselves as an ethnostate more strongly than Japan, and Mongolia is one of those places. Even if he got an exception in Japan, it’s highly unlikely he would have gotten one from Mongolia.


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