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.
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.