The correct answer to the Twitter Quiz was B: Chiyonofuji. I admit, I would not have known the answer without looking up the data in the SumoDB. As reader @henzinovitost pointed out, Akebono, Hakuho, and Takanohana had rather rapid rises into the salaried ranks. The long reigns at Yokozuna are apparent in the charts of all of these wrestlers.
This is the rise of Akebono. Hakuho, Takanohana, and several other Yokozuna had rapid rises like this, though often with a few setbacks in Sandanme or Makushita. By the way, Akebono is literally Rikishi #1 on the SumoDB.
Former Yokozuna Wajima Hiroshi has passed away at the age of 70. Active throughout the 70’s and early 80’s, Wajima was a highly successful Yokozuna who claimed fourteen championships using his revered golden left arm. Retiring from competition in 1981, Wajima became the oyakata of Hanakago stable before falling on hard times. Financial strain, chiefly brought on by the failure of his chankonabe restaurant, lead him to use his elder stock as collateral for a loan. This forbidden practice caused several other oyakata within the NSK to pressure Wajima to retire, and he did so in 1985.
As a result of Wajima’s mismanagement, Hanakago stable folded following the oyakata’s retirement, and its few remaining rikishi relocated to Hanaregoma stable. The former Yokozuna had brief forays into professional wrestling and gridiron football in an attempt to pay off his debts, but he never recaptured the success he had found in sumo. Wajima is believed to have succumbed to throat cancer. Condolences to his loved ones and fans.
Yokozuna Wajima (left) vs. Ozeki Kitanoumi (right), Nagoya Basho, 1974.
While his Yokozuna career was marked by considerable success, including eight Yusho championships, Yokozuna Hitachiyama Taniemon is perhaps better remembered for his work away from the dohyo. Possibly due to his father’s low opinion of the sport, Hitachiyama was determined to see sumo retain its former prestige. But, he was not satisfied with the sport just regaining its glory in Japan. He had a vision of sumo being held in high regard worldwide. So, in 1907, he embarked on a world tour that saw him travel through much of the western world, including Europe and the United States, where he demonstrated the art of sumo and brought international attention to the sport.
Hitachiyama’s international tour was highlighted by a meeting with U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt at the White House on November 11, 1907. The visit began with Hitachiyama presenting the President with a ceremonial family sword, and arrangments were made for him to come back and perform a sumo exhibition for Roosevelt and his family. Returning in full Yokozuna regalia and accompanied by three fellow rikishi, a gyoji, and an interpreter, Hitachiyama performed his dohyo-iri on a dohyo of thick matting. Following the ring-entering ceremony, the Yokozuna’s two assistants demonstrated the rules of sumo in a series of bouts for the President and his entourage of spectators. Finally, it was time for Hitachiyama to take to the dohyo. The Yokozuna challenged each of his attendants and each time drove them out of the ring. So great was Hitachiyama’s strength, that he purportedly took on all three attendants at once, and even their combined might was not enough to best the Yokozuna. Finishing his exercises, Hitachiyama explained to his audience that he would face up to forty of his fellow stablemates in the course of a day, and would gladly face off against the renowned man’s man Roosevelt in a sumo bout. The President understandably declined the offer, but it was obvious to those present that Roosevelt had been thoroughly impressed.
Hitachiyama’s tour had been a tremendous success for the sport of sumo, and its popularity continued to rebound throughout Japan. Despite taking such an extended leave from competition, the Yokozuna’s fans remained exceptionally loyal due to the global attention he had brought to the sport. While sumo may have flourished due to the world tour, Hitachiyama quickly felt the most significant repercussions of his days abroad. Time away from the dohyo and the ceaseless march of age left their mark on the Yokozuna, and while he achieved one more Yusho in the Spring of 1910, he would never again attain the dominance he exhibited prior to the tour. Unable to compete at a high level, Hitachiyama retired in May of 1914. Now the master of Dewanoumi stable, Hitachiyama began the task of training the next generation of Rikishi, including an impressive three new Yokozuna.
Under his leadership, Dewanoumi Beya was home to over two hundred men at its peak. Hitachiyama’s refusal to allow his disciples to branch off and establish new stables ensured that Dewanoumi remained of the most powerful stables at the time. With so many men under his roof, Hitachiyama was faced with the dilemma of how to feed such a massive hoard of hungry rikishi. It was from this predicament that Hitachiyama’s most enduring legacy was born: Chankonabe. The hearty, agreeable and most importantly, cheap meal was a hit at Demanoumi and subsequently spread throughout the other stables. To this day chankonabe remains an integral part of sumo life.
In 1922, at the age of forty-eight, Hitachiyama suddenly died. His death shocked the sumo world, and for the first time in its history, the Japanese Sumo Association organized a funeral procession for the former Yokozuna. As one of the sumos most influential figures, Hitachiyama was a trendsetter and an innovator whose influence on sumo not only brought it back from the brink but earned it recognition around the world. For his efforts and dedication to the sport he so loved, Hitachiyama Taneimomon will forever be remembered by as the saint of sumo.
The history of athletics is full of innovators and dreamers, unafraid to break with tradition and challenge the old ways in the hope of making their sport better. Even a sport like sumo, steeped in ancient customs and practices, has had many revolutionaries come along willing to risk it all to ensure Japan’s national sport grows and prospers. Men like Futabeyama, who introduced salaries into sumo, and Takamiyama, who broke the gaijin barrier, ushered in new eras and shaped the sumo into what we know today. Yet there is no one who can hold a flame to the tremendous impact Yokozuna Hitachiyama Taniemon had on sumo in the early twentieth century.
Hitachiyama Taneimon was born into samurai nobility in 1874, but his families’ privileged status was stripped away during the political upheaval of the Meiji Restoration. No longer able to rely on his family’s reputation, the young Hitachiyama traveled to Tokyo to attend Waseda University. While in Tokyo he stayed with his uncle, who encouraged the youth to pursue a career in sumo after witnessing him lift a nearly five hundred pound boulder while working on his uncle’s property. Despite obvious physical talents, Hitachiyama’s father tried to dissuade him from a career in sumo as the sport held little prestige in the rapidly westernizing Japan. Disregarding his father’s concerns, Hitachiyama joined Dewanoumi Beya in 1890. Making his professional debut in Tokyo Sumo two years later, his early career hit a roadblock when Hitachiyama was forbidden from marrying his stablemasters niece. Unable to be without his beloved, he fled Tokyo Sumo in 1894 and joined rival organization Nagoya Sumo for a brief time before entering Osaka Sumo.
Hitachiyama eventually returned to Tokyo Sumo and Dewanoumi Beya in 1896, just in time for the spring tournament where he began an impressive 32 win streak. He made his Makuuchi debut in the 1899 Spring Basho, where he took home the yusho with a record of eight wins. Missing the following summer basho, he scored matching seven-win records at both tournaments in 1900 and took home his second championship at the 1901 Spring Basho. Following this success, Hitachiyama was promoted to the rank of Ozeki. After winning both Basho in 1903, including a senshuraku win over fellow Ozeki and chief rival Umegatani Totaro II, Hitachiyama became the sports 19th Yokozuna. However, he insisted that Umegatani receive a promotion as well and the two became Yokozuna simultaneously. Alongside Ōzutsu Man’emon, this would mark the first time the sumo world ever had three Yokozuna at the same time. Hitachiyama’s business sense was evident even early in his career, as the continuation of his rivalry with Umegatani as Yokozunas saw sumo reach it’s highest point of popularity since the Edo Period. Sumo had never been hotter, and as a result of this new popularity, construction began on a massive stadium to meet the demand of fans eager to see their hero Hitachiyama. Opening in 1909, this stadium became known as the first Ryogoku Kokugikan.
During his career, Hitachiyama won eight tournaments and oversaw the popularity of sumo grow to grand new heights. His conduct on the dohyo earned him the reputation as the sports most honorable Yokozuna and he became affectionately known as the Saint of Sumo amongst the population. So revered was Hitachiyama that his conduct becomes the very benchmark upon which all Yokozuna who followed have been compared. Yet despite his influence on sumo as an active Yokozuna, it was Hitachiyama’s work off the dohyo and across the globe that left a far, far greater impact on the sport we know today.
It’s banzuke Sunday in the western world, and while the sumo fans eagerly await to see who came out on top, or how their guess the banzuke entry scored, let’s take a look at the top end of the Nagoya ranks. The Yokozuna have had their problems this year, and Nagoya may continue to underscore the tremendous change at work in sumo’s upper ranks.
First up is sumo’s top man for Nagoya, the unexpectedly genki Yokozuna Kakuryu. A year ago, if you had told me that Kakuryu would take back-to-back yusho and supplant Harumafuji as sumo’s anchor Yokozuna, I would have considered it unlikely. But he has somehow managed to get his body healthy and his fighting spirit aligned. His sumo looks quite good, and as long as he keeps from going for pulls, he tends to prevail. Kakuryu’s sumo is highly reactive. In most matches his approach is not to conquer his opponent at the tachiai, but rather to put up a strong defence and keep his opponent stalemated, waiting for a mistake. These mistakes almost always appear and Kakuryu is without peer in detecting and exploiting even the smallest error in his opponents. After his Natsu yusho, he suggested that he would like to see if he could achieve 3 consecutive titles, which would be remarkable for a man who many (myself included) suggested a year ago hang up his rope due to lack of competition. Prospect – Surprisingly Positive.
Yokozuna Hakuho is the Michael Jordan of sumo. There has never been any rikishi as dominant as he has been, and in all likelihood, none of us will live to see a day when some future sumotori surpasses his records. But his cumulative injuries are starting to impact his ability to compete. Specifically, repeated injuries to his big toes have robbed him of some speed, agility and power. Furthermore, the YDC has admonished him to change up his tachiai, which frequently features a slap to his opponents face. Hakuho has struggled with that guidance, and the lack of that first disorienting blow seems to have thrown his sumo off at least a half step. His performance during Natsu was a respectable 11-4, but his supporters wonder how much longer “The Boss” can keep going. His biggest issue in May was mental. His father had just died a few weeks before, and it clearly impacted the dai-yokozuna’s mental state. Hakuho’s father was his own larger than life figure, and was likely a driving force in his son’s life. Anyone who has lost a parent can attest to the mental impact it can have. But I suspect he took ample time during the summer break to come to terms with the loss, and his mental state will be nothing short of amazing for Nagoya. Prospect – Grim Determination To Win.
In 2017 the world welcomed the first Japanese-born Yokozuna in a generation. Many had their doubts about him, as he was promoted on his first yusho. He silenced all doubters with his outstanding performance the following tournament, winning his second yusho, and finishing in spite of a grievous injury that haunts him to this day. Sadly, since Osaka 2017, Kisenosato has failed to complete a single tournament. Fans have been rightfully depressed that a rikishi who would refuse to even miss a single day of practice would be sidelined indefinitely. As his kyujo tally mounted, he eventually reached a 7th excused tournament, matching Takanohana’s longest absence. For such a proud man, the strain of making the record books in such a inglorious manner must eat at him hourly. Fans have noticed in the past few weeks that he has been taking practice matches with his old training partner, Ozeki Takayasu. They have done this in the past, and it seems to have been mostly for show. But a rumor has been running around sumo fandom that Kisenosato has come to terms with the scope of his injury, and will retire shortly. But rather than fade out a defeated man, he will instead don the rope once more, and go out guns blazing in competition. Personally, reflecting on that outcome and the career of Kisenosato it would make perfect sense. It may not be Nagoya, but it will be before Kyushu. Prospect – Unlikely – or- Davy Crockett at the Alamo.
As we pointed in our Ozeki report, with two Ozeki pushing for 8 wins to relieve kadoban status, the pressure from the top of the banzuke on the rest of the san’yaku and the upper Maegashira will be enormous. Two or possibly three active Yokozuna all hunting wins could spell unrivaled carnage at the top of the banzuke. For fans of sumo, this means some of the most thrilling competition possibly in several months.