Legends of the Dohyo #8: The Saint of Sumo Part Two

Hitachiyama West

Part One

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. Hitachiyama NYTReturning 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.

Hitachiyama Memorial
Hitachiyma Taneimon Memorial, Yanaka Graveyard, Tokyo.

Legends of the Dohyo #7: The Saint of Sumo Part One

Hitachiyama

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 2
Hitachiyama (left) and Umegatani (right). Together, these two men returned sumo to its former prestige in the early 20th century.

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.

The first Ryogoku Kokugikan, 1909.

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.

End of part one.

Who’s That Rikishi #13: Nishikigi Tetsuya

NishikigiAge: 27
Birth Name: Tetsuya Kumagai
Home Town: Morioka, Japan
Stable: Isenoumi
Highest Rank: Maegashira 6

Tetsuya Kumagai was born in 1990 in the idyllic town of Morioka, Iwata Prefecture. Inspired by fellow Iwata born rikishi Yotsuguruma, Tetsuya joined Isenoumi Beya after graduating from high school. In 2006 he made his maezumo professional debut at the Haru Basho alongside fellow future Makuuchi stars Tochinoshin and Shohozan. Progress was slow but steady for Tetsuya, who reached the third highest division of Makushita at the 2010 Hatsu Basho. However, he was unable to handle the increase in competition and found himself back in Sandanme one tournament later. His second attempt at holding onto a Makushita went much better, but it marked something of a plateau for the young Tetsuya, who spent the next five years in Makushita, unable to put together a good enough run to get him to Juryo. It was during this time that he adopted the shikona of Nishikigi, becoming the first rikishi in one hundred and forty-four years to fight under this name.

While Nishikigi’s time in Makushita may have been arduous, it was not fruitless. At the 2010 November tournament, he nearly won his first championship in a multi-man playoff and took home the Makushita Yusho two years later at the 2012 Kyushu Basho. Nishikigi failed to carry the momentum of winning a championship forward and recorded only three wins at the following Basho, curtailing his chances of promotion to Juryo. After another two years of mediocre performances, he finally earned a spot in the Juryo Division for May 2015 after going 5-2 in four consecutive Basho. Nishikigi’s time in Juryo was drastically shorter than his Makushita stint, and one year later he made his top division debut. While his first showing in Makuuchi wasn’t stellar, he quickly got his sumo in gear, and by the 2016 Kyushu Basho, he reached a career-high rank of Maegashira 6. His new rank proved too much for the Iwata born rikishi to handle, and he recorded a terrible 4-11 record at Kyushu. This poor performance marked the beginning of a major nosedive down the banzuke, and by May Nishikigi was once more in Juryo.

Determined to get back into Makuuchi, Nishikigi recorded ten wins and clinched the 2017 Natsu Juryo Yusho in a senshuraku match against Aminishiki to punch his ticket back to the top division. Since returning to Makuuchi in July, Nishikigi has managed to stay in the top division despite being at risk of demotion several times in 2017-18. Nishikigi is well known for his severely limited sight, which requires him to wear glasses whenever he isn’t competing or practicing. His eyesight is so poor that he can’t even see the first row of fans while on the dohyo, a limitation Nishikigi has turned into an advantage, as he never feels nervous about competing in front of soldout crowds. A competent oshi-sumo fighter, Nishikigi employs strong yori-kiri and oshi dashi techniques to win his bouts.


Kyokutaisei (left) vs. Nishikigi (right), Hatsu Basho, 2018.


Links:
http://sumodb.sumogames.de/Rikishi.aspx?r=6596
http://www.sumo.or.jp/EnSumoDataRikishi/profile/2892/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nishikigi_Tetsuya

Who’s That Rikishi #12: Ichinojo Takashi

Age: 24
Birth Name: Altankhuyag Ichinnorow
Home Town: Arkhangai, Mongolia
Stable: Minato
Highest Rank: Sekiwake

While most sumo fans like to imagine the boulder-sized Ichinojo rolling down a mountain and onto the dohyo to do sumo, the truth is that he was born on the beautiful plains of Arkhangai province, Mongolia. While far from the first Mongolian to enter Japan’s national sport, he was the first of his countrymen from a nomadic clan to join sumo. As a boy, he took part in traditional Mongolian wrestling called Bokh, going so far as to win his provinces Bokh championship when he was 14 years old. Moving to Japan for high school, Ichinojo initially practiced Judo until the school’s sumo coach convinced him to join his team. The young Mongolian went on to win five titles and the rank of amateur Yokozuna. His success caught the attention of Minato Beya, who recruited Ichinojo in 2013, making him their one allotted foreign-born rikishi. Due to his amateur Yokozuna title, Ichinojo was allowed to skip the bottom two divisions and debut in Makushita, making him the second foreign-born rikishi to do so. Upon debuting he automatically became the highest ranked member of his stable, as none of his stablemates were ranked higher than Sandanme. Ichinojo’s first official tournament in January 2014 was a huge success and marked the beginning of a meteoric rise up the banzuke for the young Boulder.

By May of that same year, he burst into the Juryo Division, having only lost two bouts in his career thus far. Despite the drastic increase in competition, Ichinojo held his own in Juryo and won the division Yusho in a four-way playoff. He nearly captured his second consecutive Juryo Yusho at the following Nagoya Basho, but fell to Tochinoshin in a playoff bout. Nevertheless, his 13-2 record was more than enough to warrant a promotion, and in September he made his Makuuchi debut at the rank of Maegashira 10. Like previous Honbasho, Ichinojo mowed through the competition, collecting six straight wins until a Day 7 loss to Ikioi. This turned out to be just a minor set back for the young Mongolian, who quickly returned to his winning ways. As the tournament progressed, Ichinojo began facing stronger opponents much higher up on the banzuke. However, even they couldn’t stop him. Having defeated both Ozeki Kisenosato and Goeido and Yokozuna Kakuryu, Ichinojo was matched up with Hakuho on Day 14, but he was unable to beat the Boss. Finishing in second place with a record of 13-2, Ichinojo was awarded both the fighting spirit and outstanding performance special prizes, and his rank was elevated all the way to Sekiwake for the following tournament.

Perhaps a symptom of the increased media attention and fanfare following his success in September, Ichinojo developed a bad case of shingles during the lead up to the 2014 Kyushu Basho. Unable to practice for much of the inter-Basho period, he failed to replicate the impressive numbers he had posted at Aki but managed to hold on to his Sekiwake rank with an 8-7 record. He was not so lucky at the 2015 Hatsu Basho. Recording only six wins, the young Boulder dropped out of San’yaku. An impressive showing in March and May, including a kinboshi victory over Harumafuji, resulted in Ichinojo regaining his Sekiwake rank for the 2015 Nagoya Basho. This tournament would prove disastrous for the Mongolian Rikishi, and he finished with a record of 4-11 and once again joined the Maegashira rank and fillers. Having firmly established himself as a Makuuchi mainstay, Ichinojo spent much of 2016 alternating between winning and losing records, until a herniated disk forced him to miss the Aki Basho. This injury, most likely a symptom of his ballooning mass, prompted the nearly 500 pound Mongolian rikishi to begin reducing his weight. Upon returning, the much lighter Ichinojo picked up right where he left off and continued flip-flopping between kachi koshi and make koshi. At the 2017 Kyushu Basho, Ichinojo scored double-digit wins for the first time in well over a year, when he finished the tournament with a 10-5 record and a gold star victory over Kisenosato. Building on his Bokh wrestling background, Ichinojo is a fierce belt wrestler, and his favorite grip is a right hand inside, left hand outside migi-yotsu. His preferred winning maneuver is the yorikiri forceout.


Ichinojo (left) vs. Ikioi (right), Aki Basho, 2017.


Links:
http://sumodb.sumogames.de/Rikishi.aspx?r=12107
http://www.sumo.or.jp/EnSumoDataRikishi/profile/3498/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ichinoj%C5%8D_Takashi

Who’s That Rikishi #11: Chiyonokuni Toshiki

Age: 27
Birth Name: Toshiki Sawada
Home Town: Iga, Japan
Stable: Kokonoe
Highest Rank: Maegashira 1

Chiyonokuni Toshiki was born the son of a Buddhist priest in the city of Iga, Mie Prefecture, Japan. As a child, he had a keen interest in martial arts and dreamed of becoming a professional rikishi. After graduating high school, Chiyonokuni entered Kokonoe Beya and began learning the art of sumo from former Dai Yokozuna turned Oyakata, Chiyonofuji. His first official tournament was the 2006 Nagoya Basho, where he recorded an impressive 6-1 record and secured a promotion to the Jonidan division. His Jonidan debut would have to wait, however, as an injury sidelined the young rikishi right before the Aki Basho, costing him his promotion. Returning to action in time for the 2006 Kyushu Basho, Chiyokuni won back his spot in Jonidan with another kachi-koshi and was well on his way to the Makushita division in mid-2007 when he was injured again and missed the Nagoya Basho. This would become something of a pattern for Chiyonokuni; getting ever so close to a promotion only to get hurt and have to start over again.

His fortunes changed in March of 2009 when Chiyonokuni returned from injury for the fourth time in his young career and took the Jonidan yusho. This victory marked the beginning of a hot streak for Chiyo, who quickly rose up through the ranks and established himself as a Makushita mainstay by March 2010. Following the match-fixing scandal, Chiyonokuni was elevated to the upper ranks of Makushita and eventually the Juryo division in early 2011, despite not posting spectacular records. Like many rikishi in his generation, he had become a benefactor of several top spots being vacated by rikishi involved in the scandal. One such disgraced rikishi was his fellow stablemate, Chiyohakuho. When asked about Chiyohakuho’s expulsion from the sport and his subsequent promotion as a result of the scandal, Chiyonokuni remarked that he didn’t know how to feel about the situation. Taking full advantage of the circumstances, the young man from Iga put together an impressive string of winning records that saw him break into the top Makuuchi division at the 2012 Hatsu Basho. His stay in the top division was short-lived, as a dislocated shoulder forced him to miss parts of Hatsu and Haru and all of the Natsu tournament. Chiyo returned to Juryo for the 2012 Nagoya Basho, where he took the yusho and soon won his way back to Makuuchi by November. Chiyonokuni spent the next two years in and out of the top division, until an injury at the 2014 Aki basho saw him withdraw from competition on day 8. This injury caused him to miss the following two tournaments, plummeting Chiyonokuni all the way back to the Sandanme division.

Unperturbed by this massive demotion, Chiyonokuni began his treck back to Makuuchi by taking the Sandanme division yusho with a perfect 7-0 record at the 2015 Haru Basho. This marked the beginning of an impressive comeback for the young rikishi, which culminated in his second Juryo championship in May of 2016 and a return to the Makuuchi division, where he has remained to this day. At the 2017 Natsu Basho, Choyonokuni debuted at a career-high rank of Maegashira 1. Despite picking up his first kinboshi victory over Yokozuna Kakuryu, the rest of the tournament was a disaster for Chiyo, and he finished with a dreadful 2-13 record. He bounced back from this poor performance with two consecutive kachi-koshi in July and September but failed to secure eight wins November. 2017 also marked a significant milestone in the life of Chiyonokuni, who married his longtime girlfriend Ai Hayashi, whom he met seven years prior. Chiyonokuni is primarily an oshi-zumo or “pusher-thruster” practitioner. Because of his relatively small size, he employs tsukiotoshi thrust downs and hatakikomi slap downs to take his larger opponents off their feet.


Chiyonokuni (left) vs. Kaisei (right), Aki basho, 2017.


Links:
http://sumodb.sumogames.de/Rikishi.aspx?r=6642
http://www.sumo.or.jp/EnSumoDataRikishi/profile/2938/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chiyonokuni_Toshiki