Reader Content – An Interview With Aoiyama


Aoiyama - Daniel Ivanov
Daniel Ivanov – aka Aoiyama. Image from Radio Bulgaria


Reader and commenter Chankoman was kind enough to translate an interview with Aoiyama and post it in the comments section. But it’s a great interview, and it really sheds a lot of light on a rikishi who appears to be headed strongly up the banzuke once more. It was just too valuable to not share, so here is:

Reader Chankoman –

This is an interview with Aoiyama in may 2015 in his small hometown back in Bulgaria. A town, 20 minutes driving from my own hometown. Many things have changed, of course, he was asked if he considers marriage, where he is almost convinced that this does not seem to happen anytime soon. It turns out that he meets his wife shortly after this interview happens. There might be something new that you can learn.

Sourced from this video (link)

2015 interview with Aoiyama in his hometown

R (Reporter) A (Aoiyama)

R: Hello, Mr. Ivanov, welcome back home!
A: Good to be back.
R: How do they call you in Japan? By given name (Daniel), Aoiyama or …?
A: Aoiyama.
R: Aoiyama, even the common people in the society (not associated with Sumo)?
A: Yes, they call me with my Japanese name.
R: Let us remind our viewers, how did you end up in Japan, you actually started with wrestling, what happened that you ended up doing sumo?
A: I started doing wrestling while I was 11 years old, I started in Elhovo (his hometown), I trained for year and half and at the age of 13 I joined Sport Club CSKA. There, I continued wrestling for 6 years. During that time, in 2004, I took part in one Sumo World Championship for Juniors.It was then when I got very interested in sumo. After this Junior World Championship, I wanted to join the Sumo team, but there were too many people and I continued doing wrestling because I still wanted to do wrestling too. This continued to the year of 2006, when I enrolled the National Sport Academy’s sumo program. There I started preparing myself for World and European Championships. And so on, I think it was in 2007 when Kaloyan Mahlyanov (Kotooshu) came back in Bulgaria and people told me to meet him. He liked me as a wrestler.
R: So it was him (Kotooshu) who gave you a hand to enter sumo?
A: Yes, it was him and my sumo trainer back then in the National Sport Academy. We talked with him (Kotooshu), he told me “You can come and see what it’s like, and try.”. At first, I was scared because you go to such a different country, you don’t know what it’s like, and I know it has been hard for him too, far away from relatives, from everything. But time passed and in the year of 2009, I decided to go to Japan, it was April I think. And until now, 6 years and half, I am there.
R: Do you remember your first bout there?
A: Yes, I do remember.
R: What did you feel – fear, confidence …?
A: I was very determined to win. My first bout was with a Mongolian and I won. In my very first tournament, I had to do 3 bouts and I won them all. After that, they put us in the lowest divisions. After that, the amount of wins we have it determines how fast we rank up. I did it for 11 tournaments; a year and 10 months.
R: You were among the Rikishi who climbed up very fast in the ranks.
A: Yes, they told me I am the seventh fastest person to reach Komusubi from the beginning. This took me 18 tournaments. Kaloyan Mahlyanov (Kotooshu) reached Ozeki
or 18 tournaments, the second highest rank in sumo.
R: Which is the highest rank you ever reached?
A: The highest rank I reached was Sekiwake, the 3rd rank. It was 3 tournaments ago while I was still Sekiwake, I think. And because a small injury, my rank dropped. But this last tournament now in May, I have 9 wins and 6 losses so I will be in “okay” position. I hope to have more wins in the next tournament too.
R: What was the price for you to reach all this? Determination, confidence, working hard?
A: Yes, certainly. I had to forget about many things. This is how it is – you join a school (heya) and they tell you “From now on, you will be here.”. So I started living with these people, I do not speak Japanese, I do not know how people live there, I do not know how life goes on – what people eat, how do they train. And we start learning, like a young child.
R: The regime was very strict in the beginning?
A: It still is, but we get used.
R: But as you get a higher rank, you have more privileges?
A: Yes, you do not get to do some things anymore: no more cleaning, cooking, laundry. They clean, cook and do my laundry now.
R: How many helpers do you have now?
A: Four.
R: Every person does something specific, or they do it all together?
A: Usually, they have to do specific things, but whoever among the helpers have a higher rank he “supervises” them.
R: What do they help you with besides making your haircut?
A: About the haircut, we have a special hairdresser. We have 3 in our school (heya). 3 for 30 people. One haircut takes about 15 to 20 minutes.
R: What is different in the haircuts?
A: Well, the first haircut, which is an “everyday haircut” which they do after training is called “Chonmage”. The other one is called “Oicho”. Oicho symbolizes the Sun, they make it look like the Sun. This one takes about 40 minutes to make. And this is for every bout. One bout takes about 5 seconds.
R: It takes more time to have a haircut than a bout?
A: Yes.
R: Which was your longest bout?
A: My longest bout was with one Brazilian, his name is Kaisei. It took about 2 minutes.
R: This is a lot in sumo!
A: Yes, a lot. It was very exciting and I won. Luckily!
R: And the shortest? 5 seconds?
A: The shortest was 2 seconds, I think. We hit each other in the beginning and I pushed him out.
R: Do you have a favorite technique in sumo?
A: Well, when you look up my profile, it says which techniques I use the most. The first one is called Oshidashi, with both hands you push the opponent out of the dohyo.
R: Tell us something interesting about the Japanese culture, what impressed you the most there?
A: What impressed me the most … they are very compact. Everything is under the clock. When something has to happen, it happens in the exact time, everything is under control. There is nothing that can go wrong. That is how they do it. Everything, the lifestyle, the food, the training, everything is in the specific hour.
R: Not just the people who do sports?
A: No! Everything is like this.
R: Did you get used to their food?
A: Yes, I got used to the food. The lifestyle – so-so. While I was still in the school (heya) it was not comfortable because I had to live with 25 other men, mostly in one room. But since 6 months, I live alone, in a rent. Whenever I have to train – I go there, when I’m done – I go back home.
R: What do you tell to your teammates about Bulgaria?
A: Only good things. I am telling them how beautiful Bulgaria is. Now there are many Japanese who come here for tourism. When I go out (in Japan), I meet people who are telling me “I was in Bulgaria!”. So I ask them, “Did you like it?” and they all say “Yes!”. “Delicious food, beautiful nature, very welcoming people!”, that is what they tell me. We Bulgarian people are welcoming indeed, while the Japanese … not that much.
R: They are colder.
A: Not just colder, a lot colder in this regard.
R: Let us go back to the competition again. What is to happen next?
A: This year, we still have 3 tournaments remaining. My next tournament starts in July 12, in the city of Nagoya. September – in Tokyo and the last tournament for the year, in November in Fukuoka.
R: How long does one tournament last?
A: 15 days.
R: What do you need to achieve in order to rank up?
A: Out of 15 bouts, you need to win at least 8, a positive result. More wins, more ranking up. More the losses, the more you go down.
R: The best Rikishi in Japan, Hakuho. You have met him several times.
A: Yes. This is one of my dreams that I want to achieve and I will give my best to do it until the end of the year.
R: You will meet him in the next tournament?
A: Yes, we will have a bout next tournament, hopefully, if we are healthy.
R: Tell us about Kotooshu, about your friendship. He is not an active rikishi anymore, only a trainer.
A: Yes, he is co-trainer in his old school (heya) where he was as a competitor. He teaches the younglings to do better in sumo, and not only. He teaches them to be better people.
R: Can you change your school (heya)?
A: No. You start in one and you finish there. However, there are small exceptions like in my case. My first heya’s trainer (oyakata) passed away and the heya was abandoned. When this happens, the trainer’s wife decides which heya will all rikishi enter now. So it happened, I got transferred to the heya I am in right now.
R: Only in such cases, a transfer can happen?
A: Yes, only in such cases. Or if the trainer retires and the heya is abandoned if there is no other trainer who can continue taking care of the heya.
R: Do you still meet Kaloyan (Kotooshu)?
A: Yes! Now we meet a lot more, he has a bit more free time, I am not living in the heya. I have more time for myself, for friends.
R: How do you like to spend your free time, after the tournaments?
A: Usually we train all the time. After every tournament, (and they are 6 in total, every 2 months) we have one week vacation. What can you do for one week … You meet friends, you try to take a small break from sumo, from work. To refresh, like now I am in Bulgaria. For one week. It is a small amount of time, but I hope this will refresh me and give me some strength so I can perform better in the next tournament.
R: You met some young wrestlers here in our school. The same school where you started with wrestling. What did you tell them, what is important in sport?
A: Well, they are still young. They still take it as a game, I was just the same. One thing that improves the person is the will. The will to succeed. Everyone can say “I can’t do this.” and it is all over. When you can’t you have to start looking for a way to do it. This, by the way, I learned in Japan. When you can’t do it, start thinking for a way that will make it work. You should not be saying “I can’t do this”. This is the easiest escape. What is hard is to succeed.
R: What are your plans for far in the future, do you want to become a trainer?
A: Right now I am considering this, I was proposed to do it. Usually, few years before retirement a rikishi is asked if he wants to do it, to remain as a coach. They ask if I intend to do something else if I intend to go back to my home country … But to become a trainer (oyakata), I have to renounce my Bulgarian Citizenship. I must become Japanese. This is why I am still considering it. I don’t know what will happen … It’s a hard question.
R: How many years usually a rikishi competes?
A: Well, here is the thing, most people ask this question but the real answer is – until one feels fit. There is no age limitation. The more one can compete … I want to compete for many more years, God willing.
R: You feel fit?
A: Yes. I feel good.
R: You still have many peaks to conquer?
A: Yes, exactly. There are still more steps in the ladder.
R: Do you do anything before a bout, like a ritual?
A: Usually, whenever I win, for example, I remember what food I ate and the next day I eat the same food. If I win again, the same thing – I eat the same food. I do not really do it on purpose, this is just how my brain wants me to think – “If you do not eat this again you will lose!”. Or calling my parents – I call my parents and I win. If I do not call my parents – I lose. Something like this.
R: You have to call them every time!
A: Yes, I have to!
R: Now here in Bulgaria, as a Christian, do you believe in God, is there any force that helps you?
A: Yes, I do usually pray for the most important – not to have injuries, the tournament to end up with a good result and I pray for good health for my parents. If everyone is feeling well, doing well, this gives me strength.
R: How about your personal life, have you considered marriage, children …
A: Hm … they ask me all the time, but … I think I haven’t met the right person yet. One to stand beside me. I don’t know … When the right time comes.
R: How do you say in Japanese “Thank you for this interview.”?
A: Kono interviu wa arigato gozaimasu.
R: I will not be able to repeat it! Thank you, in Bulgarian!
A: Thank you too!
R: We hope you will keep up representing Bulgaria in the sumo!
A: Thank you, certainly!