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.

Legends of the Dohyo #6: Holy Grail

Futabayama Yusho
Futabayama, 1939

In January of 2015, Yokozuna Hakuho Sho made history when he won his thirty-third Emperors Cup, surpassing a record established by the legendary Yokozuna Taiho Koki over forty years prior. When he accepted his 32nd championship and drew even with Taiho one basho prior, Hakuho stated that the god of sumo had blessed his efforts on the dohyo. Blessed indeed, as he is one of only a select few to have ever amassed over thirty yusho, and even fewer have one to their name. It is the dream of all rikishi to one day win the yusho and lift the Emperors Cup, the holy grail of Japans national sport. Despite being the most prestigious, sought-after prize in all of sumo, the Emperor’s Cup simply did not exist for much of the sport’s history. Even the concept of the yusho, Japanese for victory, has only been a part of sumo for a third of its existence.

The evolution of the yusho we know today was long and gradual, and dates as far back as the seventeenth century. Before this time, many of the men who defined the pre-yusho era of sumo, such as Onogawa Kisaburo, Raiden Tameemon, and Inazuma Raigoro, received no official championships or recognition besides credit for having the best record of their respective basho. The first semblance of a yusho or prize in sumo is found in the Edo period, when onlookers rewarded their favorite rikishi for winning bouts by by throwing  gifts of money onto the dohyo. Over time, these gifts transformed into more organized prizes and trophies provided for each basho by private financiers and awarded to the rikishi with perfect records. However, as Hikiwake (draws), Azukari (Decisions too close to call), and absences were not considered loses during this period, the rikishi with the most wins was not always awarded the tournament prize. It was also common in this period for several rikishi with identical records to be declared the champion of a basho and receive rewards for their efforts, as playoffs would not be introduced until much later.

Around the turn of the century, in January of 1900, this old system underwent a major change when the Osaka Mainichi Shinbun newspaper company offered a kensho-mawashi as a prize for the rikishi with a perfect record or the fewest losses at the upcoming basho. This development would establish the concept of a singular champion for each basho. The first tournament to declare an official yusho champion was the 1909 summer basho, when Maegashira 7 Takamiyama Torinosuke defeated Ozeki Tachiyama Mineemon. While the system of an individual basho champion was begging to take form, there were still some key differences when compared to sumo today. The most significant of these differences was the protocol for breaking ties. There were no playoffs in sumo during this era, and in the case of two men having identical records, the yusho was awarded to the rikishi with the higher rank. Playoff rules would be incorporated into sumo in 1947 after several controversial decisions saw Higher ranked rikishi being chosen over men below them without consideration for the circumstances of the basho. One such controversy involved Ozeki Hitachiiwa Eitaro receiving the yusho over Meagashira Misugiiso Zenshichi, despite one of his wins coming by default.

The final piece of the modern yusho structure came in 1925 when Crown Prince Hirohito donated a trophy, called the Prince Regent’s Cup, to be awarded to the yusho winner of each basho. Upon Hirohito taking his place on the Chrysanthemum throne in 1926, the trophy was renamed the Emperors Cup, and has remained the physical embodiment of the yusho ever since. From humble beginnings of monetary gifts showered upon rikishi from the common folk, the concept of a yusho unfolded gradually, eventually evolving into a splendid trophy from the highest lord in all the land, the Emperor himself. The yusho has become a milestone achievement, a career-definer, and the holy grail that every rikishi strives for each and every day.

Legends of the Dohyo #5: A Family Divided Part Two

Takanohana Wakanohana

Part One

By the early 90’s, Takanohana II and Wakanohana III, the young princes of sumo, were poised to dominate the future of the sport. They emerged at the forefront of a new generation of talent and had already amassed several awards and accolades, adding to those of their legendary father and uncle. The Hanada family dynasty had never looked stronger. Held up as the model of a perfect Japanese family, few could have predicted their downfall.

For much of their early careers, the Hanada brothers were considered near equals. As time went on, however, it was becoming clear that the bigger and stronger Takanohana was eclipsing his elder brother. In 1994, Takahanohana took four of the year’s six yusho and earned a promotion to the sports highest rank of Yokozuna, while Wakanohana suffered from injuries and remain out of yusho contention for the majority of the mid 90’s. The elder Hanada brother briefly stepped out of his sibling’s shadow at the 1995 Kyushu basho, where he won the yusho in a sudden death play-off against Takanohana. This bout would mark the first, and only time the two brothers ever competed against each other, due to rules forbidding siblings and stablemates from facing off outside of playoffs. In commenting about losing to his own brother, Takanohana stated that he “couldn’t come to terms” with the outcome of the match. Never the less, He carried his brothers yusho-ki banner as Wakanohana celebrated with fans. The first cracks in their relationship began to surface in 1998 when Takanohana developed a liver disorder. To combat this disease, the young Yokozuna consulted with physical therapist Tashiro Tomita. Tomita had a significant impact on Takanohana. In following his therapist’s teachings, Takanohana began to seclude himself from his family. This caused great concern for his father, who believed Tomita was brainwashing his son. During this time, Wakanohan finally managed back to back yusho wins and became sumo’s 66th Yokozuna. Despite making history by becoming the first brothers ever to be Yokozuna simultaneously, Takanohana and Wakanohana scarcely spoke to each other. Although Takanohana eventually reconciled with his family, this had opened the eyes of the world to the underlying issues that afflicted their perceived perfect family.

By the early 2000’s, both brothers had retired from sumo due to persistent injuries. While Wakanohana sought a career first in American football and later as a chanko-nabe restauranteur, Takanohana remained in the sumo association, taking over his father’s prestigious stable. Upon the death of their father in 2005, the Hanada family was divided by an incredibly bitter and public dispute between the two former Yokozuna. As an active member of the association, Takanohana demanded that he be the chief mourner at his father’s funeral, and not his older brother who had left the sumo world to chase fame and celebrity. Rumours also circulated that their quarrel was the result of uncertainty regarding the late Takanohana I’s estate, as he left his children no will.  Although Wakanohana did not give into his brothers demand to be cheif mourner, he did forfiet his claim to their father’s estate. Giving up his inheritance would not be enough to make peace with Takanohana, and from that point on the two brothers became like strangers, rarely if ever speaking to one another.  The once mighty Hanada dynasty, who had ruled the sumo world for nearly five decades, had been shattered.


 

Takanohana (left) vs. Wakanohana (right), Kyushu basho, 1995.


 

Legends of the Dohyo #4: A Family Divided Part One

Takanohana Wakanohana 2

Sports have a unique power to bond and connect us. New friendships begin on rinks, courts, and fields all over the world, and many a companion has been made cheering for the home team. Even the bond between siblings can be strengthened by a shared love of sports, and the storied history of athletics is full of brothers competing side by side, and sometimes, against each other. Competition drives us to become better, to push each other to new successes. But just as it can strengthen us, competition and the will to succeed can turn family into foe and tear the bonds of brotherhood apart. Such is the case of the Hanada brothers, Takanohana II and Wakanohana III.

The Hanada brothers were born into sumo royalty. Thier uncle, Yokozuna Wakanohana Kanji, was one of the most popular rikishi of the 1950’s. Nicknamed the devil of the dohyo, he had a prosperous career spanning twelve years and ten yusho championships. Wakanohana I opened the highly successful Futagoyama beya upon his retirement in 1956. One of his most promising students was his own younger brother, Ozeki Takanohana Kenshi. Although Takanohana never went on to reach the rank of Yokozuna, he was incredibly popular with fans throughout the 1970’s. Like his older brother before him, Takanohana would open his own stable (Fujishima beya) in 1982. After a successful junior high sumo career, Takanohana’s youngest son Koji joined his father’s stable in 1988. Not wanting to fall behind, he was soon joined by his older brother Masaru, and the two began to train together. Heya life would be an adjustment for the two brothers. When addressing their father, they were instructed to use the traditional name of oyakata, and they lived alongside their fellow rikishi in the stable, performing all the duties of rookies, regardless of their lineage.

Koji and Masaru adopted the shikona of Takahanada and Wakahanada respectively, and made their debut in March of 1988 alongside future rival Akebono. They made quick progress through the lower ranks amid much fanfare, as it was believed by many that the two “princes of sumo” were destined to continue their family’s prestigious legacy. Both earned promotions into the Maegashira rank in 1990, and by 1993 the brothers had become sumo superstars. With a combined four yusho and six jun-yusho, the brothers were widely credited for the sport’s restored popularity. 1993 also saw both men earn ozeki promotions, with Takahanada’s coming in March and Wakahanada receiving his in September. With these promotions the two were permitted to adopt the shikona of their father and uncle, officially becoming Takanohana II and Wakanohana III. Within six years, the Hanada brothers had taken the sumo world by storm, yet their greatest achievements and most challenging trials were still ahead of them.

End of part one.


Takahanada (left) vs. Chiyonofuji (right), Natsu basho, 1991.