Legends of the Dohyo #3: The Peerless One


Raiden2

Throughout sumo’s long and storied history, there have emerged several men whose exceptional skill on the dohyo has led them to be considered the greatest of all time. Taiho, Chiyonofuji, Takanohana II, Asashoryu, Hakuho. These are all sekitori whose status as the best of the best has been hotly debated even to this day. Yet there is one man from sumo’s distant past who may overshadow them all. A rikishi whose sheer dominance elevated him to the status of legend. The mighty thunderbolt, Raiden Tameemon.

Like many legends, this story has humble beginnings. Born Seki Tarokichi in 1767, the man who would one day be known as Raiden Tameemon grew up in a small village in Shinano province. Even in his youth, Tarokichi’s strength was already considerable, and his father enrolled him in sumo classes in a nearby village when he was fourteen years old. During a 1784 jungyo tour of Shinano, the young Tarokichi impressed the visiting stablemaster of Urakaze beya with both his strength and extraordinary height. Standing over six feet tall he was considered a giant compared to his fellow countrymen. Tarokichi was invited to train at Urakaze stable in Edo (modern-day Tokyo) where he honed his sumo techniques. His time at Urakaze would be short-lived, and he would soon begin training at Isenoumi beya under Tanikaze Kajinosuke, sumo’s fourth Yokozuna and the first to hold the position while still living.

In 1790, Tarokichi would make his professional debut at the winter tournament under his new shikona of Raiden, which roughly translates to “thunderbolt”. He would finish his first basho with the best record of all rikishi who had participated, including his teacher Tanikaze and the fifth Yokozuna Onogawa Kisaburo. In 1795 Raiden would attain the rank of Ozeki, a position he would hold for seventeen years. Of the thirty-five tournaments he would enter, Raiden would emerge victorious on twenty-eight occasions*. Of these victories, seven were won without a single loss**, giving the Thunderbolt a record winning percentage of 96%. His supremacy on the dohyo became so renowned that the Sumo Association began limiting the techniques he could use in an attempt to keep his matches more exciting and less one-sided.

Despite dominating sumo for two decades, Raiden would never attain the prestigious rank of Yokozuna, retiring as an Ozeki at the age of 44. There have been many theories as to why he was never awarded the title, the most likely of which involving his strained relationship with the Yoshida clan. At the time, only the Yoshida clan held the authority to issue official Yokozuna licenses. It has been hypothesized that Raiden was denied a license due to his ties to the Tokugawa Shogun, whose regime was deeply opposed by Yoshida. Despite never being granted the rank of Yokozuna, In 1900 his name was inscribed on the Yokozuna Stone at Tomioka Hachiman Shrine, with the only title befitting his tremendous impact on sumo: “Peerless Rikishi” Raiden Tameemon.

* These are not considered official victories as the current yusho system did not come into effect until 1909.
**Although Raiden did not suffer any defeats during these tournaments, several of his matches ended in draws where the winner could not be decided definitively.

Links
http://sumodb.sumogames.de/Rikishi.aspx?r=3143
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raiden_Tameemon
Sumo Matchup Centuries in the Making

Legends of the Dohyo #2: Paving the Way


Takamiyama3

 

When one looks at the current banzuke, they are sure to find rikishi from all over the world. There are the Mongolians such as Hakuho and Terunofuji, Egypt’s Osunaarashi, the Bulgarian Aoiyama, and Wakaichiro from the United States. Foreign rikishi have become commonplace in Japan’s national sport, but for the vast majority of its existence, sumo was exclusively for those of Japanese heritage. That is, until Takamiyama Daigoro blazed a trial that countless rikishi around the globe have followed to this very day.

Takamiyama Daigoro, birth name Jesse Kuhaulua, was born on the Hawaiian Island of Maui in 1944. Even in his youth, he was known for his enormous size, standing over 6 feet tall and weighing nearly 300 pounds. Despite his impressive stature, he suffered from weak legs and hips as a teenager. He was encouraged by his high school football coach to join a local sumo club to strengthen his lower body. Takamiyama soon caught the attention of several professional rikishi visiting Hawaii from Japan, and in 1964 he accepted an invitation to join Takasago beya. At the 1968 Haru basho, Takamiyama became the first foreign-born rikishi to be promoted to the Makuuchi division. He would go on to have a long and successful career in sumo’s top division, spanning 17 years and a record 97 consecutive tournaments. This record for most consecutive basho as a sekitori would stand for twenty-five years until it was surpassed by Ozeki Kaio Hiroyuki in 2009. Although not the most technically proficient rikishi, Takamiyama’s size and strength made up for what he lacked in skill. He regularly used his power to push his way to victory, and on many occasions would merely lift his opponents up and out of the dohyo.

In addition to his success on the dohyo, Takamiyama became a celebrity throughout Japan. His massive size, bushy sideburns, and jovial personality made him incredibly popular with fans, and he regularly appeared in advertisements until it was banned by the Sumo Association. The crowning achievement of his career came at the 1972 Nagoya basho when Takamiyama became the first foreign-born rikishi to win a yusho. To congratulate him on his victory, President Richard Nixon sent a letter that was read aloud after the presentation of The Emperor’s Cup. This would mark the first time English was ever spoken on the dohyo. In addition to his yusho, Takamiyama was awarded 11 sansho special prizes and earned 12 kinboshi victories throughout his career.

In 1982, Takamiyama was given a heroes welcome when he returned to Hawaii. During this trip, he met a young Saleva’a Atisano’e, later known as Konishiki Yasokichi. This meeting would inspire the future first non-Japanese Ozeki to begin his sumo career. In 1984, at the age of 39, a debilitating elbow injury forced Takamiyama to end his career. Having become a Japanese citizen, he joined the Sumo Association and started his own stable, Azumazeki beya, the first foreigner to do so. His most promising student, Chadwick Rowan, would go on to become Akebono Taro, sumo’s first foreign-born Yokozuna. With his fighting days now behind him, Takamiyama would pass the torch to his fellow Hawaiians, Konishiki and Akebono, both trailblazers in their own right. They would, in turn, pass the torch to a generation of rikishi from across the globe, each of whom owes a debt to their forerunner, Takamiyama, the man who paved their way.



Links:
http://sumodb.sumogames.de/Rikishi.aspx?r=4050
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Takamiyama_Daigor%C5%8D

Legends of the Dohyo #1: The Unbreakable Record


Futabayama

In the world of sport, there are a select number of records so substantial, set by athletes who transcended their sport, that they are considered unbreakable. Wayne Gretzky’s 2,857 career points, Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hit streak, Cal Ripken Jr.’s 2,632 consecutive games played. All great records, all thought to be unbreakable. Yet there is one record that may genuinely never be bested: Yokozuna Futabayama Sadaji’s 69 consecutive wins.

At the age of fifteen Futabayama entered the world of sumo, making his Makuuchi debut five years later in 1932. His meteoric rise up the banzuke from mid-Juryo to Meagashira 4, an unusually large promotion, was the result of many of the sports top stars going on strike due to demands for reform within the Sumo Association. Desperate for talent, The Association put their faith in the young Futabayama. Their faith was well founded, and it did not take long for him to find success in the top division. In March of 1936 Futabayama won his first yusho at the rank of Sekiwake with a perfect 11-0 record. As a result of his impressive zen-yusho victory, Futabayama was awarded the rank of Ozeki for the following tournament. As an Ozeki, he would go on to win both bashos in 1937* with perfect zensho-yusho records and became the sports 35th Yokozuna.

At this point in his career Futabayama had garnered a great deal of public attention. Spectators eagerly attended tournaments to see just how long the Yokozuna could stretch his winning streak. Capitalizing on this popularity, the Sumo Association extended the number of days each basho ran from 11 to 13 and eventually to the 15-day tournaments we see today. Futabayama would continue his winning ways with an additional two zensho-yusho in 1938. His streak would come to an end on the eighth day of the 1939 Haru basho when Futabayama, who was ill with dysentery, was finally defeated by future Yokozuna Akinoumi Setsuo. Although his undefeated record had been capped at 69 victories, Futabayama continued to find success in his career. He would go on to win another six more yusho and would open his own stable in 1941 while still an active rikishi, an act now forbidden by the Sumo Association. After his retirement in 1945, Futabayama revealed that he had been robbed of his sight in one eye as a child, making the incredible achievements throughout his career even more impressive.

Since setting the record for most consecutive wins, many other great Yokozuna such as Taiho and Chiyonofuji have tried and fallen short of surpassing Futabayamas most enduring legacy. In 2010, Yokozuna Hakuho became the closest in modern time to breaking the record. Believing himself to have been born to eclipse Futabayama’s achievement, Hakuho fell just six wins short of drawing even with his Yokozuna predecessor. If the greatest rikishi of our time could not overcome Futabayama’s record 69 consecutive wins, Then it can truly be said to be unbreakable.

*During the late 1930’s and early 1940’s only two basho were held each year



Links:
http://sumodb.sumogames.de/Rikishi.aspx?r=3763
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Futabayama_Sadaji