January 16, 2019

Only Japan-Born Sumo Grand Champion Retires: In January 2017, Kisenosato Yutaka became the first sumo wrestler born in Japan to attain the top rank of yokozuna in nearly 20 years. After an unprecedented string of eight straight losses, Kisenosato has retired from the sport at 32, leaving only Hakuho Sho and Kakuryu Rikisaburo of Mongolia at the grand champion rank. Yokozuna are expected to retire if they cannot maintain their level of performance. Japan Times writer John Gunning writes, "The great irony of course is that Kisenosato — the ultimate iron man over the first 15 years of his career, missing just a single bout out of 1,123 — fell apart physically upon reaching the mountaintop and was never able to properly enjoy the fruits of his labors."

posted by rcade to other at 11:35 AM - 3 comments

I have wanted to comment on this for a while, but things get in the way. I was a Sumo fan during my time in Japan, but since my last residency there in 1989, I have rather lost touch. I looked at the Wikipedia list of Yokozuna last night, and unless I read it wrong, the last Japanese born Yokozuna prior to Kisenosato was Wakanohana. I was really surprised to read that. Is there a reluctance on the part of young Japanese men to enter the Sumo life? If so, it is both regrettable and understandable. Regrettable because such an ancient part of Japanese culture must now be carried on by 'gaijin' (non-Japanese). Understandable because the Sumo life is not an easy one, and there have been some scandals within the Japan Sumo Association.

Concerning the list of Yokozuna, I question Wikipedia's accuracy. When I looked at the list of Sekiwake, Takamiyama's name (the hero as it were of most of us Americans living in Japan then) was omitted. He is correctly credited with the rank in his biography on Wikipedia.

Another thing about Wakanohana is that by Sumo standards he was nearly a midget. When I was following the sport closely, I don't recall him weighing much more than 130 kilograms (286 pounds). He had great upper body strength and powerful legs. The upper body strength was the result of a shoulder separation. In order to strengthen the shoulder, he began weight training, which was something that 'just wasn't done' by Sekitori in those days. Obviously it worked, but I don't know whether or not others have followed.

posted by Howard_T at 12:48 PM on January 18

I fell in love with sumo in the 1980s when I used GEnie. There was a small forum for people outside Japan who were interested. The only time I ever saw it was highlights on Today's Japan at nights on a PBS station.

That was a great time for the sport. A few Americans became yokozuna and there were still some other great champions.

When explaining the sport to someone doubting its appeal, I tell them to imagine that NFL linemen created a sport for themselves.

posted by rcade at 08:36 PM on January 18

I have felt sorry for Kisenosato since his promotion. Howard_T is right in that there has been no native-born Yokozuna since Wakanohana (III) was promoted in 1998. The next five after him have been either Americans (1--Musashimaru) or Mongolians (4). Mongolians in particular have dominated the upper echelons of sumo for the last fifteen or so years, to the point that the sumo associate has been overly eager for some time to promote a native Japanese. Kisenotsato turned into their "great white hope" and they promoted him at the first conceivable opportunity. In the end, I feel, the pressure to succeed and reclaim Japanese dominance in the sport was just too much for him.

posted by billinnagoya at 11:04 PM on January 18

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