FAMOUS SUMO WRESTLERS
Chiyonofuji Top-ranked sumo wrestlers earn huge amounts of money through salary (from their associations not their stables), appearances and selling signed hand prints for as much as $8,000. But they could make more. Wrestlers usually don't do endorsements until after they retire and their tournament prizes usually go to the stable not the wrestler.
A yokozuna typically earns around $26,000 a month, plus prize money. The winner of a basho typically gets around $90,000. Most Japanese people have a favorite wrestler. But is uncool to like only an ozeki or a yokozuna because everyone likes them so most fans choose a lesser known wrestler as their favorite.
Contrary to what you might think, top sumo wrestlers are considered very sexy by many Japanese women. They often have beautiful wives or many girlfriends. According to a rumor in Korea, attractive young women marry sumo wrestlers because they hope the wrestler’s obesity will lead to an early death and the young women will inherit their money. Japanese claim this rumor isn't true.
After the retirement of Takanohana in 2003 all the yokozuna have been foreigners. As of summer 2009, foreign-born wrestlers had won 31 of the past 38 Emperor’s Cups since 2003. Japanese long for a Japanese yokozuna. When a Japanese wins a tournament its big news.
Websites and Resources
Taiho Links in this Website: SPORTS IN JAPAN (Click Sports, Recreation, Pets ) Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; SUMO RULES AND BASICS Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; SUMO HISTORY Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; SUMO SCANDALS Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; SUMO WRESTLERS AND SUMO LIFESTYLE Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; FAMOUS SUMO WRESTLERS Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; FAMOUS AMERICAN AND FOREIGN SUMO WRESTLERS Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; MONGOLIAN SUMO WRESTLERS Factsanddetails.com/Japan
Good Websites and Sources: Nihon Sumo Kyokai (Japan Sumo Association) official site sumo.or ; Sumo Fan Magazine sumofanmag.com ; Sumo Reference sumodb.sumogames.com ; Sumo Talk sumotalk.com ; Sumo Forum sumoforum.net ; Sumo Information Archives banzuke.com ; Masamirike’s Sumo Site accesscom.com/~abe/sumo ; Sumo FAQs scgroup.com/sumo ; Sumo Page http://cyranos.ch/sumo-e.htm ; Szumo. Hu, a Hungarian English language sumo site szumo.hu ; Books : The Big Book of Sumo by Mina Hall; Takamiyama: The World of Sumo by Takamiyama (Kodansha, 1973); Sumo by Andy Adams and Clyde Newton (Hamlyn, 1989); Sumo Wrestling by Bill Gutman (Capstone, 1995).
Sumo Photos, Images and Pictures Good Photos at Japan-Photo Archive japan-photo.de ; Interesting Collection of Old and Recent Photos of Wrestlers in Competition and in Everyday Life sumoforum.net ; Sumo Ukiyo-e banzuke.com/art ; Sumo Ukiyo-e Images (Japanese-language Site) sumo-nishikie.jp ; Info Sumo, a French-Language site with Good Fairly Recent Photos info-sumo.net ; Generic Stock Photos and Images fotosearch.com/photos-images/sumo ; Fan View Pictures nicolas.delerue.org ;
Images from a Promotion Event karatethejapaneseway.com ; Sumo Practice phototravels.net/japan ; Wrestlers Goofing Around gol.com/users/pbw/sumo ; Traveler Pictures from a Tokyo Tournament viator.com/tours/Tokyo/Tokyo-Sumo ;
Sumo Wrestlers : Goo Sumo Page /sumo.goo.ne.jp/eng/ozumo_meikan ;Wikipedia List of Mongolian Sumo Wrestlers Wikipedia ; Wikipedia article on Asashoryu Wikipedia ; Wikipedia List of American Sumo Wrestlers Wikipedia ; Site on British sumo sumo.org.uk ; A Site About American sumo wrestlers sumoeastandwest.com
In Japan, Tickets for Events, a Sumo Museum and Sumo Shop in Tokyo Nihon Sumo Kyokai, 1-3-28 Yokozuna, Sumida-ku, Tokyo 130, Japan (81-3-2623, fax: 81-3-2623-5300) . Sumo ticketssumo.or tickets; Sumo Museum site sumo.or.jp ; JNTO article JNTO . Ryogoku Takahashi Company (4-31-15 Ryogoku, Sumida-ku, Tokyo) is a small shop that specializes is sumo wrestling souvenirs. Located near the Kokugikan national sports arena, it sells bed-and bath accessories, cushion covers, chopstick holders, key chains, golf balls, pajamas, kitchen aprons, woodblock prints, and small plastic banks—all featuring sumo wrestling scenes or likenesses of famous wrestlers.
Great Sumo Wrestlers
Futabayama Taiho is considered by many to be the greatest sumo wrestler of all time. He was the youngest ever yokozuna, achieving the rank in 1961 at the age of 21, and won the Emperor's Cup a record 32 times before he retired in 1971. He won six consecutive tournaments twice and had many exciting matches with his rival Kashiwado, another yokozuna. Taiho and Futabayama share the record of eight perfect tournaments without a single loss. Taiho won 45 consecutive bouts in the autumn 1968 and spring 1969.
Chiyonofuji is one of best loved personalities in Japan and ranks with Taiho as one of the best sumo wrestlers ever. Nicknamed "The Wolf" because of his muscles and toughness, he is second place for total basho wins with 31. He won the Kyushu Basho eight years in a row (1981-88) and hold the record for most career wins (1,045) and top division wins (807). Chiyonofuji won 53 straight bouts in between May and December 1988. He is now a stablemaster.
Other all-time sumo greats include Futuyama (1912-1968), who won 12 bashos and won a record 69 consecutive bouts starting in 1936 when they were only two 15-day matches a year; Raiden, who won 254 bouts between 1789 and 1810; Kitanoumi, winner of 24 bashos; and Wajima winner of 21 bashos. Oshin competed in a record 1,891 bouts in his 26 year career (1962 to 1988). Aobajo competed in 1,631 consecutive bouts in his 22 year career (1964-86).
Futabayama won 69 straight bouts from the seventh day of the 1936 spring meet until he lost against Akinoumi on to the fourth day of the 1939 spring meet. Many have called his record unbreakable and comparable with Joe DiMaggio’s record 56-game hitting streak that still stands today in the Major Leagues. Futabayama’s record was set at a time when there were only two tournaments per year, as opposed to six as is the case today.
Takanosato became a yokozuna in 1983 despite suffering from diabetes. He won the Emperor’s Cup four time. He died at the age of 59 in 2011.
Other Famous Sumo Wrestlers
Chiyonofuji Mainoumi, one of the smallest wrestlers to make the top ranks, once had a four-centimeter implant placed in his head so that he could meet the height requirement for wrestlers. After the test, he had the implant removed. Mainoumi (whose name means "dancing tea") weighed only 220 pounds and relied on speed. He briefly wrestled in the highest ranks and once beat the yokozuna Akebono, who was about 2½ times Mainoumi’s size. Tereo was another small, dexterous wrestler. He fought until he was 39.
Other popular wrestlers include Mitoizumi, an over-the-hill wrestler known as salt shakers because he loves to toss big handfuls of salt in the ring; and Ichinoya, sumo’s oldest wrestler who retired at the age of 46 in 2007 after his 1,002 career bout. He wrestled mostly in the lower, unsalaried ranks.
Takamisakari was one of the most popular wrestlers in the 2000s. Know as Mr. Roboto or Robocop, he won fans with gritty wrestling and his strange get-psyched routine which included self chest pounding, face slapping, stomping, muttering incomprehensibly and thrusting his fists downward while looking like a frog groping for air. He used to punch himself in the face until his stablemaster told him to cut it out out of concern that he would give himself a concussion. His eyesight is so bad he barely see his opponents. Even so he refuses to get contacts or laser surgery. No one looks happier when they win or more dejected when they lose. He appears in television commercials for a popular brand of noodles.
Yamamotoyama, the second heaviest wrestler in sumo history, began wrestling in the top division in the late 2000s. Weighing 248 kilograms, he is kind of gross to look at—he has skin rashes and pimples all over his flabs of skin and flesh—but is well liked for his funny, weird comments like “Once a month I hear a voice from heaven saying, ‘Eat!’ then I can wolf down seven bowls.”
Taka and Waka Takanohana (“Noble Flower”) is regarded as one of the best sumo wrestlers of all time. He fought many memorable battles with Akebono and was the brother of another yokozuna, Wakanohana. He was forth on the all time list for most tournaments as a yokozuna (48) and championships (22). He also set a number of “youngest ever” records. When the he left sumo, the popularity of the sport plummeted.
Far and way the most dominate wrestler of the 1990s, he has won 794 matches (9th most in sumo history) and had 262 losses. In their prime he and his brother Wakanohana were treated like rock stars and arguably the most famous people in Japan.
Akebono told the Asahi Shimbun, Takanohana “gave sumo a face lift, a new image...Under the weight of expectations” he “propelled sumo into a new golden age. There will never be another wrestler like him. I was lucky to belong to the same generation.” No less than the Prime Minister of Japan, Junichiro Koizumi, said, “He was a great yokozuna. He was a strong yokozuna and fought his sumo in a serious manner. I believe he was an outstanding yokozuna who deeply affected many people.
Takanohana (known as Taka) comes from a line of Sumo wrestlers. Both his father an uncle were famous sumo champions (his father was an ozeki, his uncle, a yokozuna). His smaller but older brother by three years, Wakanohana, was also a yokozuna. Takanohana's father also fought under the name Takanohana. His uncle was named Wakanohana, the name taken by his brother. His mother was a beautiful actress. Takanohana’s and Wakanohana’s father, ozeki Takanohana I, died in 2005 . Their uncle yokozuna Wakanohana I, who won 10 Emperor Cups in his career, served as JSA chairman and died in 2010.
Takanohona joined a stable run by his father and mother shortly after finishing junior high school (he never attended high school). The media focused a great deal of attention on his battles and relationship with his brother. They were known as "Waka-Taka" and fought under their father in same stable. Although the two grew apart as adults, as teenagers they were shown clowning around and singing karaoke together. Fan enthusiasm and ticket sales were at their highest at the height of the Waka-Taka” era.
Takanohana's Sumo Record
Young Taka Waka and Taka booth turned professional in March 1988. They rarely fought each other because according to sumo rules members of the same stable don’t fight one another. Akebono emerged around the same time
Takanohana was the youngest wrestler to win promotion to juryo (17 years and two months), to win promotion to makuuchi (17 and nine months), the youngest to upset a yokozuna (18 and nine months), the youngest to win a tournament (19 and five months) and the youngest ozeki (20 and five months). On these achievements Takanohana had little to say other than “All I can do is do my best.”
Takanohana first made a name for himself when he manhandled and defeated the famous Chiyonofuji, which led to hasty retirement. He won match after match with his superb belt technique but was also aided by the fact he fought for the dominant stable, which at one time contained a quarter of the top 40 wrestlers, and didn’t have to fight any of them.
Takanohana became the third youngest yokozuna in history when he achieved the rank in January 1995 at the age only 22 after winning two bashos in a row with perfect 15-0 records.
Akebono and Takanohana
Takanohona and Musashimaru In the bashos that Akebono and Takanohana fought in together, Akebono tended to lose one or two matches to low-ranking wrestlers in the early going and faced off against Takanohana on the final day of the match for tournament championship, with Takanohana usually winning.
On Takanohana and Wakanohana, Akebono once said, "I feel that without those two brother, I wouldn't have been what I am today. Everyday when I first joined they were on the front pages of the sports papers. So I felt if I wanted to be on the front page I had to beat these two guys. I used to hang their pictures up where I slept and just stare at them every day."
Although, Takanohona won almost twice as many bashos as Akebono, the two wrestlers were 21 and 21 in head to head matches.
Taka on his
wedding day Takanohona was immensely popular in the early 1990s, but his popularity slipped after he was involved in separate scandals and his attitude seemed to sour. He had always been stoic and serious but he became even more that way after the scandals.
When Takanohana was 21 he became engaged to a young actress names Rie Miyazawa, who later dropped the sumo star on the same day he was elevated to ozeki, apparently due to differences between his family and hers.
Later Takanohana married a former TV newscaster, Keiko Kono, eights years his senior, at a wedding with $3.6 million party with foie gras, lobster and Matsuzka beef and 988 guests. Kono was pregnant with Takanohana's child when they were married. The couple now have a son and two daughters.
In July 1996, Takanohana was ordered by tax authorities to pay $1.14 million in back taxes and penalties. Like other big name sumo wrestlers he made huge amounts of money in appearance fees that were never reported to tax authorities.
End of Takanohana's Career
Takanohana, who retired in 2003 with 22 Emperor's Cups and 701 wins in the makuuchi division, was the most popular wrestler in the 1990s. He won his 22nd basho in dramatic fashion in May 2001. On the second-to-last day he lost to Musoyama and in the process went down hard and dislocated and tore ligaments in his knee. On the final day he showed up. He needed a victory over Musashimaru to win the basho. He lost badly, forcing a rematch to determine the championship, and went limping into the locker room. In rematch, Takanohana reached deep into himself to fend off Musashimaru thrusts and throw the big man down, with fierce grimace on his face, to win the match. It regarded as one the best matches of all time in sumo.
The victory was not without costs. Takanohana had to sit the next seven bashos after undergoing knee surgery in France and going through a long process or recuperation. He tried to come back. He went 12-3 and almost won the basho. In the next basho he had shoulder problems. He was forced out of the tournament after being beaten convincingly by a rank-and-file wrestler. He retired in January 2003 at the age of 30.
Takanohana was awarded the biggest ever pay out, ¥130 million, when he retired in 2003. In his retirement press conference he said, “Since I was on the doyhu at age 15, I’ve always loved sumo. But I had never thought that I would become a yokozuna—so I was delighted indeed.”
In January 2010, Takanohana was elected to the Japan Sumo Association Board of Directors in what was regarded as both a surprise and a shake up of the organization. Takanohama campaigned as a reformer and won by getting some stablemaster to leave a powerful faction and support him. By that time a stablemaster and a tournament judge, Takanohana promised to do tackle sumo’s problem and make the JSA more transparent and make sumo a required course in primary and middle schools but otherwise was vague about what he would do and how he would handle sumo’s old guard.
In July 2010, there were reports that Takanohana had dined and met with gangsters in June 2010 and in 2008. In October 2010, he and his wife were awarded ¥8.47 million in damages in a libel case that involved articles published by Shukan Gendau about match fixing and troubles related to inheritance from Takanohana’s father.
Waka Tries American Football Wakanohana (known as Waka) is Takanohana's older bother and stalemate. An immensely popular wrestler, he won his matches with his skill and strength rather than bulk. Weighing in at 130 kilograms, small by sumo standards, he reached the level of yokozuna in 1998 after winning back to back tournaments. In his career he won 5 bashos and had a record of 426 wins and 212 loses.
After Wakanohana became an yokozuna, he and Takanohana had a falling out and the two brothers refused to speak with one another. To avoid accidently crossing paths, they reportedly enlisted the help of other stalemates to act as scouts. The feud worsened in the fall of 1998 when Taka reportedly fell under the spell of svengali-like chiropractor.
Wakanohana was terrible as a yokozuna. After posting losing records in a couple of bashos he was forced to retire not long after be was named yokozuna. After retirement he tried his hand at other sports announcing and was terrible at that and then tried to make it as a nose guard on the Arizona Rattlers X-League American football team. He wasn't very good at that either.
Ozekis in Recent Years
Tochiazuma was a strong wrestler in the 1990s and early 2000s and reached the ozeki level despite being hampered by injuries. A member of the “Dragon generation” of wrestlers and the son of an ozeki, , he made his debut in 1994 and reached juryo as a 20 year old in 1996. Known fr cautious but efficient technique, Tochiazuma retired in May 2007, citing a lack of motivation. High blood pressure and signs of a stroke were important considerations in his decision.
Chiyotaikai Tochiazuma won his third Emperor’s Cup in January 2006. He was promoted to ozeki in November 2001 after posting three solid performances in a row. He won the New Year basho in January, 2002, beating Chiyotaikai in the final bout and then beating him again in a playoff. He also won in November 2003.
Kotomitsuki is 182 centimeters tall and weighs 156 kilograms. He was promoted to ozeki in July, 2007 after blowing his chance to win a basho with a loss on the last day. At 31 he was won of the oldest new ozeki on record. He was the first Japanese wrestler to be promote to the ranks since 2001. Of the three ozeki promotions before home, two were Mongolians and was Bulgarian. In the basho before his promotion he went 31-2 and was 35 and 10 in his previous three bashos. Kotomitsuki won a basho in September 2001. It was an incredible feat considering that he had made his debut on March, 1999.
Chiyotaikai is one of the top ozekis. A native of Hiroshima, he turned 32 in 2008 and became the longest reigning ozeki in the modern era, beating Takanohana’s mark of 51 tournaments. He had appeared in 57 bashos as of October 2008 and once was considered yokozuna material.
Chiyotaikai is 180 centimeters tall and weighs 152 kilograms. He won his third tournament in March 2003 (he also won in July 2001 and January 1999). He is former street punk and juvenile delinquent who was a frequent visitor to the local police station in his hometown before he became involved in sumo as a youth, which he credits with turning his life around. He is a member of Chiyonofuji’ stable. In his day Chiyonofuji was called the Wolf. Chiyotaikai means “Wolf Cub.”
Chiyotaiki retired in January 2010 at the age of 33. He made his professional debut in November 1992 and was promoted to ozeki in 1999. He won three tournaments in his career. He quit after starting a tournament 0-3 after he had been demoted to sekiwaki after competing in 65 tournaments as an ozeki.
Kaio clowning around Kaio is another top ozekis who was once considered yokozuna material. A native of Fukuoka in Kyushu, he is known for have a powerful right arm which he has used to shove out, knock down and dislocate the elbows of other wrestlers. He has an ideal sumo body—big butt and short legs—which give him a low center of gravity.
Kaio is 184 centimeters tall and weighs 171 centimeters. He made his debut in 1988 alongside the likes of future yokozuna Akebono and Takanohana, and advanced to the makuuchi divion in 1993. When he turned 36 in 2008 he attributed his victories to a reduction of his beer rations. He is very popular in Kyushu. Many believe he should have been a yokozuna. He probably would have been a yokozuna were it not for his chronic back problems.
Kaio won five Emperor Cups (September 2004, July 2003, July 2002 and two in 2001) and won 10 Outstanding Performance Awards and five Fighting Sports as of 2009. At the age of 36 he said he had no intentions of retiring despite his battered body.
In January 2010, Kaio became the winning-most sumo wrestler in the top makuuchi division when he won his 808th bout, breaking the record of 807 set by former yokozunu great Chiyonofuji. At the age of 37 Kaio is the oldest wrestle in sumo. He has 976 career wins, second on the all-time list, which includes low division wins, behind Chiyonofuji’s 1,045 career wins.
At the Osaka basho in March 2010 Kaio became first wrestler to appear in 100 tournaments in the makuuchi division. In Nagoya in July 2011 he tied Chiyotaikai’s record of 65 tournament appearances and broke legendary yokozuna Chiyonofuji’ all-time win record of 1,045. The battle-worn, injury-plagued wrestler endured a few losses before setting the record of 1,046 career wins on the fifth day and endured a few more losses before decided to pack it in and retire permanently from sumo.
Kaio was just a few days shy of his 39th birthday when he retired. After formally retiring he said, “I'm glad I chose to be in the sumo world and I've met a lot of different people and experienced things I would not have been able to in a different line of work...I fought hard to move up the rankings and was able to keep going so long because of the support I've had. I leave nothing behind. I might not have reached yokozuna or won the championship in front of my home fans in Kyushu but I've had a fulfilling career and have no regrets."
New Japanese Ozeki
At the Autumn Grand Sumo Tournament in September 2011 there were no Japanese in the top two ranks: yokozuna and ozeki. The last Japanese ozeki Kaio retired the previous summer. For the last Japanese yokozuna you have to go back to Takanohana who retired in 2003. As of September 2011, the one yokozuna was Mongolian and the ozekis were Mongolian, Bulgarian and Estonian.
In September 2011, the Japan Sumo Association promoted sekiwake Kotoshogiku to ozeki, making him the first Japanese in four years to reach sumo's second-highest rank. Kotoshogiku, 27, from Yanagawa, Fukuoka Prefecture, secured his promotion with a 12-3 record at the recent autumn basho. In a televised ceremony, Kotoshogiku said, "Seeking the state of 'banri ikku,' I will make efforts and work hard every day." The expression "banri ikku" was taken from an art-of-war book by sword master Miyamoto Musashi and describes the ultimate art of fighting as having a state of mind clear of indecision or complexities. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, September 29, 2011]
The last Japanese to reach ozeki was Kotomitsuki, who was promoted in 2007 after that year's Nagoya tournament. Estonian Baruto was the last wrestler to reach that rank, when he was promoted last year after the spring tournament in March. Kotomitsuki was forced to retire in 2010 because of his involvement in a baseball gambling scandal.
Born Kazuhiro Kikutsugi, Kotoshogiku made his debut on the dohyo when he was 17 at the New Year tournament in 2002. His ring name was Kotokikutsugi at the time. He was promoted to juryo in the 2004 Nagoya tournament and became a makuuchi division wrestler at the New Year tourney the next year. Weighing 174 kilograms and standing 1.79 meters tall, the new ozeki debuts as an ozeki at the Kyushu Grand Sumo Tournament in November.
New Ozekis in 2011 and 2012
In March 2012, Mongolian Kakuryu was promoted to ozeki, giving the national sport six active ozeki for the first time. Kakuryu, whose real name is Mangaljalav Anand, was in contention for the Emperor's Cup at the 2012 Spring Grand Sumo Tournament, but lost to yokozuna Hakuho in a thrilling playoff after both finished the 15-day meet with 13-2 records. Kakuryu was promoted to ozeki after his 62nd basho, which is the 10th slowest in history and tied with Kotokaze (currently stablemaster Oguruma), and the slowest among foreign rikishi who have reached the rank. Kakuryu is the sixth ozeki from the Izutsu stable. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, March 29, 2012]
In 2011 two Japanese wrestlers—Kotoshogiku and Kisenosato—were promoted to ozeki. In November 2011, when his new ranke was formally announced, Kisenosato was flanked by his new stable master and the former stable master's wife as he bowed deeply and accepted the promotion. Kisenosato proclaimed his acceptance by simply saying, "I humbly accept and will devote myself so as to not defile the Ozeki rank." Kisenosato becomes the second Japanese Ozeki promoted since Kaio's retirement, which left a vacancy of Japanese rikishi among the Ozeki and Yokozuna ranks for the first time in 18 years. Kisenosato first became a sekitori at the age of 17 years and 9 months. He was promoted to the Makuuchi division shortly thereafter at 18 years and 3 months making him the second fastest rikishi to reach those marks behind former Yokozuna Takanohana. But once in the Makuuchi division, many felt that Kisenosato was inconsistent never living up to his full potential. The 42 basho in the Makuuchi division it took for him to rise to Ozeki is the fifth slowest climb in history. [Source: Sumotalk, November 30 2011]
Mark Buckton wrote on Japan Times Online, “To some more comfortable with stats and pie charts, his 32 instead of "usual" 33 wins in the last three basho as a sekiwake meant he was being promoted unfairly. Others had won 32 but no talk of promotion was heard. In addition, talk of a sizeable dollop of sympathy apparently also helped following the sudden death of Kisenosato's stable master, Naruto Oyakata, just before the tournament. [Source: Mark Buckton, Japan Times Online, November 30, 2011]
To others, the quality of his sumo of late, and his consistency over the last year, were more important points to consider. And it was this factor alone that saw him judged worthy of serving in the sport's second highest rank. Indeed, when looking at this aspect of his rise to ozeki, his 60 wins in 90 bouts over the past 12 months is a record bettered only (by those already ozeki) by Baruto (62-28), and the Sadogatake Beya fighter, Kotoshogiku (64-26). Kotoshogiku was himself promoted following the September tournament. Over the same time frame, the remaining ozeki pair of Harumafuji and Kotooshu trail Kisenosato by 12 and 20 wins respectively, having had a rather dismal year overall. [Ibid]
Image Sources: Sumo Forum, Sumo Page, Japan Zone, Japan-Photo.de
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
© 2009 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated January 2013