Japan swelling with pride after sumo promotion

Japanese sumo wrestler Kisenosato holds a red sea bream as he sits beside the wife of his stablemaster at a ceremony yesterday after being promoted to the topmost rank of yokozuna. He is the first Japanese-born wrestler to earn the distinction since
Japanese sumo wrestler Kisenosato holds a red sea bream as he sits beside the wife of his stablemaster at a ceremony yesterday after being promoted to the topmost rank of yokozuna. He is the first Japanese-born wrestler to earn the distinction since Wakanohana in 1998.PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO • Japan's excruciating wait for a homegrown yokozuna, or sumo grand champion, ended yesterday when 30-year-old Kisenosato was promoted to the ancient sport's highest rank.

A first Emperor's Cup triumph at the weekend was deemed good enough for him to become the first Japan-born wrestler to reach the lofty perch since Wakanohana in 1998, although it took Kisenosato 73 tournaments to get there - longer than anyone since 1926.

"I accept with all humility," the 178kg Kisenosato said at a formal ceremony after being approved by the Japan Sumo Association (JSA). "I will devote myself to the role and try not to disgrace the title of yokozuna.

"I feel a sense of relief," added the native of Ibaraki prefecture, north-east of Tokyo, before posing for photos while holding up a giant sea bream - a traditional symbol of celebration in Japan. "I'm overwhelmed with gratitude for all the people who have helped me reach this point."

The sport has been plagued by a series of damaging scandals in recent years.

It had been without a Japanese yokozuna since Wakanohana's brother Takanohana retired in 2003 as local wrestlers have been unable to repel a flood of foreigners who have dominated since.

Former ozeki (champion) Kotoshogiku last year ended a 10-year wait for a Japanese Emperor's Cup winner, briefly raising local hopes, but failed to build on that momentum, much to the JSA's chagrin.

In recent years the sport has been dominated by wrestlers from Mongolia, Hawaii and Samoa.

Kisenosato's addition to the yokozuna ranks is expected to improve sumo's image, after a decade in which it has been rocked by scandals, including bullying, drug taking and allegations of match fixing.

Kisenosato joins three other wrestlers at the rank of yokozuna, all of whom were born in Mongolia: Kakuryu, Harumafuji and Hakuho.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 26, 2017, with the headline 'Japan swelling with pride after sumo promotion'. Print Edition | Subscribe