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On the verge of breaking sumo's all-time record, Hakuho ponders his long-term future

27 Comments

On Nov 23, the final day of the Kyushu Grand Sumo Tournament, Yokozuna (Grand Champion) Hakuho defeated fellow Mongolian rival Kakuryu to take the championship with a record of 14 wins and one defeat. The win marked his 32nd tournament victory, tying him for the all-time lead with the late Taiho, who retired in May 1971.

Invited to address the TV audience in the awards ceremony that followed, Hakuho first spoke to his parents and fellow countrymen in the Mongolian language. Then switching to Japanese, reports Shukan Post (Dec 12), he remarked that his results came about "as recognition by the gods of sumo of his having embraced the spirit of Japan," and praised the spirit of Toshimichi Okubo, one of the important nobles of the Meiji Era, whose policies helped Japanese to protect their traditional culture. Then he said, "Concerning this, I am grateful to his majesty, the Emperor."

But all this lavish praise, suggests Shukan Post (Dec 12), may carry an ulterior motive.

"Hakuho is seeking to became a stablemaster while keeping his Mongolian nationality," a person with close ties to the sumo world tells the magazine.

Under the Japan's Sumo Association's current system, a grappler must obtain one of a limited number of "toshiyori" shares in that entitle him to operate a stable, serve as a judge and so on. The number of shares are fixed, and the by-laws limit share ownership to Japanese citizens, with no exceptions.

In the past, when foreigners seldom attained high rankings in the sport, this rule was never an issue. But then came former Sekiwake (junior champion) Takamiyama (the former Jesse Kuhaulua of Hawaii), who operated Azumazeki Stable until his retirement in 2009. Another Yokozuna, Musashimaru, who had been born in American Samoa, took Japanese nationality and last year inherited the position of master of Musashigawa Stable. More recently, retired Ozeki (Champion) Kotooshu of Bulgaria became a Japanese citizen and was allowed to become a provisional sumo coach under a special dispensation in recognition of his outstanding record.

Hakuho is married to a Japanese woman, and has expressed the desire to remain in Japan and operate his own stable after retirement. It was assumed he would follow his foreign predecessors and obtain Japanese nationality. But his apparent change of heart came as a surprise, leading Shinji Hattori, Chairman of the Shonan Bank and a member of Hakuho's support group, to sigh, "Hakuho has completely changed. Recently when he reaches out to accept the 'kensho' (cash prizes handed to the wrestler after winning a bout), he does it in a sloppy manner not befitting the dignity of his yokozuna rank...I'm worried about him."

"Now that Hakuho's on the verge of surpassing Taiho's record, perhaps because he knows he's the strongest, he's becoming something of a 'tengu' (self-conceited person)," another backer, hospital director Kozo Tamba, was quoted as saying. "He doesn't accept helpful suggestions and I've heard he disregards Miyagino oyakata, his stablemaster, who only reached the rank of maegashira (rank and file) during his own career. He can't control Hakuho any more."

The writer suggests one possible explanation for Hakuho's change in attitude may be due to the autumn 2013 Grand Tournament, when fans issued "Banzai!" cheers for arch-rival Osaki Kisenosato. In Hakuho's view, this showed "rokotsu na sabetsu" (undisguised bias) against him on the part of Japanese fans.

"Last summer, before his wife's pregnancy could be announced by his support group, a sports newspaper jumped the gun and reported that she was expecting," a reporter reveals. "After that, he showed a hostile attitude toward reporters, and brushed off their questions. He even stuck out his tongue at one reporter. The atmosphere around him's become tense."

It shouldn't be surprising that confrontations with Japanese may also reinforce Hakuho's identity as a Mongolian. And he's also under pressure from the Mongolian side.

"His father is revered as a hero for being the first citizen of that country to take an Olympic medal, which he won in wrestling at the Mexico City Olympiad in 1968, and Hakuho may feel concern over the possible backlash of his naturalizing as a Japanese," a sumo journalist tells the magazine.

Now-retired Mongolian wrestler Kyokushuzan, a respected "sempai" (senior), believes that having Hakuho as a stablemaster would become a "huge asset" to the sumo world. "Yes, sumo's rules should be followed," he concedes. "But I think the time is coming when the sumo world must consider what will be most advantageous for itself."

© Japan Today

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27 Comments
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*BS...even if he takes Japanese citizenship the people will still see him as being Mongolian. That goes for any and all foreigners who make the choice to become citizens here. Your "blood" isn't Japanese so you can't be Japanese.

The citizenship issue is BS.*

I totally agree. My hat's off to Hakuho for being hesitant/declining to take Japanese citizenship.

I don't know how many times back in my heyday here in Japan people would suggest to me "why not just become Japanese?" And how "you speak Japanese better than Japanese do" or you can use chopsticks better than Japanese do...." Yeah, right. When I finally came down out of the "in love with Japan wonderland" I realized I would never be accepted as one of them. More power to you, Hakuho!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Completely agree with BNlightened. The Asashoryu-Hakuho rivalry was truly the peak of sumo, two of the best of all time at their prime going head to head, tournament after tournament. Asashoryu effectively getting kicked out sumo after an intensive smear campaign, simply because his off-the-dohyo "attitude" (as played up in the media) rubbed Japanese the wrong way.

As a long-time sumo fan (and Japan fan in general) his forced removal was really the point that disheartened me on Japan as a whole. Is was so indicative about the entrenched problems of this society regarding foreigners on so many levels.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Hakuho is where he is now is because the Japan Sumo Association assassinated Asashoryu's character and literally forced him to retire.

Me thinks you have a turned a blind eye to some of the crap that Asashoryu pulled too. He thumbed his nose at the sumo association and lied about his health and injuries too.

Asashoryu is as much to blame for his down fall as anyone.

Hakuho is where he is today BECAUSE he made the choice to play by the rules here and THAT ticks of traditionalists who think that only Japanese can do what he has done.

It's nice to see in a way that the traditions of Japan are being upheld by a foreigner and that the Sumo association is going to have a crap load of egg on their face when Hakuho breaks the record.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Quite interesting a lot of these great sportsmen were haafu

0 ( +0 / -0 )

He can always go on a diet

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Hakuho ponders his long-term future

Diabetes, Heart failure, kidney disease, hypertension, stroke and maybe not that long.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Sumo is throwing itself out of the doyo with this shenanigans. Change (at least a little) or go under. Face it Japan, there are fewer and fewer japanese champions.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Not to detract from his clearly superior wrestling, but one of the main reasons Hakuho is where he is now is because the Japan Sumo Association assassinated Asashoryu's character and literally forced him to retire. With several years more of Asashoryu, both Yokozunas would have probably split the championships between them, thus ensuring Saint Taiho's record, so the Japanese did it to themselves!

Man, that rivalry was one of the greatest ever in the sport, bar none, and to his last tournament (which I had the pleasure of watching), Asashoryu was WINNING championships.

But seriously, if Hakuho goes on to become the sumo wrestler with the most championships in history, and the Japanese petulantly refuse to grant him the right to train wrestlers...there's something seriously rotten with the so-called "National Sport!"

4 ( +4 / -0 )

I still can't get over how the Japanese media will gush over Japanese soccer players succeeding in the Premier League or Serie A or baseball players in the major leagues, but can't see that, with Japan being the center of the sumo world, aspiring wrestlers will come here because this is where the world class competition is. They should actively be cheering international wrestlers on -- each one only proves that Japanese sumo is the ultimate level of sumo.

If sumo ever got really big worldwide and another country (Mongolia, say) set up a sumo league which was open to the whole world, and that league started getting more attention than the venerable Japanese bashos, what do you think the Japanese media's reaction would be?

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Hakuho is a beast. Its so regrettable that Asashoryu quit when he did thoguh. Would've loved to see more epic matches between the two.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

It is all about respect. Becoming a Japanese citizen as others have done would be a very respectable thing to do.

BS...even if he takes Japanese citizenship the people will still see him as being Mongolian. That goes for any and all foreigners who make the choice to become citizens here. Your "blood" isn't Japanese so you can't be Japanese.

The citizenship issue is BS.

9 ( +9 / -0 )

That is a sad commentary on Japanese "sportsmanship" and the "great" Sadaharu Oh and the irony is Oh is half Taiwanese. but Japanese are good at claiming "halfu" as ther own when it suits them.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I need to go see a tournament before he retires.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

The "take down" has begun -- thus this article!

2 ( +3 / -1 )

It is all about respect. Becoming a Japanese citizen as others have done would be a very respectable thing to do.

-6 ( +0 / -6 )

Stangerland: "Do you have anything whatsoever to support this argument."

Look at the fact that any of what's news above is news, and how they're already jockying to discredit Hakuho where they can. Yes, plenty to support it -- called experience here.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

Yes, I'm quite surprised a sumo version of Oh Sadaharu has reared its ugly head yet. It's a shame that he is pressurized into giving up his nationality to achieve his dream. He's not trying to become a politician.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

He'll beat the record, but they'll make up some nonsense rule that if he doesn't take Japanese nationality he can't officially be declared such-and-such and so the old Japanese record will still stand.

Do you have anything whatsoever to support this argument.

-7 ( +1 / -7 )

He'll beat the record, but they'll make up some nonsense rule that if he doesn't take Japanese nationality he can't officially be declared such-and-such and so the old Japanese record will still stand. You have to love how the media is already trying to distance Hakuho from 'being Japanese' when he accepts money and/or talks to them. I know a couple of old codgers who absolutely love sumo and they can't hold back their disgust at how the sport is 'being overrun with gaijin', etc.

The bottom line is that if this man wins and Japan will not accept him, as he is, as the greatest of all time without him naturalizing, it only means the Japan element of the sport is a farce and they simply cannot compete. Period. They need to step up and realize that Sumo needs to change and adapt, letting some of the 'no exception' rules go, or the sport needs to die and be but a memory, with the knowledge that the Japanese Sumo Association LET it die.

0 ( +7 / -8 )

The next few basho should be extremely interesting, to say the least. Go Hakuho !

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Oh himself was half Chinese which makes his managerial decisions even more repellent. And it makes any Japanese attempts to preserve such 1/2 records somehow more pathetic IMO. Not that I trust Kuchikomi to tell me much of anything. All that said, I miss Asashoryu and actual rivalry. Hakuho is dominant b/c his fellow yokozuna as well as the so-called ozeki are a joke.

6 ( +6 / -1 )

Taiho, who was half Russian and born in Sakhailin (while under Japanese control) also encountered prejudice for not being "pure" Japanese. But upon his retirement the association give him his own share, making it unnecessary for him to purchase one. (It could not be sold or transferred.) Taiho was also on track to surpass Futabayama's record of 69 consecutive wins, and lost -- around No. 45 I think it was -- in a very close decision that the replay showed he had actually won. As Futabayama was at that time the head of the association, accusations did surface that the referee's ruling was intentional, to prevent a "haafu" from breaking the record. But based on his current age, Hakuho might win 40 or more tournaments before he retires, as long as he stays healthy and doesn't get in drunken brawls in Nishi-Azabu.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Hakuho is lucky he is in sumo, not baseball. I agree that if he can't be brought down on the mat, others will try to bring him down by other means simple because he is a foreigner in Japan's "sacred" sport.

Unlike baseball, opponents have to fight him, no way around it. Anyone who remembers the Randy Bass/Tuffy Rhodes/Cabrerra fiascos will understand what I am talking about. Walk, Walk, Walk, Walk... That is a sad commentary on Japanese "sportsmanship" and the "great" Sadaharu Oh.

One dare not break a Japanese player's record, although it did finally happen in baseball; you can't keep good men-- even Gaijin-- down forever.

8 ( +8 / -1 )

If he ever makes it Hakuho would enjoy the stablemaster's revered status and the tax haven a stablemaster enjoys, especially if you're in the 85 to 95 percent tax bracket.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

He doesn’t accept helpful suggestions and I’ve heard he disregards Miyagino oyakata, his stablemaster, who only reached the rank of maegashira (rank and file) during his own career. He can’t control Hakuho any more.”

Third party gossip being paraded around as fact. The media is looking to take Hakuho down where sumo wrestlers can't.

It burns the sumo hierarchy that no Japanese wrestlers are on par with Hakuho and it wouldn't surprise me one bit if there are folks in the "inner" circle of sumo who are behind all this crap.

I still remember Tuffy Rhodes trying to break Oh's home run record and what happened there.

I dont see the comparison, what are the other wrestlers supposed to do? And btw, long before Tuffy was another foreigner who had a chance but was literally pitched around, Randy Bass.

4 ( +7 / -3 )

I am a little surprised too! Considering Asashoryu would have beaten Taiho's record a long time ago if he was not forced out of the sport because of some nonsense, I wonder if all this bad press is just a precursor to another forced retirement to save Japan's delicate ego.

4 ( +9 / -6 )

I'm surprised there haven't been more Japanese try to take Hakuho down given he is about to break the record. I still remember Tuffy Rhodes trying to break Oh's home run record and what happened there.

8 ( +9 / -2 )

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