The wait is over.
January 24 was the final day of the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament at Tokyo’s Ryogoku Kokugikan Hall and will go down in history as a day of great achievement and honor for the Japanese sumo community.
The 31-year-old, 180cm (5’11”), 178 kg (392 lbs.) Fukuoka native Kotoshogiku, whose real name is Kazuhiro Kikutsugi, won the tournament to become the first Japanese-born wrestler to take the title in ten years. Beating out fellow ozeki Goeido secured Kotoshogiku victory and heralded a new era as he was awarded the Emperor’s Cup on the final day of the 2-week-long tournament.
Anyone unfamiliar with the sport of sumo might assume that it is dominated by Japanese wrestlers. Interestingly, despite sumo being Japan’s national sport, it’s the Mongolians that have monopolized the top spots for at least a decade now. In fact, the last time a Japanese-born competitor was triumphant at a tournament was back in 2006, when Tochiazuma took the honors in that year’s New Year Tournament. Furthermore, the sport hasn’t seen a Japanese ‘grand champion’ for 13 years, since 2003 when Takanohana hung up his mawashi (loin cloth) for the last time.
As reported by The Japan Times, “Kotoshogiku’s achievement is all the more surprising since he had only managed double-digit wins twice in the last two years and has struggled with physical issues, including a shin injury that forced him to withdraw near the end of the Kyushu tournament in November.”
“It’s hard to find the words to describe how I feel,” Kotoshogiku was quoted as saying after his victory. “I am so delighted … I thought about the tough times when I struggled [with injury] and my record was poor, but I have come this far with the support of so many people and the guidance of my stable master.”
Aside from his trainer, Kotoshogiku also attributed the success to his family, saying “My parents acted as a wall when I was having a tough time, propping me up, and I am filled with gratitude toward them” (Kyodo News).
His joyous, well earned sense of satisfaction is akin to that of the sport’s Japanese fans, who have not only seen their local favorites bested by foreign contenders time and again, but also fretted over embarrassing recent scandals involving drug busts and, worse still, fixed fights.
After so many negative headlines, Japan’s indigenous sumo enthusiasts are surely hoping Kotoshogiku will get the good publicity they have been craving for so long. Such positive press has instead gone to the Mongolian (literal) heavyweights that have dominated the sport as of late, like Ulambayar hailing champ Byamba, who was the subject of a fascinating profile by top tier publication The Wall Street Journal just a few weeks ago. The piece enthrallingly, and wryly, detailed how Byamba minimalistically packs for his tournaments. Seeing as sumo wrestlers are famous for strapping skimpy belts on their hefty frames, Byamba had no trouble joking about that distinct attire, noting that when his belt is unfurled many onlookers mistake it for a firehouse.
Hopefully Kotoshogiku will have equal opportunity to crack wise after flipping so many opponents in the dohyō.
For the complete tournament champion’s list, click here.
–Text contributed by Chris Zajko and Kyle Mullin
Image: Screenshot from Youtube.com