Kisenosato Becomes First Japan-Born “Yokozuna” in 19 Years (News)


Japanese wrestler Kisenosato will be promoted to the top sumō rank of yokozuna on Wednesday January 25. Currently rated at the second ōzeki rank, he will become the first Japan-born rikishi raised to the top grade in almost two decades. A Japan Sumō Association panel unanimously supported the promotion of Kisenosato at a meeting held on January 23 at Ryōgoku Sumō Hall in Tokyo.

The move will be finalized at the JSA meeting for setting wrestler ranks for the March tournament and an extraordinary meeting of its executive board, both on January 25. Kisenosato will be the seventy-second official yokozuna in the history of the sport, joining Mongolians Hakuhō, Kakuryū, and Harumafuji. The last Japan-born yokozuna, Wakanohaha, reached this rank in 1998; Musashimaru, born in American Samoa, took Japanese citizenship in 1996 before making the top rank in 1999.

Kisenosato achieved 12 wins in November’s Kyūshū tournament, finishing second. He then dominated the first tournament of 2017, winning 14 of his 15 bouts.

Kisenosato performs the salt-throwing ritual at Ryōgoku Sumō Hall in Tokyo on January 22, 2017. (© Jiji)

A Japanese Yokozuna

Wrestlers Promoted to Yokozuna Since 1990 and Their Nationalities

July 1990 63rd Asahifuji Japan
January 1993 64th Akebono USA
November 1994 65th Takanohana Japan
May 1998 66th Wakanohana III Japan
May 1999 67th Musashimaru Japan (naturalized in 1996; orig. USA)
January 2003 68th Asashōryū Mongolia
May 2007 69th Hakuhō Mongolia
September 2012 70th Harumafuji Mongolia
March 2014 71st Kakuryū Mongolia
January 2017 72nd Kisenosato Japan

Born Hagiwara Yutaka in Ushiku, Ibaraki Prefecture, Kisenosato is 188 centimeters tall and weighs 175 kilograms. He began sumō after graduating from junior high school, taking part in his first bout in March 2002. Less than three years later, he was promoted to the makuuchi division, fighting his way up to ōzeki in November 2011. For several years he was seen as a potential yokozuna, but was not able to win a tournament—one requirement for promotion—until his thirty-first attempt in January 2017.

Although sumō is said to be Japan’s national sport, there has not been a Japanese yokozuna since Takanohana retired in January 2003. Wrestlers from Mongolia like Asashōryū and Hakuhō have dominated the sport in the twenty-first century.

Rankings for the January 2017 Tournament (Hatsubasho)

East West
Kakuryū (Mongolia) Yokozuna Harumafuji (Mongolia)
Hakuhō (Mongolia)
Kisenosato (Japan) Ōzeki Gōeidō (Japan)
Terunofuji (Mongolia) Kotoshōgiku (Japan)
Tamawashi (Mongolia) Sekiwake Shōdai (Japan)
Takayasu (Japan) Komusubi Tochinoshin (Georgia)
Takarafuji (Japan) Maegashira 1 Mitakeumi (Japan)
Shōhōzan (Japan) Maegashira 2 Arawashi (Mongolia)

Foreign-born wrestlers won 58 consecutive tournaments from 2006 to 2015. Many sumō fans are excited to see a Japan-born wrestler competing at the top level after years of underperforming.

(Originally written in Japanese based in part on a Jiji Press release of January 23, 2017.) 

Jiji Press sports sumō