Le Monde du Sumo
N°10 - june 2005
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It was in 1895 that the former yokozuna Jinmaku Kyugoro (the 12th yokozuna) decided to create an official list of all yokozuna in history. His first challenge was to gather and compile all the available information on the grand champions, much of it contradictory.
The first yokozuna licence (yokozuna menkyo) was given in 1789 to ozeki Tanikaze by shogun Yoshida Oikaze. But before that, during the Edo period and the early Meiji era, there were other wrestlers who had left their own mark on sumo. In fact, there appears a term for certain wrestlers which is considered to be equivalent to that of yokozuna: Hinoshita Kaizan.
This term originates from a phrase of the Muromachi era honouring the founders of Buddhist temples: Hinoshita (under the sun) Kaizan (founder of a temple).
This wrestler, born in 1600 in Tochigi province, is known primarily as an important personality in traditional Japanese theatre. But his legendary status in sumo comes from the fact that he's supposed to be the first wrestler to wear a tsuna, in 1630, during a tournament presenting himself before the emperor, and that he then received the title of Hinoshita Kaizan. Akashi Shiganosuke died in 1649, and is said to have been 205 cm tall and weighted 180 kilos.
Born in 1703 in Tochigi province, Ayagawa Goroji was promoted to ozeki in 1717 with an extraordinary build for the period (200 cm and 150 kg?). He is the most controversial of the yokozuna, because there exists no real proof of his life as a wrestler, and only the popular rumours of the time praise his exploits. He died on January 22nd, 1765, and became the second yokozuna in history more than a century later.
A native of Miyagi province, he was born on December 23rd, 1713. Maruyama Gontazaemon was a wrestler known for the quality of his sumo and for his physique (197 cm and 166 kg). He became an ozeki when only 17 years old. He left Edo to fight in Osaka where he received a title of Osaka yokozuna in August 1749, and died on November 14th of the same year from a severe illness.
Things became simpler after 1789 because yokozuna were designated and officially recognised by the Yoshida family, but there were also notable yokozuna from Osaka. Three of them drew the attention of Jinmaku Kyugoro: Wakashima, Okido and Miyagiyama II.
Wakashima started sumo at age 15 in Tachiyama beya in Tokyo, which he left to join the Nakamura beya of Osaka after the January 1898 tournament, where he was ranked at maegashira 13 west. In Osaka he obtained authorisation to become a yokozuna in April 1903 from the Gojo family, who handled the yokozuna menkyo of the Osaka Sumo Kyokai. In 1905, after a series of meetings between the two federations and seeing that he was the only one to rival the supremacy of yokozuna Hitachiyama of the Tokyo Sumo Kyokai, the Yoshida family confirmed his grade of yokozuna and logically entered him on the list.
Okido is the only yokozuna who spent his whole wrestling career in Osaka, as he left the sumo when the two associations rejoined.
Miyagiyama is the last of yokozuna from Osaka and above all the winner of the first tournament, in January 1927, of the Dai Nihon Ozumo Kyokai, the future Nihon Sumo Kyokai.
There were other yokozuna in Osaka, and in Kyoto - also home to a sumo association (considered to be the weakest), but they only made an impression in their own time. The finest example is the yokozuna Oikari Taro of Kyoto who accepted an invitation to go to England in 1910 as a member of a representation within the framework of an Anglo-Japanese alliance. Once there, he decided together with other wrestlers to make a tour of Europe starting with Paris. After a detour in South America in 1913 the wrestlers returned to Europe and finally to their homeland, but without the yokozuna who remained in Argentina, where he ended up as a physical labourer.
The first list of 17 names was published in 1900, but the controversy over Jinmaku's choices (he died three years later) delayed the publication, and the official list did not publicly appear until 1926 because many thought that the first yokozuna could be no other than Tanikaze Kajinosuke, since he was the first to receive a yokozuna licence and also the first to perform a yokozuna dohyo-iri on the grounds of Tomioka Hachimangu temple in Fukagawa. So it was in the year of reunification that the list of 31 grand champions who marked the history of sumo was officially published.
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