Le Monde du Sumo
N°10 - june 2005
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Bastien Pourquié and Thierry Perran
translated by Olivia Nagioff
proofread by Barbara Patten

Death of Futagoyama Oyakata: the Prince of Sumo leaves us!

A Japan in mourning cries for its hero

Futagoyama oyakata in 2003

At a time when many observers are worried about the fall in popularity of Japan's national sport, and the fewer numbers of young people joining its ranks, a truly tragic event reminds us that sumo and its heroes of yesteryear still live in Japanese hearts. On Monday, 30 May 2005, at 17:40 in Tokyo, Hanada Mitsuru died at the age of 55. Known as Futagoyama Oyakata, but even better known as Takanohana I, he is the legendary Ozeki who gave back to sumo its true nobility and popularity in the 1970's, moving an entire country to passionately support his deeds on the dohyo.

Ozeki Takanohana in 1975

Equipped with a weak physique, his sumo did not depend in any way on trickery; on the contrary, he had the sumo of a big man, bringing down his opponents with strength and power. To the Japanese he represented abstinence, the wish to stretch and purify himself in the face of adversity even though he was poorly endowed by nature. This is why even though he was ranked as an Ozeki, he surpassed in popularity the Yokozuna of the time.

Yokozuna Kitanofuji envies the popular Ozeki

For this reason all of Japan is crying over the death of the one known as "the Prince of Sumo." For him the press has re-organised its leading articles and increased its reports paying homage to the champion. Let us reconsider his legend.

Withdrawal into sumo

Hanada takes the Yusho in jonokuchi at the Nagoya Basho of 1965

Born on February 19, 1950 in Hokkaido, he is 22 years younger than his brother, Yokozuna Wakanohana I, who delighted the Japanese public with the delicacy of his technique at the end of the 50s. Young Hanada Mitsuru has clear potential in sports, particularly swimming, so much so that it is suggested he will eventually participate in the Olympic Games. Furthermore, the young man even beats a national swimming record. Nevertheless, he recognises detachedly that his exceptional swimming ability will not make him a living. So, following the example of his elder brother, he chooses to join the ancestral Japanese discipline and enters Futagoyama beya run by his brother, who has held the reins of the stable since his retirement in 1962. He makes his debut on the dohyo under the shikona of Hanada, in May 1965. He is 1.80m and 85kg.

The Hanada brothers at the Haru Basho of 1968

Although gangly, he has an innate ring-sense, and the exceptional power in his legs and back muscles, acquired from swimming, is amazing. He trains very seriously under the aegis of his brother, and climbs the rankings quickly. Only 16 and a half years old, he is already in makushita. He remains there for a little more than a year, obtaining sekitori status a few days after his 18th birthday, in March 1968, thus becoming the youngest sekitori in history. In September, he wins the Juryo division Yusho, which enables him to reach Makuuchi in November. But he doesn't settle there permanently until the end of 1969.

Scrawny Hanada will from now on be called Takanohana

A young sekitori who attracts attention

Takanohana becomes the youngest wrestler in history to be promoted to Juryo

In January 1970, he reaches 100 kg for the first time. At this Basho, Hanada becomes Takanohana. He collects sansho, and settles permanently in the top ranks of the banzuke, notably becoming sekiwake while only 20 years old. The heavyweights of the discipline start to be wary of the young brother of Wakanohana I. In addition to his resounding successes over rikishi much heavier than him, he twice manages to demolish Yokozuna Taiho, the giant with 32 Yusho, pushing him towards retirement (May 1971).

Everyone is crazy for Takanohana!

Takanohana enjoys a popularity bordering on mass hysteria for several reasons. First of all, he is young, beautiful, elegant, timid, and in spite of everything, frightening, which allures the fair sex, bringing women to the arena in the thousands. In addition, he reminds fans of the glorious era of his elder brother, "the demon of the dohyo," because Takanohana, in spite of his not very imposing physique, pulls off genuine feats at each of his bouts, true to the letter of his brother's famous maxim, "In sumo, the small one often beats the large one." However, at this time in sumo, power starts to surpass technique. The wrestlers are becoming increasingly heavy and the spectacle is becoming less interesting than in the 1950s. Takanohana seems like the defender of "traditional" sumo, bringing back the good old days, the golden age of discipline. Lastly, his noble spirit and devotion towards his art fascinate all observers. By dint of training he builds up his body to a level of flexibility and stability that is capable of amazing explosiveness and compensates for his lack of stoutness. He then becomes for all the country, "the Prince of Sumo."

The Prince of Sumo takes off

Takanohana never lets go, even in a desperate position

In January 1972, he loses by kabaite a fight against Yokozuna Kitanofuji that becomes legendary in the annals of sumo history. Two months later, he takes his revenge in Osaka. In May, he produces a brilliant 11-4 record in Tokyo, and in July in Nagoya, he loses the Yusho by a whisker (12-3) to Hawaiian Takamiyama. Thus he has a chance to become Ozeki at the end of the Aki Basho. He could even be promoted at the same time as his friend and rival, Wajima, who was wreathed in success at the last Natsu Basho (13-2). Because of his loses on days three through five, Takanohana finds himself at 10-3 on the evening of the thirteenth day. His promotion is now guaranteed! The following day, he is beaten by merciless Kitanofuji. On senshuraku, he faces Wajima (12-2). Under the eyes of the crown prince of Japan and his wife (the current imperial couple), there follows a legendary fight of astonishing beauty, which even today remains vibrant in the memories of lovers of fine sumo. The two friends are promoted to Ozeki and the Taka-Wa era starts!

The Hanada brothers

Whereas Wajima strings together Yusho like pearls and becomes Yokozuna in July 1973, Takanohana is not able to be dominant as an Ozeki. He lacks consistency over a tournament and sees Kitanoumi swoop down on him and surpass him, becoming an Ozeki in January 1974 and then a Yokozuna 6 months later. Despite the fact that Takanohana is falling behind, he has the unconditional support of the public and continues to work like a navvy. In March and July 1974, he has two scores of 10-5, his two best to date as an Ozeki. In November he finishes with a solid 11-4, which bodes well for the following year.

A first Yusho awaited by Japan

First play-off and first Yusho for the Ozeki

In January 1975, he shows consistency by gaining 10 successes. He has gained a few kilos and now weighs 106 kg. The Ozeki arrives in Osaka in great form for the March tournament. He flies through the tournament and comes up against Kitanoumi on the last day with a score of 13 wins and one loss. The confrontation is short! Kitanoumi, with a masterly uwatenage, throws the Ozeki out of the ring. The two are now tied. A Yusho Kettei-sen must now take place! Takanohana, thanks to a splendid yorikiri, full of sacrifice and courage, forces out the colossus. The stadium explodes, the zabuton fly, the country is boiling over; Takanohana wins his first Yusho. His small family with his young sons Koji and Masaru (2 future Yokozuna!) is overjoyed.

Takanohana celebrates his Yusho with his family

Takanohana disappoints in May with only a 9-6 record and is injured in July. At the September tournament, Wajima makes his return after a season devoid of any success. Takanohana has trained hard and wants another Yusho to his credit. After twelve days, he is at 10-2 and is beaten by Kitanoumi. Wajima (10-3) then faces him; this time the Ozeki has the advantage. Takanohana also gains a twelfth win against Kaiketsu. Once again he finds himself tied with Kitanoumi and he wins the Yusho Kettei-sen with a splendid throw. The Ozeki gains his second Yusho in six months.

2nd Yusho and parade for Ozeki Takanohana with Wajima

An Ozeki unable to gain weight

In 1976, Takanohana ponders his great previous year. He falls back into the shadow of Kitanoumi and Wajima. Other than good Natsu and Aki Basho, the Ozeki seems to settle into his rank. He has all the qualities to reach the supreme rank, but lacks a little extra power, which could enable him to manhandle the formidable Yokozuna Kitanoumi and Wajima more often. It seems obvious to specialists that cigarettes (he is an inveterate smoker) prevent him from increasing his body mass, which will never reach 110 kg. Physical problems accumulate, but Takanohana holds on well. At the beginning of the following year, he has a spectacular comeback. He strings together a 12-3 and a 13-2, and in May, he is a serious contender for the supreme rank. But his three losses in the first four days destroy his chances. He finishes with an honourable 10-5, but has missed his opportunity. The rest of 1977 goes well, but his results are insufficient for him to play any part in the Yusho race.

Ozeki Takanohana and Wakamisugi with their Oyakata on 21 May 1978

At the end of the decade, Takanohana sees himself surpassed by one of his stable-mates, Wakamisugi, who becomes Yokozuna in May 1978 under the shikona of Wakanohana II. The public hope for a possible promotion starts to fade and the press calls Takanohana "the eternal Ozeki." He no longer plays a leading role, giving way not only to Kitanoumi, Wajima and Wakanohana II, but also to Mienoumi, and even Asahikuni. Nevertheless, he remains immensely popular, the principal attraction of professional sumo. In fact, the great Ozeki always excites much admiration with his courage, determination, obstinacy and the magnificence of his sumo, but less and less, by his genius. One of his last glorious deeds is his epic battle against Takamiyama in September 1980. About half the weight of his opponent, Takanohana sets up a masterful nage resting on only one leg. Unfortunately, his oicho touches the ground first, and the bout goes to Takamiyama.

The legendary battle against Takamiyama

A career end in honour

Chiyonofuji pushes the veteran into retirement

In November 1980 he arrives at the Kyushu Basho with his determination apparently intact. At the start of the first week, he faces the young up-and-coming rikishi of the time, Chiyonofuji who is, so to speak, the pupil of the Ozeki, who took the “young wolf” under his wing some years before. Takanohana is surpassed by the aggressiveness and the speed of execution of his opponent. This combat, which might seem harmless, constitutes a true transfer of power between the Prince and his successor. The Ozeki will later acknowledge that this combat had broken something in him, and that afterwards he had not been able to find the inner strength necessary to go forward again.

Takanohana retires after 50 tournaments as Ozeki, a record!

Two months later he is beaten by Zaonishiki on the sixth day of the Hatsu Basho. The following day he announces his retirement from competition and ends an impressive career of nearly sixteen years of which all the statistics and figures give only a partial glimpse. Two months later, his friend Wajima follows him. On May 29, 1981, the oicho of the brilliant Ozeki is cut off forever at a quickly organized ceremony.

Danpatsu-shiki of the most popular Ozeki in front of a tearful Kokugikan

A glorious life as Oyakata

The future Wakanohana III and Takanohana

In 1982 he opens Fujishima beya, which amalgamates on February 4, 1993, with Futagoyama beya. A fine talent-spotter, he manages to develop no fewer than seven strong sekitori! Among the best are the valiant sekiwake Akinoshima and Takatoriki, but more noteworthy are Ozeki Takanonami and the oyakata's Yokozuna sons, Takanohana II and Wakanohana III.

Futagoyama oyakata between his Yokozuna sons, Wakanohana III and Takanohana

Futagoyama oyakata's aura, the strictness of his teaching, and his intelligence have made him one of most brilliant oyakata in the history of sumo, producing 30 Yusho, 20 outstanding performance prizes, 23 fighting spirit prizes, 14 technique prizes and 30 kinboshi! Gradually, after the retirement of his brother, he rises in the ranks within the Nihon Sumo Kyokai, finally reaching the post of vice-president of the Nihon Sumo Kyokai in 2004. He was the right arm and the power behind the throne of Kitanoumi rijicho.

National funeral

Poignant homage from two sons to their father

As a heavy smoker, he had seen his health worsening for several years, and in November 2003, it was discovered that he had cancer of the oral cavity. Having left the direction of his heya to his son, Takanohana oyakata, he fought with all his strength against the disease. Last January he made his last public appearance at Takanonami's danpatsu-shiki. He was so weak that he had to be helped up onto the dohyo. After that, his health only worsened until the fateful day, May 30, 2005. In these black days the whole country mourns the death of the last Prince of sumo. The hero's funeral took place at Aoyama, in the Minato district in Tokyo. More than 1200 people were present, as well as many journalists to report on the event live. The elder of the Hanada brothers, Masaru, cracked with emotion while telling how his father had fought until the end against his cancer. As for Takanohana oyakata, he firmly held against his chest a portrait of his father, which he had decorated with a bow tie. After the family rituals, Nihon Sumo Kyokai also paid him homage by organizing a public funeral at the Kokugikan on June 13, the first time in nine years this honour was bestowed. The fans were invited to come and sign a gold book for the late Ozeki. The editorial team of Le Monde du Sumo addresses its sincere condolences to the family.



Download Le Monde du Sumo n°10 to get more information on this subject:
career records of former ozeki Takanohana, late Futagoyama oyakata.
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