After almost twenty years of foreigners dominating its most iconic sport, Japan has a native sumo champion again. On January 26th, the Japan Sumo Association named Kisenosato the 72nd Grand Champion. He is the first Japanese champion since 1998.
The sport has lost popularity in Japan due to the introduction of more Western sports such as baseball and soccer. The country has also taken losses in sumo wrestling because of the lack of drive of the wrestlers themselves. “Talking to Japanese fans, (they say) Mongolians are simply hungrier to win in sumo. In Japan, sumo wrestlers, even champions, aren’t particularly rich by national standards,” said photographer Taylor Weidman, who followed Japanese wrestlers throughout 2016. Sumo wrestling has also been marked by scandal as in 2011; the sport was rocked by “match-fixing.” Match fixing is described as when a sumo wrestler specifically tries to lose to fix the match. The recent corruption and lack of interest in the sport have caused the decline of the sport in Japanese culture. However, fans hope that the sport will regain popularity due to the crowning of Yutaka as the champion.
The 385-pound Kisenosato (real name Yutaka Hagiwara) has been competing in sumo wrestling since 2002 and reached the rank of ozeki (highest-ranking of wrestler besides yokozuna) five years ago. Yukata is honored to be crowned as the Champion saying, “I accept with all humility. I will devote myself to the role and try not to disgrace the title of yokozuna.” Among the more than 600 professional Japanese sumo wrestlers, there are currently less than four yokozuna, making this achievement very significant to both Japan and Kisenosato.
Griffiths, James. “Japan Crowns Homegrown Sumo Champion, Finally.” CNN, Cable News Network, http://www.cnn.com/2017/01/25/sport/japan-sumo-champion/index.html.
McKirdy, Euan. “Sumo: a National Sport in Decline?” CNN, Cable News Network, http://www.cnn.com/2015/12/21/world/gallery/otr-japan-sumo/index.html.