By Shuji Miki / Yomiuri Shimbun Senior WriterThe Spring Grand Sumo Tournament, which marked its midway point at the Osaka Prefectural Gym on Sunday, is called the “job-entering tournament.” That is because with March being the month for graduation from junior high school, high school and university, many rookie wrestlers take their first steps into the professional dohyo ring at this competition.
This year, 56 young men took the physical examination required for entry on March 4, and all of them passed to clear the way for their proud debuts.
The sumo world experienced an unprecedented boom in the 1990s, sparked by the “Wakataka brothers,” Wakahanada and Takahanada, who entered the Fujishima stable together before the 1988 Spring tournament. The stable was run by former ozeki Takanohana, the brothers’ father whose real name was Mitsuru Hanada and who was called the “prince of the sumo world.”
Sumo fans at the time pinned high hopes on the youngsters, expecting great things because they were the sons of Takanohana. Interest in the young pair increased the number of sumo fans across all age groups.
Takahanada, who later changed his ring name to Takanohana, was 17 when he earned promotion to the uppermost makuuchi division for the Summer tournament in May 1990. His older brother Wakahanada, who later became Wakanohana, followed suit two tournaments later. They both eventually earned promotion to sumo’s highest rank of yokozuna.
The Hanadas gained nationwide attention as the ideal family, with a father who was a former ozeki, a mother who was a former actress, and two wrestling sons who started from the bottom and climbed the promotion ladder to sumo’s top division. Parents who dreamed of creating such an ideal family and those involved in sumo circles encouraged young boys to become wrestlers, and many joined stables with dreams of becoming a future ozeki or yokozuna.
Looking at the number of hopefuls taking the physical to become sumo apprentices, the 1992 Spring tournament had the highest with 160 applicants, surpassing the previous record of 135 in 1987. In 1992, six boys from Mongolia went through the process, including future successful wrestlers Kyokushuzan and Kyokutenho, the latter of whom still remains in the sumo world as stablemaster Oshima.
Along with Hawaiian-born wrestlers such as Konishiki and Akebono, the six Mongolian boys gave momentum to the globalization of professional sumo.
The number of applicants for the screening for the Spring tournament had stagnated in the 40s in recent years. So it is a bright spot of news that the figure for this year has surpassed the 50 mark for the first time in nine years, probably thanks to the inspiration of Kisenosato being newly promoted to yokozuna.
— Miki is a sumo expert.
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