By Shuji Miki / Yomiuri Shimbun Senior WriterLocated near Ryogoku Kokugikan in Tokyo, Ekoin temple has deep connections to sumo. During the Edo period (1603-1867), sumo tournaments were held on the grounds of the temple, where the old Ryogoku Kokugikan opened in 1909. A memorial monument for Tokyo-based sumo writers was also set up at Ekoin in 1916 by former yokozuna Umegatani I, who assumed the elder name Ikazuchi and served as a board director of sumo’s then-governing organization.
The monument was erected under the belief that the power of the pen enabled sumo to prosper as it had.
The temple also houses a large stone monument called Chikarazuka, which is dedicated to sumo elders. It measures 4.7 meters in height, 2.36 meters in width and 0.61 meters in depth. Three memorial monuments for sumo writers are located nearby, with the second writers’ monument built in 1963 and the third in 2008.
On the seventh day of the Autumn Grand Sumo Tournament, which is held every September, the Tokyo sumo writers’ club and Japan Sumo Association jointly hold a memorial service for sumo writers. The names of those who died in the past year are engraved into the monument while a temple priest reads sutras.
This year’s event will be held on Sept. 16. The memorial service, which will begin at 11 a.m. at Ekoin, is open to the public.
An accidental fire in 1917 destroyed the Kokugikan erected at the temple. It was rebuilt in 1920, but ravaged again by the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake and air raids on Tokyo in 1945. The General Headquarters (GHQ) seized the Kokugikan and renamed it Memorial Hall in December 1945. It was then transferred to Nihon University in 1958, and has since been used as the university’s auditorium.
A new Kokugikan was constructed in Tokyo’s Kuramae district in 1954, and the current facility was built in Ryogoku in 1985.
Amid the Kokugikan’s rich-and-sometimes-turbulent past, the history of sumo writer memorial monuments stretches back 100 years. Ekoin is also known for housing the grave of Nezumi Kozo Jirokichi, an Edo-era Robin Hood figure said to have robbed the rich, including daimyo feudal lords, and given his takings to the poor.
— Miki is a sumo expert.
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