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SUMO ABC (77) / Kyokutaisei becomes Hokkaido’s 1st makuuchi debutant in 26 years

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Kyokutaisei performs the salt-throwing purification ritual before a bout against Myogiryu at the Ryogoku Kokugikan hall in Tokyo on Sunday.

By Shuji Miki / Yomiuri Shimbun Senior WriterKyokutaisei made his makuuchi division debut at the Summer Grand Sumo Tournament. A 28-year-old native of Asahikawa, Hokkaido, and a member of the Tomozuna stable, he is the first wrestler from the prefecture to win promotion to the division in 26 years.

On the first day of the tournament on Sunday, Kyokutaisei lost to Myogiryu, who has a wealth of experience as a former sanyaku wrestler, in a do-over after the two tumbled out of the ring together in the initial bout. However, he was very energetic after the match. He said: “I’ve done enough training. I want to show my best by earning a winning record. I was fired up [during my bout] because the audience at makuuchi division matches is very passionate.”

Hokkaido is known as a “sumo kingdom,” as it has produced eight yokozuna — Chiyonoyama, Yoshibayama, Taiho, Kitanofuji, Kitanoumi, Chiyonofuji, Hokutoumi and Onokuni.

Since Hokutoumi retired after the 1992 spring tournament, however, there have been no yokozuna or ozeki from the prefecture. The last Hokkaido native to compete in the top tier was Kitakachidoki, who fought his last makuuchi bout at the 1998 summer tournament, and the last to win promotion to the division was Tatsuhikari, ahead of the 1992 New Year Grand Sumo tournament.

A declining birthrate and the diversification of sports seem to account for the dwindling number of sumo wrestlers, even from regional cities. There are currently 20 active rikishi from Hokkaido, including Kyokutaisei and Yago in the second-tier juryo division.

Tokyo has produced the most active wrestlers at 53, followed by Osaka and Aichi prefectures with 39 each. Hokkaido ranked 11th behind Mongolia, from which 22 wrestlers hail, according to the Japan Sumo Association.

“I want to live up to the expectations of my hometown,” Kyokutaisei said at a press conference when the sumo rankings for the summer tournament were announced on April 30.

“I want children in Hokkaido to see me working hard in the dohyo ring, which will hopefully inspire them to want to become a sumo wrestler,” he said of his hometown, where the popularity of sumo is declining.

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  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

    Kyokutaisei, right, and Myogiryu locked together in the middle of the ring.

Kyokutaisei made his sumo debut at the New Year tournament in 2008. He was first promoted to the juryo division 6½ years later ahead of the 2014 Nagoya tournament. Though he had moved up the rankings quickly, he also experienced many setbacks and was demoted back to the third-tier makushita division after only two basho.

A year later, he was promoted back to juryo, where he remained for a long time. Four years after his juryo debut, he finally earned promotion to the makuuchi division.

With a height of 184 centimeters and a weight of 150 kilograms, Kyokutaisei has a well-proportioned body for sumo, which he hopes to use to boost the profile of his home prefecture.

— Miki is a sumo expert.

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