PORONAYSK, RUSSIA – A ceremony to unveil a bronze statue of the late Japanese sumo legend Taiho was held Friday in his birthplace Poronaysk in Sakhalin, eastern Russia, a move achieved through joint efforts by the Russian city and Japanese people.
“We hope obstacles hindering peace between Japan and Russia will be gone on the occasion of erecting this statue,” Aleksandr Radomski, the mayor of Poronaysk in eastern Sakhalin, said during the ceremony.
It is rare for a Japanese person to be honored with a statue in Russia.
The 2.3-meter-high statue of Taiho, who won a record 32 Grand Sumo tournaments and died last year at age 72, is located in a park. It depicts Taiho in a sumo wrestler’s ceremonial apron and faces south toward Japan.
Citizens offered flowers at the statue. The ceremony was also attended by 69-year-old Toshio Kamada, a Japanese sculptor living in the village of Ogata, Akita Prefecture, who created the original mold.
Taiho, whose real name was Koki Naya, was born to a Ukrainian father who moved to Sakhalin and a Japanese mother. When he was 5 years old, he and family members besides his father went to Japan’s northernmost main island of Hokkaido from the area which is now called Poronaysk but was at that time held by Japan.
The family members had to flee from the invasion of the then Soviet Union, which had declared war on Japan shortly before the end of World War II in 1945.
Taiho had hoped to visit Sakhalin after retiring as a sumo wrestler, but the visit was not realized due to health and other reasons.
After Taiho passed away, the city of Poronaysk came up with a plan to erect a statue of him. Kamada in Ogata, Akita Prefecture, decided to take part in the project as he felt a connection with the sumo wrestler, given that Taiho’s wife and other relatives were originally from the same northeastern prefecture.
Costs to mold the statue and to transport it to Russia were expected to reach ¥8 million, so people in Ogata sought donations. The statue was completed in July and the Russian city prepared a park and pedestal for it.
“It’s like a dream. I hope this event will help deepen the friendship between Japan and Sakhalin,” Kamada said.
Yoshiko Naya, Taiho’s 67-year-old widow, was unable to attend the ceremony. She told Kyodo News by phone, “The yokozuna was able to return to his birthplace thanks to many people’s efforts. I believe he will be smiling and full of tears in heaven.”