Sumo 101: Americans in sumo

by John Gunning

Contributing Writer

There are two rikishi from the United States of America in sumo currently.

They are Musashikuni (Fiamalu Penitani) and Wakaichiro (Ichiro Young).

Both are in Musashigawa stable, where the stablemaster, not coincidentally, also hails from the United States.

Former yokozuna Musashimaru (now known as Musashigawa) won 12 titles before retiring as the most successful foreign-born wrestler of all time in 2003.

Ten years later he opened Musashigawa stable with just four wrestlers, including Musashikuni, who is also his nephew.

That has grown to 19 men, as the American Samoa native has translated ability in the ring into success as a coach and recruiter.

Musashigawa of course isn’t the first American stablemaster. That honor goes to Jesse Kuhaulua, who led Azumazeki Beya for 23 years after retiring from a groundbreaking career in the ring in 1984.

As Takamiyama, Kuhaulua not only set records for longevity and appearances, but also became the first non-Japanese rikishi to reach the rank of sekiwake as well as the first foreign winner of the Emperor’s Cup.

He also paved the way for fellow Hawaiians Konishiki and Akebono, two men who would become, respectively, the first foreign ozeki and yokozuna.

While the vast majority of Americans in sumo have hailed from Pacific islands, there have been a few from the continental United States.

Henry Miller’s upbringing in St. Louis, Missouri, was reflected in the reading of his ring name 戦闘竜 (Sentoryu).

Miller reached the top division in July 2000 and is still the only person from the Lower 48 with that distinction.

Wakaichiro hails from Houston, but he isn’t the first Texan to have tried his hand at sumo. Phillip Smoak arrived in Japan in 1981 wearing cowboy boots and a Stetson but found the harsh lifestyle too much to bear and was gone within a few months.

In total, 31 Americans have joined professional sumo since California-born Hiraga became the first rikishi from outside Japan in 1934. Most never reached the top ranks, but those who did had a major impact and changed the sport forever.