Sumo

Sumo 101: Wakanohana-Tochinishiki rivalry

by John Gunning

Contributing Writer

As with boxing, wrestling, MMA or any other activity where two contestants face off in a ring, great rivalries are the lifeblood of Japan’s national sport.

While it’s true that sumo is a lifestyle more than a sport, and its day-to-day practices and rituals are equally (if not more) important than results in the ring, the sport’s wider popularity has always been driven by rivalries at the top.

That’s something that is clearly reflected in publishers and media organization’s endless production of magazines and DVDs focusing on the great battles of the past.

Virtually all such content is in Japanese, but in 2004 the Japan Sumo Association approved the release of a two-DVD set with English subtitles entitled “Legend of Sumo” focusing on a pair of rivalries: Wakanohana and Tochinishiki and Taiho and Kashiwado.

Very difficult to find these days, the discs go for roughly ¥10,000 each online. The first one also had accompanying figures of the two yokozuna that were sold separately and are also collector’s items now.

That Wakanohana-Tochinishiki DVD is a must watch.

Known as “The Demon of the Dohyo” and “The Viper,” respectively, both yokozuna lifted the Emperor’s Cup 10 times and their fierce battles thrilled fans in the 1950s.

Their most memorable bout came on the final day of the 1960 Osaka tournament, a title-decider that both men went into with 14-0 records — a first for any yokozuna pair.

On the DVD, Wakanohana talks about being so nervous prior to the big fight that he went to a local cinema the night before to watch a western and take his mind off it. When his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he noticed Tochinishiki sitting a few rows in front of him.

Realizing that his rival was also feeling the pressure Wakanohana relaxed and slipped out of the theatre.

He won the bout and the title the next day.