Yokozuna Kakuryu lifted the Emperor’s Cup last Sunday after a final day defeat of fellow yokozuna Hakuho.
The win gave Kakuryu his sixth title overall, with half of those championships coming in the past 18 months, after a period in which speculation was rife about the Mongolian’s impending retirement.
Half a dozen championships is a solid career for a yokozuna and puts Kakuryu right in the middle of the pack since the introduction of the current six tournament a year system in the 1950s.
Only 14 of the 31 yokozuna promoted after November 1957 have more titles than Kakuryu, but the veteran’s achievements, coming in an era of successive all-time greats, have been overshadowed.
Takanohana won 22 titles up to 2001, and was immediately followed by Asashoryu, whose 25 championships overlapped with the early part of Hakuho’s record-setting 42 (and counting) Emperor’s Cups.
Having to contend with the greatest wrestler in the history of the sport over the entire course of his career makes Kakuryu’s achievements all the more noteworthy. While he may not have the greatest head-to-head record against Hakuho (8-43) Kakuryu has won three of their last five bouts, with the last pair being championship-sealing wins.
The yokozuna’s latest title came in an exciting tournament that saw a pair of 24-year-olds put in outstanding performances.
Tomokaze’s 11-4 outing, which included the tournament’s sole defeat of Kakuryu, made it 14 straight winning records from his debut for the Oguruma stable man and earned him a special prize.
Tomokaze’s final bout was a loss to diminutive Terutsuyoshi who, in just his third top-division tournament, equaled the win total from his previous two.
That 12-3 record saw him in title contention right up to day 14 before he lost to maegashira No. 1 Hokutofuji — the only opponent he faced from the top half of the division.
Being in the lowest spot in makuuchi meant Terutsuyoshi came within 24 hours of a possible three-way playoff against two veteran yokozuna, despite only having beaten rikishi ranked maegashira No. 7 and below.
Still though, it was a fantastic effort from the 169 cm Hyogo native, who continues to surpass expectations after struggling to get out of the makushita division for five years.
While Terutsuyoshi’s career is taking off, that of one of his stablemates drew to a close.
Veteran Aminishiki called it a day early in the tournament after an injury-forced withdrawal meant that he would have dropped out of the salaried ranks in September for the first time in almost 20 years.
Aminishiki retires as the active leader in sansho (special prizes) and eighth all time in career wins.
The 40-year-old’s last opponent Ryuko was a full two decades younger and his longevity is all the more remarkable when you consider the bulk of his achievements came after knee injuries that severely limited what he could do physically.
Sixteen years ago Aminishiki became the last man to fight (and defeat) Takanohana, and he was the sole remaining rikishi born in the 1970s still fighting in sumo’s top three divisions.
Only two men in sumo history have fought more bouts and Aminishiki put all his years of experience and knowledge to good use not only inside the ring but also in practice, where he mentored and aided another slim rikishi, Harumafuji, on his rise to the top of the sumo pyramid.
The former yokozuna acknowledged his senior’s retirement with a Twitter post congratulating Aminishiki on a long career and saying, “I learned so much about many things, including sumo, after I became Aminishiki’s attendant in 2001. Because of Aminishiki I was able to become a yokozuna. I want to thank him from the bottom of my heart.”
The post contained a photo showing a 16-year-old Harumafuji just after he joined sumo, with Aminishiki, who was already a top division wrestler.
Harumafuji isn’t the only rikishi to owe him a debt. It’s no coincidence that Terunofuji moved up the ranks and became ozeki after moving to Isegahama stable, and he, like Harumafuji, shared posts on social media thanking Aminishiki.
One of the more interesting post retirement articles came from veteran sumo journalist Ichiro Sasaki, who had long been close to Aminishiki — the two once took part in the hadouken (wave fist) photo craze on Twitter.
The article details Aminishiki’s relationship with a Japanese supplier of carbon-fiber knee braces and how difficult it initially was to get such an item.
Things have improved now, but even up to a few years ago it was still an arduous process that involved a lot of paperwork and the importing of the brace from the United States.
It’s something I have firsthand experience with from the time I helped Osunaarashi get a similar device and learned Japanese law treated such knee braces as prosthetics requiring medical certification.
Aminishiki as one of the first rikishi to use a carbon fiber brace also had to clear it with the Japan Sumo Association — not an easy task with such a conservative organization.
The brace gave Aminishiki enough stability to allow him to take advantage of his incredible technical ability. He was a nightmare opponent for any wrestler, no matter how highly ranked they were.
As difficult an opponent as you could find in the ring, Aminishiki was one of the most popular outside it.
Over a 22-year career that saw him move from skinny upstart to venerable sumo elder statesman, Aminishiki was always well liked. I’ve never heard another wrestler say a bad word about him.
Now using the elder name Ajigawa, he will continue passing on his knowledge at Isegahama stable, helping younger wrestlers reach their full potential.