Sumo

Sumo 101: Kitanofuji

by John Gunning

Contributing Writer

Sumo tournaments are shown daily on NHK. While the play-by-play men rotate, one ever present is acerbic color commentator Kitanofuji.

Often decked out in traditional Japanese attire, the sharp-tongued 77-year-old rarely sugarcoats his views.

If anyone has earned the right to voice their opinion, however, it’s the former grand champion.

A10-time winner of the Emperor’s Cup, Kitanofuji and his main rival Tamanoumi were promoted to yokozuna at the same time and engaged in many great battles before the latter’s sudden death at the age of 27.

The Kitanofuji/Tamanoumi era was a short one and sandwiched between two legendary rivalries (Taiho/Kashiwado and Kitanoumi/Wajima), but even so it is considered one of the best in sumo history.

A few years after his retirement Kitanofuji became head of Kokonoe stable where he raised yokozuna pair Chiyonofuji and Hokutoumi.

Chiyonofuji, of course, became incredibly successful, and his 31 top division titles are still third most all-time. Hokutoumi (as Hakkaku) is the current head of the Japan Sumo Association.

That’s a position Kitanofuji himself never held, and indeed a lack of political support was one of the reasons he left sumo early.

Despite that, however, he remains one of the most respected figures in the sport.

Kitanofuji can walk into any stable or Japan Sumo Association event and he will be given a spot front and center, as well as deferred to by everyone involved, despite the fact that for two decades he has just been a regular citizen without an official role in or connection to the JSA.

Despite his age and often biting comments, Kitanofuji is no diehard traditionalist. He has always had a progressive outlook and regularly makes incisive observations about modern sumo and its practitioners.