Sumo

Tough training in high school forged Mongolian Ichinojo

by John Gunning

Contributing Writer

One of the strongest sumo high schools in Japan is Tottori Johoku.

Located in western Japan, Johoku has been churning out professional talent over the past last few years, and is the alma mater of ozeki pair Terunofuji and Kotomitsuki, as well as top-division wrestlers Ishiura, Sakaizawa, Takanoiwa and Daikiho.

Several other juryō-division rikishi are graduates of the institution located just over a kilometer away from the prefecture’s famous sand dunes.

Terunofuji once said that ozumo was easy for him to adapt to, as he’d experienced training that was just as tough — if not more so — at Johoku.

The school brings in Mongolian students ever year and Terunofuji’s time there overlapped with that of another successful countryman.

Ichinojo won several titles while a student (and later coach) at Johoku, and earned a makushita tsukedashi qualification in 2013 that allowed him to enter the professional ranks near the top of the third-highest division.

The massive Mongolian exploded onto the ōzumō scene, winning the juryō-division championship in just his third tournament and following that up four months later with an incredible 13-2 runner-up performance in his top-division debut that included a win over yokozuna Kakuryu.

That earned the Minato stable man two special prizes and promotion to the sport’s third-highest rank less than a year after joining sumo.

Health and weight issues have led to a decidedly mixed career in the five years since, but when in good condition and motivated Ichinojo can be a force, as shown by his outstanding 14-1 in March 2019.

The only Mongolian wrestler to come from a nomadic background, Ichinojo is always a threat in individual bouts even when he isn’t enjoying a good tournament.

Four of his six wins in January of 2019, for example, came against yokozuna and ozeki.

Although he’s in the second tier now, Ichinojo is still only 26 and his best days could well be in front of him.

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