Takakeisho, who lifted the Emperor’s Cup in November as a member of Chiganoura Beya, will attempt to replicate that feat in January, and gain promotion to yokozuna, while fighting out of a different stable.

Unlike his previous switch from Takanohana Beya to Chiganoura however, this time around there will be no physical relocation for the stocky ozeki. Instead, for reasons connected to the ownership of various elder name shares, Chiganoura Beya is simply getting a new name and will henceforth be known as Tokiwayama stable.

The resurrection of a stable name that last existed in the late 1800s also brings to an end to the short but eventful life of Chiganoura stable.

Opened in 2004, by former sekiwake Masudayama, Chiganoura Beya grabbed the interest of many sumo observers right off the bat for a number of unique moves.

First and foremost was the fact that in choosing to branch out on his own at age 53, the new stablemaster had just over a decade in which to build up his heya and find a successor, before reaching sumo’s compulsory retirement age of 65.

Unable to bring any sekitori-level wrestlers with him from Kasugano stable, and starting out with just four lower rankers, that was always going to be a huge challenge.

Perhaps as a result of such time pressures, Chiganoura oyakata wasn’t shy about bringing in wrestlers from unusual places.

One of his earliest recruits was the first — and to date only — Hungarian to join professional sumo.

Atilla Toth, like most of his stablemates was given a ring name containing the prefix “Masu” (舛) from Masudayama, and, as was common among the first wave of European standouts, a geographic element. In his case it was “toh-oh” (東欧) meaning East Europe.

Toth had been part of what would become one of the most famous amateur sumo podiums of all time when he took bronze at the 2004 Junior World Championships in Osaka. Unlike the three other medalists that day (future ozeki pair Tochinoshin and Goeido, and makuuchi stalwart Kaisei) he never managed to translate his early promise as an amateur into success in ozumo. Despite that, the Hungarian veteran, who will turn 36 in January, and has now spent almost as much of his life inside sumo as outside it, continues to toil away and is well liked within the sumo world.

Toth’s ability to assimilate into Japanese culture almost from day one has been a major factor in his longevity — something I saw firsthand soon after he arrived in the country.

Chiganoura Beya, upon its founding, took up residence in the building that once housed Takasago stable, a few hundred meters north of Tokyo’s famous Sensoji temple complex.

Takakeisho pushes out Wakatakakage during the November Basho in Tokyo. | KYODO
Takakeisho pushes out Wakatakakage during the November Basho in Tokyo. | KYODO

Just across the river is Komatsuryu Dojo — the club where I trained as an amateur. With Chiganoura Beya having so few rikishi to start out with, the stablemaster often brought his charges over the bridge for some extra training with us on Sunday mornings. Wanting Masuto to learn Japanese as quickly as possible, Chiganoura oyakata asked me to come and teach him the language. I was barely able to hold a conversation in Japanese myself at the time, but having been living in Japan for a few years I knew I’d be at least able to help Toth with the basics.

To my shock, upon first meeting him, I discovered that barely six months into his time in Japan the teenager was already at a level equal to, or better than my own. Within a year he was virtually fluent and able to send text messages that had me scrambling for the translate function.

Any hopes I had of a career as an English teacher to rikishi ended almost as soon as they began.

Another of Chiganoura Beya’s unusual recruits in the early days was Shuichi Tanaka, who was given the ring name Masumeidai (舛名大). As the kanji characters suggest, Tanaka was a graduate of Nagoya University. While roughly 170 rikishi to date have joined ozumo after competing as students, only a single wrestler at the time of Tanaka’s entrance had ever graduated from one of the more prestigious national universities. Generally speaking, those who attend what is roughly equivalent to Japan’s version of the Ivy League go on to work in higher paid and more influential fields. Even now, 15 years later, there have only ever been four men who attended a national university and also spent time in professional sumo.

Tanaka retired in 2010 and is now a sports journalist at a major newspaper.

Chiganoura Beya didn’t just stand out in terms of its early recruits. The stable was also one of the first to embrace the internet and had a long-running blog that provided the kind of inside view into daily sumo life that might seem commonplace these days, but was utterly new in the mid-2000s.

That kind of openness was emblematic of a stable that, long before it became the home of Takakeisho, Takanosho and other well-known names, was a small, friendly place with a family-like atmosphere.

For one recruit it literally was family.

Masunoyama, a rikishi who would later become the first wrestler born in the Heisei Era to make it to the salaried ranks, joined the stable along with his mother and brother. The former became a personal assistant to the stablemaster and his family while his smaller sibling became a tokoyama or sumo hairdresser.

Although Masuto and Masunoyama still remain, Chiganoura Beya was a very different kind of stable at the end than the plucky upstart that began life 16 years earlier.

Only the name has changed of course but if Takakeisho does earn the white rope in January the celebrations in some quarters will be tinged with a little bit of sadness that it wasn’t under the Chiganoura name.

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