Looking up to Yokozuna Kisenosato as a role model—Takanori Yago, captain of the Chuo University Sumo Club and 4th-year student in the Faculty of Law, emerged victorious in the 65th Emperor’s Cup All-Japan Sumo Championships (held on December 4, 2016 at the Ryogoku Kokugikan) to capture the title of Amateur Yokozuna for the first time. At a press conference held in February to announce his joining the Oguruma Stable, he spoke powerfully about his aspirations to “become a massive and immovable sumo wrestler like Kisenosato.”
“I have been watching Takanori for a long time due to his big body. I will put my full effort into developing him into an Ozeki or Yokozuna. Even after many years have passed, I hope that he will have the same pure and intense passion towards sumo. This is the most important thing for a successful sumo career.”
“Sumo practice at university starts from the late afternoon, but professional wrestlers train in the morning. I hope that Takanori will overcome such differences and win his tournament matches. I look forward to guiding him through his youth.”
“Takanori is an earnest young man who works diligently. He is also straightforward and eagerly seeks instruction. Even during strenuous training, he is always attentive. He himself thought of ways to strengthen his lower body and brought equipment to practices in order to train himself. Takanori has a strong sense of responsibility and served as a leader for other wrestlers in our club. I hope that he will make even further efforts to strengthen his lower body and put all of his energy into sumo.”
Takanori stares intently at his opponent during the semi-final match (photograph provided by the Chuo University Sumo Club)
The moment had come for the final match to determine the Amateur Yokozuna. In that moment, the commotion which had enveloped the Kokugikan until that point seemed to have never existed. The referee’s voice echoed through the tense silence.
“Hakkeyoi!” (a phrase shouted by the referee to encourage wrestlers)
Wrestling on the west side of the ring, Takanori quickly stepped forward and grabbed the right side of the mawashi (loincloth) worn by his opponent Takuto Fukai (1st-year student at Toyo University). Takanori is most comfortable in sumo when taking a right-hand outside grip on his opponent’s mawashi. He drove forward and crashed his large body into Takuto, driving his opponent down out of the main side of the ring. The entire match took only 5 seconds from the initial charge.
Due to the force of his attack, Takanori also flew out of the ring. At that instant, in order to avoid crashing into Takuto at the bottom of the ring, Takanori jumped over his opponent. Such nimbleness is amazing for a wrestler standing 186 centimeters tall and weighing 170 kilograms. Takanori is even larger than the average wrestlers in the Makuuchi (standing 184 centimeters tall and weighing 162 kilograms), which is the highest-ranked division of professional sumo.
After the match, Takanori returned to his position inside the toku-dawara (one of the bales on the edge of the ring set slightly back) and waited to bow to his opponent. At that moment, Takanori seemed to be overcome with emotion and wiped the corners of his eyes. Around the ring, as many of his supporters clenched their fists in triumph, the new Amateur Yokozuna remained quiet and humble.
Takanori became Chuo University’s first Amateur Yokozuna in 26 years, following in the footsteps of Go Kurimoto (formerly known as Mutetsuyama, a wrestler in the Juryo Division). The winner of the All-Japan Sumo Championships is granted the rank of the 15th wrestler in the Makushita division of professional sumo. Takanori’s victory marked the birth of an imposing new professional sumo wrestler.
Recent Amateur Yokozuna who turned professional includes the powerful wrestlers Endo (2012, Nihon University), Daishomaru (2013, Nihon University), and Mitakeumi (2014, Toyo University). Takanori hopes to be the next Amateur Yokozuna to succeed in the professional ranks.
After the championship match, Takanori was interviewed near the ring:
“I can’t believe that I actually won,” said Takanori. “I was just focused on wrestling to the best of my ability. I’m happy that I was able to get my preferred hold when grappling with my opponent. After all of the hard training I endured, it’s great to ultimately achieve such wonderful results.”
Previously, Takanori had been known for failing to reach his immense potential—despite his immense talent, he had yet to capture any major titles. At last year’s national sumo tournaments he finished in 2nd place (All-Japan College & Corporate Sumo Wakayama Tournament in May) and 3rd place (All-Japan College Sumo Kanazawa Tournament in July). Takanori had a frustrating history of always coming close, but never winning.
However, when competing in the All-Japan Sumo Championships for the 3rd time and for the 3rd year in a row, Takanori finally captured his first major title at the very end of his time at university.
The Chuo University Sumo Club practices six days per week. Practices start from 5:00 PM after classes are finished. A lot of time is spent on basic training exercises such as shiko (leg raising/stomping), matawari (leg-stretching exercise), koshiwari (squatting exercise) and suri-ashi (moving legs forward with feet never leaving the ground). Shiko alone is done 200 times. When including battering practice and matches, practices take about three hours. Before and after the group training, wrestlers also train individually and increase their power through strength training.
Wrestlers have their days filled with classes and training from when they wake up at 7:00 AM until they go to bed after 11:00 PM at their dormitory. This disciplined lifestyle builds a strong body and a resolute spirit. As a captain, Takanori looked after the needs of other wrestlers and younger members of the club. He is both a strong and kind 22-year old guy.
Takanori pushes forward without stopping
Takanori started sumo wrestling when he was in the 5th grade of elementary school.
Takanori was born in Memuro Town of Hokkaido, which is also the hometown of the 62nd Yokozuna Oh-no-Kuni (currently Stablemaster Shibatayama; 54 years old). Memuro has produced numerous professional wrestlers and sumo is a very popular sport.
Having trained in judo since he was younger, Takanori decided to enter the Stablemaster Shibatayama Youth Sumo Tournament. Despite it being his first championship, he won the tournament.
Takanori enjoyed his initial encounter with sumo very much. Upon receiving an invitation, he began training at the Tokachi Sumo Dojo in town. Afterwards, Takanori decided to begin training earnestly and improved rapidly.
He won the Hokkaido Junior High School Championships three times in a row and also posted consecutive victories at the Boy’s Junior High School Division of the Hokkaido Elementary and Junior High School Championships. Takanori easily overwhelmed all of his rivals.
At the time of his birth, Takanori weighed 3,120 grams, which is average for a Japanese baby. However, he steadily grew bigger and bigger.
“I liked milk and drank a lot of it—about two or three liters a day,” recalls Takanori.
His family members are all of normal size, making Takanori a conspicuous member of his family.
Takanori wanted to attend a high school with a strong sumo club, so he enrolled at the national powerhouse Saitama Sakae High School. The school has produced wrestlers such as the Ozeki-ranked wrestler Goeido (30 years old).
Upon entering high school, Takanori left his parent’s house and started living in the dormitory with other students, including seniors. On top of a busy daily schedule filled with studying and sumo training, Takanori was also given many responsibilities as part of communal living at the dormitory. He was only 15 years old at the time.
While living at the dormitory, Takanori learned to help with daily tasks such as making meals, cleaning up afterwards, doing the laundry, and cleaning rooms. Although the lifestyle was difficult at times, Takanori shared the joys and sorrows of daily life with other students in the dormitory. The experience helped him grow significantly as a person.
Goeido occasionally visits his alma mater and watches the students train. Takanori admired Goeido’s gallant figure very much and was thrilled to receive training tips from one of his idols.
From around this time, Takanori gradually developed the aspiration to become a professional sumo wrestler. He took a big step towards achieving this dream by winning the title of Amateur Yokozuna last December.
Takanori holds the Emperor’s Cup in the ring of Kokugikan
After the awards ceremony, Takanori met with his parents who came from Hokkaido to cheer him. His mother was crying tears of joy and his father was overcome with emotion.
When he was a child, Takanori commuted to the Tokachi Sumo Dojo two or three times a week to train. The dojo was about 30 minutes from his house by car. Despite having a busy schedule, Takanori’s father found the time to drive his son to the dojo. He also watched his son’s practices. Takanori’s mother always cooked lots of food to welcome home her tired son.
While gazing at the glittering silver trophy “Emperor’s Cup,” Takanori was filled with a variety of strong emotions.
“My victory was made possible by the support of so many people,” says Takanori.
The Chuo University Sumo Club, officials at Chuo University, officials at Saitama Sakae High School, the Tokachi Sumo Dojo, officials in his hometown, his parents, brothers, and sisters...
Takanori was overwhelmed with congratulatory emails. He received more than three times the usual number of emails. His first thought was how to repay everyone for their support.
At the press conference held on February 7, Takanori made the following declaration:
“I want to strengthen my lower body and work my way up the professional ranks. I want to become a massive and immovable wrestler like Kisenosato.”
Everyone will be watching Chuo University alumnus sumo wrestler Takanori as he aspires to emulate his idol Yokozuna Kisenosato.
Results (honorific titles omitted)
- ○Yago (okuri-taoshi (push opponent down in/out of ring from behind)) ●Furukawa (3rd-year student at Nihon University)
- ○Yago (oshi-dashi (frontal push out)) ●Arakizeki (employee of Toyo University)
- ○Yago (yori-taoshi (frontal crush out)) ●Fukai (1st-year student at Toyo University)
No victory pose in the ring
Takanori never changes his expression while in the ring. Although other wrestlers will pump their fists in celebration of victory, Takanori’s face remained a blank slate even when winning matches and capturing the title of Amateur Yokozuna. “There are times when I want to pump my fist, but I resist the urge and strive to remain calm at all times,” says Takanori when explaining his rock-solid control over his emotions.