Without wearing a jacket on his enormous frame, amateur sumo yokozuna (grand champion) Satoru Shibuya, who turned 29 this year, made his way to Chuo University's Surugadai Memorial Hall at the end of the year.
He visited his alma mater along with Coach Konishi of his organization's team (Nippon Express), and carrying his winner's trophy and gold medal, reported his victory at the 59th Emperor's Cup All-Japan Sumo Championships held at Tokyo's Ryogoku Kokugikan on December 5th. Incidentally, Coach Konishi is also a Chuo graduate and there is a deep relationship between Nippon Express and Chuo University's sumo club.
I was able to get a picture of Shibuya when Coach Hiraiwa, coach from his university days (who accompanied me when I covered this story), hung the winner's medal around his neck.
A handsome 180cm, 175kg frame with the really heavy championship cup.
My first impression of him was that of a man who has something, which is currently a popular expression.
That impression became much deeper as the interview proceeded.
The importance of a first All-Japan Sumo Championships victory
A handful of high school students and about 30 participants from both universities and companies, totaling about 65, enter the All-Japan Sumo Championships every year to determine the top sumo wrestler in Japan. In order to qualify, one must be among the top place-getters in tournaments held a few times each month. Thirty wrestlers who win two or more of their three qualifying bouts proceed to the final round of the tournament to fight for the championship, with the eventual winner having to win eight bouts.
Shibuya finished 3rd in this tournament as a third year university student.
This was the first time he has won a prize in eight years, but compared to when he was 21, his age and the amount of training he did was different (at Nippon Express he trains for two hours after completing his regular work schedule.) Because of those conditions, both he and his supporters were delighted.
Meeting a good mentor and seniors
Shibuya took up sumo in his fourth year of elementary school. Having a good physique from when he was little, he took up sumo after winning the Akita prefectural qualifying tournament for the National Boys' Sumo Championship held in his home prefecture of Akita. He continued with sumo through junior and senior high school and won at the National Athletic Meet while attending Omagari Agricultural High School.
Shibuya decided to enter Chuo University after receiving strong offers from two people. One was professional sumo wrestler Akira Narita (now Takekaze), also from
Akita Prefecture, who is two years older than Shibuya and also fought alongside him on the same high school team. With recommendations from this senior, as well as Coach Hiraiwa, Shibuya chose to enter Chuo University.
In the words of Coach Hiraiwa, In Shibuya's second year, Takekaze (Narita) became student champion. I think that having a strong senior like that brought out more in his training and he could watch strong matches. So, having a strong wrestler around him sustained his growth. This is the first time that he felt he had something.
Mysterious are the ways of Heaven
But not everything was rosy. In the April immediately after entering university, at the All-Japan University Sumo Uwajima Invitational Tournament held annually in Ehime prefecture, Shibuya suffered his first major injury. He severed the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. By incurring this inexplicable injury in his debut bout, he was robbed of six months of sumo and training and was forced into daily rehabilitation. It was his first such experience, but through the suffering at that time, he built up strong resilience despite the tough training which followed.
When entering Chuo University, all sumo club members lead a sports training camp life at the Nanpei Dormitory. Being a sports club, there is, of course, a strong hierarchy of members, with first year students having to do chores such as shopping and washing when asked by their seniors.
But you never did chores even when asked, did you? says Coach Hiraiwa.
Usually, you would go out when asked to go shopping and take forever in coming back. Everyone stopped asking you
No, no. replied Shibuya, showing no fear even to such a coach. I couldn't walk because of my injury. Even if I wanted to do chores, my injury stopped me (laughs). When I was at high school I always travelled to school so, honestly, dormitory life surprised me at first. I thought.what kind of place is this? Everything was like a culture shock to me and it took me a while to get used to things, but now I think it was better for me to be at the bottom of the ladder in my first year. There are times when I have found it hard going after entering the workforce.but nothing compared to that first year at university. because I could persevere through the injury and the chores, I think I could tolerate the tough training.
Really? sneered the coach glancing sideways, momentarily giving a brief glimpse of the strong relationship between mentor and pupil.
Enjoying team competition more than individual bouts
Because of this injury, Shibuya is often said to have given up on joining the sumo world, but this is far from the truth. He never gave up on becoming a pro because the desire to turn professional never built up inside of him. Becoming strong in amateur sumo doesn't equate to turning professional. Professional sumo is, essentially, an individual battle. There are no team competitions like those in amateur sumo.
Thankfully, Shibuya likes the team competition matches, says Coach Konishi.
In team competitions, says Shibuya, I usually fight as the general (a group of three fight in the order of vanguard, anchor and general), but when the match is locked at one all and my turn comes around in a must-win situation.I am determined. I like the pressure.
This Shibuya, who likes the teamwork used in team competition, will become captain of the Nippon Express sumo club next year.
A 29 year old amateur yokozuna, who naturally has something
When I was in my fourth year, says Shibuya, I didn't do any job-hunting in particular and just sat around doing nothing. When it seemed I would get some kind of work in Iwate Prefecture, my coach and those around me strongly suggested I should join Nippon Express where the environment was well-balanced. If I hadn't entered Chuo University, I probably wouldn't have won this tournament or got this job. I am truly grateful to Chuo University.
His two life mentors, sitting next to him, give a big nod.
When asked if he has any motto or life maxim, Shibuya replies after a pause, have a natural manner.go with the flow, I suppose.
The 29 year old yokozuna who went with the flow in a natural manner and amazingly went on to capture the All-Japan title has a loveable character.
More than anything, his two life mentors give the impression of kindly watching over Shibuya as his guardian deities.