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Osumo-san Wakakoyu

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Jonosuke    15

In the good old days when rikishi have not yet become another elite atheletes, common folks used to call them affectionately "Osumo-san", aptly describing their gentle giant nature. In jungyo basho or more likely outside of basho, often older and younger folks are sometimes heard to call rikishi "Osumo-san".

But let me digress a bit to talk about something else before gettng back to my Osumo-san story.

We all know former Sekiwake Takamiyama, Azuma-zeki oyakata has just retired from Ozumo after reaching the Kyokai's mandatory retirement age. Many also are aware that among those rikishi reaching the highest rank of Sekiwake, Takamiyama had the most number of Makuuchi basho with amazing 97 basho tenure, followed by Terao's 93 basho.

However most may not know who possesses the record for the least number of Makuuchi basho by rikishi reaching Sekiwake. Since my intention here is not to keep you in suspension for any stretch of time, I will tell you, it is former Sekiwake Masurao, the current Onomatsu oyakata.

Masurao of Oshiogawa Beya reached Sekiwake at the 1987 July Basho and vacated the position quickly, making it his only sekiwake basho in his whole career. He was 188 cm tall and weighed 119 kg, rather light, still making his Makuuchi debut at the age of 24 years old. He was enormously competitive against yokozuna and ozeki bunch, and in fact he beat two yokozuna (Chiyonofuji and Futahaguro) and four ozeki (Hokutenyu, Onokuni, Asashio and Wakashimazu) at the 1987 March Basho as East Komusubi, regarded as a strong yusho contender by Day 10 but then he lost the last five bouts to finish the basho with 9 win and 6 loss.

Masurao had enough ability and strength to aspire for ozeki promotion before he severely damaged his right thigh ligaments at the 1987 September Basho, after which point he valiantly struggled through upper Makuuchi ranks but he was never the same and retired at rather young age of 29 years old after 1990 July Basho. Despite his short tenure Masurao was more than a decent sekitori, winning a total of five Sansho.

After his active career, Masurao rented Toshiyori Myoseki of Shikoroyama owned by Terao until he purchased his own share from out of his Ichimon, Dewanoumi Beya's former Komusubi Ohikari as he always wanted to found his own heya. Unfortunately his shisho, Oshiogawa Oyakata wanted none of it and did not grant his permission, forcing him to move to Taiho Beya where Masurao eventually was given a permission to open his own heya in 1994. Masurao decided to locate his heya in Narashino City, Chiba Prefecture, not in Ryogoku as he could not afford to get a place there.

At the time of move, he only had one recruit, Onowaka, and he himself was a bachelor, the two shared a small two bedroom apartment. Since then he actively scouted college grads who missed Tsukedashi designation like Katayama and Furuichi and currently operates a close knit well respected heya.

Soon after Onomatsu Oyakata set up a real building capable of training recruits more seriously, there was one young boy who started coming over to the heya. Masaya Yakigaya was still going to an elementary school but he had his relatives living close by and any time he could spare he used to come over to the heya and to see the oyakata. Born in nearby Funabashi City, Masaya lost his father by a traffic accident when he was only two years old and raised soley by his mother. Masaya may have been searching for a father figure and found him in gentle giant Onomatsu Oyakata.

As expected Masaya became competitive enough to make his dohyo debut at the 1999 Haru Basho. He had relatively smooth progression from Jonokuchi, Jonidan to Sandanme where he had experienced growing pains, withdrawing from two straight basho in 2003 but later on winning all his seven bouts to win the Sandanme Yusho at the 2003 Aki Basho.

His trials and tribulations continued on for the next four years going up and down Makushita and Sandanme banzuke ranking but finally at the 2007 Kyushu Basho, ranked at Makushita West 3, he got Kachikoshi and finally earned a spot in Juryo in the following Hatsu Basho.

Masaya renamed his shikona from Yakigaya to Wakakoyu in his Juryo debut basho but he could not get Kachikoshi and dropped down to Makushita the following basho. But by this time he had enough resiliency to bounce back quickly and returned to Juryo at the Natsu Basho. However still some days Wakakoyu appeared to be confident enough to beat anyone but other days he looked quite shaky and lost easily against lesser opponents but finally at this year's Haru Basho he won 11 bouts and just missed the Juryo yusho. Ranked at West Juryo 2, he finished with 9 win and 6 loss and finally awarded Makuuchi promotion at this Nagoya Basho, ranked at East Makuuchi 16, the very last rank. It has been a long 10 year journey to the top division for him but obviously he regards it as another new beginning, a start of new journey.

There are lot of expectations placed on this late bloomer from Onomatsu Beya, especially from one particular young fan who had a chance encounter with this gentle giant at JR Sobu line's Makuhari Hongo station, located 10 minute walk from Onomatsu Beya.

It was one day during this year's Hatsu Basho. Wakakoyu was walking in the station building when he heard a young boy calling at him, "Osumo San!!!" He looked back and saw two young brothers and one of them calling him and trying to get his attention.

"Osumo San! Please do your best," the young boy said to him. Their mother came over quickly and apologized to him, "I am sorry, calling you all of sudden with such loud voice. Actually I am surprised at him calling you at all," she explained.

Gentle giant Wakakoyu was not bothered at all. He was just promoted to Juryo and knew almost no one knew who he was and he was happy to see such a young fan cheering for him. Wakakoyu went over to him and shook the little boy's hand and told him, "Thank you, I will do my best so you do your best too, OK!" The boy repsonded enthusiastically saying "YES!!!", smiling all the way to home.

The boy's mother, Keiko Aoyanagi was so moved by warmth exhibited by Wakakoyu that she wrote a letter to Readers Column in the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper, describing how his oldest son, Takanobu, has been suffering from vocal abuses by other classmates at his elementary school and was really getting down on himself when suddently this giant showed up in front of him. The chance encounter gave the boy enough courage to call out loudly and when the boy received such warm encouragement from the gentle giant, it changed his outlook completely.

The young Takanobu wrote a thank-you letter to Wakakoyu, writing, "Osumo san, you are my hero. Thank you very much". Wakakoyu just being promoted to Juryo was not receiving many letters from fans so he knew exactly who sent the letter to him and promptly sent him back his Tegata with his personal note, "Takanobu kun, Do your best!"

The tegata is hung on the wall in his home now and since then it has become Takanobu's habit to put his hand on the Tegata every morning before he goes to school. It's clearly apparent that Wakakoyu's warm gentle giant "Osumo san" demeanor helped Takanobu to recover his health as the boy regained his former vitality.

Perhaps becoming the strongest rikishi of all may not be in the card for Wakakoyu but just being good old "Osumo san" of the bygone days, Wakakoyu can yet help others in Japan regain their vitality as he can truly become a national hero the nation so sorely needs by simply being an Osumo-san the world of Ozumo is losing at a rather rapid pace.

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Sasanishiki    5

That's a great story. I think I'll keep an eye on Onomatsu-beya from now on, partly because of the story and partly because of all the places you mentioned being familiar to me. I used to live in Chiba city (a decade ago!!) and Makuhari Hongo is only about 4 stops from where I lived, and Funabashi not much further on. My partner at the time ended up working in Funabashi toward the end of our stay, so I know the shopping area at least. I guess they would feel a little like they have their backs up against the wall after the difficulties teh oyakata had, and the fact that they are removed from most of the other heya. I like how plucky they seem.

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Naganoyama    1,885

I love this type of article, shining a light on a rikishi whose life outside the ring I would otherwise know very little about. Thanks Jonosuke!

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Fay    1,526

Thanks for the article. Interesting to read about the beginnings of Onomatsu Oyakata.

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Shomishuu    0

A wonderful story! Thanks so much, Jonosuke.

Sharing an apartment with your only deshi with no okamisan in a heya outside of Tokyo. Would that take the 'most humble beginnings' trophy in the history of heya?

Edited by Shomishuu

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Itachi    113

I've had my eye on Wakakoyu since he arrived in Juryo and I believe he can be a regular visitor to Makuuchi if not stick around. I do expect him to return to Juryo in the next basho or two but I think he will return and spend lots of time there.

It's nice to hear stories like this.

Even the location was interesting as I used to stop at Funabashi on my way to Katsutadai whenever I was in the Kanto area.

Are there many heya without proper facilities or okamisan?

Maybe there are other stories to be told.

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