Bleached hair and a baseball bat
When the esteemed sumo wrestler Chiyotaikai chrouches down at the beginning of a bout, with a determined look on his face, just waiting to unleash his 160 kgs at the opponent in a terrifying bull-rush... well, it's a far cry from the 16 year old street-wise kid who showed up on the doorstep of Kokonoe beya wanting to become a sumo wrestler.
Today, ozeki Chiyotaikai has turned 30, and his oicho mage1, or top-knot, is a respectable black. But, as you may have guessed, this was not always so.
Chiyotaikai - or Yuji Hiroshima - was born on April 29, 1976, in the city of Chitose, Hokkaido in northern Japan. When his mother was widowed in 1982 they moved to Oita, on the island of Kyushu in the south. Yuji, a burly and restless boy, never really liked going to school all that much. Instead of attending classes he stirred up trouble, looking for challenges on the street. (There are many - often rather more entertaining than true - stories about his teenage years, such as him beating up 30 attackers in an alley, armed only with a baseball bat).
In his mid-teens Yuji took up judo, and came in third in the All-Japan Middle School Judo Championships. Encouraged by this success he decided to try to become a sumotori - a sumo wrestler.
Chiyonofuji, head of the Kokonoe beya (sumo school) did not approve of Yuji's bleached, modern hairstyle, and is said to have turned him away when first he came to the heya. Shortly after the youth turned up again - now with his head shaved. He got in.
Chiyotaikai2 steadily worked his way up through the lower divisions, until he finally was promoted to the juryo division in July, 1995. Two years later he entered makuuchi.
He only fought four basho (tournaments) as maegashira3. In the May basho, 1998, he made it to sanyaku, the top of makuuchi, ranking as komusubi. In the next five basho Chiyotaikai's sumo was astounding. He stringed together five kashi-koshi (more wins than losses), and topped it off by winning the January basho, beating yokozuna Takanohana twice.
This achievement earned Chiyotaikai a promotion to ozeki; the first ozeki in Chiyonofuji's time as Kokonoe oyakata. (Chiyonofuji alledgedly had to wipe away a tear, when Chiyotaikai accepted the Emperor's Cup).
Since his promotion to ozeki Chiyotaikai's form has been more or less reliable. He has been on the verge of demotion (kadoban) due to injury a couple of times, but he has always managed to ride off the storm. His sumo is very forceful and impressive, and he seems to know only one way: forward. He is sometimes nick-named "The Rhino", but he is by no means limited to charging, slapping, and pushing. One of his frequent winning techniques - kimarite - is hatakikomi. It's a "jump to the side 'n slap 'em down" technique; very satisfying to see done properly.
Chiyotaikai has won the following special prizes:
- 3 Emperor's cup (for winning three basho)
- 1 Shukun sho (Outstanding Performance Award)
- 1 Kanto sho (Fighting Spirit Prize)
- 3 Gino sho (Technique Prize)
- 1 Kin boshi (Gold Star, for when a maegashira defeats a yokozuna)
Some experts say that Chiyotaikai seems to be on a losing streak. He ended the May basho 2005 with a 10-5 result; not so bad. In the July basho 2005, he was forced to withdraw, but he has done so before and still managed to come back.
But in 2007 Chiyotaikai was diagnosed with diabetes, and he started having trouble with his left side. To top it off he hurt his elbow in a bout against Yokozuna Hakuho. In the March tournament, 2009, he lost 13 of 15 bouts, and finally lost his ozeki title in November. His hopes of being able to re-take his title with a double digit result in January, 2010, was shattered when he lost his first three bouts - at which time he decided to retire, permanently.
He will be sorely missed by this humble fan.
1: The oicho mage is the top-knot of hair, artfully formed into the shape of a ginko leaf. Worn only by wrestlers in the two top divisions: juryo and makuuchi. Wrestlers below these ranks have a simple, flat chon mage
2: His shikona (ring name) is a tribute to his trainer, Chiyonofuji, one of the greatest yokozuna in post war sumo.
3: Ranks in the makuuchi division, from the bottom up: maegashira, komusubi, sekiwake, ozeki, and yokozuna.
My sources are www.scgroup.com/sumo and www.sumo.or.jp/eng
A lot of good stuff for this w/u came from library.thinkquest.org/29486/chiyotaikai.html