The lightest man in sumo

When we think of sumo wrestlers, we usually imagine very big, even fat, men. Like Kotoshogiku for example:

sumo wrestler kotoshogiku
Sumo wrestler Kotoshogiku

Weighing in at 176 kilograms, Kotoshogiku is a formidable man. There is, however, one exception to the rule of big sumo wrestlers. With only 93 kilograms, Czech born Takanoyama doesn’t have a gram of fat on him.

czech sumo wrestler takanoyama
Czech sumo wrestler Takanoyama

I am not sure why Takanoyama is so lean. Is he unable to put on the weight? Or is it a deliberate choice? If so, is it because of vanity? Or is it perhaps a way to stand out among all the other wrestlers? One thing is for sure though: it is not helping him in the ring. When I was following sumo, in 2011-2012, he was struggling to stay in the maegashira division (which is the lowest part of the top division). Usually he attempted some judo-like techniques and while they gained him the occasional win, overall he simply couldn’t compete with the heavier wrestlers. Meanwhile he has dropped out of the top division completely and is placed in the middle of jÅ«ryō, the second highest division.

Despite his poor ring performance, Takanoyama was (and perhaps still is?) very popular with the fans. I wonder if this is due to his unusual physique. It certainly isn’t due to his sunny personality, as I had the chance to discover one July afternoon in 2012.

Prior to the 2012 Nagoya Grand Sumo Tournament, we had the chance to attend a sumo practice session and eat some chanko nabe handed out by the wrestlers. As the wrestlers left to retire to their quarters, they were followed by a group of fans, asking them for pictures. Among the group was a very pushy Japanese lady, who seemed intent on touching the wrestlers as much as possible. When she took a picture with kind natured Takayasu, she even held his hand! Unfortunately I don’t have pictures of the pushy lady, but I do have our own pictures with the wrestlers.

japanese sumo wrestler takayasu
This is me and a friend posing with Takayasu. Such a sweet and shy guy!

After having taken her picture with Takayasu, the pushy Japanese lady approached Czech wrestler Takanoyama. As she was posing alongside him for a picture, she tried to cuddle up to him and take his arm. Takanoyama was having none of it though. He barked at her “Chikai!”, which literally translates as ‘(too) close’. In Japanese, just barking out the word is a very rude way to say she was too close. The lady shrieked and jumped at least a meter away.

We were witness to this incident because we were waiting to take our own picture with Takanoyama. In fact, our turn was up right after the pushy lady. Needless to say we were a bit anxious about approaching this ill-tempered wrestler after witnessing such a scene. In the pictures below, you can clearly see that my friend is keeping her distance from Takanoyama, as is my husband. Because I am standing a bit to the front, it looks like I am closer, but I can assure you that I was equally wary.

Czech sumo wrestler takanoyama
Posing with scary Czech sumo wrestler Takanoyama. Notice how my friend is keeping her distance.
Czech sumo wrestler takanoyama
Even my husband is afraid to come too close and I can’t blame him!

19 thoughts on “The lightest man in sumo

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  1. Stumbled on this article, and while the lower divisions certainly have lighter wrestlers, I also followed the successes and failures of Takanoyama before he was forced to retire due to persistent injury. Probably he wasn’t suited to the top division, but he was good in Juro.

    From a sumo perspective, he tended to make use of speed and side-step the initial launch, and that is where his lack of weight (inertia) was a disadvantage. Still, his tenacity and strength did win him fans.

    I would like to add a comment for Chiyonofuji Mitsugu who at 120kg was/is one of the most successful sumo of all time, using technique, strength and size to great effect.

    1. Hi Patrick! Thanks for sharing your thoughts on sumo.
      Personally, I am not such a big fan of side-stepping the initial launch, especially not when it becomes more than a one-time thing. Isn’t it frowned upon by sumo fans in general as well? Sometimes, when I was watching Takanoyama, I felt more like I was watching judo, with all this throws, rathers than sumo. But still, he was an interesting character.
      Speaking of relatively light wrestlers who make use of speed and agility, I really like Harumafuji’s style. I haven’t been following a lot of sumo since I left Japan because it isn’t covered in Belgium, but I heard he made yokozuna and I’m glad for it!
      Chiyonofuji sounds very interesting. I wish I could have been around to see him fight in his glory days but it was well before my time.

      1. Yes, Harumafuji made Yokuzouna, but I’m not a fan of his (he loses too often for the top rank, but he does carry injuries).
        You are also right about the side-step (henka) move. Once a tournament is ok, but it is n’t good sumo, especially at the top ranks.
        I’ll be back at the sumo in Tokyo next month and I’ll do some cheering for you 🙂
        For good highlight coverage, you can watch – 15 minute recaps of the top division each day.

    1. It was the same for me. Before living in Japan, I thought sumo was quite boring. But once you start to understand the dynamics of the sport a bit more, it becomes really interesting. The English commentary on NHK was very helpful for me. Now that I am back in Belgium, I have stopped following sumo because we don’t have access to English commentary. The only way to watch sumo in Belgium is through the live feed on the Sumo Association website, but that is without commentary. So once more, I have no idea what’s going on in the world of sumo.

      1. English commentary is a luxury I’ve not had. Always watching in Japanese. But you catch up quite fast when watching every day of a tournament. I’ve been in japan for ten months now so language is no longer a problem really 🙂

        1. Good for you, being able to understand everything in Japanese! 🙂 Just in case you didn’t know this yet, I’ll share with you a discovery that we made 6 months into our stay in Japan: Japanese television has a bilingual button. Some programs are available both in English and in Japanese, like for example sumo and the news on NHK, and some movies on other channels. We could switch to English by pressing the bilingual button on our remote. What a discovery that was for us!

          1. Yeah, I learned that from my former landlady and it came in really handy at the time. But I was always watching TV for studying purpose so I quickly forgot all about that until now that you mentioned it :7

  2. Good post, I have been watching sumo for about 15 years. There have been a few smaller men in Sumo. One comes to mind is Mainoumi. He was only 171cm tall and about 96kg I think. He was very popular when I first arrived in Japan in the mid 90s. He made it to Komusubi rank. I don’t think Takanoyama is as good as Mainoumi. Takanoyama doesn’t use his compact size properly. He is also loosing his hair which is not a good thing either.

    1. I don’t think Takanoyama has ever made it past Maegashira 12, so yes, Mainoumi would be a lot better. I had to laugh because of your remark about his baldness. Don’t you like balding men? Or are his poor sumo results somehow related to his hairloss?

      Another (relatively) smaller wrestler that makes excellent use of his smaller size is Harumafuji. I admire his agility and his lively sumo style.

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