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Yoroku: The pride of Japan's 'national sport'

When the Kokugikan sumo venue was first built in Tokyo's Ryogoku district in 1909, novelist Suiin Emi (1869-1934), a fan of sumo, wrote, "It hardly needs to be mentioned, but sumo is Japan's national sport, and it has been encouraged by successive Imperial courts, with the prosperous undertaking of sumai no sechie (an Imperial sumo ceremony) having cultivated a martial spirit ..."

    It was this passage that led to sumo being referred to in Japan as a national sport. Inspired sumo elder Oguruma subsequently proposed that the newly built venue be named "Kokugikan" (literally, "national sports hall"), according to the book "Sumo -- Kokugi to Naru" (Sumo's transition to a national sport) by Akira Kazami.

    When the Kokugikan venue was first opened, there was no system to honor individual champions -- the Jiji Shinpo newspaper company simply displayed a photograph of the top-division wrestler with the best record inside the venue. That newspaper later merged with the Tokyo Nichi Nichi Shimbun, the predecessor of the Mainichi Shimbun. Later in the Taisho period, after the system of having an individual champion was established, our paper took on the role of displaying large pictures of the winners, which has continued to this day. (Apologies for blowing our own trumpet!) Anyway, for the first time in 10 years, the Kokugikan venue is set to display the picture of a Japan-born tournament winner.

    Kotoshogiku defeated three yokozuna wrestlers in the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament and lost just one bout to win the tournament -- bringing honor to the "national sport" as a native Japanese champion for the first time since 2006, when Tochiazuma claimed the Emperor's Cup.

    Of course, it is a "national sport" whose popularity was restored thanks to foreign-born wrestlers upholding the traditions of sumo and continuing to preserve the wrestling mound when its continuation was threatened by scandals. And it's tasteless at this point of time to question where a wrestler is from, but the honor of this wrestler, who is loved my many fans, starting with those in Kotoshogiku's home prefecture of Fukuoka, is a cause for happiness. Without children aspiring to become wrestlers, the future of the "national sport" will be dark. We hope that the victory of the popular ozeki wrestler -- who arches his back in a routine dubbed "Kiku Bauer" (a play on Ina Bauer) before the start of his bouts -- will inspire future generations. ("Yoroku," a front-page column in the Mainichi Shimbun)

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