The final day of the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament saw victory clinched by Japan-born Ozeki Kotoshogiku -- his first time to lift the Emperor's Cup, as well as one that put an end to victories by foreign competitors in 58 straight tournaments.
Kotoshogiku's triumph could indicate the beginning of a decline in the golden age of Mongolian-led sumo, where a total of 56 out of 58 tournaments saw victories by the Mongolian force -- which has three yokozuna and one ozeki -- a development that would signify a significant transformation of the power structure within the sumo world.
The late Kotozakura, Kotoshogiku's former master from the Sadogatake stable, advanced to the yokozuna rank at age 32. Kotoshogiku, who will compete for the yokozuna rank at the Spring Grand Sumo Tournament this March, will similarly turn 32 years old on Jan. 30.
Japan Sumo Association Chairman Hakkaku, formerly the yokozuna Hokutoumi, commented with regard to Kotoshogiku's candidacy for the yokozuna rank, "I think that it is a possibility if he wins the next tournament as well." Hakkaku added, "The tournament content like the latest one, in which he beat three yokozuna, will also be evaluated."
The last Japanese sumo wrestler to have risen to the rank is the 66th yokozuna Wakanohana, who secured the title following the Summer Grand Sumo Tournament in 1998.
Five wrestlers have since joined the yokozuna ranks since that time -- one from the United States, and four from Mongolia.
The requirements for reaching the level of yokozuna -- which were established by the Yokozuna Deliberation Council, headed by Chiba University professor emeritus Hideshige Moriya -- are either winning two consecutive tournaments as an ozeki-ranked wrestler, or making achievements of a similar nature.
Kotoshogiku's crowning success occurs on top of five previous experiences of surviving do-or-die tournaments -- in which an ozeki-ranked wrestler is demoted if the number of his losses exceeded those of his victories in two consecutive tournaments.
Kotozakura, whose title includes a word meaning "cherry tree" in Japanese, also had a hard time as an ozeki-ranked wrestler -- including being taunted as "Ubazakura," or "cherry tree of an old woman" -- although he ended up getting the yokozuna promotion.
The upcoming Spring Grand Sumo Tournament could mean Kotoshogiku's last chance for a similar triumph.
The other two Japanese wrestlers in the ozeki division are Kisenosato and Goeido. The 29-year-old Kisenosato often loses early on in competitions, but has only been subjected to a do-or-die tournament once. He is also often among the contenders for victory -- and the hopes for his achievements within the Japan Sumo Association consequently run high.
Meanwhile, Goeido, also 29, has never posted double-digit victories in a tournament as an ozeki. His losses significantly outnumbered his wins in the most recent tournament -- 11 to four, respectively -- and the Spring Grand Sumo Tournament will be his third do-or-die tournament.
Both wrestlers, then -- neither of whom have any tournament wins under their belts -- are in a position of wanting to break out of their shells and fulfill their responsibilities as ozeki-ranked wrestlers.
Expectations are also high with respect to rising Japanese wrestlers who were born during the present Heisei era. Takayasu, 25, is the first Heisei-born wrestler to rise within three highest ranks below yokozuna. Kotoyuki, a junior disciple of Kotoshogiku who achieved more wins than losses in the most recent tournament as fourth-ranked maegashira -- his highest rank so far -- as well as Shodai, a university amateur champion who scored a two-figure victory and clinched a fighting-spirit award as a newly-minted makuuchi division wrestler -- are both 24 years old.
Moriya commented with respect to the dry spell in terms of Japanese sumo champions, "It is better to think in a worldwide manner, and so I personally am not concerned (with the nationality of the victors)." He added, however, "I do believe that there is more of a hungry spirit (on the part of the Mongolian wrestlers as compared with the Japanese)."
Moriya also referred to the recent spate of injuries among top sumo wrestlers, noting, "It appears that there needs to be a stronger focus on agility-related exercises during the wrestlers' basic training."
Chiyonofuji, sumo's 58th yokozuna and master of the Kokonoe stable, who won a total of 31 championships -- the third-highest number in sumo history -- was quoted as saying, "It seems to me that the Mongolian wrestlers work harder in training. Japanese wrestlers need to take on new challenges."