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Born on day of 1995 Hanshin quake, sumo wrestler Terutsuyoshi feels heavy responsibility

Newly-minted juryo division sumo wrestler Terutsuyoshi smiles during a news conference at the Isegahama stable dorm in Dazaifu, Fukuoka Prefecture, on Nov. 30, 2016. (Mainichi)

Sumo wrestler Terutsuyoshi was born on the island of Awaji on Jan. 17, 1995, the same day that a fault shift beneath that island sparked one of the most tragic events in recent Japanese history: the Great Hanshin Earthquake that shattered central Hyogo Prefecture and rolled through the Kansai region.

    "I feel it is fate," said the hard-charging Terutsuyoshi, who will turn 22 on the 10th day of the New Year's Grand Sumo Tournament, his first after a promotion to the juryo division following an outstanding performance at the recent Kyushu tournament. "I want to heat up the ring and do sumo in a way that puts a smile on everyone's face," he added.

    After the sumo promotions committee announced his rise to the juryo division, Terutsuyoshi held a news conference at the Isegahama stable dorm in Dazaifu, Fukuoka Prefecture.

    "For my own part, I feel I got there (to the juryo division) a little late," he said of the seven years it took him to reach this level. "I want to keep trying hard from now on," he went on with a happy look on his face.

    On the 13th day of the Kyushu tournament, the then makushita division-ranked Terutsuyoshi faced off against Kagamio, who has risen as high as sumo's top makuuchi division. The bout went exactly to plan, as Terutsuyoshi bested his Mongolian opponent with a right arm throw, forcing Kagamio out of the ring and sealing his seventh win for the tournament -- a perfect record.

    "My heart swelled with feeling," he said.

    Terutsuyoshi practiced judo as a child. However, when he was an elementary school fourth-grader he entered an open sumo competition on Awaji, and came in second. From then on, he threw himself into sumo. He sometimes skipped school because he "hated to study," but always made it to the practice ring.

    Terutsuyoshi joined the professional sumo world when he was 15, and made his debut at the 2010 Spring Grand Sumo Tournament. He was 168 centimeters tall, and weighed in at 85 kilograms. He packed on more weight by consuming three ramen bowls of rice per meal, and now clocks in at 112 kilograms. To make up for the physical difference with his opponents, Terutsuyoshi put in 100-bout days in the practice ring. The sumo hopeful says he looks up to his fellow Isegahama stable rikishi Yokozuna Harumafuji for being "sharp in the initial charge."

    Terutsuyoshi, whose real name is Shoki Fukuoka, was born in a hospital on Awaji on the night of Jan. 17, 1995. Though he was oblivious to the destruction on that day, he is now well aware of the devastation through pictures and videos.

    "I must carry something with me that others don't," he said of coming into the world on that day. "I'd like to lend my power to all disaster victims."

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