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Hakuho sets all-time wins record; to seek Japan citizenship to become elder

Sumo elder Asakayama (former ozeki Kaio) looks on as yokozuna Hakuho receives his prize after a match at the Aichi Prefectural Gymnasium on July 20, 2017. (Mainichi)

On July 21, with two days left in the Nagoya Grand Sumo Tournament, 32-year-old yokozuna Hakuho clinched his 12th victory of the tourney for his 1,048th career win, surpassing former ozeki Kaio to set a new all-time record.

Now elder Asakayama, 44, former ozeki Kaio accumulated his 1,047 wins over a 24-year career. He watched Hakuho tie his record on July 20 from a referee seat just below the sumo ring.

"His strength was palpable, and he had more than enough zeal. People are probably excited about him going on to break more records," Asakayama said of Hakuho, whose pro sumo career spans 17 years and counting. "What's incredible is that Hakuho has done this as a yokozuna. I was able to leave the record I did because I was just an ozeki. The records just can't be compared."

Kaio retired shortly after the 2011 Nagoya tournament, in which he broke the late former yokozuna Chiyonofuji's career wins record of 1,045. Six years have passed since, and he smiled as he said, "I'm glad that Hakuho has stirred my name up from the depths of people's memories."

Hakuho's first time in the sumo ring was at the March 2001 Spring Grand Sumo Tournament, the second tourney that then ozeki Kaio won. Tomozuna stable, which Kaio had belonged to, was of the same Isegahama clan as Hakuho's Miyagino stable. "(Kaio) guided us all as the leading sumo wrestler of the clan, and trained us well," Hakuho has said. "He was really strong."

When Hakuho broke former Yokozuna Taiho's record of 32 career championships at the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament in 2015, he stated that breaking the career wins record was his new motivation to keep going. Asakayama said that having been considered a goal had been an honor.

When he was still in the ring, then Kaio was pitted against Hakuho in 33 bouts, and lost 27 of them. The former ozeki says of some critics' remarks that Hakuho's strength has waned, "He's still very powerful. Even if his strength were to have dropped a little, that would finally make the Grand Sumo Tournament a little more interesting.

"I just barely broke the record, but Hakuho can go on to far greater heights," Asakayama continued. "I anticipate that he'll go on to have 1,100 or 1,200 career wins."

Meanwhile, 32-year-old Hakuho, who is originally from Mongolia, intends to obtain Japanese citizenship, it emerged on July 20. The yokozuna has long said that his dream was to open up a sumo stable in Tokyo's ritzy Ginza district, and it is believed that his latest record-tying achievement has prompted him to prepare for the future.

To become a sumo stablemaster after retiring from the ring, one must inherit or otherwise obtain an elder name. According to Japan Sumo Association (JSA) rules, Japanese citizenship is one of the conditions that must be met to get an elder name. Shortly after sumo elder and then JSA chairman Kitanoumi passed away in November 2015, Hakuho said that he had hoped the elder's name would be passed down to him based on his merits -- called the ichidai toshiyori (one-generation elder) system. Hakuho had hoped to become an elder while remaining a Mongolian citizen.

The ichidai toshiyori merit system allows the JSA to approve yokozuna with outstanding achievements during his sumo career to obtain an elder name. Hakuho, who has won a record 38 career championships, has enough of a distinguished career that, like Taiho, Kitanoumi and Takanohana, would make him eligible for an elder name based on merit, but his lack of Japanese citizenship had stood in the way.

Since 2012, Hakuho has been taking live-in apprentices, teaching them sumo even as he continues his own wrestling career. Obtaining Japanese citizenship would bring his dream of becoming a stablemaster that much closer to reality.

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