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News Navigator: What happens when you become a sumo elder?

Yokozuna Hakuho is seen after his 1,048th career win at the Nagoya Grand Sumo Tournament on July 21, 2017, at the Aichi Prefectural Gymnasium in Nagoya's Naka Ward. (Mainichi)

At the Nagoya Grand Sumo Tournament in July, yokozuna Hakuho clinched his 1,048th career win, setting a new all-time record. Around the same time, the 32-year-old Mongolian hinted at obtaining Japanese citizenship so he could receive an elder name and perhaps open his own sumo stable in the future. The Mainichi answers common questions readers may have about the process of becoming an elder in the traditional sport.

Question: Do you have to have Japanese nationality to receive an elder name?

Answer: Under the current rules, yes. This is because the Japan Sumo Association states that in order to receive an elder name, or establish or inherit a sumo stable, one must be an elder, and elders are limited to those holding Japanese citizenship.

Q: When was that decided?

A: It was decided by the sumo association at an executive board meeting in 1976. At the time, Hawaii-born Takamiyama had become the first foreign national to win a title in sumo's top division, and whether or not he would become an elder in the future attracted attention. Because sumo is a traditional Japanese sport, and the association at the time operated as a foundation with government permission, it was decided that Japanese citizenship would be required to become a sumo elder. An executive of the association at the time explained that with globalization, there was the possibility of unexpected events occurring in the future, so this roadblock was put in place.

Takamiyama did become a Japanese national in 1980, and after retiring in 1984, trained yokozuna Akebono and komusubi Takamisakari under the elder name Azumazeki.

Q: Are there any other elders from foreign countries?

A: Two yokozuna from Hawaii, Akebono and Musashimaru, both received Japanese citizenship and became elders. Akebono left the sumo association after that, but Musashimaru is now running his own stable under the elder name Musashigawa. In addition, former Mongolian sekiwake Kyokutenho and former Bulgarian ozeki Kotooshu also took Japanese citizenship during their careers, and now train wrestlers as instructors under the elder names Tomozuna and Naruto, respectively.

Q: What can you do if you become an elder?

A: Along with training aspiring sumo wrestlers, if you become a member of the executive board, you can play a role in the operation of the sumo association, and there is even a chance of becoming the association head. If Hakuho takes Japanese citizenship and becomes an elder, the door to becoming an executive managing the sumo world could open up to him. (Answers by Taro Iiyama, Sports News Department)

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