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Tochinoshin set for promotion to ozeki after overcoming language, culture differences

Sekiwake Tochinoshin leaves the sumo ring as he waves to cheering fans at Ryogoku Kokugikan in Tokyo on May 27, 2018. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- Sekiwake Tochinoshin is poised to be promoted to sumo's second highest rank of ozeki in a Japan Sumo Association board of directors meeting on May 30, following his impressive 37 total wins in the last three Grand Sumo tournaments, including the just completed summer tourney where he emerged victorious in 13 out of 15 bouts. His recent success in the latest competition includes a win against grand master yokozuna Hakuho.

The 30-year-old sumo wrestler, whose real name is Levan Gorgadze, will be the first ozeki from the Caucasian country of Georgia, and the fourth oldest rikishi to be promoted to that rank since 1958.

"I am so happy to end the summer tourney with a win," Tochinoshin said after his bout against No. 5 maegashira Ikioi. "I will wrestle the same way as I'm doing now when I become ozeki," added the professional wrestler, who overcame language and culture differences to become one of the most popular faces in the contemporary sumo world.

The towering Tochinoshin -- weighing 169 kilograms with a height of 191 centimeters -- is known for his powerful fighting style. He joined the professional sumo world by becoming a member of the Kasugano stable in February 2006 after winning the No. 2 slot in the heavyweight class of the world junior sumo championships the previous year. He had no problem in practicing sumo but faced other difficulties. "I went through hard times and felt lonely because I did not understand the (Japanese) language," Tochinoshin said.

The wrester is very thankful for the open-minded support from his senior stablemate Hiromitsu Munakata, 40, in getting used to life in Japan. The senior taught Tochinoshin the Japanese language using a Japanese-Georgian word list found by the stable master's wife on the internet, as no dictionary of the two languages was readily available. Tochinoshin, who said he learned Japanese words such as soji (cleaning) and hashi (chopsticks) one by one, spoke of Munakata fondly, saying, "His attitude didn't change because I was a foreigner."

Tochinoshin said he was also helped by the presence of Gagamaru, 31, another Georgian wrestler belonging to the Kise stable. The two used to compete together in judo tournaments back home. They met almost every day at a park in Tokyo that was located halfway between their stables. "We talked a lot while eating ice candy we bought at convenient stores," recalled Tochinoshin. Gagamaru said, "I just went to the park and he was there. We didn't bother to make appointments."

Tochinoshin said he was initially surprised by the 4 a.m. wakeup time at the stable, but he soon focused on building up his muscle, even skipping his daytime naps after morning training and breakfast. "He made steady efforts without relying on his good physique. That's why his career is blooming now," said Munakata.

Ozeki wrestlers are entitled to take a car to Ryogoku Kokugikan, but Tochinoshin, who had experienced various ups and downs before reaching this stage in his career, said, "I would rather walk as my stable is nearby."

(Japanese original by Nobuyuki Mashita, Sports News Department, and Hiroto Yoshimi, Sports News Group at Kyushu News Department)

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