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Japanese girl pushes to make women's sumo major sport as 1st female captain of famed club

Hiryu Senior High School sumo club captain Hina Takei is seen at her school in Numazu, Shizuoka Prefecture, on March 24, 2023. (Mainichi/Masahito Minagawa)

NUMAZU, Shizuoka -- As the only girl, 17-year-old Hina Takei "never thought" she could be named captain of her sumo club at Numazu, Shizuoka Prefecture's Hiryu Senior High School, alma mater to a slew of professional wrestlers including recent Spring Grand Sumo Tournament title hopeful Midorifuji. But that all changed in the summer of 2022.

    "I appreciated Takei's attitude toward sumo and her ability to see what's going on around her," said head coach Daisuke Kurihara, 46, of his decision to name Takei the first female captain in the club's more than 50-year history.

    In addition to practicing with the entire eight-student club six days a week, she works out on her own early every morning. To prevent injuries, she also does an hour of stretching when she gets home.

    Takei did judo as a young child, but was drawn to sumo when, in the fourth grade, she saw her elder brother Sakutaro (now juryo-ranked wrestler Atamifuji) compete in the regional children's sumo tournament. She went on to enter and then win her first ever tournament, but took a heartbreaking loss in the Shizuoka prefectural tournament final. Nevertheless, she was hooked, and made the switch from judo to sumo.

    "Sumo is a much more clear-cut contest," Takei said. "When I lost, the difference in skill was frustrating, and it made me want to win the next time."

    Following in Sakutaro's footsteps, Takei entered Hiryu Senior High, and came in third place in the lightweight division at the national championships during her very first year at the school. Takei has leveraged her speed to post an excellent record, but has been battling injuries in what has been a disappointing current season so far.

    Nevertheless, Takei is shooting to compete in the Junior Sumo World Championships set for October in Tokyo -- her dream event since her third year of junior high school. But to get there, she will have to win the International Women's Sumo Invitational Championship to be held on April 9 in Sakai, Osaka Prefecture.

    "By turning the fact that I've been training harder than anyone else into confidence, I definitely want to win," she said.

    Takei is maxing out her preparations, watching videos of Midorifuji and refining her signature move, the "kata sukashi" -- dodging out of the opponent's way and then forcing them to the ground with a hard push against their shoulder. However, training against male adversaries is far from what she'll face in the ring on tournament day.

    "Women's sumo is more varied and interesting than men's sumo," Takei said.

    Women's sumo does not have a grand stage like male tournaments at the inter-high school championships and the National Sports Festival. Still, Takei dreams of boosting women's sumo's popularity and, in the future, making it an Olympic event.

    "I want to become a better athlete, spread its appeal, and make it a major sport," she declared.

    (Japanese original by Masahito Minagawa, Shizuoka Bureau)

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