FEATURE: Memories of the great yokozuna Chiyonofuji

TOKYO (The Japan News/ANN) — The 58th yokozuna Chiyonofuji, nicknamed Wolf, was known for his strict personality, but he left us with unforgettable memories.

The 58th yokozuna Chiyonofuji, nicknamed Wolf, died of pancreatic cancer on July 31. He was 61 — too young to pass away. 

Hailing from Hokkaido, Chiyonofuji’s real name was Mitsugu Akimoto. The great yokozuna, who later became stablemaster Kokonoe, was known for his strict personality, but he left us with unforgettable memories.

Like two other legendary yokozuna, Taiho and Kitanoumi, who became namesake stablemasters after ending their active sumo careers, Chiyonofuji was particular about taste.

Take for example the gomen-iwai event, held before each of the annual six grand sumo tournaments under the sponsorship of the Japan Sumo Association for the people from traditional shops involved in ticket selling and guidance for spectators and news media organisations. The event, which dates back to the Edo period (1603-1867), was started to announce that sumo had been permitted by the commissioner of temples and shrines.

Chanko nabe, or hodgepodge hot pot, is prepared at the gomen-iwai party, and reporters and JSA executives gather around the pots. 

Once, the Kokonoe stablemaster and I happened to sit in the same group. He normally looked intimidating, but was jubilant and pleasant at drinking parties. 

He volunteered to be the nabe bugyo, who takes care of the cooking and serving for the group. “The nabe would taste awful if you guys took charge,” he said. He had a bad mouth but was the life and soul of parties. 

He told secret stories about the rikishi of his stable and made small talk about various things to warm up the gatherings. 

After time had passed and the dish boiled down, he called a shop clerk to bring two Japanese sake bottles of 180 millilitres and poured them into the nabe.

The taste of the soy sauce-based dish instantly became mild and tastier. This really was an impressive moment.

I was once on the receiving end of a sumo charge from him. It was after I asked him about the tachiai jump-offs of ozeki Chiyotaikai, who was from his stable, during a Spring Grand Sumo Tournament.

The Kokonoe stablemaster was also serving as the JSA chief of judges at the time, and he had a dinner appointment with one of his acquaintances after the day’s events. 

Because I was slow to understand his explanation, he resorted to physical moves, although exercising restraint. “It’s of no use pushing with hands alone. Bump against the opponent head first,” he said.

The impact from Wolf’s wallop was immense. It was as if I had been blasted 100 metres away. 

As a sumo reporter, how lucky I am to have had such an experience. -- Miki is an expert in sumo.