As we all know by now, there has been some not so glowing stuff in the news lately regarding Naruto Oyakata. Least glowing is the fact that he died on Monday morning, apparently of respiratory problems. We shall leave speculation on news events for other places, here we shall take a look back at the life and career of the 59th Yokozuna: Takanosato.
Toshihide Takaya was born in 1952, and like many previous yokozuna, hailed from Aomori prefecture (Namioka town, now Aomori City). Toshihide was a student of judo in his youth, and was scouted by Futagoyama-Oyakata (former yokozuna Wakanohana I) at the same time that Wakanohana II was scouted, in nearby Owani town. The two shindeshi even rode on the same night train to Tokyo to begin their sumo training at Futagoyama-beya (now Takanohana-beya). They both made their Hatsu Dohyo in Nagoya of 1968 However, Toshihide took a bit longer to develop.
Osaka of 1971 saw Takaya change his Shikona to Takanosato, perhaps looking for a change of luck to get him out of the Jonidan/Sandanme trench. Just 2 basho later he made it to makushita, but it would not be until Januaury of 1974 that he hit a stride that earned him promotion to sekitori-hood for Kyushu of the same year. He made a good debut, scoring 10-5 from J13E and taking part in the 4 way playoff with Kotonofuji, Aobajo, and Banryuyama. Banryuyama ended up with the yusho, but Takanosato would end up the highest ranked of all 4.
In Osaka of the same year a 10-5 from J2E earned Takanosato the promotion to makuuchi for May of 1975. However, He struggled initially. Going back to juryo twice, then making his sanyaku debut at Komusubi for Osaka 1977 with a score of 4-11, then going back to juryo one more time in 1979.
He really started to solidify starting in September of 1979, when he finally made it to Sekiwake. Although he was demoted to M12, he broke out in Nagoya of 1980 scoring 12-3 and picking up his 2nd kantosho and the junyusho. Then immediately followed it up in September with 13-2, Junyusho, Shukunsho, Kantosho, and a kinboshi over both Kitanoumi and Wajima. For the next 5 basho he established himself solidly sanyaku. Getting good scores with good sumo.
His Ozeki run began in Aki 1981, scoring 10-5 from K2W with wins over 4 sanyaku including Yokozuna Chiyonofuji. In Kyushu from S1E he got 11-4 with kantosho number 4 again beating Chiyonofuji. Hatsu 1982 his 12-3 junyusho with a kantosho and another win over Chiyonofuji sealed Takanosato’s promotion to Ozeki. (In fact Takanosato, from 1981-1982, beat Chiyonofuji 8 times in a row.)
Takanosato debuted at Ozeki in Osaka 1982 with and 11-4 junyusho perfomance, then just 3 basho later in September he picked up his first yusho with a perfect 15-0. his next 5 basho went like this:
November: 10-5, January: 11-4, March: 12-3J May: 13-2J, July: 14-1Y and promotion to Yokozuna. Just for the kicker, he batted for the cycle and got 15-0 on his debut as Yokozuna, picking up his 3rd yusho, then his 4th just 2 basho later, in January 1984. It would, however be his last.
’84 is when things started going wrong. Soon after, Takanosato’s overall health started to deteriorate and by November of 1984 he couldn’t finish a tournament, missing 4 straight. He tried to come back in Nagoya scoring 10-5. He hung on, fighting only a few bouts per tournament, and after just 2 bouts in the January basho of 1986 he threw in the towel after a loss to then-Komusubi Konishiki.
Was he a great Yokozuna, a Dai-Yokozuna if you will? No. Not technically. But this cat was a fighter. He was a late bloomer, being kicked back to juryo a total of 3 times, and not making Ozeki until 29, then Yokozuna at nearly 31 (normally around the retirement age) with a perfect 15-0 (last time a yokozuna debuted with a perfect score before that was Futabayama back in January 1938). Added to that, after being promoted to Ozeki he admitted that he was struggling with diabetes, and had to drastically change his diet to keep things going.
Despite all that, he was able to kick ass and take names…BIG names. Over his career he picked up 1 Juryo yusho, 4 makuuchi yusho, 8 jun yusho, 2 shukunsho, and 5 Kantosho, and remains one of the few rikishi to have a winning record over Chiyonofuji (18-13). He fought from the belt and preferred migi-yotsu. Although the vast majority of his wins were yorikiri, he was known also to use the uwatenage and tsuridashi to get his white circles. His style was a balance between brutality and finesse. Take a look at his dohyo iri and you’ll get an idea of what his fighting style was like. He was a big guy at about 182cms and maxing out at 158kg, but he could move quickly and was obscenely strong.
After retirement he took the name Naruto and in 1989 opened Naruto-beya. Since then he has been more than on par with his contemporaries producing 7 sekitori including 3 sekiwake. His methods have been criticized as being overly strict and, recently, brutal. But let’s be honest, is it any different anywhere else? Physical abuse is as open a secret in sumo as yaocho. Sumo is a martial sport, and if you’re not tough, you don’t make it. Takanosato himself is proof of that. He is what we are lacking in the sport right now. We don’t really need another Dai-yokozuna to over throw Hakuho, we need a flash in the pan yokozuna or two. Someone who can come along and snag a yusho or 5, and keep things interesting. Perhaps, as an Oyakata, some of Naruto’s methods were over the top. But let us not piss on the grave of a champion before he’s in it.