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Instead of dedicating one writeup to each Wakanohana, I decided to give you a three-in-one solution:


The 45th yokozuna

Wakanohana I

Hanada Katsuji is often considered the first sumo wrestler to bear the shikona (ring name) Wakanohana - Flower of Youth. But the shikona was allegedly given to him by the oyakata ("stable" master or coach) of Hanakago Beya, whose first shikona - before he was promoted to the top division of sumo, makuuchi,1 (as Maegashira Ohnoumi) - had been Wakanohana. Hanakago Oyakata was the one who discovered young Katsuji's potential, and coached him to fame.2

Born on March 16, 1928 on the island of Hokkaido, Japan, Hanada Katsuji worked as a longshoreman3 until being discovered by a passing sumo-scout. He debuted in maezumo (the lowest division in sumo) in 1946 at the age of 18 as a pupil in Nihonoseki Beya (training school), and steadily worked his way up through the divisions for the next 4 years. He left Nihonoseki Beya for Hanakago Beya, where he, as mentioned above, became the deshi (pupil) of former Maegashira Ohnoumi.

In January 1950 Katsuji was promoted to makuuchi. Then, in September 1954, he made sekiwake4, the fourth highest rank in sumo, and two years later he reached the coveted highest rank: yokozuna. At the time he was using the shikona "Wakanohana Katsuji", changing it to "Wakanohana Kanji" ("kanji" is a Japanese printing character, but in this case it is just a name) shortly after being promoted to yokozuna. (In 1957 Wakanohana changed the kanji of his name slightly: from 若之花 to 若乃花. The reading is still Wakanohana).

He was neither a tall (179cm) nor a very heavy (105kg) wrestler (I believe he is still reckoned as the lightest yokozuna ever), but he was fast and extremely strong in the legs and lower body. In addition to his technical prowess he had the undefinable quality called "ring sense". He became known as Dohyo no Oni: "The Devil of the Dohyo", and managed to upset (defeat) quite a few yokozuna to win 6 kinboshi (gold stars).

Wakanohana I has won the following special prizes:

  • 10 Emperor's Cup (for winning 10 basho).
  • 2 Shukunsho (Outstanding Performance Award).
  • 2 Kantosho (Fighting Spirit Prize).
  • 1 Ginosho (Technical Performance Price).
  • 6 Kinboshi (Gold Star for when a maegashira defeats a yokozuna)
When Wakanohana retired from active sumo in 1962 he started a new heya under the name Futagoyama Oyakata. He took it upon him to train his younger brother, Mitsuru, who later were to be known as Ozeki Takanohana. (Takanohana eventually started Fujishima Beya, which merged with Futagoyama Beya in 1992 with Takanohana as the master. This merger has been seen as a gesture from Wakanohana to Takanohana, to make up for years of ardous training5). Wakanohana retired from sumo in March 1993 upon reaching the age of 65, which is the mandatory retirement age in sumo.

The 54th yokozuna

Wakanohana II

Wakanohana II Kanji is not related to the first Wakanohana Kanji. His given name is Katsunori Shimoyama, and he was born April 3 1953 in the Aomori Prefecture. He joined Futagano Beya in July 1968 at the age of 15, and spent five years going through the lower divisions (using the shikona Wakamisugi Kanji) before reaching juryo in 1973. Somewhere along the way he became the pupil of Fujishima Oyakata, who saw in the young wrestler a worthy heir to the Wakanohana shikona. Still, he did not take the name until 1978. Between 1974 and 1978 he competed under the shikona Wakamisugi Toshihito.

Wakamisugi sped through juryo, and was promoted to makuuchi in September 1973 after only two basho (tournaments). He made the sanyaku4 in January 1975, and was promoted to the rank of ozeki in March 1977.

Standing 186cm tall and weighing 129kg, he was not a very heavy sumotori (sumo wrestler). He relied on technique, and his favourite kimarite (winning techniques) were sotogake and uwatenage; tripping and throwing techniques where balance and speed often will be every bit as important as strength.

Ozeki Wakamisugi won the May tournament in 1977, and one year later, in May 1978, he was promoted to yokozuna. In July that same year he finally changed his shikona to Wakanohana Kanji. He only went on to win three more basho (Yokozuna Kitanoumi dominated the scene at the time, winning an amazing 24 basho), and retired in January 1983 at the age of 29.

Wakanohana II has won the following special prizes:

  • 4 Emperor's Cup (for winning 4 basho)
  • 2 Shukunsho (Outstanding Performance Award)
  • 4 Ginosho (Technical Performance Prize)
  • 3 Kinboshi (Gold Star for when a maegashira defeats a yokozuna)
Wakanohana II is now known as Magaki Oyakata, head of the Magaki Beya. At the moment there are 14 young wrestlers, ranked below juryo, training in the heya, (7 of them have shikona beginning with "Waka-").

The 65th yokozuna

Wakanohana III

The younger brother of Wakanohana I, Ozeki Takanohana, had two sons, Hanada Masaru and Hanada Koji. Both joined sumo, and Masaru went on to become Wakanohana III.

Masaru was born January 20, 1971, and entered the world of sumo at the age of 16, training in Fujishima Beya alongside his brother, and under the watchful eye of his father. His promotion to juryo in March 1990 was quickly followed by a promotion to makuuchi 6 months later.

At the time Masaru was competing under the shikona "Wakahanada". His younger brother, who had been just as successful as (well, actually more successful than) his older sibling, was known as "Takahanada". The brothers became the "Taka-Waka" media darlings, rising through the sumo ranks as rockets. Wakahanada was promoted to komusubi by November 1991, and when he made sekiwake two years later he changed his shikona to Wakanohana, honouring his uncle. Around the same time his brother became Takanohana, taking the shikona of his father. (In 1994 Wakanohana changed the kanji for "no" in his name, the same way Wakanohana I had done, years before).

Wakanohana was a medium sized wrestler at 180cm/134kg. He was technically accomplished and he had the same kind of "ring sense" for which his uncle had been famous. He was promoted to ozeki in September 1993, and for the next almost 4,5 years he fought to reach the ultimate goal: the yokozuna title. (His younger brother, Takanohana, had been made yokozuna in 1994, and it is anybody's guess how the - very public - sibling rivalry affected the two brothers).

When Wakanohana finally was promoted to yokozuna in May 1998 it was the first time in sumo history that two brothers were yokozuna at the same time. They fought in 11 basho together before Wakanohana retired in March 2000, but they never met on the dohyo (as a rule stablemates do not fight each other, except in a play-off for the Emperor's Cup; so there was a theoretical possibility of them meeting though it never occurred). Wakanohana was injured in 7 of his 11 basho as yokozuna, including the three basho leading up to his retirement, and he obtained the questionable honour of being the second yokozuna in modern sumo history to get makekoshi (fewer wins than losses in a basho6).

Throughout the nineties the brothers had the - often negative - attention of the media. They were just not behaving properly; there was gossip about women, and about the less-than-warm feelings between the two. When Wakanohana retired he withdrew from sumo altogether, and is now a sports commentator for Japanese television.

Wakanohana III has won the following special prizes:

  • 5 Emperor's Cup (for winning 5 basho)
  • 3 Shukunsho (Outstanding Performance Award)
  • 6 Ginosho (Technical Performance Prize)
  • 2 Kinboshi (Gold Star for when a maegashira defeats a yokozuna)

When their father died in the late spring 2005 the "Princes of Sumo" once again hit the press with their fraternal differences. Masaru, the older of the brothers by 14 months, gave the oratory at the funeral, but Takanohana Oyakata7 felt that the honour should have been his, since Masaru had quit sumo. Thus the tale of the three Wakanohana ends on a rather sad note.

  1. The divisions are, from the bottom up: maezumo (not included in the banzuke), jonokuchi, jonidan, sandanme, makushita, juryo, and makuuchi.
  2. In the following, though, I shall choose to leave Ohnoumi out of the list, and count my Wakanohana the same way the rest of the sumo world does.
  3. Or, he worked in a steel factory - or maybe both. Informations vary.
  4. The makuuchi is made up of two sections: maegashira and sanyaku. In sanyaku there are four ranks: komusubi, sekiwake, ozeki, and yokozuna,
  5. Rather than being lenient to his much younger sibling, Wakanohana worked him harder than most of his pupils. This led to a strained relationship between the brothers.
  6. If a sumotori below yokozuna and ozeki rank suffers makekoshi, he will be demoted.
  7. Futagoyama Beya changed name to Takanohana Beya in February 2004 when Futagoyama Oyakata (Hanada Mitsuru, Takanohana I) retired, and Takanohana II stepped up.

My main sources are, besides being glued to the TV whenever sumo is on, www.scgroup.com/sumo, sumo.goo.ne.jp/eng, and http://sumoforum.net/glossary.html
I have also found www.sumoforum.net and www.sumotalk.com very interesting.
For this wu http://www.japan-zone.com/omnibus/hanada.shtml provided invaluable information.

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