Amateur Angles #5
for the past two years. In 2006, Nichidai had seven of the final 16
individual competitors at the University Championships. Also, the last
two amateur yokozuna, the winners of the All Japan Sumo Championships,
Yoshida and Ichihara, were Nichidai men.
The mastermind behind much of Nichidai’s success has been the manager of the sumo club since 1983, Hidetoshi Tanaka. Mr Tanaka is well-known in amateur sumo circles not only as the head of Nichidai’s club. He has been involved as a coach and manager at the university for almost 40 years, but before that he was one of their star sumo athletes. He was the student yokozuna in his third year at college, and was a contemporary of Wajima, who later went on to become the 54th yokozuna in ōzumō. After graduating from Nichidai, Mr Tanaka took a position as a teaching assistant and began to coach the sumo club. During this time he was still active as an amateur athlete himself, winning the amateur yokozuna title three times in 1969, 1970 and 1974. He eventually retired as an athlete in 1980 with a total haul of 34 titles during his career.
Obviously the Nichidai sumo programme was already strong enough to groom athletes such as Tanaka and Wajima during
The last Amateur Angles column had a deadline just before the All Japan
Sumo Championships in December. I wrote about makushita tsukedashi
status, and how a handful of fortunate Japanese amateur athletes each
year gain eligibility for this status and an automatic passage into
upper makushita (at the equivalent of makushita 15). The December
tournament, the most prestigious in Japan’s amateur sumo calendar, saw
Takayuki Ichihara (one of the favourites) take the title of amateur
yokozuna for 2006.
Ichihara’s victory created a first in amateur sumo since the tightening of regulations for makushita tsukedashi status in 2001. As you may remember, the winner of any of four designated events is granted the exemption into makushita within a year of the tournament victory; however, since 2001, no one had won the All Japan Sumo Championships in addition to one of the other tournaments. Ichihara became the first athlete to do this and gain the extra advantage of starting at makushita 10. This gave him an
better chance to become a sekitori after only one basho; however, to
reach juryo would still have required a superb 6-1 or 7-0 record, and
he finished with two losses from his seven bouts.
This edition’s column is not about Ichihara, his first basho, or even the likelihood of him becoming a sekitori. I will look instead at Ichihara’s alma mater, Nihon University (Nichidai), and how it has become a production line for top class amateur athletes and more than passable ōzumō rikishi. Indeed, so successful is the university’s sumo club at producing quality athletes, so dominant is the university, and so successful are its graduates that perhaps we should consider it akin to an unofficial heya.
Nihon University regularly sweeps all before it in the major annual amateur sumo tournaments, both in the individual and team competition; for example, Nichidai has won the team competition at the All Japan University Championships for the last three years and its team members have won the individual