taken to Nishonoseki-beya for degeiko so he could get special yotsu-zumo (mawashi grip technique) tutoring from Takimiyama, who had previously trained the great Taiho. After many hours of rigorous training sessions, Kotozakura developed his own yotsu-zumo style of going with migi-sashi (grabbing the mawashi with the right hand) and hidari-uwate (gripping uwate mawashi with the left hand) after hitting his opponent hard using his large head and forehead.
Three and half years after his dohyo debut, Kotozakura was promoted to juryo at the 1962 July basho, where he then proceeded to win two yusho to make a makuuchi debut in March of 1963. The makuuchi wall was not that easy to break initially and he fell back to juryo, but in one basho he returned to the makuuchi ranks.
By the 1963 November basho, Kotozakura was ranked at maegashira lead and was a step away from sanyaku when a tragedy struck. On day 2 of this basho, Sadogatake-beya was hit with a food poisoning incident in which six men got ill by eating fugu (extremely poisonous Japanese blowfish considered to be a delicacy); subsequently, two
of them died. As the heya’s head ranking rikishi, Kotozakura went into a deep shock and started suffering consecutive losses. Despite this setback, he felt he had to do his best for those who had passed away and he recovered sufficiently to win 8 bouts in the last half of the basho, including beating three ozeki – Tochihikari, Kitabayama and Yutakayama. He was awarded the shukun-sho (outstanding performance) award and made sanyaku the following basho.
In his komusubi debut basho in January, 1964. Kotozakura faced yokozuna Kashiwado on day 6. After a sharp yori (push) and uchari (backward pivot throw) by Kashiwado, both fell at the same time. Initially the gyoji’s decision went to Kotozakura, but it was reversed after a mono-ii. Kotozakura lost more than the bout, though, as he suffered serious multiple fractures in his ankle and knee joint dislocation.
Coming back after the kyujo, as there was no kosho (public injury) system in place, he fell all the way down to the bottom of makuuchi at the May 1964 basho. He was not yet 100% recovered and, ending with a 5 win and 10 loss record, was demoted to juryo. Known for his
‘never-say-die’ spirit and perseverance, however, he returned to makuuchi within two basho and subsequently stabilized his position in sanyaku, but he was left behind by his main rivals, Kitanofuji and Tamanoshima (later Tamanoumi), and was trying desperately to make it to ozeki.
His chance finally arose at the 1967 September basho. After defeating three ozeki during the previous basho and being awarded the kanto-sho (fighting spirit) award, Kotozakura went on to beat Kashiwado on day 4, Yutakayama on day 9, Sadanoyama on day 11 and Kitanofuji on day 12, to finish with an 11 win and 4 loss record. He was awarded the shukun-sho award and was promoted to ozeki after this basho.
Though Kotozakura won two yusho (at the 1968 July and 1969 March basho) after making his ozeki debut in November, 1967, he began to be perceived as a perpetual ozeki, chronically suffering from one injury or another. As a result, he went through three kadoban (demotion threat) basho, never outstandingly enough to be considered for yokozuna promotion.