The Sumo Scene / Legendary late Yokozuna Akebono was as Kind-hearted as He Was Powerful as Star in Era of Hawaiian-born Wrestlers

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Akebono, left, forces out Konishiki on the 13th day of the 1993 Kyushu Tournament in Fukuoka. The loss was Konishiki’s eighth, assuring his demotion from the second-highest rank.

Another yokozuna who etched his name in sumo history has passed away.

Hawaiian-born Taro Akebono, whose name at birth was Chad Rowan, became the first non-Japanese grand champion. The 64th yokozuna died last month at  54.

He had fallen ill in 2017 during his time as a post-sumo professional wrestler and was laid up for a long time, but his death at such a young age must have been a shock for many.

Akebono was a symbol of the group of wrestlers from Hawaii that rose to prominence and created an era of its own in the world of sumo.

It was former sekiwake Takamiyama, who would bring Akebono to Japan and guide him as stablemaster, who pioneered the way and opened the door for others. Former ozeki  and fellow Hawaiian Konishiki, who made his mark with his intense power, widened the path and, with Akebono’s promotion to yokozuna, it can be said that the Hawaiians reached full bloom.

Musashimaru, who was two years younger than Akebono, also reached yokozuna, and the heyday of Hawaiian wrestlers was in full swing.

Akebono made his ring debut at the 1988 Spring Tournament together with future yokozuna siblings Wakanohana and Takanohana. One of Akebono’s great achievements was being able to compete on equal footing with the popular brothers.

With Kaio also making his professional debut at the same tournament, Akebono had to deal with many high-level rivals at the same time. Takanonami, Takatoriki and Akinoshima all belonged to the same Fujishima Stable (later Futagoyama) as Wakanohana and Takanohana.

His 11 tournament titles against such top competition represent more than just a number. Many wrestlers said that at 200 centimeters and more than 200 kilograms, the power of Akebono’s thrusting attack unleashed from such a massive frame was almost frightening.

However, against that image, deep down inside he overflowed with kindness.

At the 1993 Kyushu Tournament, Akebono handed ozeki Konishiki his eighth loss, a defeat that assured the elder Hawaiian would be demoted from the second-highest rank. Although sympathy is taboo in the dog-eat-dog world of sports, Akebono impressively bowed to Konishiki in the ring after the match as if in apology.

“At that moment, I felt like I wanted to drop out of the tournament,” he later revealed.

The kind-hearted yokozuna was loved by many and left a strong impression on his fans. He lived a full and fulfilling life that ended all too soon.

— Kamimura is a sumo expert.