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Harumi Hotta for Le Monde du Sumo
proofread by Barbara Ann Klein

On the eve of the shonishi in this Haru Basho 2006, few of us were confident about the future of the older among the ozeki. Kaio, who had been beaten on the previous day by the yokozuna Asashoryu, was now scored at 5-7. Though, cheered by numerous fans thoughout the world, the ozeki, who had announced that he would retire in case of a retrogradation, managed to find the physical and metal resources to win his last three bouts and grasp in extremis his kashi-kochi, thus securing his rank.

Alexandre Pecking, a.k.a. Kaio69, hardcore fan and webmaster of our Website of the Month, seeing that his idol was in a very difficult situation prior to a tournament that was expected to be crucial, had called for cheerings all over the wolrd. His call was heard beyond his expectations, and as the messages flowed, he sent them back to the Tomozuna-beya. Those cheerings were very important, in Kaio’s own consent, in the ozeki’s decision to continue sumo whatever the outcomes of the Haru could be.

After the end of the tournament, Alexandre got a message from Ms. Hirumi Hotta, a Japanese who is a sumo fan since she was a child, and does voluntary work for the promotion of the Tomozuna-beya. She proposed her mediation for an interview of the ozeki. And so be it, here’s this exclusive interview, done just prior to the Natsu Baho, that starts on May 7th, 2006. And, to perfect the fireworks, Tomozuna oyakata, the former sekiwake Kaiki, also agreed to answer our questions.

The exclusive interview of ozeki Kaio

His sumo is very powerful and strong. We are all fascinated by his “nage” and are impressed by his strong performance on the dohyo. Surprisingly, for such a strong man, when you speak to him, you will soon find him a warm personality. He is modest and he speaks quietly in a soft voice. And yet, you will sense his great fighting spirit although he is soft spoken. Kaio is a man among men, a wonderful person.

Le Monde Du Sumo (LMDS) : How do you feel?
Kaio: I feel really refreshed now after Haru-basho. I start keiko and treatment of my lower back pain from now on.

His youth

LMDS: When you were a kid, did you like other sports?
Kaio:I did Karate for nearly two years when I was an elementary school kid. However, one day, my parents made me stop doing karate after I played truant once… They said, “Stop doing it if you are so lukewarm”… (laughing)
I started Judo when I was a second year student of Junior High School. My friend asked me if I was interested in Judo. In fact I was, so I tried.

LMDS: You were very strong in Judo.
Kaio: No, I don’t think so… (he is being modest)

LMDS: But, they say that you were strong in Judo and that is why you were recruited as a sumo wrestler.
Kaio: I did sumo as well. I was forced to go in for Sumo competitions although I was not interested in Sumo. At that time, I realized I was really interested in Judo.

LMDS: Did you have other hopes than becoming a rikishi, or have you always dreamed of being a rikishi?
Kaio: I wanted to be a bicycle racer when I was a kid. Mmm… no, I didn’t have anything particular… (laughing)

LMDS: When did you decide to become a sumo wrestler?
Kaio: I didn’t want to be a sumo wrestler. In November of the year before I joined the sumo world, people around me set everything up. I was drafted to become a sumo wrestler.

LMDS: There is a story that you made the decision to enter sumo after seeing Chiyonofuji at a keiko session in Fukuoka. Then why did you choose Tomozuna-beya instead of Kokonoe-beya?

Kaio: No, it is a totally different story (laughing). At that time, I was not interested in sumo, but I told someone that I wanted to watch a sumo keiko session. It was just a little joke. I don’t know how other people found out what I said. Then, one day, I was invited to Tomozuna-beya to watch keiko. I only knew Kokonoe-beya, therefore, I might have said that I wanted to go Kokonoe-beya to watch a keiko session, but, in fact, I didn’t go there. I only went to Tomozuna-beya and Miyagino-beya. I still hadn’t decided to join sumo then. However, it was at the the time that I was considering which way I should go after graduating from junior high school. People around me gave me a lot of advice, then, I decided. In fact, it was set up for me.

LMDS: So, you were not so positive about moving to the sumo world.
Kaio: Right. I didn’t even know why I was in the sumo world when I first entered. However, the more my rank (banzuke) went up, the more I became aware of becoming strong as a rikishi. I started to enjoy fighting and came to like sumo.
Funny… the things you don’t like sometimes inspire you by just happening.

LMDS: Was it ok to leave your hometown?
Kaio: No, I didn’t want to leave my hometown, to be honest with you. I thought I would go to a high school there, and would work in a company.

His career

LMDS: What was the best bout in your career, the one you remember the most? Why?
Kaio: It is difficult to select only one bout... there are many. (Thinking a little bit) The one in which I won the Yusho when I was in sandame, the one which led me to juryo, and the one in which I got my first Kinboshi...
Yes, I was especially happy about the bout that led me to juryo, because it was in Kyushu, my homeground.

LMDS: You were a member of the legendary Haru basho 1988 shin-deshi promotion, with future yokozuna Takanohana, Wakanohana and Akebono. While you were still struggling in makushita, Takahanada was already in sanyaku. How did you feel about that?
Kaio: I thought they were strong. Takanohana and Wakanohana began sumo when they were kids, so they were in a different situation from me from the beginning. However, I entered the sumo world in the same year as them and I was the same age, therefore, I wanted to catch up with them someday. I didn’t want to be behind them so long.

LMDS: At the time of Haru basho 1988, which of them did you think would become the strongest?
Kaio: At that time, I didn’t know what was happening to ME (laughing). As I told you, I was not so positive about entering the sumo world. Therefore, I didn’t know why I was doing sumo…so, I didn’t think of it much. However, they – Akebono, Takanohana, and Wakanohana - did keiko more than anyone else even while we were in the sumo education school where new rikishi are educated. It was very impressive.

LMDS: From your own point of view, who do you think is (or was) the best rikishi ever?
Kaio: When I was sandanme, I liked Kirishima-zeki. His sumo was powerful although he was not such a big rikishi. I admire him very much.

LMDS: Who was your favourite opponent? When we asked Fujishima oyakata, he answered: Kaio!
Kaio: (Laughing) Did he? ...mmm... My favourite opponent?

LMDS: Otherwise, do you have any preference about who to fight against?
Kaio: There is no particular preference. However, I enjoyed fighting with Musoyama because we were rivals. Also, with Takanohana-zeki. They were quite the same build as me. I could face them with my all force.

LMDS : You are a good friend of Musoyama...
Kaio: Yes. We went out together often – to eat and drink. We do sometimes even now... although much less than before.

LMDS: With Takanohana?
Kaio: There is a 1988-reunion sometimes. We meet then.

LMDS: Who is (or was) the rikishi you are (or were) the most impressed with?
Kaio: Difficult question... mmm... All upper class rikishi and 1988-mates.

LMDS: Who do you consider as your #1 rival in your ozumo career?
Kaio: Everyone must think that it is Chiyotaikai... the numbers of kadoban... (laughing)
Seriously, it was Musoyama. Now, my rival is everybody, especially all the upper rank rikishi.

LMDS: Do you have some extra motivation when you fight another ozeki, especially someone aiming at the tsuna?
Kaio: No, there is no extra motivation. Every bout is the same. I always do my best.

His condition now

LMDS: What sort of condition are you in?
Kaio: I can’t say it is perfect. However, it is usual. There is no injury now. I will get into good condition towards Natsu basho. My physical condition takes a good balance of doing keiko, resting, and getting treatment (for his lower back pain). I need to reach my peak condition to be able to give a good performance in the next basho.

LMDS: According to the media, the cause of your lower back pain is your power-oriented sumo.
Kaio: It may be one of the reasons. My sumo is based on power. That is MY sumo, and if I cannot do MY sumo, then, I am finished. I will continue doing my sumo as long as I can. I don’t know when my last day will come, however, as long as I can do MY sumo, based on my raw power, I will continue doing my best.

LMDS: In the last basho, how did you handle the pressure when you had to win the last three bouts?
Kaio: Everything was on knife-edge. If I was nervous, I would lose, which would be ridiculous. Therefore, I just wanted to fully concentrate, while on the dohyo, to do my sumo everyday.

LMDS: In fact, you did. We saw your great concentration and performance.
Kaio: Yes? (smiling) There were crunch bouts, and I took them day by day. I didn’t think of anything else, not even my physical condition.

LMDS: Were you surprised at getting so many messages of support from all over the world? Did it really boost your motivation during the second week in Haru basho?
Kaio: (Delighted) Yes, it did! I was very surprised and impressed by so many messages from all over the world. Of course, it really boosted my motivation. Now I know how my fans all over the world feel about me and what they think of me. There are still so many people who supported me no matter what happened to me. That is why I didn’t give in at Haru-basho.

His future

LMDS: Don't you think the tsuna would suit you well? We do !
Kaio: I always say that I will aim for Yokozuna as long as I am a sumo wrestler. If I lose that aim, I am finished. I will never give in although I don’t know if I can be a yokozuna one day or not.

LMDS: And, don’t you think the tsuna would suit you? All your fans want to see you with the tsuna
Kaio: ...Well... (Laughing) I cannot say it myself... (he is being modest...)

LMDS: If you had to choose between being the worst yokozuna of all time and the best ozeki of all time, what would you choose?
Kaio: The worst Yokozuna is ranked higher than the best ozeki in the sumo world, anyway. I am aiming for yokozuna although it is looking less and less likely. As long as everyone in the world gives me their support, as long as I am a sumo wrestler, I cannot give up my dream of becoming a yokozuna.

LMDS: Do you still enjoy fighting or do you continue for your fans?
Kaio: Of course, I enjoy fighting. There are many aspects – people feel joy and are impressed by my sumo. If I beat someone who is popular, I might be hated. I hear a lot of criticism and opinions. Many people cheer me on, which makes me happy. I enjoy fighting and my fans enjoy my fighting, too, which also makes me happy. I couldn’t get those great feelings if I retired.

LMDS: When you retire, do you intend to use your Asakayama oyakata title and start your own new heya, or do you intend to stay at Tomozuna-beya to help your oyakata develop new sekitori?
Kaio: mmm... I will cross that bridge when I come to it. Of course I think about starting my new heya and I want to bring on strong rikishi. However, at the same time, I want to do anything that I can do for Tomozuna-beya as well because I am indebted to the heya. I want to return the favour.

LMDS: I will interview you again about it when you become Asakayama-oyakata in future.
Kaio: (Smiling) yes, please.

Sumo today

LMDS: What do you think of all the strong rising foreign rikishi? Is it good or bad for sumo?
Kaio: I think it is good. Sumo wrestlers come from all over the world. Then, the people in those countries start watching sumo. It is wonderful that sumo has spread all over the world. Unfortunately, young Japanese rikishi seem to be finding it difficult to catch up with them...

LMDS: What do you think of the rising Japanese generation?
Kaio: A bit negative. The times are different, as you see. The keiko session is easier and softer than before. However, many young rikishi cannot take it Fewer people have guts and grit...

LMDS: What is missing in the Japanese rikishi that stops them reaching the yokozuna rank?
Kaio: There are fewer Japanese young rikishi coming through. Rikishi from overseas seem to have some kind of pride to be representatives of their countries. Their motivation is much higher.

LMDS: Is there any spiritual or mental difference?
Kaio: Yes, there is. Rikishi from overseas want to support their families – especially their parents, you know. They are dutiful to their parents. Comparing the average salary and standard of living between Japan and the countries the foreigners are from, the more they climb up the ranking, the more they earn, and the more they can support their families; however, for Japanese rikishi, it is difficult to earn enough money to support their parents.

LMDS: Who do you think will be the next yokozuna? Could it be Tochiazuma?
Kaio: He is the nearest to the tsuna at this moment.

LMDS: You were the nearest...
Kaio: (laughing) Past tense...

Personal stuff

LMDS: Your hobby is Radio Control models. Do you have time to enjoy that? How many Radio Control models do you have?
Kaio: I have 20-30 of them. Most of them are cars. I thought about buying airplanes one time, but I didn’t because the flying things can be dangerous if they suddenly go out of control. Someone might get injured. So, I stick with cars. I enjoy my Radio Control models on my holidays just after each basho because they relax me.

LMDS: What would you like to say to your countless fans all around the world?
Kaio: First of all, I thank them very much for their support. I really appreciate all the good wishes they sent me, especially in Haru-basho. I cannot find any other appropriate words. I really thank them all. I came to realize that I have so many supporters in Japan and in the world. I knew it by getting so many messages. Now, I know afresh that I am not alone when I fight. When I am fighting, my fans are also fighting with me. I appreciate them for that. I will continue sumo as long as I can and try my best to respond to all my fans’ expectations.

LMDS: We had the privilege of seeing and interviewing Fujishima oyakata when he came to Lausanne in August 2005. Is there any chance you will come to Europe too, where you have a lot of fans?
Kaio: Oh, I remember that he told me that he was going to Switzerland. There are fewer opportunities to visit Europe for me. Mmm... difficult. But, I want to meet a lot of people who support me. If I have a chance, I will definitely visit there.

LMDS: Thank you very much for your time.
Kaio: You are very welcome.

Thanks a lot to Harumi Hotta and Alexandre Pecking
who made this interview possible !

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