Le Monde du Sumo
N°22 - june 2007
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Thierry Perran
translated by Olivia Nagioff
proofread by Barbara Ann Klein

Goodbye to great-hearted ozeki Tochiazuma

Like a bird in flight

Tochiazuma showing his powerful thighs (Oxygizer)

Just when we least expected it, we lost one of the key figures in makuuchi division, the brilliant technician Tochiazuma.

In fact, after having an operation on his left knee in December, ozeki Tochiazuma decides to take part in the Hatsu Basho against all expectations. Of course, there will be no miracle and he will finish with a painful score of 5-10. He enters the Haru Basho with kadoban status, stating that he will retire in the event of failure, as early as day five if necessary. So it is with fingers crossed and expecting the worst that Tochiazuma's fans watch the start of the Osaka tournament.

Leaving Hospital (Chunichi)

But no, Tochiazuma does not intend to bow out like this and surges from victory to victory to post a score of 7-0. We are starting to dream about a fourth yusho and another quest for the ultimate rank. At this point the unthinkable happens. After having snared his kachi-koshi on the 10th day, Tochiazuma retires precipitately from the tournament and goes to hospital with an emergency. The diagnosis is alarming and cannot be ignored. The ozeki, suffering from violent headaches and dizziness, has had a cerebro-vascular attack due to a meningeal haemorrhage. Undetected high blood pressure has caused a dilated myocardiopathy; unfortunately, there is no cure for his enlarged heart and he must now look after it as carefully as possible.

Comforted by his mother (Nikkan)

In such circumstances, retiring is no longer just an option, but mandatory. His oyakata father, the doctors, and Tochiazuma himself rapidly arrive at this conclusion. The ozeki will go through the process, consulting several hospitals, and wait for the end of the provincial tournament. On the seventh of May, Tochiazuma puts an end to his career and, for the next three years, he will be known under the name of Tochiazuma oyakata, in time to inherit the Tamanoi stable. But let us pay tribute to this warrior.

A well-planned destiny

Retirement announcement (Sanspo)

Ozeki Tochiazuma's real name is Daisuke Shiga, and he is the son of sekiwake Tochiazuma, who won the Hatsu Basho in 1971. Like Chiyotaikai and Kotomitsuki, Daisuke Shiga is born during the year of the dragon in 1976 - in November, to be precise. His father retires scarcely two months after his birth. Daisuke will never have seen him fight, but he will feel compelled by a mission to practise sumo. The family honour of a sekiwake who has won a yusho rests on his frail shoulders. The weight of tradition of professional sumo is heavy to bear, but very fortunately, he is not the only one in this situation.

By a great combination of circumstances, Daisuke Shiga attends a small sumo club for children in the Nakano district of Tokyo, which is frequented by the brothers Masaru and Koji Hanada, future Yokozuna Wakanohana III and Takanohana. Despite a six-year age gap, Masaru takes Daisuke under his wing and they become great friends on and off the dohyo. It is thus very naturally that the young Daisuke follows in the footsteps of his elders, Koji and Masaru Hanada, turning professional at the age of 18 at the Kyushu Basho in 1994 and joining the Tamanoi stable, directed by his own father.

A meteoric rise

Often victorious (AFP)

His work in the fundamentals of this famous sumo club for children in Nakano, which will eventually form two yokozuna and an ozeki, ensures that Daisuke Shiga is way ahead of his comrades. Making his debut with the shikona of Shiga, his family name, the young hopeful wastes no time progressing through the minarai divisions. He needs only nine tournaments to be promoted to juryo division, the sixth fastest promotion in history. On his way up, the young Shiga posts a very unusual statistic, that is, a yusho in each of the divisions. This remarkable accomplishment he would also extend into the upper divisions, becoming the only wrestler in history to have a yusho in each of the six divisions.

Tochiazuma taking flight

With his new shikona given to him by his father, the young Tochiazuma crosses juryo division like lightning, augmenting his collection of yusho. When he arrives in makuuchi division at the Kyushu Basho in 1996, he creates a sensation by remaining in the yusho race until the last day. In the end he has to be satisfied with the fighting spirit prize and his first jun-yusho, but he gets himself noticed. They speak of him in glowing terms; they say that he will be ozeki in no time at all, given his fine technique together with unusual power in his lower limbs. But just now, makuuchi division is in the grip of exceptional fighters like Yokozuna Takanohana and Akebono, ozeki Wakanohana III, Musashimaru and Takanonami, and sekiwake Kaio. In short, there are some fine folk in makuuchi and Tochiazuma's apprenticeship will be long. One day, Kokonoe oyakata will say to him that "technique isn't everything".

In fact, while Tochiazuma will string his technique prizes together like pearls for a total of seven, he cannot make it as a sekiwake regular. Realising that he must gain more power, he recruits the services of a personal trainer who makes him do leg-building exercises, such as sessions of climbing stairs. That eventually brings its rewards and he achieves his promotion to the rank of ozeki at the end of the 2001 Kyushu Basho. In the next tournament, he beats ozeki Chiyotaikai in a play-off to win his first makuuchi yusho. He can be seen as a future yokozuna, but injury will decide otherwise.

Another yusho (AFP)

Handicapped by injury

Despite what people say, to achieve the ultimate rank, one needs to have some luck. Tochiazuma has never really had any. He would maintain his rank for five years, gathering a total of three yusho, but also injuries, during this period. His shoulders and his knees are completely, or almost, gone. The fact remains that no one can claim that he didn't try his best to fight despite his injuries. Against the crushing domination of Asashoryu, only Tochiazuma rose up and, even for a long time, maintained a positive score against the Yokozuna, ending up with 10 wins and 15 losses. And Asashoryu, himself, as one of those most disappointed by the departure of the brilliant technician, has asked his previously formidable opponent to produce fighters who, similarly, will throw the yokozuna clean out of the dohyo. One can rely on Tochiazuma oyakata to satisfy this request.

Sources: Hochi, Nikkan, Sanspo