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Bastien Pourquié
translated by Denis Dupeyron
proofread by John Gunning

A retrospective on Kagamisato, the 42nd yokozuna, who died at the age of 80

On February 29th 2004, sumo lost one of its most prestigious figures. Kagamisato the 42nd yokozuna died in Tokyo in the care of his family at the age of 80, making him the 2nd oldest yokozuna (the record of 83 years old is held by Umegatani, who died in 1928). Born on April 30th 1923 in Aomori prefecture, Kagamisato started sumo in 1941. His career was intimately tied to another man's course, legendary yokozuna Futabayama. Indeed Kagamisato followed him when he created the Futabayama-dohyo, and again when he took over Tokitsukaze-beya. He also became his son-in-law and would have, until the death of his master, a privileged relationship with him.

Rising to the top

In June 1947, he entered the makuuchi division and climbed progressively to the top of the hiramaku. He achieved his first major feat during the October 1949 tournament, when ranked at maegashira 1 west for the first time in his career, he obtained a remarkable result of 12 victories and 3 defeats. Not only did he win his first shukun-sho and kanto-sho, but he also defeated the yokozuna pair of Maedayama and Azumafuji, as well as 3 ozeki, Masuiyama I, Chiyonoyama and Saganohana. This outstanding performance propelled him to the rank of sekiwake.

In January 1950, Kagamisato confirmed the enormous potential he showed in late 1949. In his first tournament as a sekiwake, he got a solid 11-4 and defeated the four ozeki. However the rest of the year was less spectacular. He achieved kachi-koshi in the other two tournaments, but didn't display the confidence he had shown in January. In the beginning of 1951, he came back into the limelight and obtained an excellent 11-4 during an exceptional tournament which saw yokozuna Terukuni win a zensho-yusho. Kagamisato was thus promoted to ozeki, (the first one produced by former yokozuna Futabayama). His consecutive brilliant performances hereafter honoured the prestigious rank of ozeki. Fifty-six victories in five tournaments! By early 1953, ozeki Kagamisato was in the running for the rank of yokozuna.

During the Hatsu basho in 1953, there was enormous pressure on Kagamisato shoulders. After a defeat against Futaseyama, he went on a winning streak. And with the withdrawals of yokozuna Terukuni, Azumafuji and Chiyonoyama, the way appeared to be clear. Only Haguroyama, Yoshibayama and the new ozeki Tochinishiki seemed to be have the ability to contest the yusho race. At the end of the first week, Yoshibayama was injured and retired from the tournament. Haguroyama, hampered by a cut on his hand, was slowly losing touch with the leaders. Only Tochinishiki was left in the race against Kagamisato. By the thirteenth day they were both at 12-1. Haguroyama helped Kagamisato a good deal by beating Tochinishiki. The next day, Tochinishiki once again fell, this time against Asashio, as Kagamisato defeated Chiyonoyama who had returned during the course of the tournament. On senshuraku, assured of winning the title, Kagamisato won one last bout against Tochinishiki. With the yusho and then promotion to the rank of yokozuna: he became immortal!

A roughed up yokozuna, stuck on 4 yusho

Then followed two meagre years. The new yokozuna Kagamisato couldn't regain his triumphant sumo. At a time when sumo was struggling to find a new leader, he appeared to be having difficulties living up to his new status. In late 1954, Tochinishiki became yokozuna and seemed destined to be the new leader. Kagamisato fell back and appeared unable to win another yusho. And at the age of 32 he was starting to have physical problems. In March 1955, he had to withdraw at the beginning of the second week. In May, he ended up with a solid 11-4, but seemed more than ever unable to be a front-runner.

In September, however, Kagamisato performed exceptionally. While Tochinishiki's withdrawal certainly was a factor, the Tokitsukaze-beya yokozuna was back in good condition. After 8 victories in a row, he lost against Tamanoumi on day 9, but completed a perfect second week. He defeated in consecutive bouts, komosubi Asashio, sekiwake Wakanohana I and Matsunobori, as well as yokozuna Yoshibayama and Chiyonoyama. Kagamisato won the second yusho of his career and his first as a yokozuna. He had waited almost 28 months and 10 tournaments before once again tasting the fruits of victory, but would not have long to wait before savouring them again.

In January 1956, he was higashi sei-yokozuna, the most prestigious rank. After 8 days of competition, only Kagamisato and the new Ozeki Wakanohana I are undefeated among the higher ranks. Tochinishiki is following close behind and on day 9, he defeated Wakanohana I, thus leaving Kagamisato as the sole leader. Unfortunately, this victory sparked a bad streak for the Kasugano-beya yokozuna and he lost five bouts in a row. Tochinishiki's hopes for the title were dashed ! For his part, ozeki Wakanohana I from Hanakago-beya was defeated on day 11 by Yoshibayama. Kagamisato, alone held the lead, and had the opportunity to claim the basho the next day as he would fight Wakanohana I. But Wakanohana I defeated the yokozuna. Over the final 3 days, neither of the two rivals would fail. Kagamisato won his second consecutive tournament scoring an excellent 14-1 record.

After two poor tournaments in March and May of 1956, Kagamisato again reached top condition for the Aki basho. Neck and neck with Wakanohana I, Kagamisato was defeated on day 6. But the Tokitsukaze-beya yokozuna went on racking up the victories and fate came to his help. Just as Wakanohana seemed destined to take the title, he was injured and was unable to fight Kagamisato on day 13. The yokozuna found himself in the lead. Thanks to his experience he won his final two bouts while Wakanohana was unable to defend his position. At the age of 33, Kagamisato won his fourth and last Yusho.

Retiring peacefully

Injuries of all sorts plagued Kagamisato in 1957. Absent in January and November, invisible in September, Kagamisato seemed to have exhausted his moral resources. In January 1958, he pledged to retire if he was unable to win at least 10 bouts. He ended up with 7 wins and 5 losses on day 12. Defeated by Wakanohana the following day, honoured his rank and got rid of the Kasugano-beya yokozuna. A few minutes after the bout, with Tokitsukaze oyakata by his side, he announced his definitive retirement.

Kagamisato's sumo was above all based on impressive power. Courtesy of his 160 kg and a low centre of gravity (he was only 1.74 meter tall) his tachi-ai was devastating at a time when the average weight in the top division was approximately 115 kg. An expert in yotsu-sumo, he had a particular affection for migi-yotsu and especially used yori and uwate-nage.

After his many feats on the dohyo, Kagamisato became an oyakata. He stayed in the Tokitsukaze-beya. Upon the death of his master in 1968, he assumed for a time the title of Tokitsukaze oyakata, but soon handed it over to former ozeki Yutakayama in exchange for the Tatsutagawa title in order to create his own heya. In 1983, at the age of 60, he performed his kanreki dohyo-iri. Five years later, having reached the retirement age of 65, he left the Nihon Sumo Kyokai. Following that, he would occasionally appear on NHK. His marked Aomori accent made his voice easily recognisable. More than just a venerable elder, sumo has lost an exceptional figure.

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