Wakatakakage promoted to komusubi, becoming 1st Fukushima native in 20 years to join "sanyaku"

Wakatakakage, a 26-year-old native of Fukushima city, was promoted to sumo's fourth-highest rank of komusubi in the east slot of the rankings for the Nagoya Grand Sumo Tournament released on June 21 by the Japan Sumo Association. It is the first time in 20 years that a professional wrestler from Fukushima Prefecture has joined the top three "sanyaku" ranks below the grand champion, or yokozuna. The last time was in 2001 when former sekiwake Tamanoshima, who is now stablemaster Hanaregoma, from the village of Izumizaki reached komusubi in that year's autumn tournament. Wakatakakage, whose real name is Atsushi Onami, is also the fifth Fukushima native since the end of World War II to reach the sanyaku echelon and the first sanyaku wrestler from his Arashio stable, which was set up in 2002. "I feel rather happy. I feel myself straightened up," Wakatakakage said of his promotion. He was speaking in an online press conference the same day together with stablemaster Arashio, who is 37-year-old former makuuchi top-division wrestler Sokokurai, ahead of the upcoming tournament opening at the Dolphins Arena in Nagoya on July 4. Asked about his future goal, Wakatakakage said he "would like, first of all, to achieve kachikoshi," or a majority of wins in the 15-day Nagoya tourney, adding in a humble manner that he will strive to maintain his sanyaku position. Wakatakakage began sumo when he was a Yoshiida elementary school first grader, and continued to hone his skills at Shinobu junior high school and Gakuho Fukushima high school. He has been wrestling with much stronger thoughts about Fukushima ever since the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and ensuing nuclear accident at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.'s Fukushima Daiichi plant that occurred when he was a high school freshman. He went on to enter Toyo University and became runner-up in the individual event of the 2016 national collegiate sumo championships before making his professional debut in the 2017 spring tournament, where he ranked at No. 100 in the fourth-tier sandanme division. He was promoted to the second-tier juryo division in the 2018 summer tournament and then to the makuuchi top division in the Kyushu tournament in November 2019. Wakatakakage won the first four matches in his top-division debut but missed the rest of the Kyushu tourney due to a dislocated joint in his right foot. He was sidelined in this year's New Year tournament in January after testing positive for the coronavirus. In his return to competition, he collected 10 wins against five losses in the subsequent spring tourney in March -- a result impressive enough to win his first technique prize. In the summer tourney in May when he was in the top maegashira rank on the east side, he went 9-6, including a pair of wins against upper-ranked ozeki wrestlers, to earn the technique prize for the second straight tournament. Wakatakakage's grandfather was former komusubi Wakabayama, who hailed from Saitama Prefecture. His father Masashi, 54, wrestled as Wakashinobu in the makushita division below juryo at his peak. His two elder brothers are active professional wrestlers of the Arashio stable as well. Wakatakamoto, whose real name is Wataru Onami, is a 29-year-old makushita ranker, while Wakamotoharu, 27, whose real name is Minato Onami, wrestles in the juryo division. Fukushima Prefecture had four sanyaku wrestlers in the postwar era -- Tokitsuyama, Shiobuyama, Tochiazuma (first generation) and Tamanoshima. All of them peaked at sekiwake, the third-highest rank in sumo. Wakatakakage is the third sanyaku ranker as a Toyo University graduate following Mitakeumi, who first occupied the position in the Kyushu tournament in 2016. He also is the 48th wrestler to do so as a former collegiate sumo wrestler and first since Asanoyama, who was promoted in the Kyushu tourney in 2019. (Translated by Kyodo News)

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