Sumo Grand Champion Hakuho Requests Renunciation of Mongolian Citizenship
Mönkhbatyn Davaajargal, the Mongolian-born professional sumo wrestler more commonly known by his wrestling stage name Hakuhō Shō, has filed paperwork to renounce his Mongolian citizenship. The move, reported by Mongolian media on April 17, is the first formal step in pursuing a Japanese citizenship, which is a requirement for those seeking to become a senior member (a “sumo elder”) of the Japan Sumo Association (JSA) after retirement from wrestling.
The 34-year-old Hakuho went undefeated across all 15 bouts in the most recent Spring Grand Sumo Tournament, held in Osaka from March 10 to March 24, 2019. In the climactic final matchup on March 24, Hakuho defeated fellow Mongolian Kakuryu in the ring by underarm throw, thus securing his 42nd career championship at the final grand sumo tournament of the Heisei era. Hakuho is one of two active yokozuna — the top-ranked wrestlers of the traditional Japanese sport that traces its origins to ancient Shinto rituals some 1,500 years ago — with the other yokozuna being Kakuryu.
Previously, Hakuho has vacillated on whether or not he intended to seek naturalization to become a Japanese citizen in order to become a sumo elder, with observers noting the increasing number of non-Japanese achieving the highest ranks in sumo before becoming sumo elders and operating sumo training schools (“stables”): Hawaiian-born seikiwake Takamiyama, the first foreign-born wrestler to win the top division championship in 1972 before retiring from the ring and operating Azumazeki Stable until 2009; American Samoan-born yokozuna Musashimaru, who inherited the title of master of Musashigawa Stable in 2013; and Bulgarian-born ozeki Kotooshu, who established Naruto Stable in 2017 to become the first European-born stablemaster.
In all cases, the former wrestlers renounced their foreign citizenship prior to becoming a Japanese citizen in order to secure a “name share,” formally become a sumo elder, and operate a stable, in accordance with the JSA regulations. The influx of foreign-born wrestlers securing the highest ranks in sumo at the turn of the 21st century did cause some consternation among more conservative elements of Japanese society, with some accusing foreign-born wrestlers of being behind the spate of scandals that diminished the popularity and image of the sport in the 2000s.
The 19-year drought in Japanese-born yokozuna was only ended in 2017, when Kisenosato was promoted to sumo’s highest rank after defeating Hakuho to secure the first championship win of his career; however, the 72nd yokozuna retired from the ring in 2019 after being plagued with a series of injuries and suffering repeated tournament losses, thus reducing the number of yokozuna back to the two Mongolian-born wrestlers Hakuho and Kakuryu.
Hakuho’s impressive career spans almost two decades of wrestling, with his stint in the top division of the sport dating back to May 2004, a mere three years after his professional debut at Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium. By 2006, Hakuho became the fourth-youngest wrestler to be promoted to the second-highest rank of ozeki after consistently producing positive records at tournaments, securing special prizes for “fighting spirit,” “outstanding performance,” and “technique,” and proving to be a match for fellow Mongolian-born yokozuna Asashoryu. After securing two consecutive championship wins in 2007, the JSA announced his formal promotion to yokozuna, thus making Hakuho the 69th yokozuna, the third-youngest yokozuna in sumo history, and the fourth foreign national to be awarded sumo’s highest wrestling rank.
Since then, Hakuho’s tenure as yokozuna has seen him surpass several longtime sumo records. His victory in March’s grand tournament secured his 42nd championship, putting him ten championships above 48th yokozuna Taiho, who retired in 1971; his undefeated run in granted him his 15th undefeated championship, putting him seven undefeated runs above 35th yokozuna Futabayama (retired in 1945) and Taiho; and his 15 straight wins placed him first with the most number of top division wins (1,026) and overall career wins (1,120).
After surpassing the all-time record for number of wins for a single wrestler in July 2017, Hakuho expressed his intent to seek Japanese citizenship in order to inherit a name share on account of his merits — in accordance with the “one-generation elder” system (ichidai toshiyori) that allows the JSA to confer an elder name upon yokozuna with “outstanding achievements” — and further his dream of opening a stable in Tokyo’s upscale Ginza neighborhood.
Hakuho is presently married to a Japanese woman, with whom he has three daughters and a son. Should he continue to wrestle for the foreseeable near future, Hakuho may receive the opportunity to be featured in the upcoming 2020 Summer Olympics — which is slated to be held in Tokyo — as at the 1998 Winter Olympics held in Nagano, Hawaiian-born yokozuna Akebono performed a traditional ring-entering ceremony as part of the opening ceremony celebrating Japanese culture.