Wrestler Born On Day Of Kobe Quake Aims To Make Impact

Wrestler born on day of Kobe quake aims to make impactAt the upcoming New Year Grand Sumo Tournament, a wrestler making his juryo-division debut has gained notice not so much for his age, but his birthday.
Newly promoted Terutsuyoshi was born on Awaji Island on Jan. 17, 1995 — the day the island was rocked by the Great Hanshin Earthquake.

The 21-year-old wrestler was promoted to juryo, the second-highest division, after winning the makushita division title with a 7-0 record at the Kyushu tournament in November last year. The New Year tournament starts Sunday at Ryogoku Kokugikan in Tokyo.

Now a sekitori, a wrestler in the sport’s top two divisions, he pledged to give even better performances.

Born amid the tumult

The wrestler came into the world in a hospital in Sumoto, Hyogo Prefecture, located near the epicenter of the quake that registered the maximum 7 on the Japanese seismic intensity scale. He was born at 9 p.m., about 15 hours after the earthquake. While growing up, his mother occasionally talked about the time she had gone into labor with him, saying there were continuous aftershocks and ambulance sirens.

It would seem that a child born on such a fateful day would be destined to become a fighter who can overcome adversity, not that he saw himself as anything special.

Even as a child, he hated to lose. Terutsuyoshi started sumo when he was a fourth grader, and became one of the best 16 wrestlers in a national tournament when he was in his third year of junior high school.

When he graduated from junior high school, he was 1.67 meters tall and weighed 112 kilograms. That was not enough to meet the lowest threshold for the new apprentice test — 1.73 meters in height and 75 kilograms in weight. It was only after passing a makeup test that examines sporting ability and other capabilities that he was allowed to enter the professional sumo world.

He joined the Isegahama stable at the age of 15. The stable master Isegahama, former yokozuna Asahifuji, gave him the shikona wrestling name Terutsuyoshi, which means “shining strongly,” because his stablemaster wanted him to be like the sun that sheds light on those affected by disaster.

Terutsuyoshi did not have it easy. In the beginning, he thought about quitting and heading home several times because the practices were so tough. But his determination to stick it out and natural strength helped him work his way up the rankings.

Making a resolution

On March 11, 2011, Terutsuyoshi was eating a meal in Tokyo when he was jolted by the Great East Japan Earthquake. He desperately ducked under a table.

Terutsuyoshi’s first thought was of his mother, “She delivered me in such a hard situation.” Another thought was, “I’m the one who can give courage to communities struck by disaster.”

In the meantime, he worked on making better use of his speed, training with high-level stablemates such as yokozuna Harumafuji and ozeki Teru-nofuji.

He was ranked as a No. 9 makushita at the Kyushu tournament, where he swept aside all opponents to achieve his long-cherished dream of becoming a sekitori.

Last spring, Kumamoto and other prefectures in the Kyushu region were struck by a series of earthquakes. Winning promotion there later led Terutsuyoshi to make a resolution: “I want to work as hard as those who are striving to reconstruct their communities.”

His 22nd birthday will fall on the 10th day of the New Year tournament. “Hopefully, I will have more wins than losses on the day,” he said with determination.