Monday, March 12, 2012

Onogawa Kisaburō: The Edo-Period Sumo Wrestling Champion

19th century ukiyo-e print by Katsukawa Shunei of Onogawa Kisaburō (left).
During the late 17th century, or Edo period in Japan, the city of Edo (modern-day Tokyo) broke out in a frenzy of sumo wrestling-mania. Everyone became crazy about sumo wrestling. This frenzy can largely be attributed to one sumo fighter from Osaka: Onogawa Kisaburō.

In February 1782, Onogawa came to Edo and fought one of the nation's top sumo wrestlers, the ozeki (champion) Tanikaze Kajinosuke. Tanikaze was an enormous man of 1.89 meters (6'2) and weighed a hefty 169 kg (370 lbs). He had been in 63 sumo fights prior to his fight with Onogawa and won all of them. Onogawa was much shorter than Tanikaze, coming in at 1.76 meters (5'9) and weighing 116 kg (260 lbs). Onogawa had only won seven tournament titles compared to Tanikaze's 21.

Nevertheless, Onogawa won the fight, and became an instant celebrity. He was featured as a principal character in a popular kabuki play of the time. His likeness adorned a number of ukiyo-e prints, including a famous one by ukiyo-e artist Tsukioka Yoshitoshi depicting him blowing smoke in the face of a monster. And a year after his famous fight, he married a geisha from the Yoshiwara entertainment district named Yae.

In November 1789, Tanikaze and Onogawa were both given the rank of 4th and 5th Yokozuna (sumo wrestling's top division) by the House of Yoshida Tsukasa. They were the first living and confirmed wrestlers to achieve this rank. This awards certification was noteworthy in two more ways. For one, it was during this certification that Onogawa and Tanikaze became the first sumo wrestlers to perform the dohyō-iri, or the sumo ring-entering ceremony that is still performed in sumo matches today. Also in this match, they were the first sumo wrestlers to wear the Yokozuna's famous gohei - or wooden wand - garment, which is the garment that many people still associate with sumo wrestling champions.

Onogawa retired in 1798 and died eight years later. Onogawa the man might've died, but his legend and the impact he left on Japanese sumo wrestling still live on to this very day.

For more info about Onogawa Kisaburō, be sure to check out the sites below: (Wikipedia entry on Onogawa Kisaburō.) (Another famous ukiyo-e print of Onogawa Kisaburō by the artist Katsukawa Shunsho, whose prints of sumo wrestlers were very popular during the Edo period.)


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