The oldest professional sumo wrestler still competing, Hanakaze of Tatsunami-beya, turned 50 years old on May 28th. Hanakaze (Yamaguchi Daisaku) entered the ring for the first time in March 1986, recording only 13 days absent in the 34 years from that time until now. He reached his highest rank of Sandanme 18 in 2003.
Never having made it past the third lowest division, Hanakaze has never fought a full 15 days consecutively, so he does not make it on the list of most career bouts (record being 1891 bouts by Oshio). Still, fighting the seven days per tournament that is standard for unsalaried divisions, the Tokyo man has reached over 1400 career matches.
His overall longevity in this often brutal, full-contact combat sport is the most significant feature of his legacy. Achieving the longest career in sumo over the course of 34 years, across three Japanese eras (Showa, Heisei, and current Reiwa), Hanakaze’s unmatched perseverance and grit easily overshadow his low win percentage (approx. 47%).
“It isn’t easy to keep going until age 50,” commented stablemaster Tatsunami who is only a year older than Hanakaze, “His willpower and endurance are impressive, and he remains an important figure in our stable.”
Being the most experienced chanko-nabe cook at Tatsunami (or possibly any stable for that matter), Hanakaze manages younger wrestlers in the kitchen. He supports the stable’s overall physical condition by focusing on nutrition in his recipes. “Nobody’s food tastes better. Everyone works harder when they eat it. According to the guys, sometimes the seasoning in the chanko stirs up a fighting spirit, and sometimes it doesn’t. They say the fighting spirit comes with an amazing tasting chanko,” said Tatsunami.
Hanakaze achieved a kachi-koshi with a 4-3 record at the last basho in March. That bumped him up 31 ranks to Jonidan 68 for what would have been his 205th basho this month, had Natsu not been canceled. Doubtless, the end of his wrestling career is drawing near, but according to Tatsunami-oyakata, he still resembles a young man when he mounts the clay.
Source: Nikkan Sports [Sasaki Ichiro]