Photo/IllutrationYokozuna Kisenosato, right, is pushed down by maegashira Yoshikaze during the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament at Ryogoku Kokugikan in Tokyo’s Sumida Ward on Jan. 18. (Ryo Ikeda)

Hobbled yokozuna Kisenosato dropped out of the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament on Jan. 19 after starting with a dismal 1-4 record, the fifth consecutive tournament he has failed to start or finish, possibly raising calls for him to retire.

Kisenosato's stablemaster, Tagonoura, told reporters in the morning of the day that the yokozuna had injured the left pectoralis major muscle of his chest.

“That part is near his old injury. At this point, he needs to let his injury heal, practice and recover his confidence,” Tagonoura said. “Kisenosato has been promoted step by step through his patient efforts. He needs to re-create both his body and mind.”

Kisenosato, 31, the first Japan-born yokozuna since 2003 when Takanohana retired, had seemingly recovered from injuries that plagued him last year and was well-prepared through sufficient practice for the current tournament.

However, he was beaten by Takakeisho, who had been newly promoted to komusubi, on the first day.

From the third day, he suffered three consecutive defeats to Ichinojo, Kotoshogiku and Yoshikaze, all of whom are at the maegashira rank, the lowest in the top makuuchi division. These are all called "kinboshi" (gold stars), the term for a rare victory by a lower-ranked wrestler over a yokozuna.

Kisenosato had suffered a similar losing streak in the previous tournament before dropping out.

After the end of the New Year tournament, Kisenosato may be subjected to criticism during the review meeting of the Yokozuna Deliberation Council of the Japan Sumo Association, whose chairman is Masato Kitamura. Without a good performance in the next tournament, Kisenosato may be asked to retire.

Ahead of the Tokyo tournament, Kitamura said that if Kisenosato withdrew before the tournament started, he would not be questioned about retirement. However, if Kisenosato dropped out after suffering losses, that would leave an unfavorable impression, he said.

The internal regulation of the Yokozuna Deliberation Council stipulates that when a yokozuna withdraws from or sits out entirely many tournaments the council shall “encourage, offer a word of caution and recommend retirement” to him.

Almost 10 months have passed since Kisenosato delighted sumo fans with his dramatic upset championship while competing with an injured left arm during the tournament in March 2017. After that, for the next tournaments other than the one held in Tokyo in September, he competed from the first day, but was forced to drop out halfway through.

Kisenosato has been unable to employ his specialty “ottsuke” defensive technique, in which he traps an opponent’s arm with his left arm. In addition, he has been plagued with an injured left ankle.