Photo/IllutrationTakakeisho holds a news conference on Nov. 26, a day after winning the Kyushu Grand Sumo Tournament. (Motoki Nagasawa)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

In his father’s eyes, Takakeisho had one glaring weakness as a child: He was reluctant to stuff his face with hamburgers and fries.

The father, Kazuya Sato, 57, enforced a strict rule that the young Takakeisho had to put on weight every day to secure his future as a professional sumo wrestler.

Although Takakeisho sometimes lost his appetite for that rule, he followed his father’s strict orders.

And on Nov. 25, he credited that upbringing for winning the Kyushu Grand Sumo Tournament, his first championship.

“The goal for my father and me was to become a successful sumo wrestler,” Takakeisho said in an interview after winning the Emperor’s Cup. “I am glad that I was able to produce a few results today.”

Takakeisho’s childhood featured a lot of sumo practice--and a huge diet.

A hamburger restaurant was a popular destination for the Sato family in Hyogo Prefecture. His father would inevitably order four large plates of french fries and four large hamburger steaks.

Takakeisho said at one time he hated even looking at the dish.

To get around the daily rule of packing on weight every day, Takakeisho once hid a 1-kilogram weight in his pocket before stepping on the scale. But his father caught him cheating.

Takakeisho weighed about 30 kilograms when he was in the third grade but tipped the scales at more than 80 kilograms by the time he was in the sixth grade.

The father and son not only practiced sumo at home, but they also went to a number of sumo clubs together near their home.

When Takakeisho was attending Nigawa Gakuin Elementary School in Nishinomiya, Hyogo Prefecture, he joined a sumo school headed by Hisayoshi Yamaguchi, who is now chairman of the Kansai Amami sumo federation.

Yamaguchi likened Takakeisho and his father to the main characters in the popular baseball manga and anime “Kyojin no Hoshi” (Star of the Giants).

“The two worked closely together under a Spartan educational program,” Yamaguchi said. “The relationship was like that between Hyuma and Ittetsu Hoshi.”

Ittetsu was a former professional ballplayer who wanted his son Hyuma to follow in his footsteps. The strict training helps Hyuma eventually join the Yomiuri Giants in the manga.

As Takakeisho bulked up, he began disliking what he was once good at--sprints.

But he became stronger as a sumo wrestler and went on to win national titles at Hotoku Gakuen Junior High School in Nishinomiya and Saitama Sakae High School in Saitama city.

Takakeisho said he was able to put up with the training because his father was not draconian in his approach.

Kazuya Sato was in the audience at the Fukuoka Kokusai Center to witness his son win his first sumo tournament.

“Our past history flashed before my eyes,” Kazuya said. “Although I was strict, he really stuck to it.”

Takakeisho’s real name, Takanobu, was another sign that Kazuya wanted his son to become a sumo wrestler.

The kanji character for “Taka” was taken from the name of popular yokozuna Takanohana, of whom Kazuya was a big fan.

In fact, Takakeisho would later join the sumo stable opened by Takanohana.

Years earlier, Takakeisho took part in a sumo class run by Takanohana and asked the retired grand champion how he was able to beat much bigger opponents.

Takakeisho remembers Takanohana stressing the importance of repeating the basic sumo skills, such as “shiko,” or stamping the ground after raising one leg very high.

Takanohana quit the sumo world in September after a protracted dispute with the Japan Sumo Association, so Takakeisho won his first tournament as a member of the Chiganoura stable.

Takakeisho said he at first could not understand what Takanohana meant when he stressed the importance of fundamentals.

But the 22-year-old komusubi said he now recognizes that Takanohana was advising him to always face oneself, rather than an opponent.

“I want to always remember (Takanohana) in my heart and hammer that belief into my core,” Takakeisho said.

(This article was compiled from reports by Yu Iwasa and Kensuke Suzuki.)