Photo/IllutrationHakuho wins the Emperor's Cup in March. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Yokozuna Hakuho said he has applied for Japanese nationality, which would enable him to get around an unwritten “no foreigners” rule and remain in Japan’s sumo world after his retirement from the ring.

The 34-year-old Mongolian, whose real name is Munkhbat Davaajargal, told reporters in Tokyo on April 17 that he has started the process of obtaining Japanese nationality.

“All that is left to do is wait for the results,” Hakuho said.

To become a stablemaster in the Japan Sumo Association (JSA), a retired wrestler must obtain the “toshiyori myoseki” (sumo elder name) qualification based on his performances in the dohyo.

Hakuho has expressed a desire to become a stablemaster as “ichidai toshiyori,” an honor bestowed on yokozuna who have made remarkable achievements in sumo, without acquiring Japanese nationality.

However, the JSA requires Japanese nationality for both toshiyori myoseki and ichidai toshiyori.

The JSA has taken a negative view on toshiyori with foreign nationality since the time Kitanoumi was JSA chairman. Kitanoumi was a dominant yokozuna in the 1970s and is considered one of the greatest grand champions.

“Sumo is Japanese culture. Sumo wrestlers inherit it. Therefore, if stablemasters who instruct them are foreigners, they cannot give proper instructions,” a JSA official said.

The sumo world for years has been dominated by foreign-born wrestlers, particularly those from Mongolia. The JSA official said if it grants toshiyori to retired wrestlers based only on their performances, there would be an excessive number of foreign stablemasters.

The honor of ichidai toshiyori allows a retired sumo wrestler to open a stable under his ring name. The stable and name exist for as long as he is the stablemaster.

Only three yokozuna have received the honor--Taiho, Kitanoumi and Takanohana.

While there are no clear-cut standards to qualify for ichidai toshiyori, one rule of thumb is winning at least 20 Emperor’s Cups.

Hakuho has easily got that covered.

With 42 trophies under his belt, Hakuho is also committed to promoting the sport and giving instructions. He organizes sumo competitions for elementary and junior high school students, which have attracted more than 1,000 children from home and abroad.

But saddled lately by injuries, Hakuho apparently started to think seriously about his post-retirement life.

Hakuho wanted to retain his Mongolian nationality, but he changed his mind after his father, Munkhbat, reportedly told his son to pursue his own path, regardless of the nationality he holds.

Munkhbat won a silver medal in freestyle wrestling at the 1968 Summer Games in Mexico City, the first Olympic medal for Mongolia. He also competed in sumo wrestling.

He died in April last year.

(Staff Writer Takahiro Takezono contributed to this article.)