With an eye on life after retirement, yokozuna Hakuho has acquired Japanese citizenship, taking a giant step toward his dream of becoming a sumo stablemaster.

According to an official government gazette published on Sept. 3, an application for Japanese citizenship from Hakuho, 34, who was born in the capital of Mongolia as Munkhbat Davaajargal, has been granted.

“Today, I finally, and formally, acquired Japanese citizenship,” Hakuho, wearing kimono, said solemnly to reporters after a morning practice session in Tokyo’s Sumida Ward.

“I have carried Mongolia on my shoulders until now. But from now on, two countries will fall on my shoulders. That adds some weight to my feelings,” he said.

Hakuho revealed his Japanese legal name, Sho Hakuho, the same as his ring name.

“I have done a lot of practice and been committed only to sumo, which makes today possible,” said Hakuho, one of the greatest yokozuna in the history of the traditional sport.

Hakuho's father was a yokozuna in Mongolian sumo and also a wrestler who became his country’s first Olympic medalist.

Hakuho came to Japan at age 15 in 2000. He made his debut at the spring sumo tournament the following year. After the summer tournament in 2007, he was promoted to yokozuna, the highest rank of grand champion.

In his private life, he and his Japanese-born wife, Sayoko, have four children.

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.

For years, Hakuho had expressed a desire to become a stablemaster as “ichidai toshiyori,” without acquiring Japanese citizenship.

Ichidai toshiyori is an honor bestowed on yokozuna who have made remarkable achievements in sumo and won at least 20 Emperor Cups. Hakuho, who holds the record for most titles with 42 championships, would easily qualify.

However, the JSA has expressed a negative stance on such a possibility, citing that Hakuho is a “gaikokujin” (foreigner).

The JSA requires Japanese citizenship for both toshiyori myoseki and ichidai toshiyori.

In April this year, Hakuho announced that he had started the process of obtaining Japanese citizenship, which requires renouncing his Mongolian citizenship.

One of the reasons behind the decision was advice from his father, who died in April 2018.

Hakuho said, his father, who was initially opposed to him changing his citizenship, had told him before his death, “Go your own way,” which he took as encouragement.

Hakuho has expressed a desire to remain active and continuing competing through the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games.

At the same time, he has already scouted young wrestlers to join the Miyagino stable, which he belongs to. He plans to take them with him after his retirement when he becomes an independent stablemaster.

So far, nine foreign-born sumo wrestlers have become stablemasters after obtaining Japanese citizenship. The list includes trailbrazer Takamiyama, who was born in Hawaii and became a beloved sekiwake.

Asashoryu and Harumafuji, both yokozuna from Mongolia, were forced to retire from the ring due to misconduct before acquiring Japanese citizenship. They were thus unable to become stablemasters.

In 1976, the JSA added the requirement, “It is limited only to those who have Japanese citizenship,” for retired wrestlers to obtain the elder toshiyori name.

The reason remains unknown, but the JSA apparently wanted to make it more difficult for foreign-born wrestlers to become stablemasters, since they control the association.

Many critics have pointed out that the JSA was doubtful if a foreign-born stablemaster could give proper guidance in terms of taking over traditional culture and social customs.

(Staff writers Kensuke Suzuki and Takahiro Takezono contributed to this article.)