A baby born in Hyogo Prefecture moments after the Great Hanshin Earthquake struck was saddled with a perhaps inevitable nickname during his childhood.

Twenty-five years after the quake and now around 120 kilograms heavier, “earthquake boy” has used the experience of growing up in a disaster-hit city to climb near the top of the sumo world.

“Coming face-to-face with the earthquake was my destiny,” said Terutsuyoshi, a 25-year-old wrestler in the highest makuuchi division.

Terutsuyoshi was born Shoki Fukuoka on Awajishima island in Hyogo Prefecture, on Jan. 17, 1995, amid the initial devastation in the Kobe area brought by the 5:46 a.m., magnitude-7 earthquake.

Awajishima island was the epicenter of the Great Hanshin Earthquake, which killed 6,434 people and damaged about 250,000 houses.

Terutsuyoshi, of course, has no memories of the disaster. By the time he began to understand what had happened, the city was on its way to recovery.

He said he accepted his “earthquake” destiny through contact with local supporters, many of whom lost their homes, communities, parents and children in the disaster.

Their cheers have given Terutsuyoshi a supportive push in the sumo ring.

“The scars and wounds of the survivors will not go away just because years have passed by,” he said. “There still are many people who are emotionally scarred.”

After graduating from junior high school, he was apprenticed to a sumo stable. His height was 167 centimeters at the time, below the standard physique needed to become a disciple.

He took a secondary physical strength test, met the standards and pursued his cherished dream.

At 169 cm now, Terutsuyoshi is the second shortest makuuchi wrestler, following Enho, who is 168 cm tall.

Terutsuyoshi is also the third lightest wrestler in the makuuchi division, at 120 kilograms.

The short-statured wrestler had tried everything he could, such as learning a trick called “nekodamashi,” to improve his chances of winning a bout.

But he changed his strategy last summer.

“I am done with trying to win by fiddling around and thinking of many ways,” he said. “No matter how puny my physique is, I will hit straight and push an opponent. I will win with the force of mind.”

Before each bout, he waits until the time is up and spreads a heap of salt in the ring. It is part of his routine to get himself psyched up before taking on his opponent.

He started the current New Year Grand Sumo Tournament with five straight wins but lost for the first time on Jan. 17.

“I want to wrestle in the dohyo ring to please local supporters who cheer me and my mother who raised me by herself,” he said.

The kanji characters of his ring name include “shine” and “strong,” indicating his wish to become a wrestler who can cast a powerful light on his hometown that suffered catastrophic damage in the earthquake.