Photo/Illutration Yokozuna Hakuho defeats ozeki Terunofuji with a forearm throw in the final bout of the Nagoya Grand Sumo Tournament on July 18, extending his career championships to a record 45. (Asahi Shimbun file photo) 

Seven Mongolian youths, aspiring to become rikishi sumo wrestlers, arrived in Japan in 2000.

While awaiting to be recruited by stables, they trained and practiced at an amateur dojo.

But there was one skinny 15-year-old who kept getting passed over by every scout.

His name was Munkhbat Davaajargal, who would become the all-time great yokozuna Hakuho.

According to a book he authored, he had given up hope and just purchased his return air ticket to Mongolia when a fellow countryman and rikishi helped persuade the Miyagino stable to take him in.

Had he gone back home earlier, or had no stablemaster been willing to give him a chance, I wonder what would have become of professional sumo in Japan.

Come to think of it, the sport was ridden with scandals a decade ago. Many wrestlers were caught possessing marijuana and others were allegedly engaged in "yaocho" bout fixing that involved gambling.

But despite all that bad news, fans stayed thanks to Hakuho's powerful yet limber style of sumo.

Every sport has an era created by an outstanding athlete. The Hakuho era lasted so long it began to feel like air. During his 14 years as a yokozuna, Hakuho won 42 championships. But this era ended when he notified the Japan Sumo Association of his retirement on Sept. 27.

It is truly a crying shame that his "not being Japanese" was believed to have fettered even this great yokozuna.

The rule that no foreign national can become a stablemaster is utterly without rhyme or reason.

After acquiring Japanese citizenship, Hakuho wrote his Mongolian name on paper and reportedly said, "This is my name. But it no longer exists in this world."

This anecdote appears in "Hakuho no Nonai Riron" (Beliefs inside Hakuho's head) by his personal trainer, Tomonari Ohba.

Hakuho was obsessed with winning because he must have firmly believed that even though there were many things that could not be trusted in life, at least he could never be cheated out of the victories he had won.

He was a yokozuna who dedicated his whole person to remaining strong.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 28

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.