Hawaiian sumo legend on Oahu, talks of wrestling's future

Published On: Aug 29 2013 01:34:00 PM HST

A living legend in the sumo world both here and in Japan, Maui-born Jesse Kuhaulua is now enjoying retirement after 45 years in the professional sport.

For 20 years he competed as Takamiyama, becoming the first foreign-born "rikishi" to win a grand Sumo Tournament.

After retiring 1984, he become the first foreign-born wrestler to take charge of a sumo training stable.   

Jesse Kuhaulua, now 69 years old, is enjoying retirement from the sport completely.

"My job now is to go the gym everyday at 10 o'clock," said Kuhaulua.

On a trip home to visit family and attend his 50th Baldwin High School reunion, Kuhaulua says the sport of sumo is still slowly recovering from recent gambling and match-fixing scandals.

"It's getting better but it will take time to get back," he added.

He says the interest in sumo seems to have dwindled in Hawaii.

Prominent local wrestlers like Akebono, Musashimaru and Konishiki are now retired,  and new restrictions barring more than one foreign-born wrestler per stable make it hard to recruit.

But he says keep an eye out for the nephew of Musashimaru, or Fiamalu Penitani, who is training at his uncle's stable and could become the first wrestler from Hawaii in 22 years.

"I predict he's going to win the tournament," Kuhaulua commented.

As for Kuhaulua, remembering the glory days is bittersweet.

"At the beginning it wasn't an easy life," he explained. "It was hard especially for somebody who was brought up here in Hawaii and didn't know the language.."

And watching sumo now from the sidelines has it perks.

"As an oyagata you always have to be clean. That's why I couldn’t have a beard," said the now merrily bearded Kuhaulua.    

And although he lives in Japan and considers himself Japanese, Kuhaulua says there will always be a place in his heart for home.

Kuhaulua is making a special visit to the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii this Friday.

Click here for information on that appearance.

Guests will be able to meet the sumo legend himself.  


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