Japan’s Favorite Sumo Wrestler Ties the Knot _ on Prime Time
TOKYO (AP) _ He’s a tad overweight, and tends to wear little more in public than a loincloth and a scowl. But today, the famous turned out and the fans tuned in to see Takanohana, the superstar of sumo, tie the knot.
``Super Big Event of the Century,″ one network TV listing dubbed the bash, which will reportedly cost around $4 million.
All hype aside, the 22-year-old sumo star’s wedding couldn’t have come at a better time for Japan.
For months, the country’s attention has been riveted by killer earthquakes, looming trade wars and the doings of a doomsday cult suspected of a terror campaign.
But today, prime time _ and much of the afternoon _ was all Takanohana.
``I’m very happy,″ the wrestler said in his distinctive gruff, breathless voice. ``It’s finally happened.″
``I feel the same way,″ said his new bride, the former Keiko Kono, a well-known television personality.
Takanohana, whose chubby, boyish looks have helped make him a teeny-bopper idol, became a national sensation four years ago as he rose rapidly through the ranks of Japan’s ancient national sport.
Their ascent was cheered by many Japanese as a much-needed, home-grown remedy to the then-dominant trio of American wrestlers from Hawaii _ Akebono, Konishiki and Musashimaru.
Takanohana, who stands 6 feet, 1-inch tall and weighs 323 pounds, has lived up to the challenge.
Earlier this month, he won his ninth career tournament championship. Akebono, the only other wrestler at the top rank of ``yokozuna″ or grand champion, has eight such victories.
What’s more, none of the Americans _ or any other Japanese wrestler for that matter _ has come anywhere near the popularity and respect Takanonhana commands outside the ring.
Though slightly cooler these days, ``Taka Fever″ grew so intense in 1992 that sports papers issued special editions and television aired news flashes when he announced plans to marry starlet Rie Miyazawa, who had just released a wildly popular collection of nude photos and was at the height of her career.
The two later called off their nuptial plans because of personality differences, and Miss Miyazawa’s fortunes have since soured.
Takanohana, whose father and uncle were also sumo stars, continued his climb to the sumo summit, which he reached in November when he was named grand champion. He was the third-youngest ever to accomplish that rare feat.
Possibly out of deference to Takanohana’s lofty status, hardly a mention of the Miyazawa episode could be heard as the wedding show began today.
The coverage _ live, of course _ began with the traditional sake-sipping ceremony at Tokyo’s forested Meiji Shrine. The couple knelt before the altar in subdued silk kimono _ his black, hers white.
Once that solemn rite was officially completed by a Shinto priest waving a sprig of cypress, the couple headed for the 1,000-guest reception.
The Fuji TV network led the night’s Taka coverage with four hours non-stop. The others weren’t far behind _ one logged three and the other two major commercial networks both put in a two.
Fuji TV had special reason to gloat. The new Mrs. Takanohana got her start as a Fuji newscaster.
``We aren’t planning a honeymoon,″ said Takanohana, whose next tournament begins in July. ``Maybe we’ll think about it later.″