The Japan Sumo Association promoted sekiwake Kotoshogiku to ozeki Wednesday, making him the first Japanese in four years to reach sumo's second-highest rank.
Kotoshogiku, 27, from Yanagawa, Fukuoka Prefecture, secured his promotion with a sparkling 12-3 record at the recent autumn basho.
The JSA board of directors voted unanimously to approve the promotion at a special meeting held at the Ryogoku Kokugikan in Tokyo on Wednesday.
The last Japanese to reach ozeki was Kotomitsuki, who was promoted in 2007 after that year's Nagoya tournament. Estonian Baruto was the last wrestler to reach that rank, when he was promoted last year after the spring tournament in March.
Association director Nishonoseki and refereeing committee member Minezaki visited Kotoshogiku at his Sadogatake stable in Matsudo, Chiba Prefecture, to inform him of the promotion.
In a televised ceremony, Kotoshogiku said, "Seeking the state of 'banri ikku,' I will make efforts and work hard every day."
The expression "banri ikku" was taken from an art-of-war book by sword master Miyamoto Musashi and describes the ultimate art of fighting as having a state of mind clear of indecision or complexities.
Born Kazuhiro Kikutsugi, Kotoshogiku made his debut on the dohyo when he was 17 at the New Year tournament in 2002. His ring name was Kotokikutsugi at the time.
He was promoted to juryo in the 2004 Nagoya tournament and became a makuuchi division wrestler at the New Year tourney the next year.
Weighing 174 kilograms and standing 1.79 meters tall, the new ozeki debuts as an ozeki at the Kyushu Grand Sumo Tournament in November.
Popular ozeki Kaio, who also hails from Fukuoka Prefecture, retired recently, and many fans in Kyushu are looking forward to seeing the performance of the new ozeki.
After going through the formal ceremony, at which news of his promotion was conveyed, a visibly relieved Kotoshogiku was all smiles at a press conference.
"I've been longing for this day and I'm very happy," he said.
His stablemaster Sadogatake also had been anxious during the autumn tournament that decided his promotion. He said his heart was thumping while he watched his protege's bouts. While pleased with Kotoshogiku's promotion, Sadogatake said he wants him to climb even higher.
"This isn't the final stop. There's one more place to go up," he said, suggesting he wants Kotoshogiku to aim at sumo's highest rank of yokozuna.
Kotoshogiku graciously thanked competitors, including sekiwake Kisenosato and komusubi Toyonoshima, for inspiration.
"Thanks to my rivals, I could reach this level," he said.
Foreign wrestlers such as yokozuna Hakuho and Asashoryu have dominated sumo tournaments in recent years. The last Japanese native to win an Emperor's Cup was Tochiazuma at the New Year tournament in 2006. Japanese fans will be hoping the new ozeki can break this drought.
"I'd like to achieve good results on the dohyo an become an ozeki loved by everybody," Kotoshogiku added.
Japan Sumo Association Chairman Hanaregoma encouraged Kotoshogiku to stick to the style that has served him so well.
"An ozeki is obligated to win bouts, but I hope he'll wrestle just as he has and not crack under the pressure. I hope he'll now aim to become a yokozuna," Hanaregoma said.
Takanohana, a former yokozuna and now the head of the JSA refereeing division, said the quality of Kotoshogiku's sumo speaks for itself.