Kotooshu, Bulgaria’s Emblem in Japan
On the day of the announcement of Kotooshu's retirement from Japan's professional sumo, it seems like a good time to reflect a bit on his career.
I would argue that in many ways, his success is incomparable to any other milestone in Bulgaria's sports history.
The uniqueness and peculiarity of Japan's professional sumo can be a good starting point. It is much more than just a sport, rather a way of life. Sumo has managed to withstand the commercial pressures associated with many other sports in this age, and to elevate itself to a holy-like status. It is a philosophy, which one must become a part of, in order to have any remote chance of achieving success.
What more contrasting world for a 19-year-old Bulgarian village boy to be thrown into, without knowing the language, being half a world away from family and friends.
Just over a year after his arrival in Tokyo, the young Kaloyan was giving interviews in near-fluent Japanese. In just 3 years, he made it from the bottom division, up to the second highest rank "ozeki". He ended up staying there for 8 years.
Kotooshu has spoken of his difficulties in adaptation at first, on how the closed lifestyle and strict hierarchy of Japanese sumo had often been unbearable. Through all this, and several serious injuries, he persevered.
It is the duration of his success, which distinguishes him from many other highlights of Bulgarian sport, in my lifetime at least. True, Kaloyan won only one title in the top division, but let's not forget that he had the misfortune of competing in an era of Mongolian domination – such like the sumo world had never witnessed before. "Yokozuna" (Grand Champions) Asashoryu and Hakuho swept through the ranks, winning tournaments regularly with perfect 15-0 scores. In any other time, Kotooshu's scores would have been enough to earn him a few more titles.
Beyond his athletic talents, the 202 cm, 157 kg fellow had an unmatchable aura to himself. In a sport not too famous for physical attractiveness, the Bulgarian captivated many a Japanese female hearts. His entrance on the ring was always accompanied by loud ovations, unheard for any other foreign wrestler.
Despite his fame, Kotooshu was an extremely earthly and humble personality. On the several occasions I had the chance of meeting him, he was always open for a chat and enjoyed interacting with his supporters. The many photographs of him attending events for children, speak for themselves.
Despite his decision to become a Japanese citizen (so he can pursue a coaching career), something that was met with a dose of controversy in Bulgaria, he has proven his love for the homeland with donations and with campaigns to popularize the country in the Far East. As a true ambassador of Bulgaria, he says that he holds both countries dearly in his heart.
A big warm Thank You and Congratulations to the man from Djulyunitsa and Tokyo!