Raiden Tameemon (雷電爲右衞門), born Seki Tarokichi (January 1767 – February 11, 1825) is considered one of the greatest sumo wrestlers in history, although he was never formally promoted to yokozuna.

Early life

Raiden was born to a farming family in a village in rural Shinano province. He is said to have possessed great physical strength even in childhood. His father Hanemon, who enjoyed sumo as much as sake, allowed 14 year old Raiden to attend sumo classes at Nagaze (today called Murokocho), the neighbouring village. When Raiden was 17, the Urakaze-beya stablemaster noticed him when he came through the area while on jungyo (Spring tour) with his wrestlers. He was especially impressed with the young man’s physique, which was extraordinary at the time. Young Raiden was 1.97 metres (6 ft 5.6 in) tall, which was three headlengths taller than most of his contemporaries. He also had matching long arms and large hands; a handprint at the Shofukuji temple near Okayama, which is said to be of Raiden’s hand, measures 24 cm (9.4 in) from the wrist to the tip of the middle finger. When Raiden trained as a wrestler, he developed a weight of 167 kg (368 lb).

When Urakaze Kazuki invited him to Edo and started training him, it turned out that Raiden possessed not only the body of a giant (by 18th century Japanese standards), but also a talent for sumo wrestling. He was especially talented in oshi-sumo techniques and was able to move at a high speed considering his size. Soon Raiden left his stable and unofficially joined Isenoumi-beya, where yokozuna Tanikaze became his coach.

Professional sumo career

In 1789, the shikona (wrestler name) “Raiden,” which means “Thunder bolt,” appeared in the banzuke ranking, although Raiden did not have his debut until fall 1790. Raiden was ranked as a sekiwake, as was common practice then. He won the basho (tournament) without a defeat. After Tanikaze’s death, Raiden was promoted to ōzeki in March 1795—a rank he retained for nearly 17 years. Between November 1793 and April 1800, Raiden won all tournaments he participated in, without leaving even one title to the other great fighters of his time, Tanikaze and Onogawa. After 1800, he remained dominant, and sumo officials even disallowed him to use his favourite techniques in order to keep his matches interesting.

Of 35 tournaments he fought in during his career—there were only two basho a year at the time—Raiden was victorious in no fewer than 28. (His tournament championships are, however, regarded as unofficial by the Japan Sumo Association, as before the current yūshō system was established in 1909, there was no prize given for individual performances in tournaments.) In seven of those, he won without suffering a single defeat or draw. In total, he achieved 254 victories and only ten defeats, a winning percentage of 96.2, an all-time record. His longest winning streaks were eleven consecutive tournaments or 44 bouts.

Retirement from sumo

Finally, in spring 1811, Raiden retired from sumo at the age of 43. He became chairman of the sumo association of Izumo province (located in today’s Shimane prefecture), where his sponsor daimyo resided. In 1816, he moved to Edo and finished his diary Shokoku Sumo Hikae-cho (“journal of sumo in various regions”), which describes his time as an active wrestler since 1789.

After his death, he was buried in Akasaka in Edo. Two locks of his hair are buried in other graves which are located in his home village and in Matsue in Shimane.

When Raiden was still an active wrestler, his home village’s residents built monuments honoring his parents. Raiden himself contributed a sake barrel made of stone in memory of his father. Since his death, Raiden appeared not only as subject of a number of statues, but also on postage stamps and beer labels.

Unsolved riddle

Despite his dominance, he never was promoted to Yokozuna, the highest title in sumo. The reason remains a mystery in the history of sumo.

According to Masahiko Nomi’s theory, 19th Yoshida Oikaze granted yokozuna licences to only two wrestlers, Tanikaze and Onogawa, and did not intend to honour any in the future, but the 20th Yoshida Oikaze attempted to defeat the Gojo family, which wanted to promote Kashiwado and Tamagaki to yokozuna, by awarding a yokozuna licence to Ōnomatsu Midorinosuke later. Ōnomatsu was the first new yokozuna in 30 years.

Another theory suggested that the reason for this can be found in the family history of his sponsor, Daimyo Matsudaira Harusato, who was a descendant of Yūki Hideyasu, a son of Tokugawa Ieyasu. On the other hand, the Yoshida family, who held the privilege of awarding the Yokozuna license, supported the Hosokawa clan, who had a history of supporting Ishida Mitsunari.

The Yokozuna rank did not count as an official rank on the banzuke until the beginning of the 20th century. In spite of his never having been officially promoted, Raiden’s name has been added as “peerless rikishi” in the yokozuna memorial monument at the Tomioka Hachiman Shrine, Tokyo, in 1900.

Top division record

*2 tournaments were held yearly in this period, though the actual time they were held was often erratic
*Championships from this period were unofficial
*There was no fusensho system until March 1927
*All top division wrestlers were usually absent on the 10th day until 1909

First Second
1790 x West Sekiwake (8-0-2holds)
1791 West Sekiwake (6-1-2-1noresult) West Sekiwake (8-0-1-1hold)
1792 Unenrolled West Sekiwake (2-0-1)
1793 West Sekiwake (8-1) West Sekiwake (8-0-1-1hold)
1794 West Komusubi (6-0-2-1draw-1hold) West Sekiwake (8-0-1-1hold)
1795 West Ōzeki (5-0) Unenrolled
1796 Unenrolled West Ōzeki (9-0-1)
1797 West Ōzeki (8-1-1) West Ōzeki (10-0)
1798 West Ōzeki (8-0-1-1noresult) West Ōzeki (9-0-1)
1799 West Ōzeki (6-0-1) West Ōzeki (9-0-1)
1800 Unenrolled West Ōzeki (6-1-2-1hold)
1801 West Ōzeki (6-0-3-1hold) Unenrolled
1802 Unenrolled West Ōzeki (8-0-2)
1803 West Ōzeki (5-0-2hold) West Ōzeki (9-0-1)
1804 Unenrolled West Ōzeki (8-1-1)
1805 West Ōzeki (10-0) West Ōzeki (9-1)
1806 West Ōzeki (3-1-1) West Ōzeki (9-0-1hold)
1807 West Ōzeki (8-0-1-1hold) West Ōzeki (8-0-1hold-1noresult)
1808 West Ōzeki (7-0-2-1noresult) West Ōzeki (9-1)
1809 West Ōzeki (8-0-1-1hold) West Ōzeki (7-1-2)
1810 West Ōzeki (9-0-1noresult) West Ōzeki (7-1-1-1draw)
1811 retired x
  • The wrestler’s East/West designation, rank, and win/loss record are listed for each tournament.
  • A third figure in win-loss records represents matches sat-out during the tournament

Green Box=Tournament Championship