SAN FRANCISCO — The executive committee of the Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival (NCCBF) has announced that Konishiki will serve as grand marshal of the 50th Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival Grand Parade.
Konishiki is a former sumo wrestler of Samoan descent. He was recruited by Takamiyama of the Takasago stable and started sumo in 1982, at age 18. He was recognized for his potential and received the name Konishiki after the 17th yokozuna.
Just five years later, Konishiki became the first non-Japanese born sumo wrestler to reach ozeki, the second-highest rank. During his 15-year career, he won three championships in the top Makuuchi division and amassed 733 wins. He paved the way for other foreign-born sumo wrestlers.
After his retirement in 1997, Konishiki turned his talent to music and entertainment. He has released ten albums and is known to sing or rap in a mixture of English and Japanese. He also hosts a Japanese children’s television show called “Nihongo de Asobou” (Let’s Play with the Japanese Language).
In addition, Konishiki established the Konishiki Kids Foundation, a program that mentors children from the Waianae Coast in Hawaii and provides an opportunity to spend a week in Japan, immersed in traditional customs.
In the months following the devastating March 2011 tsunami in northeastern Japan, Konishiki organized a humanitarian mission to aid victims living in emergency shelters. Along with 21 volunteers, he cooked chankonabe, a common stew eaten by sumo wrestlers with a wide variety of ingredients, and they fed an estimated 5,000 people at five shelters. At times, Konishiki bought fresh produce for the stew and emergency supplies out of his own pocket. His friends supported the relief work by providing funding and trucks.
Given Konishiki’s personality and contributions, it is no surprise that he has a loyal fan base and remains as popular today as when he was a sumo wrestler.
Past grand marshals include former Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta; former U.S. Ambassador to Japan John Roos; Olympic figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi; Olympic judoka Kevin Asano; actors Toshiro Mifune, Tatsuya Nakadai, George Takei and Tamlyn Tomita; civil rights hero Fred Korematsu; singer Teruhiko Saigo; musicians Kitaro and Jon Nakamatsu; conductor Kent Nagano; artist Ruth Asawa; sumo wrestler Musashimaru; astronaut Daniel Tani; and judo legend Keiko Fukuda.
The Grand Parade begins at the Civic Center on Sunday, April 16, at 1 p.m., proceeding up Polk to Post Street and ending in Japantown at Post and Fillmore streets. A number of performers from Japan and Japanese classical (buyo) and folk dance (minyo) groups representing the Bay Area, along with taiko, music and martial arts groups, will perform throughout the parade route.
Konishiki will also be one of the special guests at the 50th Anniversary Gala Celebration on Friday, April 14, at the Westin St. Francis Hotel, 335 Powell St., San Francisco. Cocktails at 5:30 p.m., dinner at 7 p.m., program at 8 p.m. Emcee; Jana Katsuyama of KTVU Channel 2 News. For more information, email [email protected]
The 50th Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival will be held on the weekends of April 8-9 and 15-16 in San Francisco Japantown. For details, visit http://sfcherryblossom.org/.