TOKYO – Half-Filipino, half-Japanese sumo wrestler Takayasu Akira has never visited his mother Bebelita Reblingca Bernadas’ home country but the 6-1, 360-pound rising star is no stranger to Filipino food, which he devours and plans to go to Manila next year after tournaments in Las Vegas and Jakarta.
Akira, 22, turned pro in 2005 and has broken into the top echelon makuuchi division as No. 1 maegashira, the lowest of five classes up to the revered yokozuna category. He recently compiled a 10-5 record in his fifth competition this year. Akira’s Japanese fans club lists over 3,000 members in his hometown alone and he’s easily one of the most popular sumo wrestlers today.
Akira speaks a little Pilipino and his mother said he needs practice. “He loves Filipino food like bihon, sotanghon guisado, beef kaldereta, chicken adobo, giniling, Bicol express, lumpiang shanghai, sinigang, nilaga, kare-kare and lechon,” she said. “He eats everything except dinuguan. He loves Mama’s cooking and introduced Filipino food to other sumo wrestlers. He is proud of his Filipino blood and loves anything Filipino.”
When Akira became a sumo pro, he weighed 265 pounds. Two years ago, he bulked up to 310 pounds then 330 and finally 360. “It’s not good for his health to be so big when he gets older,” said Bebelita who was born in Davao with roots in Bohol and Cebu. “After he retires, he will control his diet and become the oyakata or stable master. His goal is to become a yokozuna and save for the future buying sumo stocks so that when he retires in his 30s or 40s, he could run his own stable.”
‘While a typical sumo wrestling match lasts only a few seconds, the sport is physical and demanding. Last March, Akira broke two fingers and a foot. But the tough grappler still registered a 10-5 mark in the haru basho in Osaka.
“Money can’t buy the happiness that I feel,” said Bebelita. “I always thank him for making us proud and bringing honor to all Filipinos around the world, especially in Japan. I pray and chant always for his safety during a match. Just in our city of Tsuchiura, his fans club has 3,000 members but he has fans all over Japan. Our Philippine Ambassador Manolo Lopez and labor attaché Clifford Paragua know Akira who participates in Filipino activities in Japan.”
Bebelita, 51, met her husband Eiji Takayasu, 62, in Manila through a relative living in Japan. Takayasu proposed to Bebelita on his second visit to the Philippines after writing letters every week. They were married in 1984 and live in Ibaraki Prefecture about 45 minutes by train to Tokyo. The couple has two sons – Hiroyuki, 27 and Akira. Hiroyuki played rugby and American football in high school and college. He now works as a paymaster in Japan.
Bebelita used to operate three Filipino restaurants in Japan but closed down the business after a myoma surgery in 2007. She also wanted to take care of her husband, a cancer survivor who had a malignant tumor in his left kidney. Her husband owns a recycling shop for heavy equipment and appliances.
Every year, Bebelita visits her mother Susana on her birthday in May in Getafe, Bohol. She has a brother who lives in Mabolo, Cebu City, and her father Felipe resides in Vancouver.
A centerfielder on his junior high school team, Akira junked baseball to focus on sumo wrestling and joined the Naruto stable at 15. “When he was at Naruto beya (stable), he went to school for a year to learn some moves of sumo with Master Takano Sato, the former yokozuna who passed away last year,” said Bebelita. “He was a baseball player since grade school in the Little League but changed his mind to concentrate on sumo when he got older. We chose his sumo name Takayasu because we wanted to use either Taka or Sato like Kisenosato, Wakanosato and the foreigner from the Czech Republic Takanoyama. Luckily, our family name has Taka so we picked Takayasu for Akira.”
According to sumo experts, Akira’s fighting style relies on weight and power. He likes to throw his weight around and thrust with his favorite maneuvers like the force-out, slap-down and push-out. Akira is known as an oshi-sumo specialist.
To Akira’s Filipino fans, Bebelita said thanks for the love and support from the bottom of her family’s heart. She is often described as Akira’s most “enthusiastic supporter, a vocal and visible presence in the crowd during his matches.” The Smart Gilas basketball team watched sumo wrestling during a break day in the recent FIBA Asia Cup and coach Chot Reyes was introduced to Bebelita whose calling card shows a caricature of a squatting Akira with the Japanese and Filipino flags flying behind. Accompanying Akira’s mother to his matches are fans club president Ningning Tomiyama and Filipino International Youth Association president Nancy Matsunaga.