Hawaii-born sumo legend Akebono dies at age 54

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TOKYO — Hawaii-born Akebono, one of the greats of sumo wrestling and a former grand champion, has died. He was 54. He was the first foreign-born wrestler to reach the level of “yokozuna” — or grand champion — in Japan.

“It is with sadness that we announce Akebono Taro died of heart failure earlier this month while receiving care at a hospital in the Tokyo area,” the family said in a statement obtained from the office of Hawaii Gov. Josh Green.

Akebono grew up on the rural side of the Koolau mountains from Honolulu and was born Chad Rowan.

He moved to Tokyo in the late 1980s and won his first grand championship in 1993.

At the prime of his career he was a real giant, reported at the time to weigh 500 pounds (225 kilos) and stand 6-feet-8 — or 2.03 meters.

The United States ambassador to Japan, Rahm Emanuel, sent his condolences on social platform X.

“I was deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Akebono, a giant in the world of sumo, a proud Hawaiian and a bridge between the United States and Japan,” Emanuel posted.

“When Akebono became the first-ever foreign-born grand champion, sumo’s highest rank, in 1993, he opened the door for other foreign wrestlers to find success in the sport. Throughout his 35 years in Japan, Akebono strengthened the cultural ties between the United States and his adopted homeland by uniting us all through sport.”

Akebono was an 11-time grand tournament winner and he retired in 2001.

The family’s statement said friends and family will hold a “private celebration of his life.” He is survived by his wife, daughter and two sons.

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