“Like the fighter he was, he tenaciously fought against the illness until the very end.”

On 13 May the Japan Sumo Association announced the passing of Shobushi Kanji due to multiple organ failure brought on by COVID-19 triggered pneumonia. He was 28, making him both the youngest confirmed corona-related death in Japan and the first such death of a person in their 20s in the country.

Born Kiyotaka Suetake, he began his sumo career in March of 2007 and fought his way up to the sandanme level with a 147-189 record. Sandanme is the second highest level of wrestlers still considered in training but nearing the rank of respected athletes in the sport.

▼ Wrestlers at this level often performed comedic but athletic exhibition routines known as Shokkiri. In this video Shobushi (on the right) performed such a routine on 9 February, 2020.

However, on 4 April, Shobushi began to develop a fever and sought medical help. Initially, medical centers refused to accept him, but his fever persisted for another four days and after he started coughing up blood Shobushi was rushed to a hospital in Tokyo by ambulance.

An initial test for COVID-19 came back negative, but his symptoms continued to grow worse and on 10 April, a PCR test confirmed that he had the novel coronavirus. He had been in intensive care since 19 April.

Seven other members of Shobushi’s Takadagawa stable were also infected and hospitalized, but later discharged. Shobushi, however, remained in worsening condition. After a long battle, lasting nearly a month and a half, Shobushi finally succumbed to the effects of the disease.

Former yokuzuna and current Japan Sumo Association chairman Hokutoumi Nobuyoshi paid respect to Shobushi’s passing, telling media: “Like the fighter he was, he tenaciously fought against the illness until the very end. I hope he can rest peacefully now.”

Others online were shocked and left wondering how such a young athlete could be killed by COVID-19.

“What?! He was 28?!”
“Too young…”
“I guess his weight was a factor, but he was still probably healthier than most men his weight.”
“I hate to say it, but it was probably because he was obese.”
“Corona has arrived for young people too. Even though he was overweight, he was probably stronger than most guys his age.”
“People like sumo wrestlers and body builders look strong on the outside, but that lifestyle takes a huge toll on their internal organs.”

As of this writing, Japan is currently reporting 16,049 confirmed infections and 678 deaths, including Shobushi Kanji. Although well over half of the deaths have been made up of people over the age of 70, the young Yamanashi-native’s death is a stark reminder that everyone needs to avoid slipping into a false sense of security for the time being.

Source: Jiji Dot Com, Yomiuri Shimbun, Hachima Kiko
Top image: YouTube/MyJetSetLife
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