During his 21-year professional career Chiyonofuji set records for most career victories (1045) and most wins in the top makuuchi division (807), earning an entry in the Guinness World Records. Both of these records were later broken by Kaiō Hiroyuki and later Hakuhō Shō.
In a sport where weight is often regarded as vital, Chiyonofuji was quite light at around 120 kg (260 lb). He relied on superior technique and muscle to defeat opponents. He was the lightest yokozuna since Tochinoumi in the 1960s. Upon his retirement he became an elder of the Japan Sumo Association and became the Kokonoe-oyakata the following year.
He was born in Fukushima, a town in the Matsumae District of Hokkaidō, northern Japan. He was a son of a fisherman. At school he excelled in athletics events, particularly running. He was scouted at the age of 15 by the Kokonoe stable's head Chiyonoyama, who had served as the 41st yokozuna and was from the same Fukushima town. Chiyonoyama promised him a trip to Tokyo in an airplane, which excited the young Akimoto as he had never flown before. At the time of his debut he weighed just 71 kg (157 lb). Chiyonoyama died in 1977, at which time Kitanofuji, the 52nd yokozuna and also a Hokkaidō native, took over the stable.
His shikona (ring name) 千代の富士 (Chiyonofuji) was formed from those of the two previous yokozuna from his stable, Chiyonoyama and Kitanofuji. 千代 (Chiyo, thousand years) is a word used to mean forever. 富士 (Fuji) is the same as that in 富士山 (Mount Fuji). His nickname was "The Wolf" due to his ferocity and masculine facial features.
Chiyonofuji began his career in September 1970. He reached the second highest jūryō division in November 1974, and was promoted to the top makuuchi division in September 1975. However, he lasted for only one tournament before being demoted again, and recurring shoulder dislocation injuries led to him falling back to the unsalaried ranks. He finally won promotion back to the top division in January 1978. After he got a fighting spirit prize (Kantō-shō) in May, he reached komusubi (the fourth-highest rank) for the first time. During his early top division career he was often compared with another lightweight wrestler who was popular with sumo fans, Takanohana I. Takanohana had first come across Chiyonofuji whilst on a regional tour and encouraged him to give sumo a try. Later, he also advised Chiyonofuji to give up smoking, which helped him put on some extra weight.
In 1979, due to his shoulder trouble, Chiyonofuji briefly fell to the second division, but he soon came back to the top division. Encouraged by his stablemaster, he began to rely not only on throwing techniques, which increased the risk of reinjuring his shoulders, but also on gaining ground quickly and forcing out his opponents. Showing much more consistency, he earned three kinboshi (i.e. defeated yokozuna in three regular matches) in total in March and July 1980 tournaments, where he also got technique prizes (Ginō-shō). He fought again as a komusubi in May and September tournaments, in the latter of which he won 10 matches in the top division for the first time. He reached sekiwake (the third-highest rank), and stayed at this rank for only two tournament. As a sekiwake, he scored 11–4 in November, and in January 1981 he scored 14–1, losing only one regular match to dominating yokozuna Kitanoumi, and then defeated him in the subsequent playoff to win a top makuuchi division title for the first time. This earned him promotion to ōzeki, the second-highest rank. While making these speedy rises, he also got technique prizes in three consecutive tournaments to that in January, where he also received an outstanding performance prize (Shukun-shō). Also as an ōzeki he scored well in the following three tournaments to July 1981, where he again defeated Kitanoumi and won his second title. After this victory, he was promoted to yokozuna, the 58th in sumo history.
Chiyonofuji had to pull out of his first tournament as a Yokozuna with an injury, but he returned to win the championship in November, defeating Asashio in a playoff. He later said that this victory was the foundation upon which he built his subsequent success as a yokozuna. He was to win the Kyushu tournament eight consecutive years from 1981 to 1988, a record dominance of any of the six honbasho.
As his rival Kitanoumi went into a long slump, Chiyonofuji dominated sumo in 1982, winning four of the six tournaments. However, over the next two years, another yokozuna Takanosato, emerged to challenge him, and he also suffered a number of injury problems. He was restricted to just one championship in the nine tournaments held from May 1983 to September 1984. But Kitanoumi retired in January 1985, with the aging Takanosato following a year later, and Chiyonofuji resumed his dominance. In 1986 he won five out of the six tournaments held, the first time this had been done since Kitanoumi in 1978. Despite being older and lighter than nearly all his opponents, he dominated the sport throughout the 1980s.
In 1988, he went on a winning streak of 53 bouts, the third longest in sumo history second to current yokozuna Hakuhō's 63, and Futabayama's all-time record of 69. The sequence began on the 7th day of the May 1988 tournament and continued through the July and September 1988 tournaments, ending only on the final day of the November 1988 tournament when he was defeated by Ōnokuni. Had he won that bout, he would have been the first wrestler ever to win three consecutive tournaments with 15–0 records. Nonetheless, his winning run was the best ever in the postwar period, surpassing the 45 bouts won by Taihō in 1968 and 1969. In July 1989 he took his 28th championship in a playoff from his stablemate Hokutoumi, marking the first time ever that two yokozuna from the same stable had met in competition. Shortly before the tournament began he had lost his youngest daughter Ai to sudden infant death syndrome. In September 1989 Chiyonofuji surpassed Ōshio's record of 964 career wins and became the first sumo wrestler to receive the People's Honour Award from the Japanese Prime Minister. In March 1990, he secured his 1000th win. A 32nd tournament title would have tied the record set by Taihō in 1971, but his 31st championship in November 1990 proved to be his last.
In the opening tournament of 1991, Chiyonofuji surpassed Kitanoumi's record of 804 top division wins but injured himself on the second day and had to withdraw. He returned in May, but he lost on the opening day of the tournament to the 18-year-old rising star and future yokozuna Takanohana Kōji (then known as Takahanada). It was estimated that half of the Japanese population watched the match on TV. Coincidentally, Takahanada's father, Takanohana Kenshi, had retired in 1981 shortly after losing to Chiyonofuji. Chiyonofuji beat Itai on the next day, but this was to be his final win. After losing another match with Takatōriki on the third day, Chiyonofuji announced his own retirement, a few weeks short of his 36th birthday.
In September 1989 while Chiyonofuji was still active, the Japan Sumo Association decided to proffer the special status of ichidai-toshiyori (one-generation sumo-elder using his ring name as his elder name) to him, but he declined it because he intended to inherit another elder name. Following his retirement from the ring in May 1991, Chiyonofuji inherited the elder name of Jinmaku; then in 1992 he purchased the Kokonoe stable from Kitanofuji and the two exchanged their elder names (Jinmaku and Kokonoe). The purchase price of the stable was reported as being around 50 million yen, below the market rate for a stable. Under his leadership, the stable produced several top wrestlers including former ōzeki Chiyotaikai, former komusubi Chiyotenzan and former maegashira Chiyohakuhō. As of March 2016, Kokonoe stable is one of the most successful stables in sumo in terms of quantity of sekitori, with two men (Chiyotairyū and Chiyootori) in the top division and four (Chiyomaru, Chiyonokuni, Chiyoshoma and Chiyo-o) in jūryō. He also served for some years as a ringside judge.
In February 2008, he joined the board of directors of the Japan Sumo Association, where he was responsible for organising the regional tours or jungyō, but he had to resign in April 2011 after his wrestler Chiyohakuhō admitted involvement in match-fixing and retired from sumo. He returned in the January 2012 elections as the Operations director (the second most senior position in the Association's hierarchy), but was unseated two years later. He chose not to run for a board position in the 2016 elections, citing a lack of support.
On May 31, 2015, he marked his 60th birthday by performing the kanreki dohyō-iri at the Ryōgoku Kokugikan, becoming the tenth former yokozuna to do so. Two active yokozuna were his attendants, with Hakuhō the tachimochi and Harumafuji acting as tsuyuharai.
Chiyonofuji had surgery for pancreatic cancer in July 2015, and was noticeably weak when speaking to reporters at the Aki basho in September of that year. Having reportedly told associates that the cancer had spread to his heart and lungs, he had been hospitalized since the fourth day of the Nagoya tournament in 2016. He died in Tokyo on July 31, 2016 at the age of 61. The chairman of the Japan Sumo Association, former yokozuna Hokutoumi who was a stablemate and protégé of Chiyonofuji, was too grief-stricken to speak to the press in the immediate aftermath of Chiyonofuji's death. His former stablemaster, ex-yokozuna Kitanofuji, said that he was "blessed with a wonderful disciple." Another former yokozuna, Takanohana, who hastened Chiyonofuji's retirement by defeating him in 1991, recalled his fear of Chiyonofuji's "metal body" when training with him. On August 2 the Sumo Association announced that a farewell ceremony for Chiyonofuji will be held at the entrance of the Ryōgoku Kokugikan on October 1.
Throughout his career, Chiyonofuji's trademark kimarite or technique was uwatenage, or overarm throw. He preferred a migi-yotsu, or left hand outside, right hand inside grip on his opponent's mawashi. His left hand outer grip was so effective that some commentators referred to it as his "death grip." Uwatenage was his second most common winning technique at sekitori level after yorikiri, or force out. He was also well known for tsuridashi, or lift out. He had knowledge of a wide range of other techniques as well, employing 41 different kimarite in his career. In January 1987, he won with the very rare amiuchi, or fisherman's net casting throw, and joked to the press afterwards that it was appropriate for him as he was the son of a fisherman. Chiyonofuji's muscular physique, athleticism and dramatic throws made him the most successful and one of the most popular wrestlers of his day.People's Honour Award (1989)
Order of the Rising Sun, 3rd Class, Gold Rays with Neck Ribbon (2016, posthumous)
Junior Fourth Rank (2016, posthumous)