Sumo’s Harumafuji Scandal



The story broke Monday evening US time, and when I read the first version (published in a ridiculously large font on Sponichi), I could not actually believe what I was reading.  Granted it was all in Kanji, so I assumed that I had completely blown the translation. The core of the story was that during a Jungyo tour stop in Tottori in late October, Harumafuji attended a dinner party with a number of Mongolian rikishi. Over the course of the dinner, many of the rikishi became intoxicated.

During the course of their drinking and carrying on, Takanoiwa took a blow to the head that resulted in damage to his skull, his brain, his inner ear and general mayhem. Now it seems that this blow was delivered by Yokozuna Harumafuji, wielding a beer bottle.

The story was not immediately reported, but the press started digging when Takanoiwa was kyujo from day 1, with a rather worrisome list of injuries. At the start of day 3, the Japanese press exploded with the news. It was deemed important enough that it even appeared on NHK World’s English language news broadcast an hour after it broke.

In spite of my early disbelief in such an outrageous and sensational story could be true, the wide broadcast of the basics of the story seem to indicate there is some veracity to the claims.


Time Line

  • October 26th – (day) Jungyo tour stop in Tottori
  • October 26th – (evening) Nikkan Sports has put together the details of the story based on evidence from participants and/or their heya staff. There was a dinner party in which all three Mongolian Yokozuna, as well as Terunofuji and Takanoiwa, who are considered “Local” in Tottori, having gone to high school there, and a few Japanese rikishi and others, totaling around 10 people, took part.The party itself went well enough, but then the participants continued to an after-party. It was at this point that some of those present became inebriated. Harumafuji took exception to the greeting he was given by Takanoiwa, which he deemed was insufficient, and started berating him, when Takanoiwa’s smartphone, stuck in his obi, started ringing. As Takanoiwa attempted to answer the call, the Yokozuna exclaimed “Not when somebody is talking to you!”, took a beer bottle and smashed it on the right side of Takanoiwa’s forehead.Takanoiwa fell down bleeding, and the Yokozuna dropped on top of him and continued to deliver some additional 20-30 blows with his bare hands, while Takanoiwa tried to fend him off. Apparently, Terunofuji, who was within range, also received some of the blows.Hakuho tried to come in between the parties and end the fight, only to be thrusted away by the enraged Harumafuji, who also snapped at Kakuryu: “It’s all because of you, you’re not guiding his behavior”.
  • October 26th – (night) Takanoiwa receives initial medical attention.
  • October 29th – Takanohana (Takanoiwa’s Oyakata) files a police report, detailing the assault.
  • November 3rd – Kasugano oyakata and head of Crisis Management Kagamiyama oyakata have telephone conversations with Isegahama oyakata and Takanohana oyakata to understand what happened.
  • November 5th – 9th – Takanoiwa is admitted to a Fukuoka hospital.  He stays for 5 days.
  • November 10th – Takanoiwa reports kyujo for the Kyushu basho.
  • November 12th – Takanoiwa hands the Sumo Kyokai his medical certificate which he receives from the Fukuoka hospital: Concussion (脳震盪); laceration on the front left of the head (左前頭部裂傷); external inflammation of the right ear (右外耳道炎); fractured skull (右中頭蓋底骨折); suspected cerebrospinal fluid leak (髄液漏の疑い).
  • November 13th – Details of the assault appear first in Sponichi, then rapidly spread throughout the Japanese press. When questioned by the press, he does not deny the attack, but instead apologies for the embarrassment and problems he has caused. Harumafuji and Isegahama Oyakata travel to the Kyushu location of Takanohana, but former Yokozuna Takanohana deftly avoided any interaction with the Isegahama delegation. The scene created some very somber and depressing photographs of Harumafuji.


Simply put, Yokozuna Harumafuji is done. As a Yokozuna, he holds a high rank not only in the Sumo world, but in Japanese society. He has caused a tremendous loss of mentsu (メンツ), meaning reputation (literally “face”) for himself, his Oyakata, the Sumo Association and many others.

I have no doubt that Harumafuji takes his Yokozuna rank quite seriously, and I would guess he has already offered multiple times to fall on his sword and resign his rank and leave the world of sumo. I am also sure that will happen soon, but only after the Sumo Association figure out a way for him to do it while minimizing the damage to sumo as a whole.

This entire episode is sad, depressing an horrific.  Harumafuji did something really unacceptable, but at the same time he has been behind in a number of really kind and generous acts across the years. I can’t help but wonder if this is being cast in the worst possible light right now for some other reason.

Likely Outcomes

Harumafuji apologies in the most profound way, and resigns his role as Yokozuna, and fades away.  This is a given, the only question is if he will be allowed to resign or if the Sumo Kyokai will insist on ejecting him as a display of their control over sumo.

Jungyo will be altered, within a few short weeks we have seen a the press cite the intense jungyo schedule for a breakdown in sumo training, and now we have a high profile event that could be used to claim a breakdown in discipline during jungyo.

Damage for Takanohana, as the NSK’s man handling the Jungyo, and the Oyakata for Takanoiwa, a lot of this insanity came on his watch. He has, perhaps, suffered the greatest amount of embarrassment.

Damage for Isegahama, for some time, they have been a leading stable. Now they are about to lose their Yokozuna in disgrace, their Ozeki is damaged beyond repair, and their reputation is in tatters.

Damage for the Sumo Kyokai, sumo had been in a well earned ascendence both in Japan, and globally.  Scandals happen in every public endeavor, but if Harumafuji’s behavior is as described above, it does incalculable damage to sumo’s brand and reputation. This is especially acute for the rest of the Mongolian rikishi cohort, who already endure some public scorn because they are not Japanese.

For the Japanese press’ take on the matter, this report from the Japan Times is worth the read.  Sadly the article is quick to label the entire sport as “yet to improve its reputation tainted by scandals over match-fixing, violence and bullying”

For readers who are willing to wade into Kanji web sites, some links to help you come to grips with the story:

66 thoughts on “Sumo’s Harumafuji Scandal

  1. Speaking of Mongolians and liquor, I think it is a good time to tell the story of the great Mongol, Ogedei Khan.

    The third son of Genghis, Ögödei succeeded his father in 1229. He was the first ruler of the Mongols to call himself khagan (“great khan”); his father used only the title khan. He made his headquarters on the Orhon River in central Mongolia, where he built the capital city of Karakorum on the site laid out by his father. Like his father, he carried out several simultaneous campaigns, using generals in the field who acted independently but who were subject to his orders.

    He quickly conquered most of Asia, and like all great conquerors, Ogedei didn’t quit while he was ahead. He turned his attention to Europe. Russia, Bulgaria, Poland, and the rest of Eastern Europe didn’t stand a chance against the Mongol Horde.

    Ogedei Khan had built the largest contiguous empire in history.

    But he had one of the worst vices. He loved to drink excessively.

    When Ogedei was 55, he died of alcohol poisoning, after a late-night binge-drinking bout with one of his buddies, ‘Abd-ur-Rahman.

    This was incredibly important because his troops were literally getting prepared to invade Western Europe, after already driving through parts of Eastern Europe. He was going to start with Rome, then Venice, and move westwards.

    When he died, because of Mongol tradition, his generals were all called back to elect a new Khan, and the resulting political issues insured the Mongols would not ever be prepared to invade Europe again in this way. They would have won, too.


    The gist of the tale is, Western Europe was saved from Mongol conquest because Ogedei Khan drank too much.

    Let us all reflect upon Harumafuji’s Mongol drinking sins, and be happy, and remember it could be worse. Or not. I don’t know. I have no point here. :-)

  2. As someone who only started following Sumo last year this makes me sad. I loved Hakuho’s style and technique, he fights like an expert poker player, aggressive and smart. However the guy I always found myself rooting for was Haramafuji, he had this gentleness to him. He always seemed to fight like a tiger and then the second his opponent lost it seemed like he had this ability to suddenly become a true sportsman.

    Alcohol has made many people do some terrible things and while this is the end of his career, I will always fondly remember Haramafuji as the gentleman that he was, he embodies the true spirit of the sportsman, able to give his all during the fight and still be humble and magnanimous once it’s over.

  3. Like all other Tachiai readers, I have been in shock beyond belief all day. My eyes literally popped out of my head upon reading the news this morning. I hope Takanoiwa makes a full recovery.

    To come at the issue in a slightly different angle, is there any way now, following what Harumafuji said in his interview, that he will NOT have to retire following this?

    • Sadly I think it is a foregone conclusion at this time. I do wonder about the mechanics of this situation, as You might assume Harumafuji already offered to retire and get out of the way, but is being withheld for a more useful time.

  4. Awful news, for sure. Appreciate the reporting, Bruce. The hell was Harumafuji thinking? Or in this case — not really thinking at all. I’m still reading up on this, but it is not good, to say the least! Remember this was the same drunken behavior that got Asashoryu permanently banned from Sumo — and the former Ama will be out too, I predict.

    I do hope Takanoiwa recovers quickly — because he could’ve been KILLED! And I agree what you said about the Mongolian rikishi taking a hit in reputation on this, Bruce — this has the potential to be a real mess. The Mongolians (and foreigners, too?) are going to be even MORE scrutinized as never before. But I have to temper my strong feelings on this. Let’s see how it all plays out. What a nightmare for all involved – especially for Takanohana Beya, Isegahama Beya, Sumo Kyokai and foreign sumotori.

  5. I feel sorry for Harumafuji for doing something so stupid in a drunken rage!
    I also feel sorry for Takanoiwa (even if he did deserved a clip over the ear no one deserves a fractured skull for not addressing someone properly and answering a phone).
    Now I have to pick a new favourite….
    Top 5 are probably (not in order)
    Aminishiki – quickly becoming a favourite due to his ease and variety of technique due to shot knee.
    Yoshikaze – is usually a bit more impressive than he has been this Basho but still I like his aggression.
    Goeido – Of course he is just getting better and better I hope he doesn’t buckle towards the end.
    Hakuho – Just because he is great.
    Arawashi – I do tend to like the Mongolians and this guy reminds me a bit of Harumafuji.

    Dammit Harumafuji!


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