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. Thankyou for the overview Bruce.
    It is good to see all the current details in one place.
    It is just so terribly sad and disappointing.

    • I am completely gutted by all of this stuff, myself. I am terribly worried that this is going to harm sumo in general. I also think that we are only getting the ugliest portion of this story, and that reality is probably quite a bit less sinister than what we know now.

      • I hope so! What actually worries me is how often acts of violence are covered up.

        It would have also been better if this had been delt with straight away, and a pre-emptive statement made back in October, rather then being quiet and waiting for the shit to hit the fan. I mean, there was no way it wasn’t going to happen. We were all wondering why a seemingly genki Takanoiwa was absent, Japanese press would have quickly smelt a problem.

      • It could harm sumo but it could help. As wrong as I find the actions, and as turned off as some will be, there will be some people who read about sumo and think it anew as a sport of total bad-asses where men are still able to be unreconstructed and modern. I realise sumo protects its image of tradition and honour where MMA is happy to be seen as the sport of irritant jocks but what War Machine did is far worse than what Harumafuji has done and it didn’t kill MMA.

        • Poor form to self-reply. But with Kakuryu on his way out as well this could actually open up the door for Goiedo and Takayasu and Mitakeumi and Onosho to make runs at the top. Maybe they’d have got those shots in time but if one or two of them make yokozuna then it’s probably commercially brilliant for the sport. Not that I particularly care about box office and would like Harumafuji to go out on his own terms.

        • Sadly I think if a similar incident had happened off-season in say US Football, he probably would have gotten suspended for a few games, issued a manly apology, and went right on with life. A fight between two guys who have been drinking, even with injuries like that, is often seen as “normal locker room behavior”. Even most domestic abuse gets handwaved away. :(

        • but war machine was a fringe mma competitor not even signed to the UFC at the time of the incident. when he was in the UFC he wasn’t very good. whereas this is one of 22 yokozunas in the last 50 years?

          war machine is nowhere close to best 22 of the last 50 years in MMA. wasn’t even top 22 at the highest point in his career

      • I think we really need to avoid interpretations, and just stick with facts for now. I was a bit turned off by the earlier posting that said “the Japanese press is swirling with allegations, and frankly they seem too fantastic to repeat here until there is more evidence.” The press had extremely credible sources and documents.

        And this post says, “I can’t help but wonder if this is being cast in the worst possible light right now for some other reason.” And now this comment, ” I also think that we are only getting the ugliest portion of this story, and that reality is probably quite a bit less sinister than what we know now.”

        No! The story speaks for itself. Lets not discount it. Let’s not assign ulterior motives. Lets treat it as the news event it is; no more, no less.

        • Hey Ric – thanks for stopping by the site and taking the time to read. Please note that I am not a professional journalist, and that this site is run by sumo hobbyists who love the sport enough to spend way too much time writing.

          When I came across the story last night in Sponichi, the first things I said to myself is “no way”. It did not past my test that I use to bring a story from Kanji to English. Most of this has nothing to do with assigning anything other than a keen sense of incompetence of my own Japanese language and cultural mastery.

          What you, dear readers, did not get to see were the email threads of the Tachiai team discussing what to do about this. So the opening statements of this posting reflect that we took some time from the first news to see what was what.

          Far too frequently in the present day, there is a tendency to do a “hot take” and a few folks rush to social media to get their opinion registered. I had no interest in seeing that happen at Tachiai. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. And frankly I treat everything in the press with a degree of caution, doubly so when it relies upon my questionable translation skills.

          So we did not post first news of this until the hour when Harumafuji apologized on television, and his kyujo status was announced. At that point, I took it seriously.

          Hope that puts the paragraph in question into context. The rest is, of course, my opinion.

          • I thank you for your response.

            I get wanting to avoid the “hot take”. But “the reality is probably quite a bit less sinister than what we know now” seems not credible. The reality is a drunk Harumafuji, knocked a beer bottle over the head of Takanoiwa and followed it up with punches. To suggest that the reality is less sinister insinuates that somehow Takanoiwa did something to provoke him. But that does not matter, does it? That doesn’t make Harumafuji’s actions any less tolerable. To even insinuate that this action is “less sinister” approaches the dangerous realm of victim blaming.

            I’m very familiar with this site; I found it about 18 months ago. I’m a huge fan of this site. I get some 95% of my sumo information and news from here. I even occasionally DM Andy to answer my somewhat noob questions. I appreciate all you guys do.

          • Sadly, the reality of most sumo scandals over the past decade has been more sinister than initially reported, not less.

  2. Thank you for this summary. Its a rather saddening story, I always considered Harumafuji the gentleman of sumo. He still a young man and hopefully will redeem itself and will have a long and happy life.
    Hard to see what caused this outburst, must had been some lingering issues, frustration that just exploded when alcohol eliminated the checks and breaks of a sober brain.
    I’m hoping that Takanoiwa will recover fully!

  3. I don’t see how Takanohana will be damaged by this, at least not in the way you describe. It was a private event that had nothing whatsoever to do with official Kyokai business, jungyo or otherwise. It could have just as well happened back in Tokyo. If there’s an issue for him here, it’s that he made the decision to get outside-world authorities involved rather than keeping it confined to the sumo world. That could put him at loggerheads with certain parts of the establishment, but then these are likely the very people he’s been battling behind the scenes anyway so he either didn’t care or did it while knowing the consequences.

    • I see your point, and I admit I bring a very Western view to the entire affair. But if it turns out that Takanohana took this to the police before the Sumo Kyokai, that could cause some strain within the organization. I also believe that, for the moment, there are some indications that jungyo is being over-done, and that is squarely Takanohana’s area of control. As stated in the article, there are some rumblings that the current jungyo tempo has caused a breakdown in training. If someone now also says that the jungyo tempo has caused a breakdown in discipline, it would be squarely on his shoulders.

      For me, I think that the rikishi involved are their own people and this got out of hand fast. It was not handled well at all, and I think more is being made of this than should be, perhaps. I also know I completely lack the social and political context to interpret this in the environment in which it matters – Japan.

      I can say that as a passionate sumo fan, this entire matter is a distraction from the joy of the sport, and was completely unforced.

      • “The rikishi involved are their own people” – this only works if it works both ways. If the rikishi are forced to dress and wear their hair the way the kyokai wants, if they are supposed to accept the authority of oyakata and maintain severe discipline, up to and including what they say on their social network accounts, and if they cannot quit their heya without quitting their profession – then they are not their own men. And this means that those same oyakata bear responsibility.

  4. A few thoughts: My understanding of Japanese culture is that they rather downplay embarrassing events than feed the flames, especially if high profile public figures are involved.

    And I have a very worrisome idea stuck in my head – two out of four mongolian Yokuzuna displayed very un-yokuzuna behaviour, resulting in violence. Will the old “do foreigners/Mongolians even have what it takes to be Yokuzuna?” debate renew? Will we ever see a mongolian Yokuzuna again?

      • But his on doyho behaviour is not above reproach, as evidenced in the warning for unnecessary shoves after a bout.

        And Kakuryus performance is not exactly awe inspiring. He often finishes his bashos with a 9-6 record… Incidentally falling short of the Yokuzuna Kashi-koshi as defined by Harumafuji in the last basho. Is there feud between Harumafuji and Kakuryu going on behind the scenes?

        • His on-dohyo behavior has never been beyond reproach, but he succeeded in single-handedly lifting the sumo world out of the 2011 mud. In some part by performing dohyo-iri in forsaken places after the great tsunami. He also has the reputation of a fansa-kami-sama. That is, he makes himself available for fan requests above and beyond the usual requirements. And he knows how to play king.

          • In general many Western fans make far too much of whatever happens on the dohyo, mostly because they seem to view sumo-in-competition as somehow more dignified than other martial arts and try to hold it to standards that it didn’t even reach in the “good old days”, let alone in current times. Extra shoves, rikishi glaring at each other, hair pulls, etc…the (Japanese) outrage over that stuff always has a very short shelf-life as far as I can tell. If Hakuho needs to be the sole standard-bearer again, he’ll do that just fine.

            The dignified image the sumo world wants to portray for itself is chiefly founded on how rikishi and other Kyokai members act outside of competition, which is why something like this issue here is getting so much play. Asashoryu was no saint on the dohyo, but hardly anyone remembers those incidents now. It’s the other stuff that ultimately killed his career, as it has been for basically anyone that got involuntarily retired or worse.

          • I stand corrected. The more you know… I came back to the sport after a long hiatus, so I am not familiar with the early years of Hakuhos reign. Thank you for the enlightment.

        • As a yokozuna (i.e. since Natsu 2014) Kakuryu has finished just two of thirteen basho with a 9-6 record. He’s gone kyujo eight times, five times in 2017 alone. He’s won two basho, one at 12-3-P (against Terunofuji) and one at 14-1. The rest of his records are 10-5 and 11-4.

    • I worry that Mongolians who grew up in the years after the country left the Soviet Union and the economy suffered may have absorbed an unhealthy attitude towards alcohol abuse. There’s still a lot of binge drinking reported today in the country, and it’s not like Japanese drinking culture doesn’t also tend to lead to people drinking to excess. And it’s not like these guys would ever admit they have a problem and sincerely go into rehab.

      His behavior is so disappointing, you’re supposed to be a role model for younger rikishi, not an angry drunk idiot. Why would you punch your own stablemate too? Hasn’t Terunofuji suffered enough?

      I wish we could hear Takanoiwa’s account of the night, but that’ll never happen if they are trying to keep face.

  5. If the events happend like described above, with the 20 to 30 blows after smashing the glass on his forehead, Harumafuji will face arrest. This is quite a serious aggression.
    But how could he get away with such an assault in the precence of the other big guys, that´s quite a mystery.

    I read a comment to Kintamayama´s video that says that Takanoiwa fought in the Jungyo, the day after the date of the attack, seemigly looking fine. But we´re still in the rumors period, we´ll get to know more in the next days.

    Hopefully Takanoiwa gets well.
    Jeez, I´m shook as well. One of the things I love about Sumo is that the drama starts with the ring entrance, builds up with the stare downs, explodes at the Tachiai, and ends with a bow.
    I truly despise the off-ring Alpha-male thugness of other combat sports; Sumo achieved to formalize machist showings in elegant moves, peculiar hairstyles, colourful ornaments, good behaviour, that are part of being a Rikishi.

  6. I’m gonna bring something up that’s probably not a popular opinion but… in the U.S, in many, many sports, when there is off-court/field/whatever aggression, sometimes steroids are involved. Case reports and small studies indicate that anabolic steroids, when used in high doses, increase irritability and aggression. Now, it could be the case that this is just drunken behavior, but they are in an inherently aggressive sport. They also increase strength dramatically. I admit I am ignorant on these issues, but are rikishi ever tested for banned substances? And if not, is it possible that something like this could have been a part of this incident?

    • We know that at least in the past they were tested for cannabis (and some tested positive – one of a string of scandals), so one would assume they are tested for other drugs.

      In Harumafuji’s case, it now surfaces that it was an open secret in the kyokai that he can’t hold his liquor, and turns aggressive. Nobody imagined it would get that far.

  7. Am I the only one who finds it odd that a police report was filed October 29, and only NOW the story is coming to light?

    • No, you’re not. I wondered about it on Twitter. And it turns out that the kyokai already knew about it on November 3rd. Why the heck did they not tell Harumafuji to announce a quiet kyujo “because of lingering injuries” until they complete the investigation? A scandal in the middle of a basho is the last thing they need…


      They had a hard time selling tickets for the Fukuoka basho. Unlike the ones that take place in Honshu, it did not sell out with in a day, or even within a week. It was only a couple of days before the basho that they have filled all the seats, and even then it was with some complimentary tickets.

      So they may have delayed the revelation to ensure that people buy tickets. And if so… well… shame on them.

      • Taking a few weeks to sell out is not exactly “having a hard time”. We’re only 5 years removed from Fukuoka being 60% empty on weekdays!

      • Just to add, IMHO forum member RabidJohn had the most credible theory: This was going to explode at some point anyway, and the way they’ve done it (letting the press “discover” it on their own based on Takanoiwa’s highly unusual set of injuries) at least ensured that it didn’t overshadow the start of the basho. The rijicho didn’t have to address anything in his opening speech and Harumafuji was able to return the Cup to allow for an orderly procession of things. Anything beyond that was out of their hands anyway.

  8. P.S. I have to say I was shocked when I heard about the beer bottle, and more shocked when I read your report that he didn’t stop there but struck Takanoiwa repeatedly.

    Still wondering why no one pressed charges in October. Here in the USA anyway, if no one presses charges, the incident may as well never have happened.

    Mystifying …

    • P.P.S. Ah, too much shooting from the lip today … in the USA, if no one presses charges, LEGALLY the incident may as well never have happened.

      • I get irritated when my friends fiddle with their phones when we’re trying to have a conversation in person, but certainly not to the point where I pummel them into a pulp. :/

        • So part of the problem is that Takanoiwa was not very “pulpy” the next day, or even for days following. Head trauma can seem like “no big deal” for days, but then cause the patient a lot of distress. There are several facets of this whole event we will likely never be satisfied with the explanation.

          • Yeah, it’s kind of odd that he wouldn’t show any external signs of getting beat on by a enraged Yokozuna. It’s not like they get to hide their bodies at work. Have there been pictures of the lacerations and such given to the police?

            If there weren’t any credible eyewitnesses who weren’t drunk sumo wrestlers, it’s hard to say whether the reported events are accurate or not.

  9. Remarkable. It seemed like a suspension-worthy transgression, which probably works in Harumafuji’s favor in terms of recovering from injuries, up until we got to the “jumped on him and beat him senseless with 20-30 blows.” That’s not a yokozuna correcting bad behavior anymore. Horrid.

    • The beer bottle was not a yokozuna correcting bad behavior to begin with. Yelling at someone, or even, I don’t know, slapping him in the face or forcing his head down because he didn’t bow down low enough… I can get that in the framework of a traditionalist world. But smashing a beer bottle? That’s Tokitsukaze level.

      • Yeah I didn’t mean to minimize the beer bottle as much as I did. Just that the continuation of the story takes it to a whole new level of crazy. I can some version of the beer bottle incident as “yokozuna gone wrong under the influence of alcohol” as a serious transgression that still “makes sense” in the framework of the traditionalist world. But not this version of the story as it (apparently) actually happened. If that makes sense.

      • Damn 5-level comment restriction. I will loosen that but it doesn’t look pretty on mobile.

        Anyway, to respond to your other comment, my wife had read the same thing and showed me a picture purported to be after the event. There were more surprising details in that report which I will share when I get the source.

        • What I noticed is that some sources say that the event was on the night between 25 and 26. And if so, then there is plenty of footage and pictures of a completely unscathed Takanoiwa from the 26th, even in my own Jungyo report.

          My assumption is that somebody has the dates wrong in the press.

  10. This whole incidence reminds me of Hercules (the one of the actual Greek Mythology, not Disney’s), who murdered his children and his wife when he was struck by madnness. As I said in another comment, one oyakata who wished not to be named said that it was an open secret that Harumafuji turned aggressive when intoxicated.

    This behavior is in so much contrast with his usual conduct – huge sense of responsibility, kindness to children, compassion to opponents, one can only stand appalled. Not that he was perfect – he was aggressive on the dohyo in the past, and I’ve seen him poke fun at Ichinojo. But nobody is perfect. And this was in total contrast with his usual personality.

    Alcohol has deprived him of his social standing and reputation. Unlike Hercules, however, he should have known this about himself and stayed away from the bottle (both figuratively and literally, as it turns out).

    This may have repercussions on his future as well. As far as I heard, he was prepping up for a career in law enforcement once he went back to Mongolia. If he was still planning that, then having a criminal record, or even a reputation for criminal activity, might deprive him of the ability to pursue such a career. That depends, of course, on how things work in Mongolia.

    I predict also that he’s not going to be as easily forgiven by the people of Mongolia as Asashoryu was. Asashoryu was perceived as a victim of the Japanese attitude towards foreigners. Harumafuji, with his victim being Mongolian as well, may not be cut that much slack.

    • Makes me glad that Ichinojo isn’t part of the “cool Mongolians” club and wasn’t at the party. Maybe being a boy from the steppes made him a bit more sensible. I hope he steps it up and becomes the next Mongolian hero after Hakuho.

      As soon as I say this, watch there be a news story next week that he’s been sexually harrassing women and smoking pot during every stop on the jungyo. :P

      • Tsk, tsk, tsk. You haven’t been following my Jungyo reports. :-)

        Ichinojo wasn’t there because he pulled out of the Jungyo on October 22nd due to a hernia. He must be thanking whatever deities that gave him that hernia in time, because he would certainly have been at that party, as he is also considered a “Tottori home boy”.

        • Hah, I have been following them, but my jungyo timeline memory is totally faulty! My bad.

          I guess he did luck out then by heading home and not being part of the messy entourage. I really don’t want him and big T to turn out to be inner jerks, its enough heartache for one basho already.

    • Yes, they are. Takanohana filed a complaint with the Tottori police. And he made it clear today that he does not intend to withdraw it. Which in American is translated to “will press charges”. This could end up with Harumafuji doing time.


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