Whither… Takanoiwa?

There’s still him.

As Bruce did a great job of detailing, Harumafuji is in hot water for his role in potentially putting Takanoiwa out of action for quite some time and inflicting what may potentially be some degree of lasting damage to the head of his fellow rikishi. Much of the speculation, owing to the shocking nature of this incident and Harumafuji’s standing as a Yokozuna, has been around the subject of intai (by his choice or the association’s), what kind of punishment might be forthcoming, or what Harumafuji’s life will be like going forward.

But let’s not forget there is another side of this as well, and that’s the future of Takanoiwa’s career. Obviously, he has received extensive hospital treatment, and it’s unclear where and when we will see him functioning again on the dohyo as we have seen him function before. This passage from the Japan Times article on the scandal caught my eye:

Takanoiwa, 27, was one of the early withdrawals from the Nov. 12-26 tournament. He is expected to miss the entire meet and be demoted to the lower juryo rank at the meet in January.

It is certainly true that anyone kyujo from the entire tournament from the level of Maegashira 8 under normal injury circumstances would be demoted to Juryo. It has happened 14 times in the last 40 years and in the 9 of those times that the kōshō seido system was not applied, the rikishi concerned ended up ranked between J3 and J7 on the banzuke for the following basho.

However, these are not normal circumstances – and they also fall at a time when there have been renewed calls from luminaries of the sumo world (as well as, for what it’s worth, from these pages) to reconsider a reinstatement or a replacement for kōshō seido. While this isn’t a new thing (and you can find hot debates on sites like sumoforum about this, going back at least ten years), the increase in injuries certainly makes the conversation more relevant. John Gunning recently doubled down on the comments he made in the Japan Times regarding the size of rikishi during the NHK World Sumo Preview episode, the training regimen for fitness and injury recovery has been scrutinised in light of failed recoveries by key competitors, and the rigorous Jungyo schedule has not only strained the health of sekitori further but was the time during which the above incident occurred.

One should wonder then, whether special consideration will be given to Takanoiwa’s rank for Hatsu 2018 (if he is able to compete). After all, it is not like this was a normal injury caused on the dohyo or even the case of a clumsy accident at home: if the reports are correct, he was taken out of commission by an act of another rikishi for which there is an ongoing police investigation. If this special consideration to preserve Takanoiwa’s rank is given, could that then be a springboard to a new system that enables rikishi to get urgent appropriate medical attention in order to preserve their rank for even just one tournament?

There are no definitive answers to that latter question right now. But at a time when there’s seemingly nothing good coming out of this saga (the potential loss of a great – and sometimes also good – yokozuna’s career, a rikishi with potentially life changing injuries), the Association has an opportunity to reserve insult from injury. I, for one, hope they mark out this extraordinary circumstance, and allow Takanoiwa to resume his career in the division in which he has worked to establish himself over the past couple of years.

17 thoughts on “Whither… Takanoiwa?

  1. Frankly? Wishful thinking. I think that’s the last change they are going to make. They’ll just tell Takanoiwa that if he’s good enough, he can get back into Makuuchi in a couple of basho.

    I don’t think that it makes any difference if the damage was caused by another rikishi or by slipping in the bath at home. This was a private function. He may as well have been having a drink with basketball players.

    • I don’t disagree that that will be the case – sadly I think you’re probably right. But I do think in the circumstances that it’s probably not fair.

      Different circumstances, but Sokokurai rejoined the banzuke after his reinstatement at the same rank and he was simply cleared of wrongdoing – whereas in Takanoiwa’s case, wrong was done to him.

      If it’s legitimate that we can consider and opine that someone who is kyujo for a normal serious injury should get to repeat their rank the following basho, it’s probably worth considering whether that is the case for someone who has a serious injury owing to a crime.

      • The Sokokurai case was following litigation against the Kyokai which Sokokurai won. He wasn’t cleared of wrongdoing by the Kyokai, but by the court system of Japan. Being reinstated at the same rank was part of fixing the damage they have done (and he may have sued again if they did not do so).

        But in this case, it’s not the Kyokai’s fault and nobody is going to be litigating against them. What is Takanoiwa going to accuse them of?

        I can see a change of rules if rikishi like Ura litigate for negligence (unsafe work environment, or whatever). I would argue that a system like kosho-seido should be available for any injury, not just work-related, provided it’s not deliberately self-afflicted or something. But if you have to scale the cases according to which one the Kyokai has more responsibility for, then Ura trumps Takanoiwa, in my opinion.

        Look at it from another angle: if it is declared that crime victims get special preference, how should rikishi who worked hard and sacrificed their limbs on the dohyo feel about that?

  2. Sadly I think Herouth may be correct, though I would rather it were Josh’s way. Folks like Ura and Endo took damage on the dohyo, in pursuit of the sport. Takanoiwa got hurt at a private function, but maybe we can hope that this is a catalyst to bring the kōshō subject back into play.

    • Yeah. I intended mostly that hopefully this can be a conversation starter.

      As unlikely as it is that he would get to repeat M8, I’m hopeful they will at least throw him a break. It’s not until M4 that there’s any precedent for a kyujo rikishi staying in makuuchi around M16. Even from that level it would take him 2 basho to make his way back to M8 anyway. From J5 he probably loses half a year at best.

  3. I’m leaning towards the cynical side and thinking they will attempt to kibosh any signs of disrespect to the kyokai from the Mongolians or the involved oyakata. Perhaps changing future jungyo schedules around to allow for less time for private functions without supervision. They don’t tend to operate with “common sense” rules in the past from a foreign perspective, so who knows. It’s a business organization, not a players union.

    Takanoiwa might be doomed in the court of public opinion anyway. It’s similar to Rand Paul getting assaulted -he’s a victim and violence is bad, but he still comes off as an insufferable jerk. Or more likely, he’ll fade away with viewer apathy, cause there’s always a new controversy in the news.

    • “It’s a business organization, not a players union.”

      That reminds me of the fact that there is an organization somewhat analogous to player’s union, the rikishi-kai — and Harumafuji was the head of it.

      • Yes, ironic.

        Anyway, just for general knowledge, the title of the head of the rikishi-kai is sort of passed around between the Yokozuna. It’s not an elected office or anything.

        • The rikishi-kai seems pretty toothless anyway, losing its titular leader probably won’t make much of a difference.

          I don’t have a terribly high opinion of the kyokai in dealing with social and cultural issues after its treatment of the Hawaiians back in the day. But America doesn’t let little things like convicted felonies get in the way of your pro sports career, if you’re good enough. Misdemeanor assault is barely worth a suspension. :P

    • I do not give a rat’s ass about Takanoiwa or his scheming okayata Takanohana.I am sure that there was great provocation and unfortunately Harumafuji was in his cups.I am really sad about this!But there are still a lot of things that are not clear like the fact that Takanoiwa did not have any marks on his face or body after the fact.The whole thing stinks to high heaven!

  4. Unfortunately, Terunofuji gets lost in all of this. He is going to plummet down the banzuke. Alongside the case for Takanoiwa, if there’s a case to be made for anyone retaining their rank, it’s an Ozeki with a yusho who not only has devastating physical injuries but was also assaulted protecting a colleague. If Takanoiwa, why not Teru? And why not 6 months ago?

    I want him to sit down now. Heal his body and mind. Maybe move on from Isegahama? Can this really be contained to just Harumafuji? Or can he heal, physically and emotionally, at that stable? He’s an adult but he needs guidance…

    • My problem with Terunofuji is that his current physical condition is his own fault. He was told during the Jungyo by multiple people to slow down and he simply roared at them and kept going ( a direct quote, “I have to overdo things!”). I’m not sure how much of his attitude is because of the current penalties for being kujyo, but that has to be some part of it. Terunofuji isn’t known for going slow and doing something halfway, but it wouldn’t surprise me that he felt he had to be in peak fighting shape to save his rank for this basho. Either way, it was his own decisions and actions that have led him to his current state. Why he refuses to pull out of this basho when it’s obvious to everyone else that he won’t get 10 wins, I have no idea.

      • When the math is settled, likely in two days, I wonder if he will sit. He’s a 25 year old kid. Likely wanted to do everything he could to preserve his ozeki rank. With that gone, I hope we see an Ura-like commitment to health and coming back late 2018. He’ll be back. Shoot, he’s already won a title.

      • It should be noted that the telling off in that case was by Takanohana, and this took place on the 27th of October. I think if our timeline of the Harumafuji incident is correct, then some allowance should be made for his state of mind at that time – and onwards. He seemed to have been doing fine up to that point. But then he lost his father figure, and it seems that the incidence was not common knowledge in Isegahama, and was kept only to the parties involved.

        As for not pulling out when it’s obvious he can’t get 10 wins – I think I said something about this in one of my posts. His situation in the banzuke will be better even with 3 wins than it will be with full kyujo – see Aoiyama in the previous basho.

    • Andy, I think you’re way off base here. There isn’t any logical thread connecting Takanoiwa being allowed to retain his rank while missing this basho and Terunofuji – the situations are entirely different. Terunofuji’s decline due to injuries is a long-term, chronic issue that has occurred entirely within the confines of regular sumo training and competition (which, while grueling, is something every rikishi has to live with). He’s had a lot of time and opportunity to go kyujo and attempt to recover from his injuries, and elected not to. While I get that you’re a fan of his, Terunofuji’s Ozeki rank and yusho don’t factor into it at all. His injury problem is not unusual or exceptional among active rikishi.

      Takanoiwa’s situation is, by contrast, exceptional and completely unprecedented. I’m not a sumo historian, but I’ve never once heard of a rikishi having to miss a tournament due to being assaulted and hospitalized by a violent, irrational, drunken Yokozuna. Takanoiwa’s injuries are acute and in no way related to sumo competition or training – he was a victim of a horrific criminal act, perpetrated by someone in a position of power and authority over him, who was put into that position by the Sumo Association. The NSK should 100% have his back and support him in his recovery, up to and including allowing him to return at his previous rank – doing anything else would be the height of backwards-thinking, victim-blaming idiocy. And this is coming from someone who didn’t even LIKE Takanoiwa before this story broke.

      • When we’re talking about re-instituting an injury policy across the sport, it’s Terunofuji’s case that is more representative and also a wider problem. It’s the chronic injury issue the proposed policy would address, right? It’s not being floated because of bar fights. The Harumafuji scandal is not something that you base injury policy on. This isn’t coming from me being a fan…it’s actually more coming from me being a bureaucrat.

        This is why I feel bad for Terunofuji. He was there and assaulted (but not “enough”?). By the accounts we have, he was hit by Harumafuji, too. But not only did he come back to jungyo with all of this on him, he’s also fighting for his career on the dohyo. I completely agree with you on Takanoiwa which is why I said, “Alongside Takanoiwa…”. In each case there are physical injuries that a doctor can point to, unlike the phantom injuries that made a mockery of the system.

        And I’m still of the mind that easing back into sumo at a lower rank makes sense when coming back after long term (Ura-like) injuries makes sense. I don’t know if one tournament is all Takanoiwa would need – though the doctors say 2 weeks?!?! For his case, I think that’s where the Sokokurai special case makes sense: one-time exception, not global policy change. As you said, this doesn’t happen often. This is super rare.

  5. I feel bad for Terunofuji and Ura, but I’d rather see a more comprehesive, well-thought out injury system be applied to everyone. Giving Takanoiwa special dispensation cause the police are involved to save face is fine, but it feels shitty to have a better chance at recuperating if you get hit by a bus than if you fall off the dohyo.

    I guess some of it comes down to something mentioned before is how much personal agency do the rikishi really have over their lives and careers? If they can’t be their own men, because they are supposed to follow the rules of the sumo association and their stable masters to a T, then making them shoulder the blame and tough decisions when they are injured is wrong.

    It’s like the stupid US healthcare system – if your choice in getting a nagging injury repaired or treat a serious illness is to not be able to work and lose income, thus making it impossible to pay off your medical bills, then you are going to put off dealing with it until it’s ten times worse. Terunofuji is that guy in the office who comes in even if he’s running a 105 degree fever and swears he’s ok.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.