Today we get a great article in the Japan Times from sumo’s John Gunning takes a look at the culture of sumo stables. On the back of the Harumafuji incident, John talks about the sometimes brutal world of sumo stables, based on his experience and friendships with countless rikishi across many heya.
Those contacts and that history give John a unique and valuable insight into what happens away from the basho, and as I have stated about some of his earlier works, this is an article only John could write.
… when you take all freedom, money and rights away from hormonal young men and expose them to constant physical and mental pressure, then the path of release for their emotions is often an unhealthy one. Sumo beya can turn into “Lord of the Flies”-like environments very quickly unless overseen by a strong stablemaster who knows how to use a firm hand as well as create outlets for all the pent-up rage and adrenaline.
Having spent a few years in the US Marine Corps, the effect of a living cheek to jowl with a gang of young men who’s occupation revolves around the skillful application of force, I have some basis to relate to what Mr. Gunning describes. In the case of the Marines, a strict code of discipline helps maintain some level of order, but even in my days, alcohol-related incidents were the bane of any NCO or junior grade officer’s life. Solid Marines would get drunk, get into a fight (sometimes out in town in places like Japan), and their futures would fall to ruin.