John Gunning On Sumo’s Culture Struggle & The Harumafuji Incident


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.


One thought on “John Gunning On Sumo’s Culture Struggle & The Harumafuji Incident

  1. I wouldn’t want to rely on Takanohana as the champion of the freedom of rikishi. The man is a vengeful, frigid type, who resorts too easily to weapons of mass destruction as he can’t rely on interpersonal relationships or diplomacy. Not the person I’d like as my boss, no matter how nicely he phrases the company’s goals.

    I need to get an education on how the NSK works w.r.t. elections and power structures. I wonder if there is a connection between Nishonoseki oyakata’s head injury, which put him on a coma starting October 19, and the current move Takanohana made against Isegahama.

    Regarding Harumafuji’s intai: yes, it’s almost impossible to prevent it, especially given that the YDC is made of some very old and stiff people. He has only two things going for him: a huge number of fans (who are trying to turn the tide of public opinion, at least the public that’s on Twitter), and a clean record with a good reputation. If they really want to, they can combine a long suspension with compensations and a “suspended” intai (e.g. he will be asked to resign if he is ever seen drinking alcohol again). But I suppose that’s too creative.


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