Yokozuna Deliberation Committee Post-Kyushu Meeting

The Yokozuna Deliberation Committee (or Council – YDC in short) convened earlier today for its regular post-basho meeting. The meeting took place in Tokyo, at the Ryogoku Kokugikan.


The meeting was longer than the usual, and included a briefing from the head of the NSK (Hakkaku) and other attending oyakata about the state of the Harumafuji investigation currently being conducted by the NSK’s crisis management committee.

Concluding Statements

Following the meeting, the head of the YDC, Masato Kitamura, held a press conference, and made the following statements:

  • Regarding the kyujo Yokozuna, Kakuryu and Kisenosato, the YDC wishes to see them take care of their health and attend the next basho in good form. Although Kitamura said that continuing the current situation casts doubt on their ability to maintain their status as Yokozuna, many voices in the YDC said that the Yokozuna should be allowed to rest as much as they need and that they should not need to end their reigns. (Edited to include the two conflicting messages).
  • Kitamura was very critical of Hakuho’s yusho “interview”:
    • The three “banzai” cheers were uncalled for. In the middle of a crisis in the world of sumo, and after his behavior in the match vs. Yoshikaze, there was no occasion to cheer.
    • Implying that there was a festering wound in the sumo world that “needed to be cleansed” is “strange”, and not something that a Yokozuna should say.
    • Promising to bring back Harumafuji and Takanoiwa as if it’s something within his power is also uncalled for.
  • Although it is not within the scope of the YDC’s responsibilities, he decided to comment about Takanohana’s behavior: “It is inexplicable. What is he trying to do? It seems as if he is trying to throw a spanner into the NSK’s investigation.”

Of course, the main issue of the press conference was the Harumafuji affair. Regarding that, Mr. Kitamura explained that as the NSK has not completed its investigation, the YDC is deferring its official recommendation until that investigation is done, at which point they will convene an irregular meeting to deliberate and make a recommendation.

However, he added that as it was undeniable that a violent act did take place, all the members of the YDC were unanimous in their outrage, and said that Harumafuji should be “dealt with with utmost severity”. He added that the YDC has several possible recommendations in its arsenal, from warning through an advice to retire, but “currently we do not know which level we will choose”.


In theory, the YDC does not have any real power. It makes recommendations to the management of the NSK, and the NSK can decide whatever it wants.

However, other than general, non-actionable advice such as “get well and come back quickly” such as they have given above to Kisenosato and Kakuryu, the YDC’s “action item” recommendations are generally respected.

Of course, most of the precedents involve recommendations regarding promotions to Yokozuna rather than retirement advice. The YDC has blocked some expected promotions in the past for various reasons and those blocks have been respected.

There have not been many precedents for retirement deliberations. Sponichi (a Japanese news outlet) came up with only three precedents, two of which are not really pertinent:

  • Onokuni, in 1989, was make-koshi in the Aki basho. This is considered to be a cause for retirement for any Yokozuna. However, the recommendation they gave his stablemaster was that he should “get himself together, concentrate on practicing, and become a strong Yokozuna”.
  • In 1999, the third Wakanohana was makekoshi in the Aki basho. Again, the YDC did not recommend retirement but called him in and asked him to take care of his injuries and come back to the dohyo for a decisive basho. Following two kyujo he decided to participate, and retired after losing going 2-4.
  • Asashoryu’s drunken violence was the first and only time the YDC has decided to issue a recommendation of retirement to a Yokozuna. However, Asashoryu handed his resignation on his own initiative before that recommendation was made official.

When they say that “Harumafuji should be dealt with with utmost severity”, the YDC does not leave much room to believe that once the investigation is over they will be lenient. In fact, it sounds as if they have made up their minds already, and are only waiting for the NSK’s conclusions out of politeness.

And once that recommendation is formally made, if the NSK ignores it, it will be unprecedented and extraordinary. The NSK has the power to expel, dismiss, suspend or warn a rikishi. But if the YDC decides that a Yokozuna no longer has the “hinkaku”, if he does not hand in his resignation on his own as Asashoryu did, I cannot see how the NSK could justify keeping him as Yokozuna.

What about Hakuho’s vow, then? He wants to keep Harumafuji around. But I can hardly see how he can achieve that. I cannot see him convincing the members of the YDC to be less harsh, as you can see in the statements above he does not have any friends there. It’s an arch-conservative body, and one not known to be very friendly to foreigners, no matter how many yusho they have won.

In the NSK the situation is not much better. There are many conservatives in the NSK, and there was even a quote today from a “veteran oyakata” saying that there should not be Mongols in sumo. If Hakuho wants something unprecedented and extraordinary like ignoring the YDC to be done, the “reformers” may be his only potential allies. Only… the head of the reformers is Takanohana. Exactly the wrong man.

In western sports we might have expected him to try and arrange a wrestler strike or something similar. But this is unheard of in sumo.

In summary, I believe that the statement “to be dealt with with utmost severity” has pretty much clinched Harumafuji’s fate. The results of the investigation may be less severe than we thought at first. He may not face charges if he only used his bare hands. The fans may be able to forgive him. But the chances that we will see him on a dohyo ever again are vanishingly small.

28 thoughts on “Yokozuna Deliberation Committee Post-Kyushu Meeting

  1. Wow, kinda hard on Hakuho, no? He was just trying to bring some cheer to the atmosphere after all that happened.

      • Fully and completely agree – I appreciate that the folks inside of the sport are absorbed in their problems and their drama, but put yourself in the perspective of the paying fans: a few thousand people got to be there on the day the mighty Hakuho claimed his 40th yusho and long after all of this drama has passed, the fans will carry with them the memory of being there and giving a cheer.

        For sure, the YDC is conservative and for sure Hakuho is self-absorbed, but… it was a great moment.

      • Your wife described my feelings in a nutshell ahahah!
        Hakuho is bigger than those old farts. Funny that the “Yokozuna council” has the nerve to criticize an attempt to bring positivity in a grave moment.
        After all Hakuho is difficult to define “Yokozuna”, to me he has invented an even higher level, like in Dragon Ball when from Goku manages to become Super Sayan 5XYZ (or something).

      • Haha, my Japanese wife said the opposite. She made several points as to why one could be upset at Hakuho. First, he gave the impression that he was representing the Sumo Association by offering an apology when it was not really his position. This is different than, for example, him offering an apology for his behavior on Day 11. She also said by rousing the crowd to yell “Banzai”, he gave the impression that he was cheering for himself.

        I admit, there are so many subtleties to “proper” behavior in Japanese society that it sometimes feel like walking on eggshells. But, to be fair, sumo is not simply a sport but also part of a national tradition and cultural heritage. Thus, I can also see how “proper” behavior is vitally important.


        • I wanna make one point of this “Banzai” thing: we should consider the context in which Hakuho delivered that speech.
          if you watch the whole video of the bout with Goeido you can hear how cold the crowd was with the Dai-Yokozuna. Here´s the best Rikishi of all times, who is winning his 40th Yusho in front of their eyes, and everybody is chanting: “Goeido!” during the whole warm up. Even as he wins that bout people only applaud mildly.
          As the Yusho-interview gets on the way the people applaud only after the second request by the interviewer (!). During the questions you can see Hakuho being very thoughtful. He rarely shows his trademark childish smile.
          That´s why he decided to transform that coldness in positivity. Many people would have been defensive in such an hostile enviroment (or even pissed off i dare say), he decided otherwise and went on to offer the Japanese crowd compliments and appreciation for the chances they have given him in their own home turf. He basically said to look at the bright side, the year is almost behind us, next year we´ll do better, Banzai on us!
          He gained even more of my admiration on Sunday, it teached me a lot of how strong positive attitude is, seeing Hakuho winning that Fukuoka crowd over.

          • I think you are misinterpreting things there… The yusho interview started with the interviewer presenting Hakuho to the crowd. There was a technical issue, and we could only hear the reply on TV, while the crowd could not hear a thing. So the interviewer did it again, and this time Hakuho’s voice could be heard and he got his applause.

            He got applause first for his apology, then for his thankfulness to the gods and the spirit of Japan, and then even more for his vow. He had the crowd from the first cadence. He was looking thoughtful through the interview because that prepared speech was very daring (and you can see the YDC’s reaction).

            He actually gives out a sigh of “done” there.

            After that he more or less played the crowd as usual. He comes up with something every time. Last time, his 39th, he came up with “sankyu” (which is both “thanks” and “39”). The man is a gifted public speaker.

          • Yeah, i admit i overinterpeted. I got really pumped up by that speech, hoping it could mellow the whole tension a bit.

        • Yet another example of how I find it hard to stereotype the Japanese, and how I find commonalities here. The NFL has the same fights over “appropriate” celebration. But sumo’s much smaller and I imagine it is easier to extend authority across a population of wrestlers who live, eat, and train together.

  2. Why would any rikishi even want to strike when the issue at stake involves one rikishi beating up another rikishi?

    • Because they like Harumafuji and think he should be given a chance? Because they think that disciplinary issues should not bear on a rikishi’s livelihood? Not saying that it’s a likely thing. And I also suspect that Hakuho doesn’t have many fans among the rikishi. Just saying that in the west the wrestlers could be viewed as a power source that could be utilized, but that this is not the case here.

      • All I can say is, that would have to be a highly dysfunctional workplace in which co-workers actually decide to stand publicly with the aggressor in a situation like that.

        • The only reason I could see for a strike is to gain better working conditions. So in this case, it would be a strike against the rough jungyo schedule and lack of rank protection for injuries. Possibly against the way Takanohana is treating Takanoiwa, but not like anyone really knows his true feelings on the matter since he’s become a ghost rikishi.

          But that’s sort of a secondary tangent to the actual investigation at the core of this matter.

    • Hakaho is too interested in his own record and he has only a couple of years left to get to 50 yusho. He may say some things, but he will not do anything that stops his own chances.

  3. On another note: “In theory, the YDC does not have any real power.” That’s exactly the wrong way around. They may not have any real power *in practice*. Everything related to yokozuna promotions and retirements was explicitly transferred to the YDC when it was set up (that was the whole point of it, because the public perception was that the NSK wasn’t doing a good job), so their theoretical powers are significant. The question is to what degree that intended independence of mind still exists now.

    • Well, the procedure is that they make a recommendation, and that the NSK then makes a decision. There is actually no written rule that says the NSK has to execute the recommendation. That means that they don’t wield power. In theory. In practice, the NSK accepts everything they say. So in practice, they do wield power.

  4. Based on what they said about Kakuryu, I agree that Haramfuji will be told to retire. It’s really galling of them to say, “Take your time and get better” *now*, though. I wonder if they realize how ironic their statements are after saying, “Show up and do well or retire” to both Kisenosato and Kakuryu.

    It also boggles my mind that everyone is wringing their hands and letting Takanohaha do whatever he wants and there’s no way to “call him on the carpet” for his behavior. Perhaps there’s a lot going on behind the scenes. Who knows at this point.

    • Actually, there were two messages about the kyujo yokozuna. One was “It can’t be denied that continuing the situation as it is makes it a problem for them to maintain their position as Yokozuna”. And the other was “voices said that they should rest as much as they need”.

      Yesterday, when I wrote the article, I was wondering how to reconcile those two statements. It dawned on me in the morning (it’s morning here now…) that although they didn’t name any names, it was “Kakuryu, get back on the dohyo and show you are a Yokozuna”, and “Kisenosato, you can rest as much as you need”.

  5. ばんざい!
    Demanding that the only Yokozuna fit enough to fight (in a field of FOUR!) at the top of a banzuke that looks like a combat after action reportact like somebody pissed in his chanko as the stadium is rocking in celebration of his historic championship ain’t gonna fix sumo. The White Phoenix did act like a spoilt child for several minutes last week, but I can’t imagine any amount of harrumphing is going to ever convince him to slink out of the dohyo with the cup and macaron tucked shamefully under each arm.

    • Flashback coming… Dang those AARs are like, yeah you took the objective, lost no Troops or vehicles, but you still suck because you ate too many MREs!

  6. Really good write-up, Bruce. My only thoughts are with Kakuryu as I think that everyone should appraise the Harumafuji situation on the full facts or at least the agreed-upon story. Kakuryu should probably take it upon himself to retire. He’s not coming back to fighting form ever and maybe a little retirement ceremony might give the sumo world something positive to focus on.

  7. What struck me is that there may be in fact some common ground between Hakuho and Takanohana. Both would like more influence over sumo as an institution: Takanohana in a much bigger way, but then he has been oyakata for many years already; Hakuho may just be testing the waters, seeing he is still only a wrestler. I can see potential for Takanohana to groom a future backer in Hakuho, who could in turn use this as a springboard for his own ambitions post-intai – which is not that far in the future when you think of it, even if he manages to remain an active wrestler until the 2020 Olympics. Sure they seem to be at odds right now, and it all depends on how much support can Hakuho gather to present himself as a viable figure; but once he is granted oyakata status, he will be there to stay, and in a more secure position than currently. If he can demonstrate some backing, then perhaps accommodating him in some small way now would not be such a bad idea.

    • Nah. In all fairness, they have given him good marks in the previous basho for his sense of responsibility and overcoming the difficulty he had in the first week. Too bad they don’t think he deserves some leniency based on his previous merits.


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