Takanohana fails to be re-elected for NSK board

Today, the elections for the NSK board members – directors and vice-directors – took place.

Takanohana, after the elections today

The board is renewed every two years after Hatsu basho. If the number of candidates matches the number of seats (ten directors plus three vice directors), then elections are not held and the candidates automatically become directors or vice directors respectively.

This is, in fact, how the board selection process worked for many years. There were five ichimon. Each presented two candidates, and they became directors. In 2010, Takanohana Kōji disrupted the system by declaring an unauthorized candidacy, a move that ended in him splitting from his ichimon and forming his own together with his supporters. With six ichimon, the number of candidates was almost certain to exceed the number of seats, resulting in the five most recent occasions ending up in elections.

Takanohana succeeded in winning enough votes in the previous four elections, although he was unable to then get enough support inside the board to become its chairman. But today’s elections were different.

When the Takanohana ichimon convened to decide on their candidate, together with the three rogue toshiyori who seceded from Tokitsukaze ichimon recently, the members of the ichimon wanted their candidate to be Onomatsu oyakata (Onosho’s stablemaster), rather than Takanohana. In fact, they could not agree on a candidacy in their first meeting, and eventually, after meeting again, the ichimon announced both Onomatsu and Takanohana would be running.

Today, after the votes were counted, these were the results:

Candidate heya ichimon votes elected?
Hakkaku Hakkaku Takasago 11
Oguruma Oguruma Nishonoseki 10
Kagamiyama Kagamiyama Tokitsukaze 11
Kasugano Kasugano Dewanoumi 9
Onomatsu Onomatsu Takanohana 8
Yamahibiki Yamahibiki Dewanoumi 8
Dewanoumi Dewanoumi Dewanoumi 9
Takashima Miyagino Isegahama 12
Shibatayama Shibatayama Nishonoseki 10
Sakaigawa Sakaigawa Dewanoumi 11
Takanohana Takanohana Takanohana 2

So the result is that other than his own vote, Takanohana has just one single supporter. For the first time in 8 years, he is not elected to the board, let alone able to progress to chairman.

Elections were held for the vice-director seats as well, as four presented candidacies for three seats. The results were:

Candidate heya ichimon votes elected?
Izutsu Izutsu Tokitsukaze 31
Fujishima Fujishima Dewanoumi 30
Hanakago Minezaki Nishonoseki 26
Shikoroyama Shikoroyama Unaffiliated 14

Shikoroyama has seceded from Tokitsukaze Ichimon with two other toshiyori in December 2017, and declared themselves “Unaffiliated”, although, as already mentioned, they participated in the Takanohana ichimon’s election discussions. Shikoroyama is Izutsu oyakata’s younger brother.


(This part is my own personal opinion)

Takanohana is extremely popular, owing to his Yokozuna days. He is considered by many to have been the ideal Yokozuna. He has a reputation for being strictly anti-yaocho. When he became an NSK member he spoke much about reform, transparency, modernization and so on, and got himself followers both inside and outside the organization.

However, his behavior in the Harumafuji scandal seems to have left a bitter taste even in the mouths of his supporters within the NSK.

  • His refusal to cooperate with the internal investigation and the unusual way in which he hid Takanoiwa.
  • Communicating with the press only through written manifestos, some of them incomprehensible even to native Japanese readers.
  • Taking up a war with Hakuho with some wild accusations that were not supported by the police investigation.
  • Having been criticized by the Chairman of the Board of Trustees as “disrespectful”, his true believers followed up with derision against her, causing her to declare that she will not be speaking to the press again.
  • Reports (based on court statements in unrelated litigation) that there were unchecked and unreported incidents of violence within Takanohana-beya itself.

All of this was causing Grand Sumo to stand out in the news, all in negative contexts, which is something that the Japanese do not like. There is a common saying in Japan, “出る釘は打たれる” – “The nail that sticks out gets hammered down”. It appears Takanohana was hammered down by his own supporters. The Takanohana ichimon probably decided that reform can be achieved through diplomacy better than it can through constant conflict.

Although there was some speculation before the elections that the Takanohana ichimon actually intends to get both of its candidates in by putting on a show of conflict trying to draw in voters from other ichimon, the conflict was more than a show. Even the worst predictions gave him 5 votes. Two votes is a clear signal of lack of confidence, and the former Dai-Yokozuna should take a reality check.

As for Shikoroyama, he apparently secured the support of the Takanohana ichimon and his own “Unaffiliated” three votes, plus a couple of others. But due to the smaller number of vice-director seats, for vice-director, you actually need to secure a lot more support than for a director seat – more than a single ichimon for sure (except the Dewanoumi ichimon, which has 30 voters according to Asashosakari’s reckoning on the Sumo Forum). For Shikoroyama, no support was coming from the other ichimon, certainly not the one he came from originally, Tokitsukaze. Again, the act of secession seems to be taken as “standing out”, and the affiliation with the Takanohana ichimon, as well as competing with his own brother, were not helping either.

Let’s hope that the stream of scandals will die down now that politics are no longer an incentive to start fires. The new makeup of the board includes three new faces:

  •  Takashima from Isegahama ichimon, replacing Isegahama himself, who didn’t run [Isegahama retired as a director after the Harumafuji incident –PinkMawashi]. He is the only director who is not a stablemaster
  • Shibatayama from Nishonoseki ichimon, who replaces Nishonoseki himself, who is still recovering from his head injury and the prolonged loss of consciousness that followed it
  • Onomatsu, the new face representing the faction of reform and modernization for the Takanohana ichimon.

Let’s hope they can bring some fresh air to the NSK, though I would advise against expecting any big changes any time soon. Many veteran stablemasters will have to retire before the new generation gets enough power for change.

30 thoughts on “Takanohana fails to be re-elected for NSK board

  1. Thank you for covering this thoroughly. As a relative new fan of the sport I wouldn’t have known the background to this result without you.

  2. Fantastic work as always, on the commentary (especially insightful), you raise some points that overlay into some of the broader themes in sumo today. There are a number of well loved rikishi who are perhaps in the process of fading from competition. Several of them own kabu, and at least one of them (Hakuho) has been mentioned as starting their own Heya.

    Only a few of these kabu will go on to become board members, but as you point out, true change to the NSK will come through retirement and elevation of a newer crowd of elders. Some names that readers might recognize: Tochiozan, Okinoumi, Yoshikaze, Kisenosato, Chiyootori, Aminishiki, Kotoshogiku, Takekaze.

    In addition, there are a number of current kabu holders that are nearing retirement age, so we are going to see a significant churn in the elder ranks within the next 5 years or so.

    Takanohana had some solid ideas that (at least to this westerner) might improve sumo, but he may have turned into a scheming freakazoid, and that never sells. Maybe he can pull himself together and give it another try in 2 years.

    • Hopefully some of the progressive ideas do not depart with Takanohana’s seat at the table being lost.

      Who else could own a stable in the future? I recall from the jungyo commentary some pretty favourable commentary about the way Kakuryu was working to train some other rikishi. The application for Japanese citizenship (I believe I read that this happened) I guess would help this.

      • Basically, not every kabu holder can own a stable, but former Yokozuna and Ozeki always can. Also those who were in Sanyaku for 25 basho, or Makuuchi for 60 basho. Inheriting an existing heya is easier.

        So Kakuryu can open his own heya. Or he may take over his dying heya and revive it. It was actually expected that Shikoroyama will take over Izutsu when Izutsu, or even when Kakuryu retires, as the heya is almost defunct with the exception of the Yokozuna. But now with Shikoroyama’s secession, it may pass on to the Yokozuna himself. As Shikoroyama has a successful heya of his own, this is not supposed to hurt him too much except for pride.

        Kakuryu and Harumafuji did have a habit of guiding other wrestlers, especially during Jungyo. Harumafuji, unfortunately, will never be a member of the NSK again, although there was talk about him becoming a non-member coach (which pays a lot less and doesn’t have job security). Hakuho, on the other hand, seems to be mostly interested in his own uchi-deshi and less about guiding others. He does have a gift of teaching, as can be seen in the fact that all of his uchi-deshi have achieved sekitori status (although Yamaguchi is just about to lose it).

        In theory Kisenosato can own a stable, and will probably do it. It’s really customary for Yokozuna to be stablemasters rather than attached to others’ heya. Questions have been raised as to his teaching prowess, though.

        Aminishiki is expected to inherit Isegahama once the current incumbent retires. He will probably be attached to the heya for a while before that happens, as it’s still 8 years until Isegahama retires.

        Takekaze meets the criteria for years in Makuuchi and will be able to open his own heya. Kotoshogiku is a former Ozeki, so he can as well. Of the current Kabu holders who are active rikishi, the only one who doesn’t meet the criteria is Chiyootori.

        • Yoshikaze has been very active in youth sumo, and I am going to assume that once he takes his Kabu he will be involved in that aspect of the NSK, possibly more so than being an Oyakata. The guy is a great all around athlete, clever, easy to talk to and well respected. I am keen to see all of the good he is going to do from within the NSK.

          • Thank u Bruce H for shedding light on what my green mawashi man may possibly do. I’ve seen quite Alot of his live IG feeds and he is brilliant with kids/youth and u can see how much he is loved and respected in turn 💚

    • Interestingly, there appear to be several toshiyori who are way past the mandatory retirement age and are still on the active list. I wonder what’s up with that. It certainly doesn’t contribute to the refreshment of the NSK.

      • According to Wikipedia, they were “rehired by the Sumo Association as a san’yo or consultant for a period of five years with reduced pay”. Apparently they still get to vote, which baffles me. This smells like an attempt to do an end-run around the mandatory retirement age.

        And if they want to do that, fair enough, the mandatory retirement age of 65 now seems very early given advancements in medicine. But I wish they’d create more kabu to compensate for the reduced turnover.

        • Advancement in medicine is one thing, but the life expectancy of a former rikishi is about 10 years less than the average in Japan, or so I believe I heard.

        • The reduced turnover issue will be relatively minor eventually – on the order of 3 kabu becoming available in an average year instead of 3.5 – but it’s been a real killer to various veterans who might be wanting to retire right about now, because almost no kabu have been freed up during the last couple of years and things won’t normalize until around 2021.

          In any case, the job extension program was originally sold as keeping vital human resources in the organization at a time when it looked like there was going to be a real shortage of oyakata soon because there weren’t going to be enough qualifying rikishi to fill all the positions: (With so many sekitori having been from foreign countries over the last 10-15 years, fewer Japanese rikishi have amassed the required number of sekitori tournaments, and the yaocho scandal additionally knocked off at least a half dozen likely future oyakata, so the cupboard looked pretty bare ~5 years ago.)

          Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, far from applying only to those oyakata who actually serve(d) in major administrative roles (say, in the regional basho organizing departments, or at headquarters), the extensions have ended up being offered to pretty much anyone, and sanyo have already gone on to serve in such non-specialist roles as the shimpan department, which could and probably should easily be staffed with younger oyakata. The only real restriction on them compared to regular oyakata is that sanyo can’t run stables.

          • I read yesterday that a new Board of Trustees is supposed to be appointed this year, as the previous one’s term of 4 years is about to end. The Board of Trustees includes three members of the NSK, and if I’m reading it right, they have to relinquish their kabu when they do that because they have a power over the Riji which creates conflict of interests. That means that two or three kabu will be made available this year, doesn’t it?

            • No full relinquishment, more a period of dormancy – in practice it has only meant that the 3 trustee oyakata weren’t allowed to serve in any business management role in the Kyokai for those 4 years. Otake-oyakata even got to keep running his stable, and all three were able to vote in the elections this time and two years ago, like any other kabu holder.

              They’re planning to refill those 3 slots with “retired oyakata” for the next 4-year term, although I’m not sure if that means sanyo guys or actual retired-from-the-organization men.

      • To piggy back on comments made by others about the oyakata age limit and kabu – Since the practical age limit is now 70 (since everyone gets extended) the first of those kabu to become available would be in Nov 2019. The db is down right now, but I think that would be Tateyama (ex-Tamanofuji). Since kabu tend to stay in ichimon (in this case NIshonoseki) the most likely candidates would be Takayasu and Shohozan.

    • Yeah. I was just looking for a photograph that I was certain was from today. But yes, his expression is all “What just happened?”

  3. Frankly, good riddance. And this is coming from someone whose favorite rikishi growing up was Takanohana himself. Takanohana has done a good job selling himself as a reformer and the conscience of the kyokai to the Japanese public, but his actual accomplishments are few. I don’t think anybody in the kyokai knows any specifics about what his reformist policies would be.

    What Takanohana is undoubtedly proficient at is populism. He wants to be seeing as the savior of sumo, and so he constantly works behind the scenes to undermine the present leadership. He refuses to cooperate with the NSK while leaking salacious rumors to the press. His whole reformist angle has the stench of a contrived acting job. Takanohana’s posts on his own web page leading to these elections were typically vague, self-serving and full of veiled attacks on the present kyokai.

    If his naked thirst for power and influence wasn’t enough, Takanohana has, whether deliberately or not, become the focus of the anti-Mongolian sentiment running wild in Japan right now. Mongolians feel like Takanohana has been scheming to undermine Mongolian rikishi, especially the three (now two) Mongolian yokozunas. It’s no coincidence that earlier today on twitter Asashoryu mocked Takanohana’s failure to get elected.

    Takanohana and Hakuho have a relationship of mutual hatred, orchestrated primarily by Takanohana. Takanohana was Hakuho’s hero when Hakuho was coming up, but that feeling has soured as Takanohana has repeatedly rebuffed Hakuho’s attempts at creating a relationship between the dai-yokozunas. Takanohana’s pettiness extends to the bizarre fact that he refuses to talk to Hakuho, even going so far as turning his back on him, during the very jungyos that Takanohana, as the Jungyo Director, was leading.

    I haven’t even mentioned the Harumafuji incident, which was doubtlessly amplified by Takanohana’s actions. I don’t want to rehash the whole thing because this is already getting overlong, but the whole thing felt like Takanohana took an incident that was bad, but by no means unusual in combat sports circles, and turned it into a national soap opera. Many Mongolians feel that Takanohana’s intent there was to destroy Harumafuji (and Hakuho’s) reputation, while sowing chaos in the NSK.

    The racist fringe in Japan have basically framed their war against Mongolians as the virtuous Takanohana versus the evil Hakuho. While Hakuho is no saint, what he isn’t is a scheming manipulator. For better or for worse, Hakuho is an open book, always willing to bare his soul in public. Meanwhile, Takanohana plots in the dark.

    While there is no doubt that Takanohana was a great yokozuna, and it is true that the NSK does need reforming, I have come to believe that Takanohana is far from the solution to what ails the kyokai. Today’s results are a welcome rebuke from the oyakatas against someone who has been working to undermine them this whole time.

      • This blog is awesome, and all of you do an amazing job covering sumo. As a person who grew up loving sumo while living as a gaijin kid in Japan, reading Tachiai has been a delight. I just thought I’d share some thoughts of mine on a subject I’ve spent a decent amount of time contemplating. I tried as much as possible to keep unsubstantiated rumors and conspiracies out of it, but it’s basically impossible to do that completely on this subject.

        Glad you enjoyed it!

    • Throughout the recent Harumafuji incident it felt that Takanohana was working to a personal agenda in a particularly unpleasant way. It might be petty of me but his failure to be re-elected certainly made my day.

  4. Yes, the NHK commentator also said that there is a great gap between what Takanohana says and what he actually does. He said “The value of the past two years in office reflects in those ballots”.

    By the way, Asashoryu denies that he was referring to the elections in his tweet. Claims he has many reasons to smile about.

    I’m not really sure what’s up with Takanohana and the Mongolians. To judge by the lunatic fringe, all Mongolians are involved in mutual yaocho, with Takanoiwa being the sole exception. But how did Takanohana change from recruiting a Mongolian as one of his first deshi to a racist? Where did he get that idea that Mongolians in particular were involved in yaocho? SMH.

    • My personal opinion is that Takanohana himself is not racist. But as an opportunist, turning popular sentiment away from Hakuho is something he thinks he can take advantage of.

      2 more comments:

      1) The idea that Mongolians are involved in mutual yaocho is absolutely ridiculous. It’s just the lunatic fringe who can’t accept the fact that a non-Japanese is eclipsing all Japanese in the national sport attempting to rationalize their hate.

      2) Asashoryu is a troll. Everyone knows exactly what he’s laughing about. He’s just picking a fight with the Japanese media and Takanohana.

    • Does one just become a raging racist late in life? Should we perhaps consider the possibility of mental illness (perhaps CTE related)? Some of his behaviour over the last few years is quite bizzare!

      • Remember, Takanohana had an brainwashing episode when he was an active rikishi. He fell under the influence of some charismatic type and broke bonds with his family (for the first time). He’s not exactly a bastion of mental stability to begin with. But I don’t think he is downright incapacitated, as he does manage to keep a thriving heya whose rikishi fiercely adore him.

        • I hate to bring up other politics, but it’s been shown that people will manipulate the racist fringe for their own agendas quite easily these days Even if their own personal views may not be on that level.

          I’m happy that the other board voters did not approve of his shenanigans this time around.

  5. Herouth, thank you as ever for an insightful and helpful post. When I saw the news this morning I hopped on Youtube to watch the commentary and…have been a bit spun up all day. Your context helps this newcomer immensely.

  6. Takanohana has assumed the permanently startled look of a man whose facelift didn’t go quite as well as he had hoped.

    • I’m pretty sure he’s had some work done, else after his weight loss regime there’d be some Kozakura folds underneath those fancy suits.


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