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