Osunaarashi guilty of driving without a license, may be facing dismissal

The story broke out a few days after the beginning of the Hatsu basho. NHK found out that Osunaarashi has rear-ended a car while visiting the Nagano prefecture with his wife, on January 3rd. There were no bodily injuries, and Osunaarashi apparently compensated the other car’s owner.


However, the Egyptian wrestler failed to inform either the NSK or his stablemaster of this incident. Admitting to this failure to report, he was put on punitive kyujo for the rest of the basho.

The problems were only beginning for the young former Maegashira. The first problem was that driving is strictly forbidden to all active rikishi. This is not an obscure sub-item in some rule book nobody pays attention to. All rikishi know this and this is the reason why you see many rikishi in public transport or riding bicycles (motor bikes are also forbidden).

There are precedents for rikishi breaking this regulation. Famously, Kyokutenho (currently Tomozuna oyakata) has rear-ended a car waiting at a traffic light back in 2007 and caused its driver a minor injury. Besides his legal proceedings, he was punished by the NSK with a suspension for one basho and 30% were docked from his salary for three months.

If Osunaarashi had reported the incident and admitted to driving that car, he would have probably fared no worse, especially given that there were no injuries. However, he made a serious error of judgement, and gave various conflicting statements to both the police and the NSK. He claimed that he had an international driving license. It was found that the license was not valid. An International driving license is valid in Japan for only one year from entering the country. After that, you have to acquire a Japanese driving license. So he was driving without a license.

The exact order of the statements is not entirely clear, but apparently at this point his wife claimed that she was driving the car. However, evidence including footage from a surveillance camera showed Osunaarashi in the driver’s seat. he then admitted to the police that he was driving the car.

It was at this point that the story was revealed to the NSK. However, in his hearing by the NSK crisis committee, though he admitted to not reporting the incident, he and his lawyer continued to claim that his wife was the one driving the car. His explanation was that his wife was pregnant, and that because she only had an Egyptian license, not an International one, he had switched seats with her to protect her, because he believed his International license was good.

This put him in a position in which he was lying either to the police or to the NSK. The NSK called him in for questioning several times more, and the details of the story kept changing, according to Kagamiyama oyakata.

Since then, the Nagano police found out that he has been driving not just on the occasion that ended in the accident, but also twice before. Once in Nakano city on January 1st, and then twice in the town of Yamanouchi. Of course, they were only investigating within their own jurisdiction. The police then filed charges with the Nagano prosecution.

Today, the Nagano prosecutor decided on a summary indictment for three counts of driving without a valid license. Within the same day, he was fined ¥500,000. (It is perhaps noteworthy that this is the same sum Harumafuji was fined for injuring Takanoiwa. This suggests that cooperation with police makes a world of difference). He also paid the fine within the day.

However, this still leaves him to face the NSK, and this is where it is probably going to get a lot more serious for the popular Egyptian. The NSK board is going to hold a regular meeting on March 9th, and the subject of Osunaarashi’s punishment is on the agenda. They intend to listen to him and his lawyer again before making their judgement. However, the prospects do not look good. In addition to breaking the NSK regulation, he broke the law, and he was dishonest. The press expects a severe punishment, not ruling out a dismissal.

Dismissal is the heaviest weapon the NSK has. Below it there is a “recommendation to retire”. The recommendation becomes mandatory if the rikishi doesn’t hand in his resignation. There is a subtle difference between the two punishments, but both of them mean that Osunaarashi will not be mounting the dohyo again. Of course, there is still a possibility that they will decide on a long suspension and additional fine. Osunaarashi is already heading for Makushita following his forced kyujo, so there is no possibility to dock his salary, as he won’t have one.

Also expect his stablemaster to be punished. In the case of Kyokutenho, his stablemaster’s salary was also docked. Otake oyakata has already apologized several times for this unfortunate incident. Although Osunaarashi did not report to him, the NSK usually takes stablemasters to task for the scandals caused by their deshi, viewing it as lack of proper guidance.

Tachiai will keep you updated on the final decision.

14 thoughts on “Osunaarashi guilty of driving without a license, may be facing dismissal

    • Because of car accidents in the past that involved injuries and I believe even deaths. There is also a claim that it’s because it’s hard to extract a heavy rikishi from a crashed car, but I don’t believe this has anything to do with it, as they are allowed to be driven around by other people.

    • From what I read, it has somewhat to do with sumotori representing ‘the last remaining samurai’.

      Even though it is mostly symbolic (think of the top referee’s dagger in case he makes a wrong call in a match), there is still this sentiment, that after the Meji Restoration former warriors should under no circumstances kill a commoner ever again.

      So when a woman did die, due to a rikishi’s action, even though it was not deliberate, traditionalists would not stand for it.

  1. Comparing his sentence (off the hook for about $4700 USD) to what would happen to you here in the States if you made false statements to police and were found guilty of driving without a license multiple times, he got off with a slap on the wrist. (We would fine you a few hundred dollars for a single offense, and maybe not even that if you got a license before your hearing and had a sad story to tell the judge. Multiple offenses are very serious, though, and can result in jail time. And that’s without making false statements to police!)

    It is my understanding sumo wrestlers sign a written document saying they will not drive cars or motorcycles. It will be interesting to see what the NSK decrees appropriate in this case.

  2. Thanks for the report, Herouth. Very, very revealing. So this is how 2018 begins. Another shocker. And…it involves a rikishi that I have mad respect for! Wow. For me: when I see a foreign sumotori do well — or GREAT in regards to Tochinoshin thrilling win! — I get goose bumps, imagining that it has to be so damn HARD to make it in a ancient sport that is so symbolic to the Japanese.

    Osunaarashi had to make sacrifices to go from the bottom to the top levels of a sport that will, sooner or later, significantly impact his life as he ages. I know it and you know it — but this is not a good look. Lying to his superiors about the incidence, especially in Japan — is totally unacceptable. One scandal, after another. For the last 3-4 months in a row. I can only hope that the rest of the remaining bashos can shake this lingering P.R. of a nightmare and get back on track with showcasing the best that Sumo can offered. Is that too much to ask?

    • This is the reason why they are trying really hard to do something about the scandals. They had a “scandal prevention week” that ended yesterday, with workshops for rikishi and oyakata, overseen by reputable outsiders. Some would say it is all a sham, but I think the NSK would really like the scandals to go away, and it’s more a question if it’s able to do that.

      It’s easier to avoid scandals like this one – the rikishi need to grasp that cameras will catch them, and there is no tradition involved in driving or not driving. Japan has excellent public transport and various chauffeur services. It can easily be avoided. It’s harder with the Harumafuji affair because corporal punishment is so deeply rooted in Sumo culture, that some believe Sumo and other martial arts should be exempt from the law.

      Then there’s that sexual harassment thing, which I’m almost certain they won’t know how to target. The drunk old gyoji is probably not the typical case. I’m pretty sure there are many hidden stories within the various heyas, and it’s the secrecy that’s really hard to tackle.

  3. What are the chances that Osunaarashi will do what Harumafuji did and jump before he gets pushed? If he thinks he’s going to be dismissed wouldn’t it be better for him to get his retirement letter in first?

    The big Egyptian’s career shows just how precarious a sumo life can be. At one point he looked like a future champion but the injuries quickly piled up and he has looked a shell of his old self of late.

    • I think the NSK is definitely giving him a chance to do that by postponing their judgement to the last possible moment before the Haru basho. But it’s hard to understand his thought process here, and his lawyer also doesn’t seem to be top league material with that awful counseling so far.

  4. Yeah, it’ll be sad to see a popular rikishi go, but for lying to his stablemaster and the NSK about a criminal matter, it’s probably appropriate.

    • For sure, my point was that the rikishi who are leaving the sport are largely fans favourites.

      Harumafuji was clearly immensely popular.

      Ura suffered a career threatening injury when he was possibly the most popular rikishi in the sport, or at least the one that most people wanted to watch due to his unpredictability.

      Kisenosato seems to be very close to intai and obviously his popularity grew immensely on getting the white rope last year.

      Any time I’ve seen him perform, Osunaarashi has been really loudly cheered by the crowd, even when he slipped into juryo.

      Obviously there are still some popular rikishi left, such as Endo and Mitakeumi. But having a good sized pool of very popular performers is important for any sport.

  5. Really, really good comments above.

    Examples: M.A.U (Mystified as usual) mentions that rikishi sign a contract that they WON’T drive a car, Herouth mentions the hidden secrecy that affects a heya, tigerboy1966 ponders as to whether or not Osunaarashi retires early, Tom mentions that super-popular rikishi are leaving the sport much earlier than expected (whether its to injury or disgrace), and etc.

    I definitely respect everyone’s opinions here — you can tell that we are all concerned about where Sumo is heading. I 100% totally agree that Osunaarashi SHOULD’VE known better. It is inexcusable.

    And the other day, I came across these two headlines about an external panel will speak to as many sumotori as possible about past abuses:

    The Guardian


    Please let me know gals and guys if this is indeed credible news. (Shaking my head)

    • Yes, it’s been in the Japanese press as well. The question is how far they can dig that way. The “no snitching” ethics exists everywhere. There are no protections for whistle blowers and rikishi can’t switch heya. If somebody finds out you blabbed, you’re screwed for the rest of your (probably short) career.


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