Burying The Hatchet

Takanoiwa and Harumafuji reconcile. Harumafuji to attend Takanoiwa’s danpatsu-shiki.

Riding into the sunshine. From the Smart Flash news site

On the evening of January 17th, shortly after the Day 5 action of the Hatsu basho has ended, two men arrived separately at a fancy Japanese restaurant in Akasaka, Tokyo. The two, known to us as former Yokozuna Harumafuji and former Maegashira Takanoiwa, were there to bury the hatchet. They enjoyed good food and discussed the future.

The meeting was a success. Following dinner, the former Yokozuna entered a black luxury car, and was soon followed by his fellow Mongolian, and the two were driven to Ginza, where they spent the rest of the evening having drinks together.

The news outlets reporting this meeting added that Harumafuji is to attend Takanoiwa’s danpatsu-shiki (ceremonial cutting of his top-knot) which will be held on February 2nd. The following day this has been confirmed by Chiganoura oyakata, who is in charge of Takanoiwa’s former heya, and is holding the ceremony for him. (Danpatsu-shiki are not given by the NSK, but rather by the individual heya, usually paid for by the heya’s koen-kai).

This finally puts the Harumafuji saga to rest.

A sad saga

The story began, as our readers may recall, on the night of October 25th, 2017, the night before the Aki Jungyo event at Tottori city. You can find the full details of the fateful after-party in previous posts. Harumafuji, annoyed with Takanoiwa for checking his phone while Hakuho was speaking to him, proceeded to beat him with bare hands and karaoke remote control, lacerating his skull to the degree that it required stapling. The whole affair would probably have gone under the radar, if word of it did not somehow get to the ears of Takanohana oyakata, Takanoiwa’s stablemaster, and at the time, the head of the Jungyo department.

The news broke out on the third day of the following Kyushu basho. Harumafuji went kyujo, and at the end of that tournament, took responsibility and retired. But what should have ended pretty much like the Asashoryu saga: a retirement, a settlement out-of-court, and that’s it, developed into a holy war between Takanohana and the NSK.

Harumafuji’s retirement press conference

In particular, Takanohana refused to allow Harumafuji to settle this matter with Takanoiwa. In the absence of an out-of-court settlement, Harumafuji faced a summary indictment and paid a fine. Furthermore, Takanoiwa was prevented from showing up to Jungyo events and honbasho for quite a while following the incident, ending up at the bottom of Juryo. After making his first appearance in honbasho eventually (Haru 2018), he was once again absent from Jungyo, handing in a doctor’s certificate for PTSD – which apparently healed in time for the next honbasho (Natsu 2018).

A civil suit

How did an injury whose original medical certificate was for less than two weeks of rest, and which should not have prevented Takanoiwa from participating in any honbasho following the incident, develop into several months of absences, it’s hard to say for certain. My guess was that a big lawsuit was in the works.

But that civil suit took its time in materializing. In the meantime, Takanohana was demoted to the bottom rung of the NSK ranks. He filed a complaint about the NSK for that with the Government Office (the NSK is a tax-exempt organization and as such its governance is subject to government scrutiny). But when his young deshi, Takayoshitoshi (now Takanofuji), unwisely decided to beat up his tsukebito right in front of dozens of people in the shitaku-beya during the Haru 2018 tournament, Takanohana was forced to pull that complaint, to allow his deshi to keep his career.

Takanoiwa responding to reporters under the watchful eye of Takanohana

Then one day at the end of September 2018, right after the end of the Aki basho, Takanohana announced that he is resigning the NSK, saying that he was “being forced to declare that the complaint to the government was unjustified, which he does not believe it was”. This was yet another media circus, which ended in the Takanohana beya being closed up, all its deshi being transferred to the care of a very surprised Chiganoura oyakata, and Takanohana leaving the NSK, getting a divorce and putting what was both his home and his heya out on the real-estate market. However, he did not let go of the Takanoiwa saga.

On October 3rd, 2018, Takanoiwa filed a civil suit against Harumafuji. That civil suit included all those lengthy medical expenses, damages, loss of income, etc., for the long absences I have mentioned above, to the tune of nearly ¥25,000,000. His new oyakata, Chiganoura, was not aware of this. The law firm behind the suit was the same law firm Takanohana (now back to his family name of Hanada) was using for his own affairs.

The lawyers on the Harumafuji side reacted with indignation, calling this an extortionist sum and declaring that they will fight it in court, as it was way above and beyond the real damages accrued by their client.

Once again, attempts at settlement out of court were blocked.

Public Shaming In Mongolia

It seems that Takanohana and his lawyers failed to predict all the consequences of that civil action. Back in Mongolia, people were outraged. Harumafuji is held in much respect by many in Mongolia, due to his philanthropic activities there. In particular, he recently established a school in Ulan-Baatar which is supposed to give young Mongolians a Japanese-style education. He invested about $12,000,000 in the establishment of that school of his own money, and also raised donations from others. His fans in his home land took a dim view of Takanoiwa’s “preposterous” law suit, and some of them started publicly shaming and physically harassing Takanoiwa’s family. It should be noted that neither of Takanoiwa’s parents is alive, and his family consists of siblings and their own families. They called him often to express their distress, and he couldn’t bear it any longer.

On October 30th, Takanoiwa announced that he will be pulling the suit. “I will pay for my own medical expenses… I want the harassment of my family to stop”, he said.

The reaction from the Harumafuji side was that it was “unthinkable that Mongolian Society would act in such a deplorable way towards the victim side”. While a bit cryptic, the reaction from the Takanohana side was much more dramatic. According to Takanoiwa’s koen-kai, the former oyakata immediately severed ties with his former deshi.

The next day, Harumafuji’s lawyers hinted that they think “perhaps Takanoiwa’s legal representatives were obstructing negotiations and misrepresenting their own offers”, and suggested that direct talks should take place between the sides.

The victim turns aggressor

Whether or not such direct talks indeed started at this point, we will probably never know. But we do know that shortly afterwards, during the 2018 Fuyu Jungyo, Takanoiwa, angry with his assigned tsukebito, Takataisho, for forgetting his purse in the previous Jungyo location, beat him up. When the attending oyakata found out, Takanoiwa was sent off to Tokyo, questioned together with his new oyakata, and sent off to await judgement at his heya. This was all too much for the victim-turned-aggressor, and he decided to leave the world of Sumo.

Takanoiwa’s retirement press conference

No red carpets were waiting for him out the door. The RIZIN pro-wrestling association, following the embarrassing Osunaarashi second scandal, announced that it wasn’t a dumping ground for sumo criminals (or something more polite but to the same effect). There was no invitation waiting for him there. Without education, without a civil profession, with burnt bridges in his home land, and now also without the support of his former oyakata (who made a public announcement that he will not allow Takanoiwa within his presence before he does 10 years of penitence), Takanoiwa was in a serious pinch.

A lonely danpatsu-shiki

His recent oyakata, Chiganoura, was acting very decently – appearing by his side in his news conference and bowing in apology together, appealing to the Chiganoura koen-kai to be kind to his short-time deshi in his new life, and arranging for that danpatsu-shiki at the Ryogoku Kokugikan to give him a respectable farewell. Chiganoura also invited Takanohana, as Takanoiwa’s former stablemaster. However, no indication was given that Takanohana was going to accept the invitation, and given the above, the likelihood that this would happen was very low indeed.

This ceremony, unlike Harumafuji’s (and the one planned for Kisenosato next September) is not going to include hana-zumo (a day of sumo, jinku, shokkiri etc). Hana-zumo requires the cooperation of the rikishi-kai, and is an expensive affair. It includes only the ceremony itself and an after-party. At the moment, only 90 tickets have been sold.

With Takanohana not attending, and an ongoing feud with the Harumafuji camp in the Mongolian community, news outlets were speculating that the event would turn out to be not just low-key, but a rather lonely affair.

So perhaps it is Takanohana absenting himself from the scene. Perhaps it was the prospect of a lonely farewell ceremony. And perhaps the reason was the new state of unemployment Takanoiwa found himself in. Whatever the reason, the overtures from Harumafuji’s side, long rejected, found an ear this time, and the two sides finally found a way to put one of the saddest, ugliest affairs in the world of Sumo in recent years to rest, and smoke the pipe of peace.

And the danpatsu-shiki? Harumafuji will attend it. Gossip columns tell us that Takanohana’s ex-wife, Takanoiwa’s former Okami-san, Keiko Kono, will also attend it. Whether ticket sales will increase as a result, and whether Harumafuji’s attendance will draw in more of the Mongolian community, we will learn in a few days.

62 thoughts on “Burying The Hatchet

  1. Wow. What a mess. Does anyone know how Takanoiwa plans to make a living from now on? Wouldn’t it be ironic if he wound up teaching at the Yokozuna’s new school in Ulan Bator?

    • He doesn’t have the education to be a real teacher, though he may be a sumo coach, I guess. If he has any sense, then that peace agreement with Harumafuji includes some sort of job prospect, either in Mongolia or in Japan. We’ll just have to wait and see.

  2. isn’t it the case that on the days immediately after the original incident, takanoiwa continued to attend jungyo and perform and was to all appearance normal, and no shortage of photos of this?
    that the doctor visit and injury reports only came up much later and only then was any injury evident?

    it seems very possible that takanoiwa received an additional beating, and only then required treatment
    until this issue is sorted, can we really say the affair is put to rest, at least as far as public interest?

    beyond what he got from harumafuji, a greater harm was being puppeted by takanohana
    what a terrible mess thereby developed for him, in japan and in mongolia

    in any case, two less mongolians dominating the upper ranks
    for those of that persuasion, mission accomplished

    • You know, not being Japanese, I’ve never any opinion one way or the other about Mongolian dominance in sumo, but, by and large, I like most of the Mongolians. Who is more fun to watch than Hakuho? Twice in this tournament he kind of hugged the referee at the end of his bout. Who else would ever do that? I’ve always thought the guy was a great showman and a real hoot. Kakaryu and Tamawashi both have reputations as being nice gentle souls. Hamurafuji, when he wasn’t under the influence, was always a gentleman. The heart-breaking story of Terunofuji, etc. If the Mongolians weren’t a part of grand sumo, I, for one, would miss them terribly.

    • No no no no no. Don’t believe conspiracy theories, at least not to that extent. He had a medical certificate from the hospital in Tottori, or maybe the city they visited next, where they stapled up his head laceration. He got a medical certificate for that laceration and a possible concussion, requiring him to rest for something like 12 days. He did participate in the Jungyo but took good care not to use his head for sumo. The head injury was definitely real and happened when it was assumed to happen.

      There were many suspicious parts to the story afterwards, when the injury was suddenly supposed to include a damage to the skull and leak of cranial fluid. Then there was cellulitis, and that PTSD. And for some of his absences he didn’t even provide a medical certificate. But there is no reason to believe he was “beaten up a second time”, and no evidence whatsoever.

      So exaggerating his own state to get more money – yes, certainly. Being beaten up a second time? That just smacks of “some other dude shot JFK”.

      • herouth

        it is unimaginable that there is anyone who can still believe the single gunman jfk story
        terrible example; better do some homework

        are you saying takanoiwa went straight to hospital from the beating and got stapled, with the medical dated certificates reflecting this, followed by jungyo next and following days?
        i’ve seen post-incident jungyo photos with no bruises as well as photos from days later with plenty bruises, evidence that prompts my inquiry

        severe inhouse beatings from takanohana and his rikishi are many, well publicized and undisputed
        it is not a reach that we are talking about yet another inhouse beating

        when it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, usually …

        at least you are able to acknowledge there are many suspicious parts to the story
        that’s a start

        the incident seems resolved between haramafuji and takanoiwa, happily
        as far as what really occurred, it is still a stinky mess, and unknown

        for an audience that believes in fake yokozunas, fake ozekis and fake basho champions (why are no names needed for this reference?) one can write nearly anything and they will happily swallow
        real journalism must have a higher standard

        • Um, sorry, but I did my homework on that one.

          There were no visible bruises because the injury was to the scalp, under the chon-mage. The photo with many bruises is actually not from “days later” but an early, unrelated photo (that one confused me as well at the time).

          It doesn’t walk like a duck, it doesn’t quack like a duck, and sorry, it isn’t a duck.

          • we have a different experience of what homework means then
            if you can still find a single gunman, i have some twin towers for you at a very good price

            the photo information is helpful and hopefully correct
            thank you

            why be sorry if it isn’t a duck?
            let’s hope it isn’t

            follow up inhouse beating or not, the story remains incomplete, cloudy, and with a terribly fishy smell
            not that it matters really or that we’ll ever find out; typical

            hoping you are right that takanoiwa has some kind of provision going forward (from haramafuji) and i’ll bet you are
            i’ll toddle away from it all now, content with the photo of the guys in the car together

            • OK. But just so you don’t have to take my word for it, here is a picture of Takanoiwa’s injury, as circulated by Kyokushuzan at the time:

              laceration to scalp

              As for the “many bruises” picture, I assume you mean this:
              bruised takanoiwa

              Well, this one, although it served as backdrop to many reports about the Harumafuji incident (including this very screenshot!), it is actually a photo from 2012, when Takanoiwa advanced to Juryo for the first time. Here is an article from that time with same scene, different angle.

              • herouth

                your word is already meaningful to me
                these photos do help illuminate the issue

                do we know that these staples were applied the night of the incident?
                if so, it is astounding (even for a tough-as-nails rikishi) that he attended jungyo the following day in any capacity; even more so that he was allowed to

                (then again, we have complete invalids kisenesato, mitakeumi and yoshikaze allowed and encouraged to mount up for further beatings
                a disturbed sense of supposed honor or fighting spirit, even when the fix is in

                some of those injuries are carried for life, no picnic
                that’s something hard for young folk still in their twenties or thirties to understand

                the worst is yoshikaze; punch drunk doesn’t get better
                isn’t there anyone around him who cares?)

              • thank you, friend herouth, for adding these extra details
                fills in the picture meaningfully

                i enjoy your effective, artful writing very much

                <3

  3. Please, let us just put all of this mess in the past. Time to move forward.

    I honestly hope Takanohana gets himself in order, not for Sumo, but for himself. I think his train is not running on the rails currently.

    • Forgive me for being redundant, but whenever I see sumo wrestlers (past and/or present) acting out and behaving in ways that society frowns upon, the first thing I think of anymore is CTE. After years and years of ferocious headbutts, you simply can’t be surprised if brain damage isn’t a cause of their suspicious behavior. I hope I’m wrong, but it has to be considered. Again, my apologies if I’m being repetitious here.

      • If I had to guess, I would think more like a personality disorder. Brain damage is certainly a consideration but he is not showing the signs that I can see, but he really looks like someone with a personality disorder, most likely Narcissistic. Just a guess.

      • no apologies needed for this relevant and underconsidered topic
        (american) footballers, boxers, rikishi and many others are subjected to frequent brain bruising

        that doesn’t resolve overnight
        it is more than an owie, especially when owie after owie ongoing

        brain damage is added to whatever psychosocial issues each one brings from childhood
        experienced therapists know that nearly everyone (at least in industrialized society, which by now includes nearly everyone) is traumatized and carrying the scars and aftereffects

        the bb gun reports, if true, are an example here

        frequent heavy drinking is yet another additive for those so inclined
        all considered, the surprising thing is still finding a working karaoke remote left anywhere at all

          • yes, takanoiwa with the bb gun
            (sorry to hear where he learned it from)

            i thought takanoiwa is who we are mainly talking about
            though with brain trauma x alcoholism x early childhood trauma, i guess everyone is well included (even chiyonofuji; ouch ouch ouch, but yes, i’ve been hearing lately he was a bad boy too)

            (Burying the Hatchet is turning out as the hottest multithread i’ve seen here yet
            maybe relabel as ‘Digging up some Worthy Hatchets?’)

  4. Good gravy. Thank you for another incredible and thorough write up.

    I do have a couple questions and I don’t necessarily expect anyone to have the answers, but:

    • Koen-Kai paying for danpatsushiki: in Takanoiwa’s case, who pays for this? his own koen-kai? The Takanohana koen-kai (has this been dissolved?)? Chiganoura beya koen-kai? Seems if you’re a long time supporter of Chiganoura it would be weird to immediately fork over money to put on this “lonely” retirement event

    • Osunaarashi – there was a second scandal after he joined RIZIN? I haven’t seen (and still can’t find) word of this anywhere

  5. I admit I’ve always been biased as Harumafuji was my favourite rikishi but he’s being a better person about this than I’d be following the lawsuit, etc. The whole thing has always reeked of a bad incident that was then made way worse by Takanohana manipulating the situation to fit his own agenda regardless of the damage it did to his own rikishi and anyone else. Takanoiws has always seemed like a dumb pawn and that impression was only reinforced after the news came out that he beat his own tsukebito. The whole thing still depresses me and is such a waste of sumo talent.

    P.S. Did Harumafuji really invest 12m U.S. dollars or was it yen?

    • Dollars. Well, more like 11, as the rate is not exactly 1:100 anymore. But still. The sum in yen was 1,200,000,000.

        • Just did some quick maths on Harumafuji’s salary, at the time of his retirement he was making ~$20k USD per basho. Not including special prizes, kensho, etc.

          He was making a pretty good amount of money as a Yokozuna but 11m is still a serious investment

          • Keep in mind that salary, kensho, mochi-kyukin and special prizes are not the only income source for wrestlers. There are public appearances (every time you see a wrestler in a TV show, a charity event, a shrine dedication and whatnot – he is being compensated for it). Also, one major source of income, especially for Yokozuna and yusho winners, is senshuraku parties. They used to say of Chiyonofuji that he could earn millions (of yen) in just one senshuraku party.

  6. Forgive my focus on the trivial, but what really struck me about Herouth’s post was the report that, after patching things up, Harumafuji and Takanoiwa went out drinking together! Yikes, that’s what started this whole mess!

  7. Ama was my favourite. As a Yokozuna he was second only to Hakuho. His manner and behaviour were exemplary. His loss was tragic at the time and seems an even greater tragedy now.

    The sumo bosses should have found a way to fix this. I respect the Rikishi but the Japan Sumo Association seems weak and antiquated.

    It’s a treat to look back at Ama’s fights, especially against Hakuho. 6 Bashos including 3 Zensho.

    I miss him.

    • well summed
      he is among the most missable

      there is a bright side however
      thank heavens the injury times are past for him

      he already proved whatever a person can prove
      in recent years, my arms hurt watching those bouts

      now he can give in the arts, sports, education and more, without taking regular beatings for it
      still so missable, yes

    • Me too. He was so graceful and so fierce at the same time. He also generally seemed to out of way not to knock fellow rikishi off the dohyo when he could. I also believe that a person’s behavior speaks volumes, and his choice to put his money in a school is admirable. I have heard that he has a drinking problem. I don’t know if that is the case or not, but if so I hope he gets it under control and that he has a happy and successful rest of his life. I also hope that we can get occasional news about how he is.

  8. I think that Haramafuji could have won a couple of basho last year. The level at the top was sub par in several of the tournaments.

  9. I think it speaks a lot about the character of Haramafuji to make peace with the guy who was basically responsible for the end of his career.

    I am no fan of Takanoiwa and still hold him responsible for the whole mess.

    Does he deserve the beating from Haramafuji? Of cos not. But none of us will probably understand the context of what happened that fateful night. By all accounts, Haramafuji has always look after Takanoiwa. And he probably took it upon himself to discipline Takanoiwa when he feels Takannoiwa is out of line, like using the phone when a Yokuzuna is talking to you.

    The cynic in me think that Takanoiwa is probably desperate for some sort of support (financial, emotional or otherwise) and probably has no choice but to make peace with someone who he has screwed royally over and has always look out for him.

    Anyway, that is life and we move on. A pity we will never know how many more Yusho Haramafuji could have won. But I am glad he is moving on with his life.

    About Takanoiwa’s danpatsu-shiki does it take place on a dohyo for a rank and filer and will Haramafuji be allowed to mount it for a symbolic snip?

    • I think Harumafuji understands very well that Takanoiwa was only a pawn in Takanohanas game with little wiggle room for himself.
      If it’s true that Okami-san is attending the ceremony, but not his former Oyakata, it speaks volumes about Takanohana. On the othe rhand Takanohana might have been invited, but I’m not sure he would really be that welcome. Don’t think any of his rikishi will say anything until far past their retirement, but I’m sure they weren’t all too excited about how they got treated. In the end it may work out for the best thought. they may not have a former Yokozuna as Oyakata anymore, but instead someone who truly cares for his rikishi.

      • Takanohana’s rikishi were very devoted to him, or at least, the twins and Takakeisho were. When the twins still had a Twitter account, they retweeted all kinds of stuff in his defense. They didn’t have to do that. Takakeisho keeps quoting his former stablemaster, and they also stick to his rule of not using wrist and finger taping (though I did spot a tape once in Takagenji’s fingers this basho. Could have been injury rather than apostasy, though).

        He treated them like family, you see. Problem is, the Hanada family is dysfunctional. He is not speaking to his mother, his brother, and now his son.

          • Do tell, where can I hear more about the marital drama? I somehow had missed the detail about getting divorced.

            • Do you want links to articles in Japanese? Basically, he handed the divorce papers about the same time he resigned from the NSK. There were reports the couple were estranged even before that – already at the time he lost consciousness during a Jungyo event which he attended as shimpan.

        • There is a pattern … ;) Takanoiwa isn’t part of the family anymore and the same fate would hit others who rubbed him off the wrong way.
          It’s hard to believe any of his rikishi have been happy about the way the stable got dissolved. I don’t doubt that they highly respected him before and I think it’s quite natural to want to defend someone’s decision in such a situation. But in the end he dropped them like hot potatoes.

    • About your last question: the danpatsu-shiki will be on the dohyo in the Kokugikan (same dohyo on which the Hatsu basho took place). When they say Harumafuji will attend, it’s pretty much implied that he will be among the symbolic cutters.

      • When you touched on Hanada-san and his unwillingness to meet before Takanoiwa completes 10 years of penance…dude. That was just like…what century is he from?

    • Dentay, I’d love to upvote your comment but the upvote icon hasn’t appeared for me for a couple days. I echo your sentiments.

  10. Geeeezzz ! I love this site ! I had just spare infos, but reading this post and the huge number of comments I built the whole image about last year events linked to Ama, Takanoiwa and Takanohana. Thanks guys. But I am truely sad … cause I was catched by sumo seeing Takanohana 20 years ago (what a soap opera close to his personality) , then I loved Asashoryu (forced to retire), then I loved Ama (forced to retire), I loved Tokitenku (he’s dead), I loved Terunofuji (what a sad story) , I had a “taste” for Takanoiwa (forced to retire). I love Kakuryu ( I hope he’ll be fine and have a natural intai) . I am not from Mongolia , I am from Romania but mongol rikishi are true show-men. They are salt’n pepa of sumo for me … but I never liked Hakuho :) .

  11. Geeze, Takanohana sounds like someone who let fame get to him and just thought his stuff didn’t stink. As far as some of his former deshi defending him, that’s not uncommon with kids who are in abusive homes, even if the abuse is “just” emotional/verbal/psychological. It may take several years of NOT being in that environment for some of the Taka* deshi to be able to realize, even within themselves, how messed up the heya was in that regard. I do get them still appreciating what Takanohana taught them about sumo–it obviously worked, and if it’s been working, why fix what isn’t broken?

    As I said on Twitter, THIS was the part of the whole saga that I most wanted to see. The person Harumafuji wronged was Takanoiwa, and only Takanoiwa could “forgive” for that, (though Takanohana seemed to think that right rested in him.

    A tragic chapter in sumo, but one that could have hit a far darker conclusion than this. I hope all the best for Harumafuji and Takanoiwa going forward.

  12. Solid reporting, Herouth. The above discussions were genuinely good and I’m glad that Harumafuji and Takanoiwa can shake hands, have a good dinner and a few drinks, and let bygones-be-bygones. The whole accumulation of tragic incidents would ultimately end their careers, and also unexpectedly alter their life paths, as well. Both men will never be the same, but perhaps hopefully in time, they will be able to escape the venomous atmosphere that they’re currently in; and to settle into fully enriching positions in their respective communities, and find happiness.

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