Update – Yokozuna Hakuho

After leading the yusho race for most of the Hatsu basho, Yokozuna hakuho withdrew on day 14 after suffering 3 straight losses. His kyujo application cited complications with his right knee, and many sumo fans and pundits chalked it up to him wanting to save his pride after losing 3 straight. As it turns out, reality was far more gruesome.

Hakuho skipped the Kyushu tournament to have surgery on this knee – the latests in a series of medical procedures that he has undergone to try and keep himself in fighting form for a few more tournaments. He looked fairly well during the pre-basho work up, and was enthusiastic to complete and probably win the finally Tokyo basho of the Heisei era. But on the 4th day of the tournament, he faced Hokutofuji, and won the match by some minor gymnastics on the tawara to stay in the ring while Hokutofuji dove for the gyoji. It turns out this re-injured his knee. The problem seemed minor at first, but grew worse day over day. As reported on Twitter (thanks to Herouth)

The decision to go kyujo came after he found he could no longer sleep at night, due to the pain and inflammation in his knee, and it was clear that he was going to require medical intervention, and possibly additional surgery.

This was bad enough, but following the basho, the YDC decided once again to put their foot in their collective mouths. In a post-meeting statement, (thanks to Kintamayama) outgoing chairman and Colonel Sanders Cosplayer Kitamura had this to say: They were doing proper sumo before they went kyujo and there was no sign of any serious injury. Some members noted that it was a bit strange. The Kyokai’s appointed doctor was the one who should be signing the certificates and not their individual doctors and some others said they would like to see a more objective certificate stating exactly how many days of rest they need..”

The overwhelming question remains – just how bad is it? Well, Hakuho had at least a hematoma in that right knee, and that is a good indication that something tore apart that was not completely healed. Most fans would be fine with him taking an extended break to get healthy, but it seems that the YDC is on the warpath now that Kisenosato has retired. Hakuho is truly the greatest rikishi most of us will ever see, and it would seem a shame to not give him the time and “cover” he needs to return to fighting form. After the 9 partial or complete kyujo granted to Kisenosato, this episode would seem tough to swallow. But as a westerner, I recognize my perspective is different, and I see these men as athletes, and not as cultural icons.

Tachiai hopes “The Boss” can get healthy and return to tossing everyone around like a hacky-sack soon.

34 thoughts on “Update – Yokozuna Hakuho

  1. I can understand the YDC chiding for not filing paperwork, but the fact that they can’t perceive the optics of this is what’s frustrating me. If they’re that lenient with Kise but harsh on Hak, it’s going to look like bias, pure and simple, and there’s times where I wonder if the YDC realizes that…or cares..

  2. Tone-deaf and counterproductive as their comments were, at least it was just grousing on their part. Note that they didn’t “encourage” Hakuho (or Kakuryu, who faced similar criticism), so for now there’s no teeth to the inane bleating.

  3. this ain’t good for the boss. sounds pretty gruesome. they naysayers and anti-mongolian faction within the sumo community will be shouting conspiracies left/right/centre. this man has given so much to the sport and we will never see his like again in our generation, possibly more. Boss-do what u need to do to fully recover and bring your wry smile and little head wobble back only once your knee fully healed.

  4. Athlete? Cultural icon? How about the YDC having some consistency? It is difficult to not see a bias in their clearly varying attitude towards Kisenosato vs Hakuho.

  5. I would be shocked if the YDC affords him the same indulgence as Kisenosato. It will be interesting to see what sort of “encouragement” they come up with if he goes kyujo for an extended period.

    Also, the YDC should be renamed “beard man and fellas”

  6. First, it should be noted that this was Kitamura’s swan song. He finished his term in the YDC and a new chairman has already been elected. The new guy heads an industrial safety institute in his civilian life, so I hope he has a little bit more sense about workplace injuries.

    Second, rest assured it’s not your cultural bias speaking. The Japanese Hakuho fans were screaming bloody murder at this. That tweet of mine was a translation of a tweet by a former Miyagino wrestler that’s still associated with the heya. It got a “yup” from Yoshikaze. Considering active wrestlers – especially the high profile ones – usually keep themselves well away from controversial issues in social media, I read much into that. There was one particular online article which said this has the potential of starting a diplomatic incident with Mongolia, as some lawmakers there want to directly petition the Japanese to disband this YDC and appoint one that would be “unbiased and fair” (if they do make that demand the Japanese are going to raise their heckles and tell them not to butt into their cultural affairs, so let’s hope the Mongolians are not that stupid). Also, that same article said there are people in the NSK who have the opinion that the current YDC is out of touch with modern times and should be seriously reformed.

    In any case, many fully Japanese people pointed out the obvious different treatment of Kisenosato vs. the Mongolian Yokozuna. Kitamura’s quote about Kisenosato leaves little for “cultural” interpretation: “It’s a shame. We wanted him to carry on because he is a real Japanese Yokozuna, not someone with an assumed citizenship or whatever”. Good riddance to him.

    The question of an “appointed doctor” can be debated. Military doctors, at least here, are famous for always assuming the soldier visiting them is out to get sick leave. That can’t be good (and there were cases where the military was sued for neglected cases of cancer etc). Doctors tend to be biased towards the party that pays them. I noted already on Twitter that an unbiased doctor might actually screw Hakuho over but not in the way the YDC thinks one would. Hakuho’s injury seems to be a lot more severe than it is, but his doctor only limited his kyujo to one week, which will allow him to participate in public appearances afterwards. A kyujo rikishi is not allowed to attend public events, not even weddings. An “unbiased” doctor would end up preventing him from showing up for the Hakuho Cup next month.

    • Thank you, Herouth, for the details. You’d think the YDC would be aware of things such as Hakuho having his knee drained of blood. Or if they are … well what are they thinking? I hope the new guy is less biased against ‘assumed citizenship or whatever’.

      • They know nothing. They know sumo, but have no information that’s not available publicly – unless they actively seek it, which obviously they aren’t. Heya workers and beat journalists know, but they are just elderly academics and media executives etc.

    • Not even weddings? What the actual truck?! Ugh… I know there had been hopes, at one point, of Takanohana being a “reformer,” but someone needs to take up that mantle who isn’t himself also a jerkbag.

  7. I did see one comment that suggested that the general two weeks recovery time is consistent with how much time a doctor is allowed to give in Japanese law with regards to work place injuries. (At least, with regards to most of the kyujo announcements. If this is true, then the injury timeframes given are useless).

    Regards the YDC. They have no real power. They could ask Hakuho to retire and he could ignore them and they wouldn’t be able to do anything.

    • Not exactly. They are an advisory body to the NSK, not the Yokozuna directly. Although the provisions do not force the NSK to obey their advice, it is generally agreed that if they issue a practical decision, such as a “recommendation to retire”, the NSK will have to follow suit. If the NSK issues a “recommendation to retire” (they have a similar set of possible rulings for disciplinary issues), the rikishi as employees are, in fact, bound to it.

      • I was under the impression that the YDC once gave a recommendation to retire for Asashoryu at some point well before his actual retirement (because of his behaviour) that was generally ignored. I can’t find anything to support that though now.

  8. Get well soon Hakuho. The man is definitely the GOAT. Seeing him in live bouts has been a real sporting highlight for me. Additionally, seeing him perform his dohyo iri live is an incredible experience. We are lucky to see Hakuho fight for however much longer he is able to do so.

  9. This is sad news. At first I was skeptical about Hakuho’s withdrawal, but now I simply hope that he can make a full and speedy recovery. He is the GOAT and Sumo is better with him competing.

    At the same time, the YDC should be upset. They have allowed this leeway and weakness to go on too long. Kisenosato was not a worthy Yokozuna and was promoted too early, nearly out of desperation. Kakaryu is MIA and not living up to Grand Champion standards. It’s been on Hakuho alone to carry the sport and that simply isn’t right.

    Clean things up. Put more onus on the Yokozuna and Ozeki, Tochinoshin I’m talking to you. Takayasu and Goeido showed inspiring fighting spirit in the last basho, even after starting out slow, worthy of an Ozeki.

    Give the younger Rikishi the opportunity to truly prove themselves worthy. It will be better for the sport and clean up the top.

      • And more than a little bit unfair to Kisenosato, whose performance in the six basho prior to his promotion would have been no shame to a yokozuna and who won his first basho at that rank, a rare feat accomplished by only seven other yokozuna since the rank was recognized as the highest.

        • Agreed on Kise. His pre-torn-pectoral and post-torn-pectoral performances are dramatically different, and each segment of his career should each be judged without regard to the other; It’s two different rikishi.

          Winning his Yokozuna debut basho, despite a career ending injury on Day 13, has settled (in my mind) any question about whether he deserved the promotion.

  10. I’ve been watching Hatsu 2016 on kintamayama (i got into sumo in March 2016) – the standard in Yokozuna / Ozeki corps is astronomical compared to now where 13 wins is a winning score and 14 wins seems impossible. I have confidence in the younger generation but maybe that was ‘peak’ sumo?

    • I think you are a little bit spoiled by the incredible dominance of Hakuho. It’s not by accident that he got by far the most zensho yusho.

      If you look since 1950, there have been 3 Yusho with 11 wins, 35 with 12 sinx, 131 with 13 wins, 154 with 14 wins and only 72 with 15. Of those 72 14 or about 20% belong to Hakuho.
      In 2018 we had 3 Yusho winners with a 13-2 record (although Mitakeumi got ripped of 2 wins on his Yusho), 2 Yusho with 14-1 and one 15-0. Pretty normal, if you ask me.
      I don’t know your definition of peak is … I guess Sumo had several peaks already. What we currently miss is a defining rivalry, but I’m sure the next one is just around the corner. If only Naya can pick up the slack … 😉

      • [cough]Hoshoryu[cough]. And Roga may even beat him to it. My opinion is that much of the current Makuuchi is mediocre.

        • The next yokozuna probably isn’t a sekitori yet. Look for an 18-20 year old steadily working his way up the lower divisions, gradually building his skills and experience and staying injury-free. There are quite a few that fit the description.

    • You only have to go back to Aki 2018 to see a 15-0 winning score and everyone else in the Y/O ranks with 9-12 wins…

  11. ヒゲの人ら… feels a bit more severe than ‘that bearded guy and fellas’. Like it feels more ‘those wise guys know nothing’ just insinuating their scholarly looks are just a mask over empty idiotic thoughts. Its a pretty gnarly, cutting tweet. I don’t really know how to write the whole thing in English properly but there is some heft that’s gotten lost in translation.

    • Remember that I also had to fit my translation into a tweet. I’d probably use something more like “The Colonel Sanders lookalike and his cronies” in an unlimited text space.

      • No doubt, unpacking 140 characters of Japanese is never gonna fit into a tweet. I think the translation is fine, I just wanted to emphasize how no holds barred the tweet was.

        I tried a while to translate Japanese sumo news and blogs into more natural English, but it was just very exhausting.

  12. I can understand that people have been surprised by Hakuhos kyujo. He looked dominat for the most part of the first 10 days and while some of the losses looked a bit odd, he wasn’t visibly injured on tv.
    However those comments … ridiculous. Maybe having people with zero experience in sports advice on sports matters is not the smartest thing to do after all …

  13. There’s a parallel here with the arrest of the Nissan executive Mr. Ghosn.
    It’s become clear that many (but not all) Japanese resent any gaijin who becomes important.
    The nail that sticks up will be hammered down.

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