Takanofuji Intai Saga Update

As was reported in the lead-up to September’s Grand Sumo Tournament, Takanofuji is at the center of yet another bullying incident. As the scandal broke before the tournament, he was suspended and did not compete. Based on the findings from the resulting investigation, and as reported by Mainichi Shimbun, the Nippon Sumo Kyokai recommended retirement and Takanofuji’s stable master, Chiganoura-oyakata, has also requested Takanofuji retire.

The incident that brought all of this to a head occurred on August 31. Takanofuji was angered by his Jonidan-ranked attendant’s poor attitude, and according to the Mainichi report, he didn’t like that the junior wrestler bathed first. As a result, Takanofuji punched the victim in the forehead creating a lump on his head and resulting in pain that lasted a couple of days.

The victim ran away from the stable with two fellow wrestlers. Why two others? The three wrestlers were given nicknames of “Niwatori,” “Hiyoko,” and “Jidori” by Takanofuji and the allegations are that they were habitually berated. They were told that rather than saying “Hai,” they should cluck like chickens (say, “ko-ke”).

This is Takanofuji’s second offense, thus the recommendation of retirement. Though he admitted the facts of the Aug. 31 incident, Takanofuji claims he did not hit the tsukebito hard. He held a press conference today, flanked by his attorney, where he stated that he does not intend to resign, asking for a lighter punishment and stronger regulation of the sport from the Japan Sports Agency, a Government Agency under the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology. Asahi Shimbun is reporting that if he will not resign, the Kyokai will take disciplinary measures which may be a forced retirement.

The reporting on that last point is rather vague so I will try to learn what they mean. It sounded like there is a range of punishment…but to me I don’t know how much range of disciplinary “measures” there can be between “voluntary retirement” and “forced retirement”. Are fines and criminal proceedings a possible outcome? Can Chiganoura evict his unruly deshi or can he only apply pressure to encourage him to leave? I do not know but hope to find answers. The physical bullying seems to be the tip of the iceberg and this story will be around for a while, unfortunately.

Given the seriousness of the allegations, it’s understandable that there are very strong opinions. As many of my Twitter followers are aware of my little Twitter rant, I do want to note my firm belief in due process and uncovering the facts. I had a lot of questions before I reported this today; many of those have been answered as I read more but I still do have many other questions. I trust their process to deliver a just punishment in the handling of the case.

40 thoughts on “Takanofuji Intai Saga Update

  1. I feel I year out of the sport and forcing him apply for reinstatement to start in The lowest rank. And a possible ban from joining his old stable, therefore a new oyakata will have to accept him and decide if he has improved

    • This flies in the face of tradition. One thing that’s never done is moving rikishi from one heya to another when the original is still active. In some cases, that’s a real pity. Heya are considered families, and you don’t just move children from family to family, although some families are dysfunctional. In any case, which oyakata is going to want him? The young ones who object to corporal punishment wouldn’t want a two-time offender to get near their deshi. The conservative ones who believe in corporal punishment wouldn’t want a trouble-maker who holds press conferences without consulting his oyakata.

  2. What a bloody mess! Thank you much Andy for the updated report. I hope it is okay to mention that I have watch the excellent piece on Takanofuji’s news conference by YouTuber Chris Gould…and what you have superbly written is confirmation. I’m just shaking my head. Does Takanofuji have a few screws loose? Yes! Isn’t this his SECOND bullying incident? Yes! Wasn’t he warned that any further, and unnecessary violence will have dire consequences for him? Why, YES!

    Listen, I get it…SUMO is good old fashioned, tradition-bounded, Mano-to-Mano, as violence as any combat sport can be. Maybe I’m too WESTERN to fully understand, but I respect this sport that demands so much of a person, but this negative situation is hurtful for all involved. Andy has pointed out MANY times on this blog (and others) — maybe violence (and intimidation) it is so INGRAINED into a sumotori’s psyche, from such a young age — what can you really do? I guess keep educating and educating some more, right.

    The Takanofujis of the Sumo world (and they know who they are) just can’t HIT anyone, ANYMORE because they feel the person is slow, or naive, or forgetful, or maybe rude. Too much in-heya violence has happen, and rikishi have either been seriously hurt (and a few years ago, a young man was killed which was so sad). If the governing Sumo body says DON’T DO IT…then for heaven’s sake, DON’T! Time’s have changed. Easy for me to say, sure. What is really gloomy, is that 98-99% of ALL sumotori will NEVER make a dime…and after it is all said and done, Takanofuji will have to find some other way to make a living based on…what…a junior high or high school education. This is TRULY a great, pure, physical sport…but can rikishi really be conditioned that there’s a level of physical reinforcement (or discipline) that can’t be allowed? Asashosakari mentions a while back (if memory recalls), that many violent incidents happen that don’t get reported.

    Well…Takanofuji has certainly stirred-up a hornet’s nest! And I can’t wait to read what other Tachiai commenters and team members are going to say on this page.

  3. I’d like to see Takanofuji resign or be sacked. He was caught and punished once already, and there’s no sign he’s learnt from it. It’s the deliberate and habitual demeaning of his juniors that sticks out for me. That’s a different ball-game from a one-off loss of temper. I don’t really care if he has no other prospects. Chiganoura oyakata has to think of the other young men in his care and the reputation of his stable.

    • Well, Chiganoura oyakata has still Takakeisho, Takagenji and Takanosho. That’s 3 sekitori. Most stables would be quite happy with that number.

  4. I assume that if Takanofuji refuses to retire he could be dismissed, which is what happened to Sokokurai a few years ago. In that case of course, the wrestler went to court and won.

    • Sokokurai had his oyakata back him up from the get go. Arashio oyakata believed Sokokurai was not involved in yaocho, and thus, of course, welcomed him back with open arms once he was re-instated. Takanofuji, OTOH, has created a major trust crisis with his oyakata. The letter to the NSK, the appeal to the sports ministry, the press conference, all were done without consultation with his stablemaster, who then had to go and apologize to the NSK for them. Furthermore, last fall, when he joined the heya, Chiganoura oyakata signed him on a “written oath” that if he is violent ever again, he will retire. Now Takanofuji admits to the fact of violence, and yet refuses to retire, further deepening the mistrust between him and Chiganoura oyakata.

      (Funny how he demands that his tsukebito abide by the hierarchy and say thank-you for the early bath, etc., while he himself defies the chain of command)

      Under those circumstances, I believe that even if there is government or court opinion that he should be reinstated (which I think highly unlikely), he would not be welcomed back to Chiganoura beya. If the matter is forced, it could lead to very odd results. I’d speculate that the court would rather leave the dismissal standing but just rule a large compensation.

      • When Sokokurai was reinstated it was like the pivotal scene from “The Shawshank Redemption”. Takanofuji will not elicit that kind of emotional response if he ever gets back, which I doubt. I still feel a bit sorry for him: he’s a bully and an a**hole but I think he could have turned around with the right guidance. Ah well… let’s hope he can do something positive with his compensation cheque. I would imagine that there are some pro-wrestling and MMA promotions that would be very interested.

        • I know the owner of RIZIN said his organization was not a dumping ground for rogue rikishi. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind yaocho experts, but trouble makers are a different thing. I’m not sure about other outfits.

          I also feel kind of sorry about Takanofist, as I believe at this point he doesn’t realize he is a pawn being played by whoever, ahem, is footing the bill for those two lawyers. He thinks he has a way back, and doesn’t realize that his bridges are burnt to ashes. His brother is brighter than he is. He tried to convince him to lay off the press conference thing. Whether he believes himself right or wrong, Takagenji is in damage control mode, while Takanofist is still gathering momentum in his avalanche.

        • In terms of guidance, where was the oyakata when all the “guiding” of the shin-deshi was going on? Are the coaches generally not around enough to notice this sort of thing? Is it only done behind their backs? Or is it seen as acceptable?

          • As far as I can determine, the oyakata is not around during chores. He doesn’t see what’s going on in the kitchen, the dormitory or the bath.

              • Right, because he was actually not on premises. Under normal circumstances, the oyakata lives in the same building, eats his meals with the rikishi, etc., so it decreases the likelihood of situations escalating without a responsible adult to step in.

          • If the oyakata knew what was going on, then he’s to blame for complicity. If the oyakata did not now what was going on he’s to blame for negligence or incompetence.

            As for the ugly aftermath it is not unlikely that “ahem” is in some way culpable,

            • I don’t believe it was complicity (because after all he reported the matter as soon as it turned out that violence has occured, and he had Takanofist sign an oath that he will retire if he is violent again, so it doesn’t seem to be a policy with him to encourage violence). I’m not sure it’s exactly negligence or incompetence. Sure, he has vicarious responsibility. But I think the issue with him is just that he trusts his rikishi too much. This was evident when Takakeisho blew that knee, and then insisted that he can use it, so Chiganoura let him back into the basho. After he realized that Takakeisho can’t be trusted in this (too eager to self-sacrifice), he put his foot down and corrected it.

              In this case, there is really no way for an oyakata to be in the kitchen and the bath and all those places. He delegates this responsibility to the lower command. When I was in boot camp or officer training course, we seldom saw our commanders except during actual training session. We didn’t see them in the mess hall (they had their own), we didn’t see them in the showers or in the dormitories except for inspection. Most of the time we were left to ourselves. The groups I belonged to consisted of trustworthy adults, so this wasn’t much of an issue. I imagine that the leash is shorter when this is not the case. But still, you can’t expect one person to be present everywhere all the time, and that’s why he has underlings, who are supposed to be adults.

              Of course, the key is, are they trustworthy? His mistake was perhaps that he trusted these guys whom he didn’t raise himself. The impression I have of him is not that of a person who doesn’t care for his young deshi or thinks that only sekitori are worth his attention and the rest are just handy slaves. The man hangs out with his boys, even when there are no sekitori around. It just doesn’t fit.

      • I think what screams out at me is here is the entitled attitude, having read Kintanayama’s translation of his comments. He believes that rules are for less important people it seems. He will be no loss to the sport of sumo. I saw no remorse or personal responsibility, just minimizing of what he did and blaming the person he hit.

      • Takanofuji’s personal defiance of authority is quite telling IMO. Sumo is so highly tradition bound and rule-governed that for this individual to refuse to accept his own discipline and embarrass his oyakata speaks volumes concerning his character.

  5. I think it’s important to mention that Takagenji has been implicated in this scandal as well, though his part did not include violence (as perceived by the compliance committee), only misconduct.

    The twins have been “guiding” the heya’s four shin-deshi – I suppose this includes Wakaseiun, Yuriki, Takamasaki and Wakahiroto – and punished them for being forgetful and sloppy about their chores and manners. Takagenji would collectively punish the four for the faults of one (with punishments such as push-ups, fines, grounding), and at one occasion made one of them strike a pose and say “I’m an idiot” while taking a video of this on his smartphone (there was another report that implied that he menaced the guy as well).

    This complimented Takanofuji’s “You’re chicken, talk to me in clucks” method of discipline. The compliance committee concluded that this was “beyond the scope of discipline”, and the NSK settled for reprimanding him, as this was a first offense and he expressed regret.

    • I agree. I was going to add it with last night’s post but I had a few more questions about exactly what he was not only accused of but what he admitted to. I’m going to post about him separately tonight.

      • I’m new to watching sumo, and first started watching on NHK World when Harumafuji had to retire himself because his violent behavior. As an observation and only opinion, sumo itself is based on “class” hierachy, where “underlings” are in a lower class and a respect, do odd jobs and cooking, etc that higher classes no longer do(?) as they have made it to higher, paid ranks. That in itself, if not done out of respect for one another, can cause young men to think they can do no wrong, including lack of reponsiblity and being reckless (which isn’t just a young person’s problem) I just hope this has a positive outcome in some way,whether it be a change of rules, change within the sumo society, etc. Something has to change.

  6. A fascinating if not sad situation. Barry B. makes a good point that this is a violent sport and so training must prepare them not only to dish it out but to take it as well. But the other side of the violent element is control. And they must necessarily go hand in hand. When one enters the upper ranks especially, that control must be ingrained and evident. Considering he signed a contract to that effect, this is egregious behavior. I’d like to chalk it up to immaturity but that’d be insulting to so many who succeed without the need to be sadistically abusive.

  7. I see Takanofuji as innocent here. It was his task to guide the newcomers to sumo. And according to the report, they were extremely bad at it… How was he supposed to react? Doesn’t punish them at all? Ok, striking is bad, but it happened only once and in rather non-severe form (not like chocking attack in the case of the sandanme rikishi dismissed few month ago). Punishment through push-ups bad? WTF. It looks like the most natural thing for a community like that (rewatch the Full Metal Jacket, it’s in all human cultures). Humiliating nicknames? Oh my God, what a severe punishment!

    Look, every punishment is a humiliation of one or other kind, and in this case (extreme retardation of the newcomers) it must’ve been applied! Yes, Takanofuji may have done it wrong at few occasions. But I can relate. It’s extremely hard to deal with retards. And Takanofuji is a young and inexperienced guy who I bet have never studied pedagogy. I see the Oyakata fault here, who is an old and experienced guy but didn’t care to deal with this situation in his stable. Dismissing Takanofuji is a cheap scapegoat move, big shame for sumo…

  8. I hope you never have children and will never be put into a situation where you are in charge of children. Or in charge of anyone else, for that matter.

    This is Takanofuji’s second violent offense in less than a year of being sekitori. The sumo world will be better when he, and anyone else who thinks that punching tsukebito is okay, has been removed from it.

    • I know I’m a shit person unlike all saint SJWs here. But you haven’t answered my question (and none it this thread even seems to think about it). How was he supposed to punish them, given all listed in the report methods are deemed violent and unacceptable?

      • I imagine there are several alternate ways that he was familiar with. Unless of course you are suggesting that everybody engages in that level of discipline.

        • I imagine there are several alternate ways that he was familiar with.

          Like? I’m really curious what you can offer… There’s zero positive criticism in this thread. Tell me what he should’ve done instead of forcing them to do 30 pushups…

          • It wasn’t stated that pushups are unacceptable, the comment from I believe herouth only suggested that collective punishment was deemed questionable and probably especially the act of making one guy calling himself an idiot and filming it.
            You can of course use extra exercise as a form or punishment, you could also restrict them from some activities/training forms, temporarily restricting some privileges, etc.

            Also if any of the twins felt that they couldn’t properly handle their duties in guiding the new deshi, it would always be an option to ask either a coach or an oyakata for advice/assistance.

            But maybe he never learned better in his old heya. In any case, we are talking about a 22year old adult, not a 14 year old buy. He is responsible for his own actions.

          • What is your evidence other than his excuse-making that he was not taught any other methods? I do not consider Takanofuji a reliable source.

            • Presumption of innocence demands the prosecuting side to look for evidence that the defending side is guilty, not other way round…

              • Presumption of innocence is a legal standard. There is no need for the NSK to meet (American) legal standards to police its members.

                As Savaros pointed out, Takanofist could have asked an oyakata for advice. He could also have asked more senior sekitori. If he had, he probably wouldn’t be looking at forced retirement.

  9. I have to say that I think Takanofuji is done. The evidence is clear and the fact that his own oyakata has recommended that he retire should’ve been enough. However, the press conference and his attitude in that, will be the final nail in the coffin and he’ll be forced to retire.

    I think of this in a employer/employee relationship setting and if this was in an employee tribunal, his appeal would be dismissed quickly. This sorry affair should end his career and he’ll need to start life afresh. It really is a pity, as the potential was there for a solid rise up the ranks.

    I do think that this has exposed his oyakata as being too trusting and not being hands on enough with his charges, so things were being allowed to happen that shouldn’t have been. I could even see this becoming an investigation/review/audit into the stable itself, but maybe that’s reading too much into it.

    Then again, i’m just an armchair expert, so my opinion doesn’t mean a thing!

    • When this happened at Naruto beya, Naruto oyakata submitted a written plan to prevent it from happening again. It contained measures like two additional hired managers, and the oyakata and his okamisan moving in with the heya (that was planned anyway, as the heya moved to a new location). Maybe Chiganoura will have to submit a plan like that as well.

  10. Anyone that administers discipline to others must be willing to discipline themselves first.

    it is ironic for me that this event happened this week. In my non-sumo world, I am a psychologist who works in a large practice that works with child protection and probation to a great deal, so a large percentage of our clients have been involved in violence, as either victim or perpetrator. I supervise several therapists and sign written reports. This week one came across my desk that involved violence perpetrated by a HS sports team on a team member. Please trust me when I tell you that this violence was depraved and sadistic. The instigator perp was clearly having a wonderful time, and has no remorse. His parents don’t see that he did anything wrong. To me, that is what put is way over the line, when a perpetrator is enjoying the proceedings, and clearly puts the lie to the “it’s for your own good” nonsense. This is not exactly the same situation, but what is has in common is the superior attitude in combination with no remorse, and belief that rules do not apply. There are a multitude of reasons why these behaviors occur, societal, cultural; familiar, and personal, but it is NEVER acceptable.

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