Takagenji caught smoking pot

Our sharp-eyed readers have noticed by now that the scandal meter has been reset recently, with a title “Takaganja scandal”. I did not want to let this matter overshadow Terunofuji’s promotion or the other good news coming from the banzuke committee, but here is the story.

Before I go on, a note: this story is not about sports doping. This is not a Sha’Carri Richardson kind of controversy about whether or not cannabis should be banned in sports. Cannabis is simply a banned substance according to Japanese law, so read the title as “Takagenji caught committing a criminal offense”.

Two more points to bear in mind:

  • Japanese law has penalties for possession or trafficking, but not for use of cannabis.
  • CBD products are sold legally, and even promoted by the former Kisenosato, Araiso oyakata (fun fact: the yokozuna’s rope is made of hemp).

So here is the story.

On Saturday, July 17, day 14 of Nagoya basho, a report came to the NSK officials, saying that “rumors among the rikishi say that Takagenji has been using cannabis, and two of the NSK employees in the heya know about it”.

At around 8pm the same day, Tokiwayama oyakata and other employees in the heya were summoned for inquiry. One of them said that he heard such a rumor once in the past, but did not hear it again.

On the 18th (senshuraku), after his bout was over, Oguruma oyakata, who is the head of the compliance department, questioned Takagenji about those rumors. Takagenji claimed that he was using CBD oil for pain relief, as well as gummy drops to prevent stage fright, which are said to contain CBD, and that this was the source of the rumor. He was asked if he would agree to be tested, and gave his consent.

On the 19th, around 3PM, under supervision from the Compliance Committee’s lawyer, a urine test was held, and Takagenji came out positive.

When questioned about this, Takagenji admitted to having smoked one joint while taking a walk on a road near the heya’s lodging during the basho.

Following its own regulations, the NSK referred the case to the police. He was questioned by the police and then released. He is now back home (in Tokyo), confined to his house under instructions from his oyakata.

Once the police completes its investigations (which it may have already done) and the compliance committee hands in its report, the board will decide on an appropriate punishment.

The prospects do not look good for Takagenji, and it appears he will be joining his older twin in the world outside sumo.

Following the cannabis scandals in the early 2000s, the NSK regulations have been revised, and although the police does not penalize people for positive THC tests or for smoking a doobie, the NSK regulations forbid drug use and the penalty is dismissal. Insiders tell the press that Takaganja is facing either a “recommendation to retire” or a straight up dismissal.

This is not the Juryo man’s first involvement in scandal. He was involved in the same scandal that saw his twin brother ousted from the sumo world, although he stopped short of using physical violence then, and was reprimanded for “power harassment” only.

YDC approves Terunofuji’s promotion to Yokozuna

In its regular post-basho meeting on July 19th, the Yokozuna Deliberation Council unanimously approved the promotion of Ozeki Terunofuji to the rank of Yokozuna.

Following an approval by the NSK board and banzuke meeting, an acceptance ceremony will be held for the 73rd Yokozuna.

The expected procedure is:

  • July 21st – special board meeting, banzuke meeting, acceptance ceremony.
  • July 22nd – “tsuna uchi” – braiding of the new Yokozuna’s rope, and training the new Yokozuna to do the dohyo-iri.
  • July 23rd – first dohyo-iri at Meiji Grand Shrine in Tokyo

The schedule may be subject to changes, however, as July 23rd is also when the Olympic Games opening ceremony is to be held, near Meiji Grand Shrine, and some parts of the area may be closed off. On the other hand, COVID restrictions may render this point moot. We’ll keep our readers posted.


Board Meeting News

On May 27th, a regular meeting of the NSK’s board has taken place. The main points of interest are:

Araiso oyakata to start a new heya

The board approved the request of former Kisenosato, now Araiso oyakata, to split away from Tagonoura beya, and start his own heya. Araiso beya will become reality as of this August. At first, it will take residence at Tsukuba city in Ibaraki prefecture (Araiso’s home prefecture), and a permanent one will be built in the city of Ami in Inashiki District of the same prefecture.

Araiso is to take 4 wrestlers and a gyoji with him. The wrestlers are freshmen Nishihara, Taniguchi and Kato, who have joined Grand Sumo in Haru, and set foot on dohyo for the first time in Natsu basho, and veteran Adachi, who joined at around the same time Kisenosato did.

(Usually an oyakata who splits off takes only his uchi-deshi – rikishi he recruited with the intention of establishing his own heya – together with him from his old heya. Adachi is an exception, and I think the reasoning behind it is that with three complete novices, a heya required a seasoned anideshi to teach them the off-dohyo “way of sumo”).

Decision about Asanoyama has not been made yet

Apparently, the investigation into Asanoyama’s shenanigans turned out to be complex, and is still on-going. Another board meeting is set for June, but Shibatayama oyakata, the NSK’s spokesperson, said the investigation will not necessarily be complete by then.

A decision has been made about Ryuden

Ryden has been found guilty of breaking the NSK’s COVID regulations, having gone on unnecessary outings 25 times between March 2020 and January 2021, for the purpose of seeing a woman who was not his wife. Those meeting happened mostly during basho, some just before it.

Ryuden’s punishment is a suspension for 3 basho, including Natsu basho, which he has already spent kyujo. He should be back by November, and will likely be ranked at Makushita by then.

Ryuden’s shisho, Takadagawa oyakata, has been punished with a reduction of 20% of his salary for 6 months.

Nagoya basho will be held without vaccinations

Although an earlier plan has been to vaccinate all the rikishi and staff in June, this seems to have been set aside, probably due to the slow progress of vaccinations in Japan.

The basho will still take place at Nagoya, and all involved will undergo a PCR test before traveling there. The plans are to:

  • Hold the new recruit checkup at the Kokugikan on June 18th
  • Publish the banzuke on June 21st
  • Hold PCR tests over the 23rd and 24th
  • Each heya will depart for Nagoya after completing the PCR test.

Asanoyama absent from day 12 due to COVID guideline violations

Asanoyama (from NSK’s IG)

Day 11 has been a very exciting day in Grand Sumo. Unfortunately, not exactly for the reasons we would hope for.

During the second half of the Makuuchi matches, a Japanese tabloid dropped a bomb shell. It revealed that Ozeki Asanoyama has been repeatedly visiting a specific hostess club, including a visit on April 30 and one on May 7th, which was aborted due to the rag’s car being detected.

The dates are significant because the NSK COVID regulations require rikishi to refrain from unnecessary outings and mixing with people who are not heya members during the time between the publishing of the banzuke and senshuraku. The banzuke was published on April 26th. So while a young man going to a seedy club, under normal circumstances, is his own business, this was definitely a breach of regulations, similar to the one perpetrated by Abi and the former Gokushindo.

Apparently, the compliance committee has heard the accusation earlier than the publication, and questioned the Ozeki about it on May 18th. He said that “the accusation was groundless”, and this is what Shibatayama, the association’s spokesperson, said to the accredited press when they came to ask about this story.

This meant that Asanoyama continued with his day of Sumo as usual.

But the published scoop was not something to be brushed aside so easily. The item includes details such as the specific club, the times of the visits, a description of Asanoyama wearing a hood over his head, and ordering champagne to celebrate one of the hostesses who was quitting the job. And of course a couple of photographs of him in a taxi next to the club and then later next to the heya, fuzzy and ambiguous though they were.

At this point the Toyama man was questioned again, reconsidered his reply and admitted to “part of the story”. He will be kyujo as of day 12, giving Takayasu the freebie win.

It’s expected that he will face a severe punishment, possibly more severe than Abi’s. While in his favor stands the fact that he has no prior offenses, the rank of Ozeki carries a greater burden of responsibility. And then there is lying in his initial questioning. It’s not just a breach of regulations, it’s also a breach of trust.

Unfortunately, this was not the only scandal of the day, though the other two have yet to be acknowledged by the NSK or the mainstream media, so should be taken with much caution:

  • Yesterday it has been published that Asahiyama beya’s okami-san has been verbally abusing the heya’s deshi, causing some of them to retire (including their best prospect so far, Kirameki, though the article doesn’t name him).
  • (This tabloid is even less credible) – The reason Ryuden has been kyujo is an affair he has had with a woman for three years, including her getting pregnant and him demanding that she abort the fetus, and attempting to silence her with money. It is not clear in what way this has been a violation of the COVID regulations. The tabloid got Ryuden’s attorney’s comment: “The matter is under investigation of the NSK compliance committee so we cannot comment”.