For those in Japan, mark your calendars for Saturday at 1:30pm on BSFuji TV. Asahiyama-oyakata will join Karahashi Yumi to discuss sumo. Though there will be no Natsu Basho, there is clearly A LOT to discuss, including the results of Haru, Asanoyama’s Ozeki promotion and the pandemic’s impact.
This morning we learned of the tragic passing of Shobushi. To recap, a month ago he tested positive for SARS-CoV-2. Upon his positive test, he was sent to the hospital and to likely isolation. Sadly, his death — and the last month of his life — were likely quite lonely.
While in the hospital, visitors would have been banned. If in stable condition, every four hours to six hours or so, a nurse would come in to check vitals. Once a day a doctor would come in and check on him. We learned that nine days after his positive test, his condition worsened and he was sent to intensive care. At that point he may have been given more oxygen and remained conscious and alert, or sedated and intubated so the machines could help him breathe. In NYC, 80% of these ended in fatality.
So, when conscious and not intubated, his nurses and doctors would come in and they’d they’d ask him questions about his symptoms, wish him well, and leave to continue their rounds. Lots of people in the room and a flurry of activity would be very bad news indeed.
Several of his stablemates and his stable master would later test positive and be sent to the hospital, too. Had they been permitted to come visit him? Or had they caught it at the stable? Such a visit would have been against the guidance of many health agencies so it is unlikely.
But in any case, we knew a wrestler had tested positive, gone to the hospital, and there had been no news about whether he had come out. His stable master and other stablemates were discharged and our days carried on. But while the Kyokai debated whether they could hold a Natsu basho, he lay in the ICU, alone. No family, no friends, no supporters.
“Andy, where are you going with this?” I’m probably not the only one to wake up this morning, shocked and dismayed at the news that a rikishi had died from the Coronavirus. But the thing is, I’d been expecting it.
His illness and death were not sudden. Many insiders and heya supporters may have known the identity of the unnamed rikishi and some possibly knew of his condition. However, I am disappointed that more news was not shared by the Takadagawa-beya or the Sumo Kyokai.
It feels quite morbid to celebrate the life and career of someone whose name I was not familiar with. Herouth has covered him in her Jungyo posts, pictured with homeboy Ryuden and as tsukebito for Kagayaki. I do wonder how things would have been different if we had known his identity earlier and kept abreast of his condition.
I don’t ask for more information out of morbid curiosity but of genuine concern. And privacy is a certainly a valid concern…but so is the health and well-being of our fellow man.
I’m not a religious person so I’m not going to think that, “Oh, we could have prayed for him and he’d be better.” But I can’t help think about that last month of his life and wonder about what I’d have done if I’d known. The little news offered about the other wrestlers (one or two of whom may still be in hospital). And I can’t help but think about how I could have found this picture among those in Nicola’s archive weeks ago, shared it with you weeks ago, and we could have wished him well. And, if he tracked the news and social media, perhaps he could have known we were rooting for him.
The NSK has formally announced today that six new cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed as of today.
These include Takadagawa oyakata and his deshi, Hakuyozan.
The current NSK policy is to disclose the names of infected members only if they are sekitori or oyakata. So the names or the heya to which the other four rikishi belong have not been disclosed.
(It is also a bit unclear from the language of the announcement if the four include the original case we have already been informed about, or are all new cases).
According to the announcement, Takadagawa oyakata had high fever, and has undergone a PCR test on April 23rd. He got a positive result and has been hospitalized since that day.
Hakuyozan did not show any symptoms, but having taken the test on April 24th, he was confirmed with the virus and has also been hospitalized.
The other patients were also hospitalized after being tested positive following the outbreak.
The NSK adds that any heya in which confirmed cases have been discovered will be disinfected, and all its members will be fully confined to the premises, with no keiko, and checked for symptoms, for the next two weeks.
Tachiai wishes all involved a speedy and complication-free recovery.
More than a century before COVID-19 disrupted societies across the globe, the H1N1 flu pandemic of 1918 sickened millions. Sometimes referred to as the “Spanish Flu”, infected an estimated 500 million people, killing somewhere between 15 and 50 million. In response to the early days of the outbreak, the Japan Sumo Association modified the format of the Haru basho. There were no fans in the arena, and the entire basho took on a quite eerie and unsettling aesthetic as all matches were conducted in silence.
But I wondered – how did the Sumo Association handle the 1918 influenza? Now from the web site Unseen Japan, this article describing the events of more than a century ago. I was amazed to find that in Japan, the 1918 influenza outbreak was know as the “sumo flu”! The flu may have been transmitted via a group of about 20 rikishi who had visited Taiwan in spring of 1918, and sickened several heya. Upon returning, they became ill with a disease that doctors had not seen before, and several required hospitalization. Three of the rikishi died of the illness, including Komusubi Masagoiwa who became ill and died in a Taichung hospital on 5 April.
By the time of the May tournament, there were a large number of famous / kanban rikishi who were absent from the tournament due to the illness, to quote “The Influenza Pandemic in Japan, 1918 1920 :The First World War between Humankind and a Virus” –
Two other wrestlers died after showing the same symptoms, and several others including three Tokyo wrestlers as well as several Osaka wrestlers were hospitalized and did not accompany the other wrestlers for the return home. There had been no previous record of such a large number of wrestlers falling ill on tour and some reports say that more than 20 wrestlers were sick. Although there is no certain evidence, judging from the information above, the possibility is high that the ailment that struck the sumo wrestlers in Taiwan was influenza.
The outbreak in Tokyo that spring came to be known as the “sumo flu.” The Kokugikan sumo arena in Ryōgoku had been burned to the ground in a fire the previous year (1917) at the time the chrysanthemum festival was held there in November. For the Tokyo Grand Sumo summer tournament in May the following year, an arena along with tent-covered spectator seating were temporarily set up at Yasukuni Shrine, but when there was a heavy rain, the arena was unusable and the tent leaked, so it was decided to hold the tournament on a total of ten fine-weather days, as had traditionally been done before the Ryōgoku Kokugikan arena was first built in 1909. Grand Sumo and the baseball tournament among a group of six universities in Tokyo were popular public attractions, and enjoyment of sumo in the heyday of the newly promoted grand champion Tochigiyama in particular was a national pastime. The fact that the tournament had to be held in a tent and that so many of the wrestlers were absent with the flu caught people by surprise. As I shall describe in detail in Chapter 8, many of the wrestlers had developed fevers and were unable to train adequately, so the flu that went around that year came to be known as the “sumo flu.” Many of the wrestlers had fevers and were unable to appear in the tournament, but there were no deaths.
With the release of the May banzuke just under a week away, we are left wondering if the current state of emergency in Japan will preclude the Natsu basho in Tokyo, or if we will once again see competition in front of an empty stadium. Tean Tachiai first and foremost hope that all rikishi in sumo can manage to stay healthy and avoid being sickened by COVID-19.