Miyagino beya kyujo for Aki basho

Photo: Miyagino Beya Instagram

On September 5th, a PCR test was administered to the entire NSK workforce. The results revealed one low-ranking rikishi from Miyagino beya was positive. Given Hokuseiho’s positive result and this new case, it has been decided the entire heya will be absent from Aki basho.

Although the rikishi have tested negative in a PCR test following Hokuseiho’s infection, a rikishi has already complained at the time that he is feeling unwell.

Takashima oyakata, gyoji Shikimori Kandayu, and yobidashi Ryuji, who belong to the heya but have not been attending it, will all participate in the basho.

This will be the second time the heya goes on “COVID kyujo”, after Hakuho’s infection barred the other members of the heya from participating in Hatsu basho.

In other heya

At Oguruma beya, a sewanin (Nishikikaze) has tested positive on September 2nd. Although he was at the heya, he was observing practice wearing a mask, rather than participating in the activity, so the rikishi were not deemed close contacts. In yesterday’s PCR test, they all tested negative. They are therefore cleared to participate in Aki basho.

As for Minato beya, Ichinojo’s heya, Shibatayama oyakata says the NSK has not received information from them about their status at the time he was interviewed. But he said that if Ichinojo tests negative, then at least as far as schedule is concerned, he will be cleared to participate as well.

We wish the infected rikishi and sewanin a speedy recovery and no long term effects. We hope no further cases turn up.

Hokuseiho positive for COVID-19

Hokuseiho - from NSK Twitter

The fresh Juryo man from Miyagino beya (J12W) has been complaining of cold-like symptoms yesterday, and was therefore tested for COVID-19, and the test results were positive.

The other rikishi from Miyagino beya are undergoing tests today, and the results should come back tomorrow.

Shibatayama oyakata, the NSK spokesperson, says it’s likely the rikishi will have to miss the beginning of the basho, as there are less than two weeks to go until he starts. He notes there is a possibility of them joining the basho in the middle, but it all depends on the results of the tests and how things develop – if other rikishi test positive in the following days, it will become difficult for them to participate.

This comes on the heels of Ichinojo’s positive test from last week. However, the big Minato beya man is likely to be able to participate in the basho, as his case was confirmed earlier. Following Ichinojo’s case, all the rikishi who participated in the combo practice, in which he participated for the full four days, have been tested twice, and have all been negative.

We wish Hokuseiho and Ichinojo a speedy recovery and no further symptoms, and hope that no one else has been infected, though with the Delta variant raging across the world, my own hunch is that Hokuseiho is not the last case we will be seeing as we anticipate Aki basho.

Japan Covid Updates

Herouth wrote just last week that there was a Covid outbreak at Takasago-beya. On the 5th, the Kyokai announced that yet another Covid case has been confirmed at an unnamed stable. The news comes as the Olympics nears its finale and Japan finds itself in the start of what may be its worst “wave” of the pandemic. The table below comes from the WHO’s Covid dashboard. Deaths is a lagging indicator as it takes 5-6 weeks for a surge in cases to start showing up as fatalities.

As we saw from the Asanoyama scandal and revelations about the former Takasago-oyakata, not everyone observes the strict rules. Hakuho himself created a stir last week as he attended an Olympic event with the Japanese gold medal winner and the head of the International Judo Federation, leading to howls of intai from social media. This was particularly surprising as not only has Hakuho had COVID with his whole stable subsequently forced to go kyujo, his anideshi DIED of Covid just before the tournament. (In the same way, it was striking to see pictures of Ryuden with Shobushi circulate on Twitter after news broke of his scandal.) It is rather inconsistent, perhaps, to host an Olympics and restart amateur sumo tournaments on one hand, while extending the state of emergency.

There’s clearly a lock-down ennui, not just in Tokyo, but worldwide. With Kyokai staff given at least one dose of the vaccine and some modest improvement in the Japanese vaccination program, I would not be surprised to see this particular surge get much worse before it gets better. People might be less diligent about preventative steps before being fully vaccinated.

To give some context, the peaks of Japan’s Covid waves roughly correspond to the troughs we have seen here in the US. Our own fourth or fifth wave is upon us, leading to dramatic increases in cases in places like Florida with low vaccination rates. According to the Officer Down Memorial Page, 92 Police Officers have died so far this year due to Covid-19, which is more than 2.5x more than those killed by gunfire (36). To me, this highlights the difference between perceived risk and actual risk because if I were a policeman, I think I would naturally be much more wary of the dangers of violence than catching Covid. The effect is probably even higher given the number of people who have survived Covid with relatively minor impact versus those who have survived getting shot (22% fatality rate). And that wouldn’t include those survivors whose lives are impacted afterwards. It’s also an issue that we face at work as we try to educate rail employees and the public about the dangers in rail.

As a sumo wrestler, I wonder what the perceived risks are in their lives. A respiratory illness is likely such a nebulous, foreign concept that even with Shobushi’s death and several hospitalizations, it may register as impossibly minor even for those with pre-existing conditions. And when precautions are taken, especially if they’re hyper-vigilant as we heard from the Shikihide-beya scandal of last year, risks go down and they can end up being victims to their own successes by then sneaking out to Covid hotspots on the sly. I do understand why the ennui builds to such a degree. Every morning at asakeiko, the wrestlers are likely much more focused on not suffering head and neck injuries, broken bones, or twisted knees as those injuries will directly impact their performance, their status, and ultimately, their careers.

I do hope that at least the increased cleanliness sticks with us in the long-term. When I lived in Tokyo, I was always struck by how clean it was and that was obviously before the pandemic. I can imagine that sanitation of trains and other high-traffic areas, as well as individual homes, has gone up. And while Takasago-beya may have suffered a bit of a black eye with its recent outbreak, at least it demonstrates that stables are paying attention to symptoms, reporting, and getting tested to mitigate the spread.

Even with increasing number of cases, it will be difficult to cancel another tournament but to me the potential is still there until Tokyo’s vaccination rate improves. That would be such a shame as it would be Terunofuji’s first tournament as Yokozuna. The situation is already delayed his dohyo-iri but at least he’s getting a long time to practice!

More COVID-19 cases

In addition to the 6 rikishi and oyakata at Takasago beya of whom we have already informed you, another low-ranking rikishi in the same heya has been confirmed positive on July 30.

Also, a low-ranking rikishi from another heya also tested positive July 30.

Note that when sekitori/oyakata are not involved, the NSK does not release names or the name of the heya for privacy reasons.