Word from the summer jugyo that Yokozuna Kisenosato resumed some sumo keiko (training) during the tour’s stop in Aomori Prefecture. The Yokozuna was seen engaging in butsukari with former sekitori Takagenji, which would indicate that Kisenosato now feels strong and healthy enough to resume practice.
Of course this sparked a great deal of discussion in the sumo fan world, with many fans taking exception with a declaration that “Kisenosato’s Recovery Is Complete” drawing great skepticism. An article from Yahoo Japan points out, the chances that all of his various injuries are repaired enough for him to compete are a long shot. The article even quotes someone from a Tokyo hospital that frequently treats sumotori, who cautions that Kisenosato has been urged by the YDC to not participate in Aki, and to ensure that his health is excellent and his damage to his chest and foot are completely healed before he resumes competition.
As for myself, I suspect Kisenosato joined the jungyo to re-assure the fans, and to test out his recovery and readiness for Aki prior to making some manner of go/no-go call within 2 weeks. While the entire sumo world wants to see Kisenosato back on the dohyo, we are all looking for him to return strong, powerful and ready to challenge Hakuho for dominance in the ring.
Reports from the summer sumo PR tour in central Japan are that Yokozuna Hakuho has withdrawn. Complaining for persistant and increasing pain in his left knee, Hakuho has returned to Tokyo to rest prior to the Aki basho in just one month.
Fans have greatly enjoyed seeing “The Boss” back in fighting form for the past two tournaments, but as we have cautioned, he is one injury away from having to struggle to make it through a basho. Like any combat sport, the mechanical injuries sustained by the athletes never really go away, you can only get them so that you can continue to compete. In the case of this injury, the Yokozuna declared that this had been troubling him since before Nagoya.
This leaves only an injured Harumafuji and an injured Kisenosato remaining with the tour. Fans might infer from this that the roster for Aki could in fact be rather light at the top ranks if none of sumo’s grand champions are fit to fight.
It is reported (via Yahoo Japan) that on Thursday, August 10th, Yokozuna Kisenosato will join the summer jungyo, as the sumo PR tour makes a stop in his home ground in Ibaraki, where he is a local hero.
Readers will recall that it is the opinion of the Tachiai team that Kisenosato should have already undergone reconstructive surgery to repair damage to his left pectoral muscle in March. But clearly the first Japanese born Yokozuna in a generation wants no part of that, and instead will work with what he has and do his best.
His stable master is cited as saying that Kisenosato has limited training opportunities in Tokyo more or less alone when most of the sekitori are out on the PR tour. Therefore, in order to train and condition for the upcoming Aki basho in 4 weeks, he must go out on tour.
While I am sure sumo fans worldwide will be thrilled to see Kisenosato back in action, we all recognize that he is still hurt, and likely has no path to recovery short of a protracted medical intervention. We all wish him the best of luck and the greatest possible health.
In an article published in Mainichi, a member of the Yokozuna Deliberation Committee is quoted, urging Kisenosato to heal, recover and get healthy. Recent reports have highlighted the Yokozuna’s efforts to prepare not only for the Aki basho, but to join the Jungyo tour later this month.
In the article, Mr Kitamura is quoted as saying that Kisenosato should commit to skipping the Aki basho. Saying, “Don’t be foolish, even if the fans beg you to compete, prioritized your recovery”.
As a western observer viewing this from afar, there is an odd push-pull being playing out in the media around Kisenosato. I note that as long as Kisenosato himself does not accept that his injury is significant and cannot “heal naturally”, he will continue to think he is just days or weeks from returning to full health.
It was clear that in the course of the Nagoya basho, that fan favorite Ura damaged his right knee competing against some of the top men of sumo. Up until Nagoya, Ura had remained largely unhurt during his sumo career, and it allowed him to compete with a level of energy and agility that few had seen before.
In an article published in Yahoo Japan, Ura is now out with the crew on tour, bringing sumo closer to the fans. His injury is significant enough that his jungyo participation is limited, and he does take keiko or scrimmage with the other rikishi. In the article, he admits that he was likely not yet ready to fight the Ozeki and Yokozuna corps, and as a result is now trying to heal damage to his right knee’s lateral ligaments (that hold the knee together). He still intends to enter competition at Aki in September.
Commentary: Clearly the NSK has a problem, with it’s star sumotori being frequently injured, and more of them taking injury each basho. When fan favorites don’t show up for events, fans lose interest, sponsors lose interest and the NSK fails to achieve revenue goals. So nobody gets a chance to heal up, and everyone just suffers a bit more each time. As a result, sumo as a whole degrades and competition declines. Someone needs to fix this.
Japanese taboo regarding the use of strong painkillers is the key difference in athletic injury care when compared with other countries. Many wrestlers with chronic joint injuries would face a life struggling with a delicate balance between managing pain and avoiding addiction. The United States’ well publicized opioid epidemic serves as a cautionary tale in how readily available and easily prescribed narcotics can lead to serious long term battles with addiction. This may be why some foreign wrestlers are seeking care in their home countries. It is notoriously difficult to obtain a prescription for the medicine and strict penalties hinder the importation of these medicines.
This is a very serious issue for athletes, even those in high school and even middle school. With athletics comes injury and often, surgery. When an athlete reaches the professional ranks, they often have numerous procedures under their belt to go along with any trophies earned along the way. A distant relative of Tachiai had a long, successful professional career in one of America’s four major sports. He continues to battle with his own addiction to opioids, a result of treatment for a score of injuries and resulting surgeries.
Two years ago, the Tachiai blog flew to Japan to visit relatives for a few weeks, just as news of the Julie Hamp scandal broke. Mrs. Hamp was just named as one of Toyota’s executives and as a female, her ascension brought wide news coverage. However, that coverage paled in comparison to the coverage of her fall when she was caught importing opioids hidden in jewelry boxes.
My wife was terrified when we landed in Japan. I joked that, “at least we’re not in Taiwan, the airports there have big signs pronouncing in bold letters that you risk the death penalty for bringing drugs into that country.” She didn’t find me funny. It was also very interesting to see how her friends reacted when they heard her tell the story. The taboo is certainly real.
In the US, however, it is quite easy for doctors to turn to the morphine genie. When another pebble pops loose from one of my kidneys and begins to meander down to my bladder (the last one looked more like a shard of glass than a “stone”) holy crap that hurts. When I make it to the Emergency Room, I am inevitably treated with a morphine drip, a quick MRI scan to see where it is and how big, then I’m sent home with a prescription for opioids. Thankfully none of mine have been large enough to remove surgically. Perhaps that should be “unfortunately,” though, as it means I must let them find their way out, naturally.
My kidney woes crop up every couple of years so thankfully I don’t have to dance with the devil in the medicine cabinet because I don’t keep it around. I know it’s dangerous to have that stuff, especially with the kids around, so I rely on those IV drips at the hospital when I get the pain, which isn’t often. But athletes face this kind of treatment on a continual basis, particularly with chronic joint or muscle issues. If Terunofuji, Kotoshogiku, Aminishiki, and Osunaarashi were athletes in the United States, they would certainly be provided opioids on an almost continual basis. As a result, they would be in prime danger for opioid addiction. I believe this aversion to opioid treatment leads to many of the ongoing injury issues we witness basho after basho.
This is conjecture, but I believe the NSK feels that if the rules were loosened for rikishi, this would not only lead to addiction among wrestlers, it would bring yakuza back into the sport. With the door opened for sumo wrestlers to be routinely treated with opioid pain killers, inevitably some of those pills would trickle out of the stables and into the general population as athletes supplement their income.
Is a few days pain worth a couple of hundred dollars? This isn’t fantasy. This tradeoff is happening here in the US every day and my dad’s cousin is an example. And if the pills and pain can be traded, is it necessary to begin with? To me, this is where the danger of socialized medicine makes itself known, unnecessary tests and unnecessary treatment – including OTC and prescription medication – become rife when someone else is paying. It’s already an issue for deep-pocketed insurance companies and it becomes a bigger one for deep pocketed sovereign governments. (Ask the NHS.)
The first time I had a kidney stone, I was lucky enough to be at home. When the doctor handed me the oxycodone prescription, my dad (also a physician) reached over and plucked it out of my hands, ripped it up, and threw it away. “You won’t be needing that.” My dad’s a smart dude. I didn’t need it. I passed the stone later that day and it would be two years before my next stone. The risk of addiction and abuse is high, and so is the temptation to make a few bucks in the black market. Who’s to say a sekitori won’t start cutting his pills in half so he can trade the other half away?
According to the Japan Times, Americans consume 243.79mg of oxycodone per capita. Japanese consume the drug at the miniscule rate of 3.63mg per capita. Much of that treatment goes to cancer patients. But this article claims that even among cancer patients, there is a strong taboo when it comes to the use of opioids while in the US it is standard “palliative care” for terminal diseases.
(Note: I also wonder if this plays into the low birth rate as Japanese women do not seem to have the same access for epidurals…but I digress.)
One thing to keep in mind, the Japanese sumo press sometimes is given to speculation, so take this one with a grain of salt. From Yahoo Japan comes a quote from the Tagonoura stable master. He states that injured Yokozuna Kisenosato my join the summer tour later during the month of August.
This could indicate that it has been decided to have him “heal naturally”, and that Kisenosato feels like he needs to be taking care of his Yokozuna duties. With Hakuho (fresh from a Mongolian golf course) the only Yokozuna on he tour, Kisenosato may have decided that he can put up with more suffering for the cause of sumo.
Readers should form their own opinion, but after 2 back to back kyujo tournaments, I would rather have a great Kisenosato in 2018 than a malfunctioning, one-armed Yokozuna at Aki. Hopefully, someone from the Sumo Kyokai and or the YDC will urge him to get medical repairs before engaging in more public displays of sumo.