Summary of the Meeting of the Board of Directors of the NSK, Nov. 30

Yesterday, Nov. 30, the NSK Board of Directors held its regular meeting. In addition to run-of-the-mill stuff like the creation of a new heya, much of the discussion was around matters related to the Harumafuji scandal.

press-conference-nov-30

The board of directors finally succeeded in securing Takanohana’s cooperation with the crisis committee’s investigation. Takanohana claimed that cooperating with them will interfere with the police investigation. The board contacted the Tottori police by phone, and were told that the matter is left to their discretion. Eventually Takanohana agreed to cooperate once the police investigation is complete. The police is expected to hand its report to the prosecutor in mid-December. So the crisis committee expects to interview Takanoiwa and prepare a final report by December 20th. At that time, irregular meetings of both the YDC and the NSK board will be held, and further decisions will be made.

The decisions are not expected to relate to Harumafuji himself, as he is no longer an employee of the NSK.

Hakuho and his stablemaster, Miyagino oyakata, were called in to the meeting, and reprimanded severely for Hakuho’s conduct – the “matta” protest, the contents of his yusho speech, and the “banzai”.

Another decision was related to a publication in Shukkan Shincho (a weekly magazine) which claimed that Mongolian rikishi were exchanging Yaocho among themselves. The NSK will file a complaint against the magazine.

It was decided that since Takanohana is deeply involved in the current issue, he will sit out the Winter Jungyo, and Kasugano oyakata will take his place.

The crisis committee presented an interim report. They still need to interview Takanoiwa, but having interviewed everybody else involved, they believe the content is pretty much established. Following the board meeting, a press conference was held and the details of the interim report were presented.

Details of the assault

  • On October 25th, a dinner party was held by associates of the Tottori Johoku High School, to support their graduates. The dinner party included Hakhuo, Kakuryu, Harumafuji, Terunofuji, Takanoiwa, Ishiura, and people from Tottory Johoku high. This was not a Mongolian-only meeting nor was it intended as such.
  • In the dinner party itself, Hakuho took issue with Takanoiwa regarding rude behavior he exhibited in September at some restaurant in Tokyo. In this instance, Harumafuji defended Takanoiwa and the matter was dropped.
  • Harumafuji usually had a soft spot for Takanoiwa, who has lost both his parents, because he himself lost his father. He would give him advice, buy him meals etc.
  • The after-party, which took place in another venue – a private room in a lounge bar – included most of the participants in the dinner party.
  • At the after-party, Hakuho started lecturing to Terunofuji and Takanoiwa that they should be dutifully thankful to their high school for their ability to do sumo.
  • Takanoiwa began fiddling with his smartphone. Harumafuji berated him for doing that in the middle of Hakuho’s speech. Takanoiwa answered “It’s mail from my girlfriend” with a wry smile. This angered Harumafuji, and he slapped Takanoiwa on his face once.
  • Takanoiwa returned a defiant stare and did not apologize. At this point Harumafuji proceeded to slap him about 10 times, and added a few hits to the head with the karaoke remote control, demanding the apology.
  • Harumafuji picked up a bottle of champagne and raised it above his head, but it slipped and fell. He did not hit Takanoiwa with a bottle,  did not attempt to throw any other object at him, and did not straddle him at any point.
  • Hakuho stepped in, and the beating stopped.
  • Harumafuji drank sake on that occasion, but was not heavily drunk, and has full memory of the entire affair. There is no evidence of bad drunken behavior on his part on previous occasions.
  • The result of the beating was an injury which required the use of a skin stapler.
  • According to the hospital that issued the medical certificate, it is doubtful that there was a skull fracture or a leakage of cranial fluid. [Note: this could also be translated as “there was a suspicion of fracture/leakage”. Choose your version.]
  • The medical certificate included a rest period of two weeks which was supposed to be from October 26th through November 8th, and he was released on November 9th after the hospital was satisfied with his state of health.

This summary is based on several news outlets, primarily:

Don’t Pin The Blame On Alcohol

On the third day of the Kyushu basho, when the news hit us that Harumafuji had beaten up Takanoiwa, I – like many sumo fans around the world – was shocked to the core.

harumafuji-press-conference

There are not many rikishi at the top of the sport whose perceived character is so far away from “violent drunkard” as Harumafuji’s was. This man was known for helping old ladies with their baggage, for being nice to children, for making himself available to fans. He was known for his habit of embracing his opponents after a yori-kiri, to prevent them from injuring themselves falling off the dohyo, and for being generous with his advice to young wrestlers as well as tough opponents. And he was also known for his responsibility to his rank, as demonstrated when he persisted in the Aki basho despite injuries and serial losses, because he was the sole Yokozuna in attendance.

How does one reconcile this image with that of a violent rampage in a bar? Many of us assumed that it was the alcohol. It’s not unheard of for people with good self-control to become violent under the influence. In one of my comments, I compared Harumafuji to Hercules: Hercules, who was a strong but gentle person, was struck by madness and killed his wife and kids. When the madness left him, he had to face what his own hands had wrought.

This was a fine picture to paint, but it left us with the puzzle of why the Yokozuna did nothing once the hangover was gone. Where was that famous sense of responsibility? How could he proceed in doing Yokozuna dohyo-iri while he knew that he committed an act of violence that was no less severe than the one that caused Asashoryu to retire? Was Harumafuji really such a cynical hypocrite?

Bruce suggested that the Yokozuna offered to resign but was denied until the NSK could think of the best solution. This, too, didn’t feel right to me. The worst time for any scandal to break is in the middle of a basho. If he had reported it at the end of the Jungyo, I would have expected the NSK to handle matters at least partially before the basho, and to at least instruct him to go kyujo and make himself scarce from the beginning to the end of the basho.

Another puzzling aspect was that it seems his answers to the police questioning were detailed and coherent. To me that seemed beyond the capability of a brain soaked in so much alcohol as to cause a man to entirely forget his values.

Earlier today, the Yokozuna and his visibly weeping stablemaster held a press conference, which shed some light on some of these questions.

When asked about the reason for the violence, Harumafuji said: “I feel that it is the duty of a sempai and a Yokozuna to correct low-ranking rikishi’s manners and conduct. In scolding him, I injured him, and this brought mayhem and trouble for everybody involved.”

When asked why he then continued in his daily life as if nothing has happened, he replied “I didn’t know that this would get to the papers. Takanoiwa came later to apologize. I told him to be thankful he has a big brother to guide him, and told him to take care and work hard, and we parted with a handshake. I didn’t think the matter would go any further than that.”

Both Isegahama and Harumafuji stressed that this was not caused by drunkenness. Isegahama said that he has never seen or heard rumor of Harumafuji being violent when drinking. Harumafuji repeated the same: “I have never hurt anybody or acted violently when I drank, and I have never been told that I act badly when drunk.”

Later the same day, Demon Kakka was asked to comment to the press about the Harumafuji resignation.

demon-kakka

Demon Kakka (formerly Demon Kogure) is this flamboyant rocker, who is known for always being in character, and for being a huge sumo fan. He is a popular sumo commentator. Some of you may have seen him in various sumo TV shows, including the “Sunday Sports” program in which he interviewed Harumafuji after the yusho he won in the last Aki basho.

Kakka gave the press the straight dope:  After saying that in his personal opinion, he would have preferred Harumafuji not to retire, he then continued: “In the sumo world the tradition of ‘spare the rod, spoil the child’ is still entrenched. Harumafuji must be thinking: ‘Why am I being singled out about something everybody is doing’? The fact that this tradition is considered obvious in the sumo world makes the current problem a structural issue. Times have changed. The Yokozuna’s retirement is not going to solve the problem. The sumo world needs to think up ways to bring up its rikishi other than the current merciless system”.

Kakka has a point there. Take the case of Kasugano oyakata, who disciplined Tochinoshin and two other wrestlers by beating them with golf club in October 2011, for repeated violations of the dress and curfew code. After matters became public (because of an anonymous tip to the police), he admitted to “going to far”, apologized, got severely reprimanded by the NSK… And Tochinoshin and the two others apologized and were disciplined (in a more humane manner). He now serves as the head of the NSK public relations department.

Why should Harumafuji have thought that he would end up any differently? The picture now becomes much clearer. He didn’t actually think he did something as bad as Asashoryu. Asashoryu attacked a man who was not related to the sumo world. This is something that Harumafuji would never do. But Harumafuji thought that he was “doing it for Takanoiwa’s own good”. It’s not violence if it’s education, and it’s not education without violence, as Kakka said. And apparently Takanoiwa also accepted those terms. The Yokozuna did not think he did something a Yokozuna shouldn’t do until the matter hit the papers. Even after that, he was quoted as saying that “the one thing that he didn’t want to do was to retire”, continued to practice every day, and even announced that he will be kyujo for the jungyo. These are the acts of someone who believes he has at least some hope of keeping his rope and his hairdo.

It was not until the YDC made its “dealt with with utmost severity” statement that the Yokozuna realized that his act is not going to be treated like the Kasugano case, and had to offer his resignation hurriedly before the deliberations of the Banzuke committee.


Details of the press conference: NHK (Japanese)

Demon Kakka interview: Sponichi

 

Harumafuji Retirement – Early English Media Coverage

harumafuji

Following Bruce’s post earlier today, it has been confirmed that the 70th Yokozuna Harumafuji has submitted his resignation, which has been announced by Isegahama-oyakata and the Yokozuna himself, in a press conference at 2pm Japan time today. While undoubtedly more coverage and analysis will follow here at Tachiai, the news has already received worldwide coverage, and so here is a quick round up of English-language media announcing the end of the 9-time yusho winner’s storied career:

NHK World has been running a one minute segment every hour as part of their NHK World Newsline coverage. This segment was online but has since disappeared from their general online statement, which can be viewed here. NHK World also covered the Press Conference with live translation for 15 minutes of the 2pm hour of Newsline and we can expect that coverage to repeat in edited pieces throughout the coming hours (Edited to add – the 15 minute segment is now viewable by clicking here).

NHK World added a second press hit within the last hour linking the news to the past abdications of Asashoryu and Futahaguro. Additionally they have coverage of the timing of the retirement as well as a chronology of the incident.

The Japan Times have also updated their article announcing the retirement, within the last few hours, which is running on their front page.

The Guardian (UK) is running a piece, quoting from Isegahama-oyakata’s announcement that Harumafuji has “caused great trouble” to the NSK and the sport. Fox Sports, Reuters, Deutsche Welle and more are also running coverage, largely syndicated across Associated Press outlets.

Yokozuna Harumafuji To Announce Retirement

Harumafuji

It has been reported in the Japanese press that embattled Yokozuna Harumafuji will hold a press conference Wednesday, and it is assumed that he will be announcing his intention to retire from sumo. While his fans all hoped that he would find a way to weather the controversy around his drunken beating of Takanoiwa, it was clear following yesterdays meeting of the YDC that he was not going to be given any quarter.

Should he retire, as is now expected, it will resolve the Sumo Kyokai’s involvement in the matter. His intai represents a significant loss for the sumo world, as Yokozuna are rare, and Harumafuji has been willing to do whatever it takes to support sumo and uphold his rank on the dohyo.

Check back with Tachiai, as we will bring you further details as they develop.