On February 11th, the 9th annual Hakuho Cup event took place at the Ryogoku Kokugikan.
The Hakuho Cup is an annual children sumo event taking place under the auspices of Yokozuna Hakuho. For more details about the event and its history, refer to last year’s report.
This year, again, about 1200 children from 8 countries and regions (Japan, Mongolia, USA, China, South Korea, Thailand, Taiwan and Hong-Kong).
Although this event is not hosted or sponsored by the NSK, many NSK employees (read: active rikishi and oyakata) took part in it. The event included both team competitions and individual competitions. While delegates from the various countries and regions outside Japan generally formed teams based on their country of origin, and thus wrestled with the name of their country marked on their mawashi, the large Japanese cohort was made of various teams training together – some of which were associated with rikishi. Here, for example, is Team Aminishiki:
These boys are all from Aomori, Aminishiki’s home prefecture.
Rikishi participation did not end just at leading teams. Many sekitori served as shimpan during the competition:
Also attended: Mitakeumi, Abi, Tobizaru, Ishiura (of course), Toyonoshima, as well as Kotoshogiku and Yoshikaze and more. The highest ranking visitor was Yokozuna Kakuryu, who seemed to enjoy himself very much indeed:
Oyakata ranged from the recently retired Oshiogawa (Takekaze) and Sanoyama (Satoyama), through Tomozuna oyakata, Hakuho’s own Miyagino oyakata, to Futagoyama oyakata (Miyabiyama). The latter had a personal interest in the competition, as his own son participated. Last year, his son won two bouts. This year, the proud father reports, he won three.
Hakuho also hoped his own 10 years old son, Mahato, will win one bout more than he did last year. But alas, he was taken down in his first match by a smaller kid.
During lunch break, Hakuho had what the Japanese call “Talk show” (an on-stage, or in this case, on-dohyo, live interview), and this time, the “surprise” guest was former Ozeki Konishiki.
Hakuho asked Konishiki who were the opponents he found most difficult to fight. Konishiki listed Akinoshima, Chiyonofuji and Kotokaze.
Speaking of lunch, an 11-hour event with thousands of children requires a lot of food. Hakuho took care to complement the meal with an order of 1000 pieces of cake, which immensely cheered the children up.
The children competed in teams as well as individual matches. Among all the bouts, at times taking place on three separate dohyos, one in particular drew much attention. Take a look at this wonderful match:
It’s interesting to see Hakuho in the background. At first he plays around with his phone, and then as the match progresses he lets go of it and watches the bout with rapt attention. Marvelous sumo, which I’ve seen described on the net as “A mix of Enho, Satoyama and Ura”.
Motomura, of Team Kotoshogiku, the David in this David-and-Goliath match, also won the technique prize for this bout. Yes, the Hakuho Cup also includes special prizes. While the yusho trophies are handed by Hakuho himself, the special prizes were handed by sekitori:
Motomura looks quite overwhelmed there. I also find Ishiura’s expression, when he realizes he is the tallest man on the dohyo, rather entertaining.
Here is the summary video of the event – where you can catch Mahato’s failed bout, a different angle of Motomura’s bout, and many smiles and tears:
And if you have 11 hours to spare, here is the full event, which was streamed live on YouTube.
(If anybody is wondering, SANKYO, the sponsor, is a manufacturer of pachinko machines).
A few days ago, we were informed of repeated abuse of a rikishi at Naruto beya. Naruto oyakata may be known to many of you as the former Kotooshu.
The details of the story were as follows: A 20 year old sandanme rikishi was harassing a minor ototo-deshi (more recent member of the heya). At first he hit him with the corner of a smartphone, accusing him of not doing his work properly. After that, over the period between September 2018 and January 2019, he chose to “punish” the victim by applying a choking technique borrowed from Judo on 10 separate occasions. He also ordered another adult rikishi (with the assistance of one other, a minor) to perform that same technique on the victim. This resulted in the victim losing consciousness at least once.
The victim eventually reported this to the heya’s hired manager, who in turn reported it to Naruto oyakata. He immediately reported it to the Compliance Committee, and suspended the perpetrator through Hatsu basho. That committee made its report, and today the NSK board held a special meeting and made decisions based on this report.
The perpetrator is without a doubt Sumidagawa – the only Sandanme rikishi from that heya who was kyujo in Hatsu basho. Although the standard set for violence perpetrated by rikishi Makushita or below is merely a one basho suspension, with possibility for warnings etc. in more serious cases, the committee noted the malicious intent and repeated nature of this case, and instead decided to recommend his intai. Naruto oyakata has already presented the intai documents and they have been accepted. The NSK board approved the decision of the compliance committee in this regard.
The oyakata himself was censured for being absent from the heya and not watching over his deshi properly. He will be docked 10 percent of his salary for the next three months. In response, the heya announced that due to its transient state both the oyakata and the manager have, indeed, been absent from the heya frequently, and that now they intend to hire an additional manager and keep two on a permanent basis.
The rikishi who was commanded by Sumidagawa to choke the victim will be given a warning, and the minor accomplice will receive “guidance”. The victim himself, as well as his guardians (he is a minor so he has either parents or other legal guardians), decided not to involve the police in this issue and leave it to the NSK. He also expressed his wish to continue doing sumo at Naruto beya.
Update: A more extended report on Nikkan Sports reveals that Sumidagawa did not settle for just choking the victim and making another to do the same, but also took videos and made fun of the victim’s struggle for breath following the strangling. Also, he started extorting money from him on threat of choking him again.
Also, the “absences” mentioned about seem to refer to the fact that he was not living on premises. He has now handed in a plan to the Compliance Committee, whereupon in April the heya will be moved to a permanent location, which will include the residence of the oyakata and the okami-san. He will continue to hand in periodical progress reports as to the implementation of this plan as well as others for preventing the recurrence of violence in his heya.
For those of you who want to speculate as to who the victim, the adult accomplice and the minor accomplice are, here is a list of the Naruto beya rikishi. Note that in heya with no sekitori, hierarchy is determined by seniority. That is, the order in which they joined the heya. I believe it’s unlikely that Sumidagawa would “command” any of his ani-deshi (members who joined before him) to do anything. Also note that the age of majority in Japan is 20.
Hatsu dohyo (join date)
(The heya also has another minor member – yobidashi Kenta)
Today, Takanoiwa’s danpatsu-shiki, the ceremonial cutting of the top-knot, took place on the dohyo at the Ryogoku Kokugikan. Sumo fans who did not read about the reconciliation between Harumafuji and Takanoiwa, may have been surprised to see this:
And even those who knew about the reconciliation, may have been surprised at another consequence of it:
And, perhaps less surprisingly, Kakuryu was there as well:
Indeed, it seemed every Mongolian sekitori showed up: Tamawashi, Arawashi, Chiyoshoma and, of course, Ichinojo, all snipped a strand of hair, as did members of Takanoiwa’s own heya:
As has been speculated, Takanoiwa’s original stablemaster, Takanohana, absented himself from this ceremony, and chose, instead, to show up for an assembly of his support group in Nagoya. Comedian Kunihiro Matsumura, known, among others, for his impressions of the former Takanohana, filled in:
About 370 people participated. This may seem a small number for the 12,000 seat Kokugikan, but it should be noted that the tickets sold for this event all included both the ceremony itself and the party that followed it, so the limiting number was the capacity of the banquet hall, not the Kokugikan itself – and the tickets sold out. The other day I reported that only 90 tickets were sold – but in fact, whatever was allotted was sold. Here is a summary of the ceremony:
A quick shave-and-a-hair-cut, and I give you Takanoiwa in his new form:
The party after the ceremony included a Mongolian band:
As well as karaoko! Here is the man of the hour:
And I’d be remiss if I didn’t give you Chiganoura oyakata’s karaoke, because he is one of the best singers in the Sumo world.
And so, it appears that the reconciliation indeed helped the ceremony become a respectable, well-attended occasion.
But it may have done more than bring Hakuho to softly lay his hands on Takanoiwa’s shoulders.
Meet Takanoiwa’s nephew, Sukhbat
In March 2018, Takanoiwa’s nephew, Sukhbat, son of his second eldest brother (Takanoiwa is the youngest of five siblings) was looking for a heya.
Sukhbat was 19 at the time, graduating at the same time as the famous Naya, and from the same school, Saitama Sakae, which has a very strong sumo program. This is the same school Takakeisho graduated from.
This was before Haru 2018. The boy was practicing with his uncle at Takanohana beya’s Osaka facility, but of course could not join that heya, as Takanoiwa himself occupied the foreigner slot. So he was looking for a heya that was willing to take someone who finished third in the inter-high sumo tournament, in time for the new recruits exams of the haru basho… but there were no takers.
This was in the middle of the Harumafuji scandal. Haru 2018 was the first basho Takanoiwa was to attend after the “incident”. And heya were distancing themselves from the matter, apparently.
But he didn’t find one in Natsu, and in Nagoya, and in Aki… you get the drift. With his uncle’s own retirement, it seemed that the world of sumo was willing to give out on this supposedly talented wrestler.
And then we had the reconciliation. Then suddenly…
Sukhbat is going to join Onoe beya. He will probably undergo the new recruit examination in Haru, but will only be able to do his mae-zumo in Natsu, as is usual for foreign recruits.
So, of course, temporal succession does not necessarily imply causation. But with foreigner slots being a limited resource, and the Japanese natural suspicion of anything foreign, it makes sense that any foreigner wanting to join the world of sumo would need an intercessor or sponsor to speak for him. Apparently the well-oiled Mongolian recruiting machine was not working for Sukhbat until just recently. He is now 20 years old. Let’s hope he has kept himself in shape!
Somebody, please set the “Days without a Sumo Scandal” sign back to zero.
According to several news sources, a case of abuse involving Naruto Beya has been filed with the NSK. The case, dating back to September 2018, involves several instances of an older Sandanme level rikishi using a judo chokehold on an underaged junior stablemate, to the point of losing consciousness. The reported cause for this abuse was the failure of the younger rikishi to perform his stable duties. there are also reports that this same young rikishi was struck with the corner of a smartphone.
For those of you familiar with the Naruto Beya, you will know that its Oyakata is the former Ozeki Kotooshu. Was informed of the situation by the victim on January 13th, and prevented the Sandanme rikishi from participating in the Hatsu Basho before informing the NSK of what had happened.
The NSK’s board of directors will be convening in a special meeting on February 8th to determine what punishment Naruto Oyakata and others involved will face. For more information please see the following link.
Takanoiwa and Harumafuji reconcile. Harumafuji to attend Takanoiwa’s danpatsu-shiki.
On the evening of January 17th, shortly after the Day 5 action of the Hatsu basho has ended, two men arrived separately at a fancy Japanese restaurant in Akasaka, Tokyo. The two, known to us as former Yokozuna Harumafuji and former Maegashira Takanoiwa, were there to bury the hatchet. They enjoyed good food and discussed the future.
The meeting was a success. Following dinner, the former Yokozuna entered a black luxury car, and was soon followed by his fellow Mongolian, and the two were driven to Ginza, where they spent the rest of the evening having drinks together.
The news outlets reporting this meeting added that Harumafuji is to attend Takanoiwa’s danpatsu-shiki (ceremonial cutting of his top-knot) which will be held on February 2nd. The following day this has been confirmed by Chiganoura oyakata, who is in charge of Takanoiwa’s former heya, and is holding the ceremony for him. (Danpatsu-shiki are not given by the NSK, but rather by the individual heya, usually paid for by the heya’s koen-kai).
This finally puts the Harumafuji saga to rest.
A sad saga
The story began, as our readers may recall, on the night of October 25th, 2017, the night before the Aki Jungyo event at Tottori city. You can find the full details of the fateful after-party in previous posts. Harumafuji, annoyed with Takanoiwa for checking his phone while Hakuho was speaking to him, proceeded to beat him with bare hands and karaoke remote control, lacerating his skull to the degree that it required stapling. The whole affair would probably have gone under the radar, if word of it did not somehow get to the ears of Takanohana oyakata, Takanoiwa’s stablemaster, and at the time, the head of the Jungyo department.
The news broke out on the third day of the following Kyushu basho. Harumafuji went kyujo, and at the end of that tournament, took responsibility and retired. But what should have ended pretty much like the Asashoryu saga: a retirement, a settlement out-of-court, and that’s it, developed into a holy war between Takanohana and the NSK.
In particular, Takanohana refused to allow Harumafuji to settle this matter with Takanoiwa. In the absence of an out-of-court settlement, Harumafuji faced a summary indictment and paid a fine. Furthermore, Takanoiwa was prevented from showing up to Jungyo events and honbasho for quite a while following the incident, ending up at the bottom of Juryo. After making his first appearance in honbasho eventually (Haru 2018), he was once again absent from Jungyo, handing in a doctor’s certificate for PTSD – which apparently healed in time for the next honbasho (Natsu 2018).
A civil suit
How did an injury whose original medical certificate was for less than two weeks of rest, and which should not have prevented Takanoiwa from participating in any honbasho following the incident, develop into several months of absences, it’s hard to say for certain. My guess was that a big lawsuit was in the works.
But that civil suit took its time in materializing. In the meantime, Takanohana was demoted to the bottom rung of the NSK ranks. He filed a complaint about the NSK for that with the Government Office (the NSK is a tax-exempt organization and as such its governance is subject to government scrutiny). But when his young deshi, Takayoshitoshi (now Takanofuji), unwisely decided to beat up his tsukebito right in front of dozens of people in the shitaku-beya during the Haru 2018 tournament, Takanohana was forced to pull that complaint, to allow his deshi to keep his career.
Then one day at the end of September 2018, right after the end of the Aki basho, Takanohana announced that he is resigning the NSK, saying that he was “being forced to declare that the complaint to the government was unjustified, which he does not believe it was”. This was yet another media circus, which ended in the Takanohana beya being closed up, all its deshi being transferred to the care of a very surprised Chiganoura oyakata, and Takanohana leaving the NSK, getting a divorce and putting what was both his home and his heya out on the real-estate market. However, he did not let go of the Takanoiwa saga.
On October 3rd, 2018, Takanoiwa filed a civil suit against Harumafuji. That civil suit included all those lengthy medical expenses, damages, loss of income, etc., for the long absences I have mentioned above, to the tune of nearly ¥25,000,000. His new oyakata, Chiganoura, was not aware of this. The law firm behind the suit was the same law firm Takanohana (now back to his family name of Hanada) was using for his own affairs.
The lawyers on the Harumafuji side reacted with indignation, calling this an extortionist sum and declaring that they will fight it in court, as it was way above and beyond the real damages accrued by their client.
Once again, attempts at settlement out of court were blocked.
Public Shaming In Mongolia
It seems that Takanohana and his lawyers failed to predict all the consequences of that civil action. Back in Mongolia, people were outraged. Harumafuji is held in much respect by many in Mongolia, due to his philanthropic activities there. In particular, he recently established a school in Ulan-Baatar which is supposed to give young Mongolians a Japanese-style education. He invested about $12,000,000 in the establishment of that school of his own money, and also raised donations from others. His fans in his home land took a dim view of Takanoiwa’s “preposterous” law suit, and some of them started publicly shaming and physically harassing Takanoiwa’s family. It should be noted that neither of Takanoiwa’s parents is alive, and his family consists of siblings and their own families. They called him often to express their distress, and he couldn’t bear it any longer.
On October 30th, Takanoiwa announced that he will be pulling the suit. “I will pay for my own medical expenses… I want the harassment of my family to stop”, he said.
The reaction from the Harumafuji side was that it was “unthinkable that Mongolian Society would act in such a deplorable way towards the victim side”. While a bit cryptic, the reaction from the Takanohana side was much more dramatic. According to Takanoiwa’s koen-kai, the former oyakata immediately severed ties with his former deshi.
The next day, Harumafuji’s lawyers hinted that they think “perhaps Takanoiwa’s legal representatives were obstructing negotiations and misrepresenting their own offers”, and suggested that direct talks should take place between the sides.
The victim turns aggressor
Whether or not such direct talks indeed started at this point, we will probably never know. But we do know that shortly afterwards, during the 2018 Fuyu Jungyo, Takanoiwa, angry with his assigned tsukebito, Takataisho, for forgetting his purse in the previous Jungyo location, beat him up. When the attending oyakata found out, Takanoiwa was sent off to Tokyo, questioned together with his new oyakata, and sent off to await judgement at his heya. This was all too much for the victim-turned-aggressor, and he decided to leave the world of Sumo.
No red carpets were waiting for him out the door. The RIZIN pro-wrestling association, following the embarrassing Osunaarashi second scandal, announced that it wasn’t a dumping ground for sumo criminals (or something more polite but to the same effect). There was no invitation waiting for him there. Without education, without a civil profession, with burnt bridges in his home land, and now also without the support of his former oyakata (who made a public announcement that he will not allow Takanoiwa within his presence before he does 10 years of penitence), Takanoiwa was in a serious pinch.
A lonely danpatsu-shiki
His recent oyakata, Chiganoura, was acting very decently – appearing by his side in his news conference and bowing in apology together, appealing to the Chiganoura koen-kai to be kind to his short-time deshi in his new life, and arranging for that danpatsu-shiki at the Ryogoku Kokugikan to give him a respectable farewell. Chiganoura also invited Takanohana, as Takanoiwa’s former stablemaster. However, no indication was given that Takanohana was going to accept the invitation, and given the above, the likelihood that this would happen was very low indeed.
This ceremony, unlike Harumafuji’s (and the one planned for Kisenosato next September) is not going to include hana-zumo (a day of sumo, jinku, shokkiri etc). Hana-zumo requires the cooperation of the rikishi-kai, and is an expensive affair. It includes only the ceremony itself and an after-party. At the moment, only 90 tickets have been sold.
With Takanohana not attending, and an ongoing feud with the Harumafuji camp in the Mongolian community, news outlets were speculating that the event would turn out to be not just low-key, but a rather lonely affair.
So perhaps it is Takanohana absenting himself from the scene. Perhaps it was the prospect of a lonely farewell ceremony. And perhaps the reason was the new state of unemployment Takanoiwa found himself in. Whatever the reason, the overtures from Harumafuji’s side, long rejected, found an ear this time, and the two sides finally found a way to put one of the saddest, ugliest affairs in the world of Sumo in recent years to rest, and smoke the pipe of peace.
And the danpatsu-shiki? Harumafuji will attend it. Gossip columns tell us that Takanohana’s ex-wife, Takanoiwa’s former Okami-san, Keiko Kono, will also attend it. Whether ticket sales will increase as a result, and whether Harumafuji’s attendance will draw in more of the Mongolian community, we will learn in a few days.