President Trump’s Senshuraku Visit

File Photo

As senshuraku approaches and the yusho race heats up, I wanted to take a minute to summarize what we know (and some speculation) about President Trump’s scheduled visit to Japan. The purpose of the visit is to be the first foreign leader to meet with the popular new Emperor, Naruhito. Along with the aircraft carrier visit, a golf outing, and dinner at a robatayaki restaurant, the trip will include a chance to watch sumo at Kokugikan and award a new trophy to the makuuchi yusho winner.

Already, there is one positive thing to come from this trip. Despite having studied Japanese in college, lived and worked in Tokyo, visited numerous times since I moved back to the States, and having married a Japanese woman…I had never heard of robatayaki until an hour ago. Apparently it’s grilled on skewers, like yakitori, but it’s usually seafood and veggies. My wife really likes scallops done in this way. How am I just now learning of this? Bruce, did you know of this? I’ve eaten shirako, fugu, bonjiri and basashi for Christ’s sake. I thought my palate was rather sophisticated with my fondness for yuzu and preference for anago over unagi. I guess not. I’m going to need to hit up a robatayaki joint next time or else I’ll only feel worthy of KFC…or maybe Skylark.

Back to the President’s trip, my wife also offered an interesting justification for the golfing trip, one that is apparently common sense among Japanese executives but not mentioned much in the American press. She says her former bosses, executives at a Japanese chemical company, used to golf the next day after traveling back to Japan from the US to help deal with jetlag. Something about being out in the sun helped them recover quickly from the time change. My shusshin is Pinehurst, NC and have played and worked on some of the country’s best golf courses. But I’ve never heard of this rationale. I will be making some marketing suggestions next time I’m home.

The visit comes at an important time with a number of policy issues; the failure of the TPP is firmly in the rear view mirror but there’s a hot trade war with China and the threat of new tit-for-tat trade tariffs with Japan itself, over cars and agriculture, as well as the usual diplomatic tensions with North Korea. However, according to Time magazine, this is a “policy free” trip…which means our posts get to be policy-free (and humor-filled) posts! This is a friendly networking visit and an exciting chance to have the US offer a prize to the yusho winner.

We know the Emperor, and his father, are sumo fans. Naruhito’s daughter was also a big fan of sumo when she was growing up. They stepped back a bit in light of various scandals but the sport still draws the imperial presence. So, as the two parties hope to signal their strong ties and the importance of the alliance in the Pacific, it makes a lot of sense that they would take in some sumo. They are currently scheduled to watch the final three bouts and then present an official trophy to the yusho winner. Trump is a noted teetotaler, so I doubt there will be any drunken antics like when the mayor of Nagoya awarded Harumafuji his trophy back in 2016.

The Japanese press has indicated American stable master Musashigawa (former Yokozuna Musashimaru, uncle of Musashikuni, oyakata of Wakaichiro) will be on hand to assist with translation and answer questions, offer explanations of the sport. I do not know the President’s knowledge level of the sport – or Prime Minister Abe’s – but it would be awesome to sit and watch with a former Yokozuna. If it were me, he would be asked a bunch of silly questions, such as, “what do the four colors of the tassels mean?” However, if Trump is a more seasoned, knowledgeable fan, it would be fascinating to just sit back and listen to them discuss the finer points of yotsu grips and kimarite.

Foreign dignitaries have visited Kokugikan before. Above are some pictures of Prince Charles and Princess Diana. Their son, William, is also a fan. As we can see, though, they sat in the box. There is speculation, and some consternation, about why Trump will be seated ringside but I believe the VIP box will be full and Hakkaku will have a lot on his plate entertaining his own guests. He’ll probably be quite happy passing off some duties to Musashigawa oyakata.

The President and Prime Minister will be seated by the dohyo. This will likely be on the 正 side, facing the gyoji, so a bit off camera (below the bottom of the screen) for that main shot we’re all used to from NHK and AbemaTV coverage. I’m sure the camera between bouts will cut to some of the commotion but I’m not entirely convinced the guests will show up in time for the last three bouts. It may be the DC traffic, but it’s been my experience that things with VIPs seem to run quite a bit behind schedule sometimes, especially after a round of golf. I swear, I’ve been behind some five hour rounds of golf before and it is torture. My bet is, they’ll show up, still in spikes, just in time to hand Kakuryu his trophy.

Naruto Beya Rikishi Abused by Stablemate

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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 retires

Takanoiwa with Chiganoura oyakata in retirement press conference

As previously reported, Takanoiwa has decided to hand in his retirement forms.

On the previous night, he had a talk with his new stablemaster, Chiganoura oyakata. The stablemaster tried to dissuade him from retiring, saying “You can still gambarize. There is still a lot that you can do. Let’s gambarize!” – but Takanoiwa’s mind was already made up. The head of the NSK board, Hakkaku, also asked him if he was sure this was the path he wanted to follow. Again, his mind was made up.

The NSK has therefore accepted his resignation. In a press conference earlier today, Takanoiwa expressed his apologies to his family, his stablemaster and okamisan, the rikishi, supporters and fans, as well as to his tsukebito.

A short Q&A session followed this announcement:

Q: Describe your current state of mind.

A: I feel deep responsibility for what I have done.

Q: When did you decide to retire?

A: Yesterday night.

Q: Have you spoken to your tsukebito?

A: Yes, I have.

Q: Have you weighed any options other than retiring?

A: Yes, but the feeling that I had to take responsibility and retire was the strongest.

Q: Only a year ago you were in the position of a victim.

A: This is a weakness of my own attitude.

Q: Have you learned anything from Sumo?

A: I learned how to put effort into hard work.

Q: What is the strongest memory you have from your life in sumo?

A: There are many memories, but I will remember sweating it together with my mates in practice sessions.

Q: If the gods of sumo turned back time, what time would you want to go back to?

A: I would go back to being a new recruit.

(Mostly based on Nikkan Sports)


So the three people most closely involved in the Harumafuji incident – Harumafuji, Takanoiwa and Takanohana – are all out of the sumo world.

A question sumo fans repeatedly ask is whether this will affect the banzuke for Hatsu. The answer is – based on past experience – it won’t. The banzuke will remain as it is, with either a blank or Takanoiwa’s name appearing in whatever position they have set for him. Changes to the banzuke after it has already been set down (and written out by the gyoji) are rare.

Loose ends:

  • Stablemasters are usually punished for their deshi’s misdeeds. It’s still unclear how Chiganoura will be sanctioned, especially given that he has been in charge of Takanoiwa for only a very short time.
  • What will the NSK decide to do about Takanoiwa’s retirement funds? In the Harumafuji case, some part of them has been docked.

I will keep my eye on this story for a while, to see how Takataisho, the victim of this violent incident, is holding up in the sumo world. If you recall, the victim of Takayoshitoshi has retired from sumo a short while after the incident. I hope Chiganoura and his okamisan will be able to provide better protection for the young wrestler.

I will also watch out for word from the Imperial Household. Last year, following the cluster of scandals, the Emperor decided not to hold his yearly sumo viewing. The 2019 Hatsu basho is his last opportunity to view sumo as an emperor, and it would be sad if he missed out on that as well.

Takanohana Resignation In Detail

First, let’s start with some background facts.

  • In March 2018, Takanohana filed a written accusation with the Cabinet Office, regarding the NSK’s handling of the Takanoiwa/Harumafuji incident. He withdrew the accusation once the Takayoshitoshi incident occurred.
  • Just before the board elections earlier this year, Shikoroyama beya and Minato beya declared independence from the Tokitsukaze ichimon, joining no other. Following the board elections, Tatsunami broke away from the Takanohana ichimon, again, joining no other. Takanohana then asked to remove his name from his own ichimon following the Takayoshitoshi incident. This was followed by him withdrawing from the ichimon completely, and the ichimon being dissolved, leaving the remaining members, “the Onomatsu group”, unaffiliated with any ichimon. In this state of affairs, the NSK board convened in July and made a decision that it would be mandatory for each oyakata to join one of the five remaining ichimon, and the deadline for this was set for the NSK board’s regular meeting on the 27th of September. At the time of writing, the only heya still unaffiliated is Takanohana beya.
  • Takanohana holds an “ichidai toshiyori myoseki”. That is, he holds the right to be a toshiyori (what we usually call oyakata) under his own shikona, but only for the duration of his membership in the NSK. Upon resignation, he loses the right and cannot leave it to another or rent it out as the regular toshiyori can. This means that Takanohana beya ceases to exist upon his resignation, with the most probable outcome being that the deshi are absorbed into another heya.

Takanohana Press Conference

takanohana-press-conference

After all the news outlets informed us earlier that Takanohana handed in his resignation papers (“taishoku todoke”), Takanohana opened his press conference by correcting them and saying that he handed in “retirement papers” (“intai todoke” – the same “intai” as when wrestlers or other athletes finish their active careers and move on to a new career path).

He followed this by explaining that the reason for his retirement is that he received a letter from the NSK stating that they found the letter of accusation he sent to the Cabinet Office (and withdrew) to be groundless. He said that tangible and intangible pressure was made on him to acknowledge that it was groundless, and that he was told that he can’t continue as oyakata and can’t join an ichimon – which is now mandatory – unless he does so. He said that he cannot bend the truth and say that his accusation was groundless when he believes that it wasn’t, and that therefore he has decided to resign, feeling that continuing as-is will put his deshi in a position where they cannot concentrate on their sumo.

Together with his retirement paper, he also filed a request to have his deshi and other members of his heya (tokoyama, sewanin) move to Chiganoura beya. He said that years ago he had made a pact with Chiganoura oyakata to take over his deshi if anything happened to him.

He said that the heya, which is also his home, contains a dohyo, and he intends to continue with a life connected to the dohyo. When asked by reporters whether this means he will start his own sumo organization, he said that he has “no such intention at this time”. He later explained that he wants to teach sumo to children, preparing them for entrance into professional sumo.

When asked whether the fact that he is holding the meeting in a law firm means that he was going to litigate against the NSK, he denied it and said he wants to avoid any pressure or tension from hitting his deshi.

Asked whether there is a possibility of him remaining with the NSK should the latter refuse to accept his resignation, he said there was none.

NSK Response

The head of the public relations department of the NSK, Shibatayama oyakata, responded to the retirement announcement and the accusations.

He pointed out that to break ties with the NSK, a resignation letter (“taishoku todoke”) is required, and that they received a retirement request (“intai todoke”), and even though the meaning is taken to be the same, it does not fulfill the requirement of the rules. Once the resignation letter is properly handed, they will debate whether to accept it or not.

Further on the technical details, he pointed out that the request to transfer the members of the heya to Chiganoura beya has not been signed by Chiganoura oyakata. It will need his seal before it can be considered.

Referring to Takanohana’s claims, he said that the claim that Takanohana could not enter an ichimon unless he conceded the falsehood of his “letter of accusation” has no basis in reality. Furthermore, the claim that if he does not join an ichimon he cannot continue as oyakata is false. He went on to explain the reasons for the decision about joining an ichimon. The NSK is a public incorporation, and therefore has to keep all monetary affairs transparent. There are monies – subsidies and management fees – that are distributed between the heya, and this is done through the ichimon. With many heya unattached to ichimon, it becomes difficult to properly distribute those monies, and the process becomes opaque. The NSK is currently on a mission to improve its governance, and for this reason, too, a unanimous decision was made to require that the oyakata sort themselves into the remaining ichimon.

However, pointed out Shibatayama, there was no decision as yet as to what would be done with heya which did not belong to ichimon by the deadline. In fact, this was left to be discussed in the NSK meeting on the 27 which is why the deadline was set at that time. In any case, the foreseeable short term decision would likely be giving the still-unattached heya some additional time to further negotiate joining one.

In addition to Shibatayama oyakata, Onomatsu oyakata, the head of the Shimpan department, also spoke to the press. Onomatsu has been Takanohana’s boss since the most recent reshuffle of jobs in the NSK (following the elections), but he was also a member of his now deceased ichimon and a former supporter. He said that he tried to convince Takanohana again and again, for some time now, as two people who work together, to join one of the ichimon – “and raise the youngsters there” – but to no avail. He said he put his soul into this, and that he did not want to lose Takanohana. When asked, he said that the “letter of accusation” was never mentioned during those persuasion attempts.

Third-party Commentaries

Takanohana’s brother, the former Wakanohana, initially reacted to the news with “What, he could not find a single ichimon who will accept him”? Later, after the press conference, he more diplomatically said that it’s a sad decision, and as an older brother, he is worried what will become of his (estranged) little brother.

Demon Kakka, with his usual no-nonsense attitude, said he does not see, from the contents of the “letter of accusation” where the contention lies, and that it seems the two sides simply can’t sit together face to face and work it out. He urged the two sides not to betray the fans, and to find a way for Takanohana not to end up quitting.

Associates of Chiganoura oyakata say that he received Takanohana’s request to take in his deshi by telephone, at noon, right before Takanohana handed in his “retirement papers”, and was bewildered by it. “It was a one-sided phone call”, pointed the associates.