Tate-Gyoji Shikimori Inosuke punishment decided

The NSK board convened for a special meeting today to discuss and decide the punishment of tate-gyoji Shikimori Inosuke for his sexual assault of a junior gyoji.

dohyo-matsuri
Consecration of the Dohyo, held by Shikimori Kandayu

As you may recall, the victim does not intend to press charges, so the tate-gyoji is not going to face any punishment other than the disciplinary measures of the NSK.

The punishment they have come up with is a three-basho-suspension. This includes:

  • Suspension from three basho.
  • Suspension from all jungyo occurring between those basho.
  • House confinement.
  • Salary docked for the suspension period.

In addition, Inosuke’s stablemaster, Miyagino oyakata, was reprimanded for the event, which happened during the jungyo, by the acting head of the jungyo department, Kasugano oyakata.

Inosuke himself was present at the board meeting, and expressed his apologies. He also took responsibility and handed in his resignation. However, the board decided not to accept it at the moment, and is set to accept it after the Natsu basho (that is, as soon as the suspension ends).

When asked if this means that Inosuke the 40th will never mount a dohyo again, Hakkaku the board chairman replied “So it seems”.

In the absence of a tate-gyoji (as there has not been a Kimura Shonosuke for the past two years), his duties will be taken by the most senior sanyaku gyoji, Shikimori Kandayu. And indeed he presided over today’s dohyo matsuri (in the picture above, with his back to us). The dohyo matsuri is a religious ceremony asking the gods to watch over the rikishi and keep them safe. Kandayu commented: “For the safety of the rikishi, I put my heart and soul in it”.

Kandayu is also set to be pointing the gunbai in the musubi-no-ichiban (last bout of the day) for the Hatsu basho.

May the basho proceed in safety and without any further disturbances.

Tate-gyoji Shikimori Inosuke sexually assaults a junior gyoji

Just as the sumo world is trying to recuperate from last year’s Harumafuji scandal, and amidst our hopes for a 2018 free of scandals, the NSK announced yesterday that the tate-gyoji, Shikimori Inosuke the 40th, has sexually assaulted a junior gyoji in his teens while drunk.

inosuke-dohyo
Inosuke in the role of a shinto priest, consecrating the dohyo

The top two ranking gyoji in sumo are called “tate-gyoji”. They are the ones in charge of refereeing the Yokozuna bouts, and also participate in yokozuna dohyo-iri and consecrate the dohyo before honbasho.

Tate-gyoji use inherited names. The top rank is always “Kimura Shonosuke” (the order is the Japanese name order – last name first), and the secondary rank is “Shikimori Inosuke”. The last Shonosuke retired about two years ago, but Inosuke was not promoted to Shonosuke, following a series of misjudged bouts that cost him a suspension in 2015. This means that at the moment, Shikimori Inosuke the 40th is the only active tate-gyoji. Inosuke is a member of Miyagino beya, Hakuho’s stable.

The event itself took place on the evening of December 16th, while he was doing the jungyo. This was the night between the two events at Ginowan, Okinawa. During supper, the tate-gyoji imbibed large quantities of Awamori (a hard Okinawan liquor) and became thoroughly inebriated. A junior gyoji helped him get back to his hotel. The senior gyoji then proceeded to kiss the minor (in Japan, the age of majority is 20) on his lips several times and fondled his chest once.

Another member of the gyoji-kai, a Makuuchi gyoji, learned of this incident and reported it to the NSK. The crisis management committee opened investigation, verified the facts, and questioned Inosuke directly. He responded: “I was too heavily drunk, I have no recollection of what happened”, and “I have no interest in men, so I have no idea why I would do something like that.” However, he did not positively deny the act, and he has already apologized to the victim before the NSK was informed of the incident.

The victim, who was reportedly traumatized by the event, is not interested in filing a police report, nor does he wish the NSK to pursue the matter further. He only wanted an apology. However, in the wake of the previous scandal and the current public atmosphere, the NSK cannot let this matter go. They intend to convene a special meeting of the board and decide on Inosuke’s fate in the near future.

The head of the board, Hakkaku, did not mince his words: “It is deplorable that a man at the top position in the hierarchy would do something like that. The very act of drinking oneself beyond recollection is inappropriate. I have warned Inosuke in the past about his bad behavior when drinking.”

Today Miyagino oyakata made an apology for his heya’s gyoji.

miyagino-oyakata-apologizes
Miyagino Oyakata, apologized for his gyoji

Following a closed-doors keiko session, the stablemaster responded to the media and the press, saying “Being in a leadership position with respect to Inosuke, I deeply apologize for his deed. He has a history of bad drinking and was abstinent for a while, then started drinking again. I had warned him about it and all I can do now is request that he abstain from drinking again.”

When Hakuho came out of the heya was also accosted by the press, and responded somewhat in consternation: “He is not gay as far as I know, but he does love his liquor” before disappearing into the car on his way home.

Assuming the punishment that will be decided by the board involves either suspending or dismissing the tate-gyoji, this comes at a very inconvenient timing for the NSK, with honbasho starting in about a week. The tate-gyoji is supposed to accompany the Yokozuna in the Meiji-jingu dedication dohyo-iri, as well as consecrate the dohyo the day before shonichi, never mind presiding over the yokozuna/ozeki matches.

Shikimori Inosuke is 58 years old and his real name is Itsuo Nouchi.

English news sources:

(The post is compiled from various Japanese sources, including Nikkan Sports, Sponichi, NHK and others).

Update on Harumafuji Scandal: YDC, NSK special meetings and report.

Today has been a day full of news. The YDC held its special deliberation. The NSK board followed with its own, and as it turned out, Takanoiwa appeared from his genie’s lamp and testified to the crisis management committee.

rijikai

Background

 

Here is how things stood yesterday:

  • Harumafuji has handed in his resignation. He is no longer an employee of the NSK, but they do have to settle issues such as retirement money, retirement ceremony, etc.
  • Hakuho, and to a lesser degree Kakuryu, have been criticised for not stopping the violence in a timely fashion or preventing it from the start. Hakuho has also been criticised for his on and off-dohyo behavior in general. There was the matter of his matta protest, his yusho interview and “banzai”, and his style of sumo of late, frequently using harite and kachiage.
  • Takanohana has been waging a war against the NSK:
    • When he found out about the event, he did not report it to the NSK, only to the police.
    • He then refused to cooperate with the NSK’s crisis committee’s investigation, and allowed Takanoiwa to be interviewed only by the police. At first he said he will cooperate once the police investigation was over. Then once the prosecutor hands in a decision.
    • He also failed to produce a medical certificate for Takanoiwa’s absence from the fuyu Jungyo. The medical certificate for the basho was also questionable, as it seemed to have expired by the time the basho started.

Disciplinary measures as well as preventive measures were expected.

Takanoiwa makes an appearance

After the NSK crisis committee has already announced that they have “given up on interviewing Takanoiwa by the 20th” and that they will be handing in their report without his side being represented, and the NSK was hinting that they will be considering his punishment for the unsanctioned absence, Takanohana finally relented and released his deshi to speak to the committee on the night between the 19th and the 20th.

Here is Takanoiwa’s side of the story, as retold by the crisis committee representative in the press conference following today’s board meeting:

  • He only operated his smartphone after Hakuho’s lecture was over, and Hakuho and Harumafuji started talking about other things. He does not believe he did anything insulting or anything that justifies receiving an injury.
  • He felt demeaned by receiving a one-sided beating in front of other rikishi and the staff of his alma mater.
  • He only apologized to Harumafuji the next day because those same staff members advised him to do so. He himself did not feel it was merited.
  • Nevertheless, he says that he had no wish to see Harumafuji retire.
  • When asked why he lied to Takanohana at first and told him that he received his injury by falling down the stairs, he said that he didn’t want to cause an uproar, and that it was unmanly to tattle.

Further, Kagamiyama oyakata commented on Takanoiwa’s current state. Apparently, he is currently hospitalized, suffering from after-effects of the attack.

The YDC convenes, makes recommendations and deflects criticism

The YDC convened and discussed Yokozuna past and present:

  • Although Harumafuji already retired, they discussed the case as a precedent and decided that any such case in the future would merit an intai recommendation.
  • They recommended a severe reprimand to Hakuho and Kakuryu, for making light of their responsibility as Yokozuna to serve as examples, and to prevent any form of violence.
  • They also expressed a unanimous opinion that Takanohana’s behavior is unacceptable for an executive in any organization.
  • They also received many complaints about Hakuho’s “violent” style of fight these days, such as kachiage using a heavily bandaged elbow, or strong harite “for more than 10 bouts out of 15”. Adding that it was “not Yokozuna sumo, ugly, something we do not want to watch”.
  • When asked about their responsibility for the promotion of two Yokozuna who have retired due to scandal the head of the YDC responded that they have neither the ability nor the authority to conduct their own research into the candidates’ characters and have to ask the NSK members about that. Also, that they act on the request of the NSK.

The board convenes

Following the YDC’s meeting and recommendation, the board of the NSK also convened and made some decisions.

hakkaku
Hakkaku. Gave up three months’ salary.
  • For not having prevented the violence, being the most eminent NSK member present, Hakuho will be deducted his entire salary for the coming January, and half of his salary for February. This is estimated at ¥4,230,000.
  • Also for not having prevented the violence, Kakuryu will be deducted his entire salary for the coming January. This is estimated at ¥2,820,000.
  • There is a retirement sum awarded to retiring Oyakata, Yokozuna and Ozeki. Harumafuji will have some amount deducted from this retirement money, though the exact deduction has not been decided yet.
  • The head of the board, Hakkaku, decided to give up his own salary for the rest of his current stint. This means three months, until the next board elections. The sum is estimated at ¥1,448,000.
  • Isegahama oyakata has taken responsibility for the actions of his deshi, and handed in his own resignation from the board. He will therefore be demoted to yakuin-taigu-iin (executive member) instead of riji (director). (Note that he can be re-elected). Hakkaku added that Isegahama oyakata wished to resign already when Harumafuji resigned, but that he, as head of the board, asked him to postpone it until the investigation was over.
  • The board accepted the recommendation of the YDC to set a recommendation of retirement as the standard for any case of violence by rikishi at the top of the banzuke. They used the term “joi”, so this doesn’t apply only to Yokozuna.
  • The missing piece is Takanohana. The discussion of his part has been postponed to another meeting to be held on the 28th, together with the meeting of the board of trustees. “We will make a decision based on the explanation we will receive from Takanohana”, said Hakkaku.

Takanoiwa’s future

Kagamiyama oyakata said that in the board meeting, the board affirmed that they consider Takanoiwa as a victim of violence who should be protected by the NSK as a whole. He added that being kyujo from Kyushu puts Takanoiwa in Juryo on the next banzuke. However, should he need to continue his kyujo into Hatsu as well, considering the circumstances, allowances will be made as to his banzuke position.

takanoiwa
Takanoiwa. Will get to keep his silk mawashi.

Specifically, provided that he supplies the appropriate medical certificate this time, the NSK will not allow his banzuke position for Haru to drop below Juryo.

Preventive measures

All of the above are disciplinary measures. How is such an occurrence to be prevented in the future? Here are some of the suggestions brought up by the crisis committee as well as the board meeting:

  • Declare a “Day of violence prevention”, to make sure that this scandal is not soon forgotten as the Tokitsukaze scandal has been.
  • Create a code of conduct that will be taught and referred to in all pertinent cases.
  • The NSK board will form a violence prevention committee that will include independent experts, to hand in recommendation (one source says) by the 28th as well.

The story of October 25th, retold

In a comment to my previous post about the interim report, I said that I expect the story of what happened on the fateful day in Tottori to change again only once – on December 20th, when the final report is handed.

remote-control
Karaoke remote-control. May be used to zap away your career.

Truth be told, it did not change very drastically, but there are some interesting details surfacing. I’ll put parts that were not in the previous post in bold.

  • Dinner party. Present: Hakuho, Kakuryu, Harumafuji, Terunofuji, Takanoiwa, Ishiura, Ishiura’s father and other members of the Tottori Johoku high school, 13 people in total.
  • During the dinner party, which took about 3 hours, Hakuho took issue with something a friend of his told him that Takanoiwa said in September. Takanoiwa denied. Harumafuji defended him and Hakuho let the matter go. This whole exchange was in Mongolian, and the Japanese present did not know its contents.
  • The after party included most of those participating in the dinner party, at a lounge recommended by the high school staff. Beer was served in glasses, not in bottles. Hakuho lectured to Takanoiwa and Terunofuji about their daily conduct and that they should be thankful to their high school teachers. He also reproached Kakuryu for letting him do all the lecturing.
  • Takanoiwa, thinking that Hakuho has finished his lecture, started to play with his phone. Harumafuji saw that, got annoyed, and asked “Why are you playing with your phone when the dai-yokozuna is talking to you?”. This was apparently also in Mongolian. Takanoiwa first denied he was playing with it, then said “I got a LINE message”. Harumafuji asked “Is that important? Who is it from?”. Eventually Takanoiwa said “It’s from my girlfriend”.
  • Harumafuji hit him once, on the face.
  • Takanoiwa said “sorry”, but Harumafuji thought he was giving him a defiant stare. So he hit him on the head and face several times with his bare hands, asking “Why are you behaving like that? I was protecting you earlier! Are you trying to be smart with Yokozuna?“.
  • He picked up a bottle of Champagne and made as if he would beat Takanoiwa with it, but it slipped and fell without harming anybody.
  • Hakuho, watching Harumafuji, said aloud “Don’t use any objects”. As soon as Harumafuji started using the remote control, he stepped in to stop the beating and took Harumafuji outside the room.
  • Apparently it was several minutes from the beginning of the beating and its end, and over 10 but less than 20 slaps/punches delivered.
  • Harumafuji then returned to the room and demanded that Takanoiwa apologize, hitting him once or twice again with his bare hands. Takanoiwa said “I deeply apologize, I’ll be careful from now on”, so Harumafuji stopped.
  • Harumafuji also reprimanded kakuryu: “You are not guiding them properly”. Then he addressed Terunofuji: “You have no spirit when you do keiko. If you want to ask something, just talk to me!”. Terunofuji changed his sitting position to seiza and answered “We can’t say what we think. There is a wall between us”. Harumafuji retorted “You are the ones who created that wall!”, and proceeded to slap Terunofuji (lightly) once or twice. Terunofuji’s reply: “Thank you”.
  • Takanoiwa’s scalp was lacerated and bled. He also suffered an injury to his wrist.
  • When they left the lounge, Takanoiwa asked Ishiura “What did Harumafuji hit me with?”. Ishiura replied “I think with a beer bottle and remote control”. However, Ishiura did not see that with his own eyes.
  • Takanoiwa had his wound taken care of  the next day in a local infirmary, and initially told Takanohana that he fell down the stairs being drunk.

(Compiled from Nikkan Sports and Nikkei).

 

Yokozuna Deliberation Committee Post-Kyushu Meeting

The Yokozuna Deliberation Committee (or Council – YDC in short) convened earlier today for its regular post-basho meeting. The meeting took place in Tokyo, at the Ryogoku Kokugikan.

YDC-2017-11

The meeting was longer than the usual, and included a briefing from the head of the NSK (Hakkaku) and other attending oyakata about the state of the Harumafuji investigation currently being conducted by the NSK’s crisis management committee.

Concluding Statements

Following the meeting, the head of the YDC, Masato Kitamura, held a press conference, and made the following statements:

  • Regarding the kyujo Yokozuna, Kakuryu and Kisenosato, the YDC wishes to see them take care of their health and attend the next basho in good form. Although Kitamura said that continuing the current situation casts doubt on their ability to maintain their status as Yokozuna, many voices in the YDC said that the Yokozuna should be allowed to rest as much as they need and that they should not need to end their reigns. (Edited to include the two conflicting messages).
  • Kitamura was very critical of Hakuho’s yusho “interview”:
    • The three “banzai” cheers were uncalled for. In the middle of a crisis in the world of sumo, and after his behavior in the match vs. Yoshikaze, there was no occasion to cheer.
    • Implying that there was a festering wound in the sumo world that “needed to be cleansed” is “strange”, and not something that a Yokozuna should say.
    • Promising to bring back Harumafuji and Takanoiwa as if it’s something within his power is also uncalled for.
  • Although it is not within the scope of the YDC’s responsibilities, he decided to comment about Takanohana’s behavior: “It is inexplicable. What is he trying to do? It seems as if he is trying to throw a spanner into the NSK’s investigation.”

Of course, the main issue of the press conference was the Harumafuji affair. Regarding that, Mr. Kitamura explained that as the NSK has not completed its investigation, the YDC is deferring its official recommendation until that investigation is done, at which point they will convene an irregular meeting to deliberate and make a recommendation.

However, he added that as it was undeniable that a violent act did take place, all the members of the YDC were unanimous in their outrage, and said that Harumafuji should be “dealt with with utmost severity”. He added that the YDC has several possible recommendations in its arsenal, from warning through an advice to retire, but “currently we do not know which level we will choose”.

Analysis

In theory, the YDC does not have any real power. It makes recommendations to the management of the NSK, and the NSK can decide whatever it wants.

However, other than general, non-actionable advice such as “get well and come back quickly” such as they have given above to Kisenosato and Kakuryu, the YDC’s “action item” recommendations are generally respected.

Of course, most of the precedents involve recommendations regarding promotions to Yokozuna rather than retirement advice. The YDC has blocked some expected promotions in the past for various reasons and those blocks have been respected.

There have not been many precedents for retirement deliberations. Sponichi (a Japanese news outlet) came up with only three precedents, two of which are not really pertinent:

  • Onokuni, in 1989, was make-koshi in the Aki basho. This is considered to be a cause for retirement for any Yokozuna. However, the recommendation they gave his stablemaster was that he should “get himself together, concentrate on practicing, and become a strong Yokozuna”.
  • In 1999, the third Wakanohana was makekoshi in the Aki basho. Again, the YDC did not recommend retirement but called him in and asked him to take care of his injuries and come back to the dohyo for a decisive basho. Following two kyujo he decided to participate, and retired after losing going 2-4.
  • Asashoryu’s drunken violence was the first and only time the YDC has decided to issue a recommendation of retirement to a Yokozuna. However, Asashoryu handed his resignation on his own initiative before that recommendation was made official.

When they say that “Harumafuji should be dealt with with utmost severity”, the YDC does not leave much room to believe that once the investigation is over they will be lenient. In fact, it sounds as if they have made up their minds already, and are only waiting for the NSK’s conclusions out of politeness.

And once that recommendation is formally made, if the NSK ignores it, it will be unprecedented and extraordinary. The NSK has the power to expel, dismiss, suspend or warn a rikishi. But if the YDC decides that a Yokozuna no longer has the “hinkaku”, if he does not hand in his resignation on his own as Asashoryu did, I cannot see how the NSK could justify keeping him as Yokozuna.

What about Hakuho’s vow, then? He wants to keep Harumafuji around. But I can hardly see how he can achieve that. I cannot see him convincing the members of the YDC to be less harsh, as you can see in the statements above he does not have any friends there. It’s an arch-conservative body, and one not known to be very friendly to foreigners, no matter how many yusho they have won.

In the NSK the situation is not much better. There are many conservatives in the NSK, and there was even a quote today from a “veteran oyakata” saying that there should not be Mongols in sumo. If Hakuho wants something unprecedented and extraordinary like ignoring the YDC to be done, the “reformers” may be his only potential allies. Only… the head of the reformers is Takanohana. Exactly the wrong man.

In western sports we might have expected him to try and arrange a wrestler strike or something similar. But this is unheard of in sumo.

In summary, I believe that the statement “to be dealt with with utmost severity” has pretty much clinched Harumafuji’s fate. The results of the investigation may be less severe than we thought at first. He may not face charges if he only used his bare hands. The fans may be able to forgive him. But the chances that we will see him on a dohyo ever again are vanishingly small.

Whither… Takanoiwa?

Takanoiwa
There’s still him.

As Bruce did a great job of detailing, Harumafuji is in hot water for his role in potentially putting Takanoiwa out of action for quite some time and inflicting what may potentially be some degree of lasting damage to the head of his fellow rikishi. Much of the speculation, owing to the shocking nature of this incident and Harumafuji’s standing as a Yokozuna, has been around the subject of intai (by his choice or the association’s), what kind of punishment might be forthcoming, or what Harumafuji’s life will be like going forward.

But let’s not forget there is another side of this as well, and that’s the future of Takanoiwa’s career. Obviously, he has received extensive hospital treatment, and it’s unclear where and when we will see him functioning again on the dohyo as we have seen him function before. This passage from the Japan Times article on the scandal caught my eye:

Takanoiwa, 27, was one of the early withdrawals from the Nov. 12-26 tournament. He is expected to miss the entire meet and be demoted to the lower juryo rank at the meet in January.

It is certainly true that anyone kyujo from the entire tournament from the level of Maegashira 8 under normal injury circumstances would be demoted to Juryo. It has happened 14 times in the last 40 years and in the 9 of those times that the kōshō seido system was not applied, the rikishi concerned ended up ranked between J3 and J7 on the banzuke for the following basho.

However, these are not normal circumstances – and they also fall at a time when there have been renewed calls from luminaries of the sumo world (as well as, for what it’s worth, from these pages) to reconsider a reinstatement or a replacement for kōshō seido. While this isn’t a new thing (and you can find hot debates on sites like sumoforum about this, going back at least ten years), the increase in injuries certainly makes the conversation more relevant. John Gunning recently doubled down on the comments he made in the Japan Times regarding the size of rikishi during the NHK World Sumo Preview episode, the training regimen for fitness and injury recovery has been scrutinised in light of failed recoveries by key competitors, and the rigorous Jungyo schedule has not only strained the health of sekitori further but was the time during which the above incident occurred.

One should wonder then, whether special consideration will be given to Takanoiwa’s rank for Hatsu 2018 (if he is able to compete). After all, it is not like this was a normal injury caused on the dohyo or even the case of a clumsy accident at home: if the reports are correct, he was taken out of commission by an act of another rikishi for which there is an ongoing police investigation. If this special consideration to preserve Takanoiwa’s rank is given, could that then be a springboard to a new system that enables rikishi to get urgent appropriate medical attention in order to preserve their rank for even just one tournament?

There are no definitive answers to that latter question right now. But at a time when there’s seemingly nothing good coming out of this saga (the potential loss of a great – and sometimes also good – yokozuna’s career, a rikishi with potentially life changing injuries), the Association has an opportunity to reserve insult from injury. I, for one, hope they mark out this extraordinary circumstance, and allow Takanoiwa to resume his career in the division in which he has worked to establish himself over the past couple of years.

Homarenishiki Retirement

Homarenishiki retired. In all, 10 wrestlers announced their retirement. Bullying and hazing are serious issues in athletics. I’m a little disappointed that there’s not been much confirmed reporting on what happened at the Nishikido heya seeing as how so many of their wrestlers were suddenly out-of-action. It’s difficult for an observer to understand what’s going on, who may have acted improperly. As fans, we want to know that rikishi are not abused and are in a safe environment (though we’d be silly not to expect inter-personal drama as tight-nit as these heya are). We’d also like to know that if wrestlers or heyas act improperly, they will be removed from sumo.

Bullying and hazing are not issues which are unique to sumo. In the US, it’s also been a big issue in education as well. I’m a board member for my kids’ PTA association and it is a serious concern, even in lower elementary grades. People are best served with an open treatment of the issues rather than sweeping individual instances under the rug. It’s important to be up front with what happened and reinforce that this behavior is not acceptable. Without a clear accounting, people don’t really get that message and the behavior continues under the surface until it blows up in a bigger, wider scandal.

On the other side of the coin, without better information, rumors can blow things way out of proportion for what really happened. It may be a more minor issue but without knowing, we’re left to speculate and either way it taints the sport.

Youtube: Good or Bad For Sumo? (edited 7/2)

True to my word, I’m not reading Yahoo!

(note: I’ve edited a bit to make my points more clear rather than implied. I’ve tried to note changes with a ‘*’)

So while looking for sumo news in the week before Nagoya, I ran across an interesting column in the Japan Times by Mark Buckton, “YouTube Poses Unique Challenges For Japan Sumo Association.” However, it’s not really that unique of a challenge, and if leveraged properly, it could be a boon to the sport.

In the article, Buckton called out Jason Harris for posting bouts on YouTube and particularly for promoting his tip jar. He also called out the defunct Araibira feed. Araibira was eventually kicked off YouTube for violating terms of service but quickly moved over to Vimeo until his academic schedule began to be too demanding and he quit. He used to record even lower division bouts and, in clear violation of YouTube’s ToS, offered no commentary or original content – just a straight rip of the NHK broadcast.

An important point, overlooked in the article, was that Jason mutes the audio in the lead up to – and following – the bouts, and provides his own commentary and news. THAT is HIS intellectual property. More over, he does it for free. The tip jar is there but there is no obligation. I free ride. Would it change things for Buckton if Jason’s channel had ubiquitous ads, instead of the tip jar? *Then, it would not be so obvious that he’s making money from our views. I know WordPress puts ads on here because I use their free service but I don’t make the money. That would go to WordPress. There’s much less transparency there.*

This is not a unique challenge. For as long as an event or work of art could be recorded or reproduced, the originators of that work have been trying to protect their interests, nowadays we call it intellectual property. YouTube, Napster, pirate radio, fine art and literature reproduction are all examples.

In journalism, I’ve found that sites like Yahoo! and Huffington Post compromise on their integrity in exchange for data on readers. The readers get to read lower quality “news” in exchange for their data. *On the other side, using a pay wall, I pay for high quality journalism of the FT. I expect a high standard and laugh when their former journalist goes to start Gawker and gets bankrupted by their decision to publish a Hulk Hogan sex tape. Way to go, Peter Thiel! Journalism has standards.*

To understand how much of your data you are giving away, I encourage you to use the cookies manager+ extension in Firefox and be wary of Flash advertising. Buckton, presumably, has an advantageous position as a member of the press. He gets paid to watch and report on sumo, “living the dream”. My family will shell out $1000 to be able to watch senshuraku in Nagoya (1 day), not to mention the costs of the plane, shinkansen,and hotels just to get there as I do not have the luxury of living and working in Japan.

*What I mean is, for us foreigners it is difficult to be a fan and to stay engaged with the sport. The community that Jason’s YouTube channel fosters is clearly beneficial to the sport. When I was a teenager, I used to watch a sumo highlights show on ESPN. I loved it. But when they got rid of it, there was no YouTube to fill the void. Now, I can watch the Mongolian feed (which is still free, I believe, you just have to register) or Jason or Kintamayama. But the YouTube feeds are even better than the old ESPN show because they’re on demand and the comment section encourages discussion and fosters community.*

I must say that while writing this article, my attention is diverted by two things: the Wales – Belgium game and the alcohol I’m consuming, because I’m in a bar watching the game. Thankfully, this bar has free Wi-Fi…something extremely rare in Tokyo. This is relevant because Starbucks and many other cafes in the US generate revenue and sales by giving people Wi-Fi. Many small IT businesses here in DC are run out of cafes like Starbucks. *The JSA receives revenue from me because I am a fan and can follow sumo via the feeds and engage you with my blog. It’s much harder to follow if I have to wake up at 3am to watch an NHK feed which requires an extra package on top of premium cable. The feeds provide a valuable service to us, as international fans, and the JSA.*

Normally, I cannot watch these soccer games because I cannot pay $150/month for access to cable channels like Fox Sports or ESPN (much less for the additional NHK package so I could watch sumo). However, I can watch it here, in the bar, while I eat dinner. Also, I enjoy it more by watching with fellow fans. For sumo, though, I can’t host my friends at 5am at my house for a fortnight to watch a basho.

It’s a business, like any other. If Jason made enough money on his site to sponsor his boy Okinoumi with some kenshokin, that may have a dramatic affect on the JSA’s perception and acceptance of his channel. I know that if I made the $600 needed for a banner, I’d do it. Do potential advertisers even realize it’s so affordable? Mind you, I’m on the free version of WordPress. If I had to pay to have this site, I would need to seriously re-think my commitment. More likely, I’d find a different free platform because I don’t make money from this and there are enough websites out there that someone would have a free platform (again, another example of this same issue).

I would love to make money from this blog. And that would bring with it more reliable coverage and better, more thought out articles – rather than the rants you usually get – because I’d be motivated to put more time and effort into this. If Jason has a tip jar, I’m sure he feels the need to earn/deserve the money. He would be less free to take a tournament off, for example. And he’d be motivated to provide more, better coverage to hopefully increase benefit from the tip jar. He’s now working for us. It’s easy to blame “the liberal media” for not understanding economic fundamentals, but this is a prime example.

Now that I’ve broached the topic of kenshokin, I must admit that is where one of my interests lies. I’m an economist and the additional motivation provided by those bounties is mind-blowing. I want data on bounties at the per wrestler, per bout level. Fascinating analysis could come out of that. *We see how motivation for money hurts sport in the form of yaocho, but it can be leveraged to help competition in the form of kenshokin. (Don’t you dare forget Hakuho’s jubilation and pride whenever he grabs a fat stack of envelopes.)* Beyond kenshokin, I find sumo to be such a great, primal sport. I’ve mentioned it before; it’s professional, organized King of the Hill with a spiritual, almost religious, ceremonial component.

To the Japanese Sumo Association, I would caution against alienating fans. Make money, but embrace the fans. What is your business model? Fans in seats and buying trinkets. Any professional sport makes money from gate receipts and official merchandise. If a league is successful, sponsorship will follow because with eyeballs comes marketing opportunities. The preoccupation, therefore, should be getting fans into seats and people watching sumo.

The Web 2.0 concept allows the sport to build a larger, more knowledgeable community of fans via rich, user generated feedback. There are fantastic data and statistics available at sumodb.sumogames.de. This fan generated content draws more people and more eyeballs into the sport by, first and foremost, changing perspectives.

Most people, even Japanese, perceive sumo as a bunch of fat guys, bouncing around in diapers. Guys who shatter that mold bring interest to the SPORT of sumo, and to the realization that it is not a bunch of sideshow freaks. If there were more money in sumo, you’d see a lot more Japanese and even American football players, wary of CTE, come into the sport. But the motivation (read: the paycheck) isn’t there. Face it, more Japanese would rather the life of a salaryman than a rikishi. If there’s more money in the sport, more will get into it, the competition will get better, and an industry will grow – and it certainly wouldn’t be so hard to find news or footage on the sport.

Thoughts?

I’ll No Longer Link to Yahoo! Sites

You may have noticed my tweets from last night but probably didn’t realize the level to which my mind melted when I did it. I check several news sites looking to keep up with sumo news during these weeks between tournaments. However, Yahoo! treated a piece of rather disgusting satire as they do with any regular article they cull from Huffington Post despite the fact that any self-respecting journalist would disregard such slime. Google’s news aggregator got caught, too. Yahoo! seemed quicker to notice as it was removed shortly after my tweet.

I recognize this is just a blog and I hope you do, too. It’s full of my opinion and I know I’ve posted satirical headlines…such as the one on Terunofuji’s desire for early retirement. However, I do try to uphold the basic tenets of journalism and that’s why I have been careful about rumors I’ve seen about Homarenishiki and stuff like that. I want confirmation.

Anyway, I’ll no longer be using Yahoo! or Yahoo! Japan and I felt I should explain my tweets from last night.

八百長(Yaocho): Match Fixing…In Other Sports

The Japanese word for match-fixing is 八百長(yaocho). It seems the sporting world has been full of cheating controversies lately. Professional tennis was rocked by allegations right before the Australian Open. Russian track-and-field athletes are facing bans from competition. Rampant corruption at FIFA, including rigged bidding for World Cups and match fixing. Even cycling has been hit with a revelation of technological doping when a German racer was found to have a motor inside the frame of her bicycle. Continue reading

NekoDamashi x2 + Henka = Angry Japanese Press

Okay, the hilarious Hakuho/Tochiozan match had more going on than I noticed when I watched this morning. I obviously saw the henka but I didn’t notice the hand-clapping. The clap is called neko damashi. Mainoumi, who is frequently the Japanese commentator for NHK, was famous for this move. Apparently the Japanese media is all aflutter because they think the trick is not becoming of a yokozuna, nevermind the fact that he did it twice and topped that with a henka.

Mainoumi could get away with it because he was tiny and needed to pull out all the stops to succeed. This is another bit of silliness.

Kotomitsuki Hair-cutting Ceremony

Former Ozeki Kotomitsuki (琴光喜) had his topknot cut yesterday after losing his lawsuit seeking reinstatement to the makuuchi. Kotomitsuki was banned in 2010 for illegal gambling on baseball. I believe these hair-cutting ceremonies are usually done in the dohyo but this just seems to be a hotel conference room. Former yokozuna and sumo legend, Takanohana (貴乃花), is the one cutting his top-knot.

All three current yokozuna were present at the ceremony, as was Kotoshogiku. He’s still well-loved and well-respected by many sumo fans, so maybe he could be seen as the Pete Rose of sumo.

He also got into a spot of legal trouble last year related to his restaurant for hiring foreigners without the proper visas. Again, that’s another sensitive issue here in the US, as well. When I was in Japan, one of my roommates was kicked out of the country for working illegally as a manager of some British pubs. I had other roommates who were working “under-the-table” at hostess clubs. Anyway, it’s hard to keep one’s nose clean if you’re constantly pushed to the margins of society. I’m certainly in favor of immigration reform, particularly legalizing people who want to work.

Hakuho Interview Controversy

Last Monday, one day after winning his historic 33rd Emperor’s Cup, Hakuho was asked about the judges’ decision to have a rematch against Kisenosato a few days before. In the unguarded moment, and probably when still feeling the effects of celebrating the night before, he replied, “regarding the video, even a child could see that I won.”

Stepping back, it was the critical moment of a critical match. Hakuho drove both wrestlers out of the ring and at full speed it was too close for a definitive victor. After a conference, the judges decided on torinaoshi – a rematch – despite video evidence that Kisenosato touched the ground first.

Hakuho is a wee bit sensitive about the fact that he is not Japanese. And among Japanese fans there is a lot of anticipation for there to be a Japanese yokozuna and also quite a bit of cheering for a Japanese man to win an Emperor’s cup. The last active Japanese yokozuna was Takanohana, who retired in 2003. There has not been a Japanese cup winner since Tochiazuma won 9 years ago.

This seems to imbue Hakuho with a bit of resentment towards some of his competitors. You can see the extra intensity, determination, and aggression in Hakuho’s bouts against crowd favorites like Endo or if Kisenosato is still in the running when they meet. Dude, Hakuho, just because they’re rooting for Endo…it doesn’t mean they’re rooting against you.

I love Hakuho. He is the best sumo wrestler I’ve had the fortune to see. Sumo benefits, and the fans benefit, from the added intensity and emotion in the sport. In the case of this particular controversy, it’s a bit of a tempest in a teapot. Then again, I’m an American and our Superbowl Champion New England Patriots won their title while a former star is on trial for capital murder. So maybe my bar for sensationalism in sports is a bit too high?

Anyway, I’m not going to think any less of Hakuho for these comments. He was very close to the late Taiho and he always seems to carry himself with dignity and he does take sumo very seriously. I just think he’s got a bit of a chip on his shoulder since he will not be fully embraced by Japanese as much as he feels he deserves. And he’s probably right. But, at the same time, I know there was blowback and resentment when Tiger Woods dominated golf…but that game was never more popular.

Bottom line, I wouldn’t a expect Japanese or Kenyan or American wrestler to be embraced by Mongolians if a star suddenly came over and started dominating Mongolian wrestling or archery or horseback riding…and even less so if there seemed to be a wave of them utterly dominating every tournament for a decade. Face it, we love COMPETITION. When someone (or a group of people) dominate a supposedly competitive sport, it takes the fun out of it. We cheer the underdogs, the upstarts, the Jeremy Lins. We get pleasure out of seeing trouble brewing at McDonald’s, Starbucks, WalMart, or even with Kim Kardashian. We often want to see our leaders knocked down a peg.

In the case of Hakuho, though, it’s weird. I would like to see him challenged a bit more and I would like to see more wrestlers winning but I’m happy he’s doing so well. Also, I’d never want to see him stop performing at this peak level. I know that if he were to become injured or to start to lose, I’d feel I’d lost something — like I do when watching Tiger miss another cut. That man lost his family, a billion dollars, the player life, lost his game, and now he lost a tooth. Yes, I enjoyed seeing him lose a tournament or two when he was dominating…but I want to see him win again. I would never hope anyone would go through what he’s gone through. I give him props that in spite of all that he’s gone through, he hasn’t spiraled out of control like John Daly or Johnny Manziel.

Hakuho is utterly dominant and we are witnessing true greatness and I hope he performs at this level for another 10 years. But he needs a worthy rival. Beyond the skill and power, I think it’s that intensity that I really enjoy…even as I root for Harumafuji.