Five wrestlers were promoted to the full-time salaried ranks of Juryo. Mitoryu (6-1) and Akua (5-2) will make their Juryo debuts Hatsubasho. Three others will be returning, Kizenryu, Daishoho, and Makushita yusho winner Tochihiryu.
In other news, nine wrestlers announced their retirement with the headliner obviously being Yokozuna Harumafuji. Kotohayashi from Sandanme, four Jonidan wrestlers (Suekawa, Kasuganami, Hasugeyama, Mutsumi), two Jonokuchi wrestlers (Tomiyama & Masuyama) and unranked Wakainoue also called it quits.
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.
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 (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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.