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)
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.