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!
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.
Harumafuji’s retirement ceremony was last night. Nicola was among those at the Kokugikan celebrations and captured many great pictures of the event. She also summed up my feelings pretty well in this tweet. It’s been a long year since the scandal broke and he was forced into retirement. We’d not see him mount the dohyo as a competitor again, but he’s moved on. With his charity work back in Mongolia and his new art career, he was able to squeeze in some time for an appointment with the barber. I’ve got to close with my favorite Harumafuji moments. I was there on senshuraku for his yusho win in Nagoya. Not only did I see my favorite yokozuna win the Emperor’s Cup, I got to see the macaron in person for the first time. We wish you well, HARUMAFUJI! Thanks for the memories!
In the second and final part of our interview, we’re happy to present more takes from the very popular Jason Harris of Jason’s All Sumo Channel. Here, he shares more opinions on what he’s looking forward to in sumo, some fantasy matchups that he would create on the dohyo, and the role of YouTube videos in the English speaking world where content can be hard to come by.
If you missed Part 1 of our interview, click here to check it out. As in part 1, the interview has been edited for clarity and length. We’ve embedded Jason’s “Welcome” video for the upcoming basho as well, so make sure to tune in to learn more about how Tachiai has partnered with him for his upcoming contest this month.
Tachiai: In all of your time watching sumo matches over the years, is there one particular matchup (either because it was something a lot of people related to on the channel, or just because it’s something that you’ve enjoyed) between two rikishi that you could just watch again and again?
Jason Harris: Oh boy! There are so many. I went back through some of old playlists recently, because I wanted to see how it started, and I watched a match here and there. I loved it when people came not out of nowhere – because sometimes they were Ozeki – but when they just won that one tournament. People like Kotooshu and Baruto, or even the wild basho that ended up with Kyokutenho winning – those were very fun [to watch]. Of course, in 2008 & 2009, the showdowns between Asashoryu and Hakuho were always fun to look forward to on Senshuraku.
Videos that stick with me the most probably have to be Harumafuji matches, like when he did the back to back 15-0 [tournaments]. Even when he won recently [in September], I was so happy for him. What happened to him was a terrible way to go out, but he seems to be OK with it. He’s going to have his hair-cutting ceremony this year and I think he’s going to stay in Japan and try and stay connected with sumo.
One of the things I like, that I wish I could show more, is when I get to watch on the weekend for my own enjoyment: They do a pretty good job on NHK of having guests go over sumo history. Every now and then, they’ll show an old Chiyonofuji match, or one of the big Americans like Akebono. I really have zero knowledge of sumo pre-2004: I came into a complete void, I’d never seen the sport before. So, when I get to see older matches from the 80s and 90s and even before that are in black and white, I love watching all that old stuff, it’s great. The amazing thing about watching Hakuho [now] is that I have watched Hakuho from Day 1, attaining Yokozuna and being the “GOAT” that he is. Every record that he’s broken, they go back and show you, “Taiho (or someone) did this and Hakuho beat that record.”
I’m not one of these baseball fans that knows all of these players on the roster going back to the 30s, or one of these football fans that’s been rooting for the team since I was 5 years old. Sumo came to me when I was 36, but it is a huge part of my life. It’s amazing to me that it takes place so often and at such a high level. I can’t think of any sport aside from maybe tennis, where you have tournaments every other month! It’s not easy winning a yusho in professional makuuchi sumo, and they really do go all out every other month.
I wish more people in Japan would watch it, because I go to work sometimes, and I’ll be high on the previous day’s tournament, and I just wanna be like: “Man! Did you see Kisenosato? His arm was falling off! And he won that match (laughs)!” And it’s just crickets. The kids aren’t home from school yet [when sumo is on] and the adults are blasé about it. There’s one old guy at work now who talks to me about sumo. I love to wear my sumo shirts around town – people love that a foreigner is so invested in it.
Tachiai: I’ve had similar experiences. I want to go back to something you said about watching matches in the 2000s up through now. This is a Marvel vs DC kind of question: let’s bring two universes together. If you could pit any current rikishi against a former rikishi from when you started watching to create an ultimate fantasy matchup, what might that be?
JH: The obvious one has gotta be Chiyonofuji against Hakuho. That’s the Muhammad Ali vs X, or Michael Jordan vs X… the matchup for the ages. When you look at Chiyonofuji, he’s just so muscular! He doesn’t look fat to me! My gosh, I can imagine how formidable an opponent he must have been, and to see him fight Hakuho!
I loved how Harumafuji was so quick and so good with technique, and I think that was the one thing that allowed him to have any yusho wins during the Hakuho reign. It would [also] be great to see somebody like Ichinojo who’s now tipping the scales at 225kg against somebody like Akebono or other huge guys from the past. It would be great to see some Americans make it back up to the top division, and have that fun pride. We talk a lot about foreigners in sumo, and now we’ve got a guy from Texas, that Tachiai promotes a lot, Wakaichiro.
Fantasy matches are fun to think about. Hakuho vs. Chiyonofuji though, that’s gotta be the one, right there.
Tachiai: I’ve got a question coming up now from Andy, who runs the site.
JH: Yo, Andy!
Tachiai: Andy is curious as to your thoughts on Araibira, who used to put the whole NHK feed on Youtube before he got shut down and moved over to Vimeo. Firstly, have you ever been worried about how close you might be cutting it in terms of the amount of content you put on Youtube, and how the authorities might feel about that? How do you, as a person who’s in that space, react to seeing someone else having to move off Youtube and onto another platform?
JH: Araibira was a nice dude. I talked to him a few times back when he was popular. He had some feed – not proper NHK. The thing that I think got him in trouble is that he was so quick, and he would put up the matches literally minutes after they were live, and he just would take the footage and post it. And that’s kind of direct competition [with NHK] in a way. He wasn’t adding commentary or anything, and I don’t think he wasn’t using an English feed, it was all in Japanese. So he got in trouble and taken down. I don’t know if he’s still over on Vimeo. If he is, then good luck to him.
I could never match the speed of Kintamayama, who does a really good job with his editing. I feel like I just offer a slightly different product, and you’re not going to get the whole day [of matches]. I don’t live in fear of the channel being shut down, but I know that at any point it could happen. I would just have to be sad, and be like: “oh well.” And then move on.
It is completely not my content, which is why I’ve never put any ad on any content, I’ve not monetised [my videos], I’m not a partner on YouTube. It’s just a portal for me to share what I love about sumo with other people… and I’ve been attacked for it. There was a guy who wrote a whole article in The Japan Times about two years ago, calling me bad names and saying “why is this allowed?” And I thought, “well, that’s it, they’re going to shut me down.” But they didn’t, and I heard from other people that guy is kind of a crank anyway! [editors note: the writer in question was not current Japan Times sumo writer and friend of the site, John Gunning]
Every now and then, especially when I first started, NHK would flag this video or that video, and then I’d say “oh, damn!” People would ask “where’s so and so… where’s the Kaio vs. Asashoryu match, the final match of the day?” And I’d just have to say, “yeah, it got snagged.” When people first watched my channel, they just got used to that. But it really hasn’t happened since 2011, since they changed the broadcast.
I think NHK are trying their own thing at streaming services and apps and it hasn’t quite come all together yet, and they’re really leaving me alone. And I’m very thankful about that. Because I think as much as I do it, and I’m in English (and I don’t want to toot my own horn but I’m kind of the most high profile person posting in English), there’s probably tons of people posting and reposting NHK sumo in Japanese. I don’t type in kanji for the names of the wrestlers and see all of those videos. So I’m sure that happens a lot and I’m just not aware of it. If you’re going to ask me to justify what I do, I feel like I’m spreading the sport around to people who wouldn’t normally get to see it.
Tachiai: That touches on the second part of Andy’s question too, which is that in an era where only so many fans around the world can make it to Kokugikan or one of the other venues around Japan, it’d be interesting to get your take on what role videos like yours and other online content can play in the spread of sumo as a sport. Specifically for people who can’t get there: maybe they’re in Japan and it’s too far away, or they’re in other countries and are never going to make it there. What roles do these videos play in creating more fans?
JH: Absolutely. If I lost my job tomorrow, and I had to move back to California, I would want my channel: somebody who does what I do, so that I could keep watching sumo in America. Now, I would be lucky, because the US has a large Asian-American population, so there’s a cable channel you can get called TV Japan, and it’s $25 a month, and you can watch sumo on it. But sumo is on at midnight or whatever it is in America because of the time difference.
NHK World, I gotta admit, is doing a good job. They’re stepping up, they’re putting out these [daily] summary videos. They’re fairly accessible, they’re free, and they get reposted on YouTube a lot! They’re not comprehensive, they don’t show every match of every day, they drop 1 or 2, but it’s a good way to get into the sport too.
I just hope there’s still something my channel can offer that’s not redundant. If people say “I can go to NHK World, why come to your channel?” Hopefully people find interesting things, and the fact that I’m reacting to it live most of the time is a little bit of a different flavor. A lot of people surprisingly don’t just want to see the tachiai and the outcome. They want to see the ritual. They want to see the salt throwing, and the stare down, and the replay, and all of those things that I provide.
And it’s definitely a big space! It’s a big huge thing, YouTube. I know for a fact that people in Mongolia, and people in Georgia, and Canada, and all the places that I get a lot of hits from, their source for sumo is YouTube. Maybe they don’t have that [premium] cable channel in their country. I’m sure now in Georgia, they probably do have somebody watching [and posting updates]. I know they’re going to be watching Tochinoshin closely this tournament, but who knows if they still cover sumo in Estonia now that Baruto’s gone.
So many people send me messages and say “I used to be stationed in Okinawa as a soldier,” or “I used to live in Japan where I was a teacher,” or “I was a student,” and they are reigniting their nostalgia and feelings for sumo by seeing some of my videos and starting to follow the new guys. And that’s great. That makes me feel great and I’m just glad that there’s such a great community around. Tachiai, and my channel, and people on Twitter, and what John Gunning is doing: everybody is talking about it in English, which is an important part to spread its popularity.
Tachiai: I agree. I certainly feel it because a lot of the content that I personally write for Tachiai is covering stuff that happens outside the top divisions: things that happen in the lower divisions, and how guys making their debuts are doing, and things like that. And it’s hard enough for us to see the content from the top divisions in America. There’s just absolutely NO WAY that without the folks who are there at Kokugikan at 10am shooting video from the Jonidan division and posting it on YouTube, that it would be possible. It just wouldn’t.
So finally, our last question… what are you looking forward to in sumo over the course of the next year or so?
JH: It’s hard. Talking to sumo fans, Japanese sumo fans have their own point of view because they are Japanese and they want a Japanese champion… and then they got Kisenosato and then they didn’t, know what I mean?
JH: He became Yokozuna, and then unfortunately, bad things happened and he just couldn’t keep it up. I think – and it’s funny, because I get called out for this a lot, people [think I don’t like him] – that Hakuho is the greatest of all time. Absolutely. We are in a special era to be able to watch him on a daily basis.
Tachiai: He’s trying to make it until the Olympics.
JH: He’s talked a lot about that. Sure. But we don’t want diminishing returns, he should go out on top.
Tachiai: Well, he is trying to get 1,000 wins in makuuchi. That’s the next thing. He’s 28 wins short.
JH: I hope he gets that! You know, I feel like he should get a little more respect from some of the other fans. It’s hard when you’re that consistently good and you’re always winning, people do then cheer for the underdog because they just want somebody different.
But that’s not a reflection of how good he is and how much he deserves, because if somebody could have stepped up to him, then certainly I think he would have been happy to have had a good rival. Not that Harumafuji wasn’t a good rival, or Kisenosato, but they were not and are not him. And when Asashoryu left as unceremoniously as he did, we really lost that good rivalry.
So, my hope for the next couple years is that we do see some of these new guys: the Enhos, the Abis, the Mitakeumis, these guys come up, and a new crop take over the san’yaku. And some new blood, and some new really strong rivalries that will really keep us entertained for the next 4 or 5 years. Harumafuji’s retired, and there’s talk that Kisenosato might retire this year. There was talk about Kakuryu, but that’s gone, he’s back pretty strong. I don’t think Hakuho is going to retire, but I don’t think he’s going to dominate like he did in the past. It’s the middle of 2018, so he’s got to stay wrestling for 2 more years to get to the Olympics? He could do it! He’s not that old.
Tachiai: He’s 33.
JH: Yeah, so you look around at some of the other guys [over the years] who were able to hang on. Kaio was able to hang on because he had that Ozeki “safety net.” Aminishiki has stuck around, he is going to be 40 soon. But to be a Yokozuna like Hakuho, and have everybody gunning for you, it’ll be interesting [how long he can keep going].
I’m excited about the next couple years of sumo. I think we’re going to have some great tournaments, and in each basho some story emerges that you weren’t really prepared for – along with the standard narrative: “Hakuho’s going to dominate.” What’s going to upset that apple cart may be more interesting.
I’m looking forward to it. I plan to live in Japan at least until 2021. At that point I’ll be turning 50, and then I have to think about what I want to do from there. I hope the channel stays around, and stays popular, and sumo is still a lot of fun for everyone for the next 3 or 4 years at least!
Thanks again to Jason for taking the time to chat with us. You can find his channel on YouTube by clicking here, and follow him on Twitter by clicking here.