Frankly, I did not want to report this story at all, as it’s a demonstration of stupidity. But now that it has gone global and is busy giving sumo yet another black eye, it’s unavoidable.
During the spring Jungyo tour’s stop in Maizuru, the mayor of the town was on the dohyo speaking and collapsed. Many people rushed to the dohyo to help, including medical professionals that were present to enjoy a day of sumo. They applied CPR and first aid techniques to sustain the mayor until he could be transported to the hospital. The Mayor is going to be ok, it seems. The quick work and skillful application of medicine saved the day. That’s the good part of the story. Now the stupid.
Several of the highly trained medical professionals were women. Did they care that the dohyo is supposed to be a sacred place were women were not allowed? Hell no! These were dedicated healers. A fellow human was in peril, and they were going to go save him. So far, only slightly stupid. Oh, but then one of the younger gyoji took to the PA system and directed the women to leave the dohyo. Not once, but several times. Of course, it was captured on video, of course it was posted to social media.
Sumo loves to be a sport of unchanging and unyielding tradition. As a westerner my perspective is not the Japanese perspective. As I mention at least once per basho, most of us in the west are outsiders to this land, this culture and this sport. But at some point, common sense had to have kicked in. Look here, Sumo Association of Japan, if you want to make sure no women doctors or nurses try to rescue the hurt and injured from your sacred space, you are going to need a set of medical folks who are on call.
Chairman Hakkaku rightfully apologized later, stating “It was an inappropriate response in a life-threatening situation,”. Damn straight Hakkaku. Furthermore, it was an unforced error and loss of face for a great sport that has been greatly degraded over the past year. For the chairman to try and pass this off on the inexperience of the young gyoji is inexcusable.
The only clear winners here are the mayor of Maizuru, who lived to see another sunrise, and Takanohana, who through a majestic stroke of luck is no longer the biggest asshole in sumo for a few days.
Again, I am an outsider, but I am going to guess that my favorite sport is going to suffer a well-deserved set back in the people’s hearts from this pointless insult.
Comments for this post are now closed. Some great and thoughtful discussion from our highly-valued readers, but we were swerving into things like trans-gender issues that have nothing to do with sumo. Thank you for understanding.
Yesterday, the NSK board convened. After a couple of meetings in which the newly elected board was set up and various toshiyori were assigned duties, it was finally time to deliberate the penalties of various trouble makers.
Takayoshitoshi and Takanohana
As you may recall, in the middle of the basho, shin-juryo Takayoshitoshi decided to beat up his tsukebito in front of many witnesses, and was pulled out of the basho as a result. His punishment for the deed is a suspension for one basho. He will not do the spring jungyo and will forfeit the Natsu basho. He is allowed to practice at his heya.
This of course implies a sharp drop in rank. Maybe even as far as sandanme.
The stablemaster of every trouble rikishi also has to bear punishment for his part in raising and guiding his deshi improperly. However, in Takanohana’s case, there was more – he has continued his games with the NSK and played hooky from the arena. He wasn’t around when the twin did the deed, and he should have.
There was a faction in the NSK – allegedly the Nishonoseki ichimon – which called for him to be suspended from all activities this time. This would have prevented him from actually guiding his deshi, and may have required fostering them temporarily to other heya in his ichimon. However, the Takanohana ichimon begged for a lighter sentence, and eventually the board decided on yet another demotion. He now has the lowest possible rank for a member of the NSK: toshiyori.
The Minezaki scandal
We haven’t mentioned this story in a post so I need to fill you in. A short time before the Takayoshitoshi story broke, it was announced that a rikishi from Minezaki beya has beaten up a junior on four separate occasions, some of them after the Harumafuji scandal. The junior rikishi retired as a result, but the story only came to the knowledge of the stablemaster from a letter sent by the former rikishi’s father. He promptly reported it to the NSK and they announced it publically after verifying it with the parties involved.
The names of the parties have not been revealed by the Japanese press, but only one rikishi retired from that heya recently: Kaigo. As for the assailant, a single rikishi from Minezaki beya pulled out of the tournament following the publication: Arawashi’s tsukebito, Hikarugenji. Connect the dots.
And his punishment was decided yesterday as well. He, too, will be suspended from one basho. Again, a drop in rank is implied. Hikarugenji was sandanme 25 in the Haru basho.
Minezaki oyakata was docked 10% of his salary for the next two months.
The Osunaarashi wrap-up
At the time of the announcement of the Osunaarashi scandal, his stablemaster served as a trustee. This means that he was not considered a member of the NSK and could not be punished (though through some regulation gymnastics, he could still keep his heya…)
However, in yesterday’s meeting he was docked 10% of his salary by his own request. At the same opportunity, he also declared that he will not be holding a danpatsu-shiki (ceremonial cutting of top-knot) for Osunaarashi. Indeed, the former rikishi is already shorn.
The punishments seem extremely light. Yet another demotion for Takanohana, after he clearly didn’t repent following the previous one and indeed said he does not accept nor understand it? It remains to be seen if the former dai-yokozuna will quit his attention-seeking behavior and start on a more constructive path.
As for the two violent rikishi, what message does that send to parents who send their kids to professional sumo? “Nothing has changed. Your kid may well be beaten up if a senior doesn’t like the way he makes the chanko. There is no incentive for the seniors to keep their hands in their obi.” After Hakkaku declared that stopping violence in sumo is the top item on his agenda, I would have expected a more severe punishment.
An old Jewish saying goes: “He who is kind to the cruel ends up being cruel to the kind”.
The story broke out a few days after the beginning of the Hatsu basho. NHK found out that Osunaarashi has rear-ended a car while visiting the Nagano prefecture with his wife, on January 3rd. There were no bodily injuries, and Osunaarashi apparently compensated the other car’s owner.
However, the Egyptian wrestler failed to inform either the NSK or his stablemaster of this incident. Admitting to this failure to report, he was put on punitive kyujo for the rest of the basho.
The problems were only beginning for the young former Maegashira. The first problem was that driving is strictly forbidden to all active rikishi. This is not an obscure sub-item in some rule book nobody pays attention to. All rikishi know this and this is the reason why you see many rikishi in public transport or riding bicycles (motor bikes are also forbidden).
There are precedents for rikishi breaking this regulation. Famously, Kyokutenho (currently Tomozuna oyakata) has rear-ended a car waiting at a traffic light back in 2007 and caused its driver a minor injury. Besides his legal proceedings, he was punished by the NSK with a suspension for one basho and 30% were docked from his salary for three months.
If Osunaarashi had reported the incident and admitted to driving that car, he would have probably fared no worse, especially given that there were no injuries. However, he made a serious error of judgement, and gave various conflicting statements to both the police and the NSK. He claimed that he had an international driving license. It was found that the license was not valid. An International driving license is valid in Japan for only one year from entering the country. After that, you have to acquire a Japanese driving license. So he was driving without a license.
The exact order of the statements is not entirely clear, but apparently at this point his wife claimed that she was driving the car. However, evidence including footage from a surveillance camera showed Osunaarashi in the driver’s seat. he then admitted to the police that he was driving the car.
It was at this point that the story was revealed to the NSK. However, in his hearing by the NSK crisis committee, though he admitted to not reporting the incident, he and his lawyer continued to claim that his wife was the one driving the car. His explanation was that his wife was pregnant, and that because she only had an Egyptian license, not an International one, he had switched seats with her to protect her, because he believed his International license was good.
This put him in a position in which he was lying either to the police or to the NSK. The NSK called him in for questioning several times more, and the details of the story kept changing, according to Kagamiyama oyakata.
Since then, the Nagano police found out that he has been driving not just on the occasion that ended in the accident, but also twice before. Once in Nakano city on January 1st, and then twice in the town of Yamanouchi. Of course, they were only investigating within their own jurisdiction. The police then filed charges with the Nagano prosecution.
Today, the Nagano prosecutor decided on a summary indictment for three counts of driving without a valid license. Within the same day, he was fined ¥500,000. (It is perhaps noteworthy that this is the same sum Harumafuji was fined for injuring Takanoiwa. This suggests that cooperation with police makes a world of difference). He also paid the fine within the day.
However, this still leaves him to face the NSK, and this is where it is probably going to get a lot more serious for the popular Egyptian. The NSK board is going to hold a regular meeting on March 9th, and the subject of Osunaarashi’s punishment is on the agenda. They intend to listen to him and his lawyer again before making their judgement. However, the prospects do not look good. In addition to breaking the NSK regulation, he broke the law, and he was dishonest. The press expects a severe punishment, not ruling out a dismissal.
Dismissal is the heaviest weapon the NSK has. Below it there is a “recommendation to retire”. The recommendation becomes mandatory if the rikishi doesn’t hand in his resignation. There is a subtle difference between the two punishments, but both of them mean that Osunaarashi will not be mounting the dohyo again. Of course, there is still a possibility that they will decide on a long suspension and additional fine. Osunaarashi is already heading for Makushita following his forced kyujo, so there is no possibility to dock his salary, as he won’t have one.
Also expect his stablemaster to be punished. In the case of Kyokutenho, his stablemaster’s salary was also docked. Otake oyakata has already apologized several times for this unfortunate incident. Although Osunaarashi did not report to him, the NSK usually takes stablemasters to task for the scandals caused by their deshi, viewing it as lack of proper guidance.
Tachiai will keep you updated on the final decision.
In an article in today’s Japan Times, it is reported that police have decided to refer Takanoiwa’s assault by Yokozuna Harumafuji to a prosecutor for adjudication. This does not mean that Haruamfuji will be charged with a crime, simply that police think there is sufficient evidence to allow a lawyer for the state to decide if he should be charged with assault.
During police questioning, Harumafuji did admit to hitting Takanoiwa with his open hands, his fists and the remote to a karaoke machine during an attempt to discipline Takanoiwa for poor manners. It should be noted that both rikishi were intoxicated at the time. The incident happened in front of a sizable contingent of sumotori during an overnight stop on sumo’s fall jungyo promotional tour.
It has been reported that both Harumafuji and Takanoiwa are cooperating with police. The same cannot be said for the Sumo Kyokai’s investigation, where Takanoiwa and Takanoiwa’s Oyakata, the former Yokozuna Takanohana, are impeding progress. Takanohana’s behavior in the matter, and in the events leading up to the scandal breaking during the Kyushu basho, have been difficult to understand. Reports in the past week have suggested that Takanohana, who leads the jungyo promotional tour segment of the Sumo Kyokai, will be suspended for not maintaining proper order and discipline.
For fans wondering what action the Sumo Kyokai will take, I suggest that we will have no word until the final day of the Kyushu basho on Sunday the 26th. Typically the Yokozuna Deliberation Council meets following each tournament, and there will likely be a good deal of commentary from that body.
During the day Friday, US Time, NHK World has been leading their broadcast (video at the link) with an update on the investigation into Harumafuji’s assault of Takanoiwa. Leading the report is news that Harumafuji told police investigators that he did attack Takanoiwa, but only used his hands, rather than a beer bottle as earlier reports stated.
This comes on the back of reports this morning Japan time that the health report filed by Takanoiwa and his Oyakata, former Yokozuna Takanohana, may have included descriptions of injuries sustained well before his hospitalization. This includes the skull fracture and the cerebral-spinal fluid reported in Takanoiwa’s ears. From Tachiai’s own lead Japanese press-hawk, Herouth;
The Fukuoka hospital that issued Takanoiwa's medical certificate to the NSK says "We were surprised to hear reports that serious injuries are included".
In the report, the "skull fracture" and "cranial fluid leak" are detached from the first three items.https://t.co/dkZTvacyx2
If true, this departs greatly from the events that were reported when the story broke earlier this week, and greatly change the context of the scandal. Tachiai will continue to track this story as the investigation continues.
The story broke Monday evening US time, and when I read the first version (published in a ridiculously large font on Sponichi), I could not actually believe what I was reading. Granted it was all in Kanji, so I assumed that I had completely blown the translation. The core of the story was that during a Jungyo tour stop in Tottori in late October, Harumafuji attended a dinner party with a number of Mongolian rikishi. Over the course of the dinner, many of the rikishi became intoxicated.
During the course of their drinking and carrying on, Takanoiwa took a blow to the head that resulted in damage to his skull, his brain, his inner ear and general mayhem. Now it seems that this blow was delivered by Yokozuna Harumafuji, wielding a beer bottle.
The story was not immediately reported, but the press started digging when Takanoiwa was kyujo from day 1, with a rather worrisome list of injuries. At the start of day 3, the Japanese press exploded with the news. It was deemed important enough that it even appeared on NHK World’s English language news broadcast an hour after it broke.
In spite of my early disbelief in such an outrageous and sensational story could be true, the wide broadcast of the basics of the story seem to indicate there is some veracity to the claims.
October 26th – (day) Jungyo tour stop in Tottori
October 26th – (evening) Nikkan Sports has put together the details of the story based on evidence from participants and/or their heya staff. There was a dinner party in which all three Mongolian Yokozuna, as well as Terunofuji and Takanoiwa, who are considered “Local” in Tottori, having gone to high school there, and a few Japanese rikishi and others, totaling around 10 people, took part.The party itself went well enough, but then the participants continued to an after-party. It was at this point that some of those present became inebriated. Harumafuji took exception to the greeting he was given by Takanoiwa, which he deemed was insufficient, and started berating him, when Takanoiwa’s smartphone, stuck in his obi, started ringing. As Takanoiwa attempted to answer the call, the Yokozuna exclaimed “Not when somebody is talking to you!”, took a beer bottle and smashed it on the right side of Takanoiwa’s forehead.Takanoiwa fell down bleeding, and the Yokozuna dropped on top of him and continued to deliver some additional 20-30 blows with his bare hands, while Takanoiwa tried to fend him off. Apparently, Terunofuji, who was within range, also received some of the blows.Hakuho tried to come in between the parties and end the fight, only to be thrusted away by the enraged Harumafuji, who also snapped at Kakuryu: “It’s all because of you, you’re not guiding his behavior”.
October 26th – (night) Takanoiwa receives initial medical attention.
October 29th – Takanohana (Takanoiwa’s Oyakata) files a police report, detailing the assault.
November 3rd – Kasugano oyakata and head of Crisis Management Kagamiyama oyakata have telephone conversations with Isegahama oyakata and Takanohana oyakata to understand what happened.
November 5th – 9th – Takanoiwa is admitted to a Fukuoka hospital. He stays for 5 days.
November 10th – Takanoiwa reports kyujo for the Kyushu basho.
November 12th – Takanoiwa hands the Sumo Kyokai his medical certificate which he receives from the Fukuoka hospital: Concussion (脳震盪); laceration on the front left of the head (左前頭部裂傷); external inflammation of the right ear (右外耳道炎); fractured skull (右中頭蓋底骨折); suspected cerebrospinal fluid leak (髄液漏の疑い).
November 13th – Details of the assault appear first in Sponichi, then rapidly spread throughout the Japanese press. When questioned by the press, he does not deny the attack, but instead apologies for the embarrassment and problems he has caused. Harumafuji and Isegahama Oyakata travel to the Kyushu location of Takanohana, but former Yokozuna Takanohana deftly avoided any interaction with the Isegahama delegation. The scene created some very somber and depressing photographs of Harumafuji.
Simply put, Yokozuna Harumafuji is done. As a Yokozuna, he holds a high rank not only in the Sumo world, but in Japanese society. He has caused a tremendous loss of mentsu (メンツ), meaning reputation (literally “face”) for himself, his Oyakata, the Sumo Association and many others.
I have no doubt that Harumafuji takes his Yokozuna rank quite seriously, and I would guess he has already offered multiple times to fall on his sword and resign his rank and leave the world of sumo. I am also sure that will happen soon, but only after the Sumo Association figure out a way for him to do it while minimizing the damage to sumo as a whole.
This entire episode is sad, depressing an horrific. Harumafuji did something really unacceptable, but at the same time he has been behind in a number of really kind and generous acts across the years. I can’t help but wonder if this is being cast in the worst possible light right now for some other reason.
Harumafuji apologies in the most profound way, and resigns his role as Yokozuna, and fades away. This is a given, the only question is if he will be allowed to resign or if the Sumo Kyokai will insist on ejecting him as a display of their control over sumo.
Jungyo will be altered, within a few short weeks we have seen a the press cite the intense jungyo schedule for a breakdown in sumo training, and now we have a high profile event that could be used to claim a breakdown in discipline during jungyo.
Damage for Takanohana, as the NSK’s man handling the Jungyo, and the Oyakata for Takanoiwa, a lot of this insanity came on his watch. He has, perhaps, suffered the greatest amount of embarrassment.
Damage for Isegahama, for some time, they have been a leading stable. Now they are about to lose their Yokozuna in disgrace, their Ozeki is damaged beyond repair, and their reputation is in tatters.
Damage for the Sumo Kyokai, sumo had been in a well earned ascendence both in Japan, and globally. Scandals happen in every public endeavor, but if Harumafuji’s behavior is as described above, it does incalculable damage to sumo’s brand and reputation. This is especially acute for the rest of the Mongolian rikishi cohort, who already endure some public scorn because they are not Japanese.
For the Japanese press’ take on the matter, this report from the Japan Times is worth the read. Sadly the article is quick to label the entire sport as “yet to improve its reputation tainted by scandals over match-fixing, violence and bullying”
For readers who are willing to wade into Kanji web sites, some links to help you come to grips with the story: