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.
Takamisugi is now known as Chiganoura Oyakata. He was in the news a few weeks ago during the Takanohana resignation drama as his stable absorbed the former Yokozuna’s stable. It was not the first merger that tied these two together. In early 1993, the Fujishima stable housing a young hotshot, sekiwake Takahanada, folded. Takahanada then changed his shikona to Takanohana on joining the Taganoura home of Takamisugi.
At the time, Takamisugi had just reached the sanyaku after a long, grinding career illustrated in the chart below. Takamisugi had his debut more than a decade before Takanohana and reached sanyaku a few months before the future Super-zuna.
Takamisugi began his nearly 20 year career at the tender age of 15. His progression into the Makuuchi had a few setbacks, taking three years to reach Makushita, and included a brief dip back into makushita…but then a ten year spell in makuuchi before retirement in 1995, not before he was able to see the young Takanohana become the sport’s 65th Yokozuna. You will notice the last little dip into Jonidan is followed by a sharp rise as he won the Jonidan yusho.
In March 2018, Takanohana filed a written accusation with the Cabinet Office, regarding the NSK’s handling of the Takanoiwa/Harumafuji incident. He withdrew the accusation once the Takayoshitoshi incident occurred.
Just before the board elections earlier this year, Shikoroyama beya and Minato beya declared independence from the Tokitsukaze ichimon, joining no other. Following the board elections, Tatsunami broke away from the Takanohana ichimon, again, joining no other. Takanohana then asked to remove his name from his own ichimon following the Takayoshitoshi incident. This was followed by him withdrawing from the ichimon completely, and the ichimon being dissolved, leaving the remaining members, “the Onomatsu group”, unaffiliated with any ichimon. In this state of affairs, the NSK board convened in July and made a decision that it would be mandatory for each oyakata to join one of the five remaining ichimon, and the deadline for this was set for the NSK board’s regular meeting on the 27th of September. At the time of writing, the only heya still unaffiliated is Takanohana beya.
Takanohana holds an “ichidai toshiyori myoseki”. That is, he holds the right to be a toshiyori (what we usually call oyakata) under his own shikona, but only for the duration of his membership in the NSK. Upon resignation, he loses the right and cannot leave it to another or rent it out as the regular toshiyori can. This means that Takanohana beya ceases to exist upon his resignation, with the most probable outcome being that the deshi are absorbed into another heya.
Takanohana Press Conference
After all the news outlets informed us earlier that Takanohana handed in his resignation papers (“taishoku todoke”), Takanohana opened his press conference by correcting them and saying that he handed in “retirement papers” (“intai todoke” – the same “intai” as when wrestlers or other athletes finish their active careers and move on to a new career path).
He followed this by explaining that the reason for his retirement is that he received a letter from the NSK stating that they found the letter of accusation he sent to the Cabinet Office (and withdrew) to be groundless. He said that tangible and intangible pressure was made on him to acknowledge that it was groundless, and that he was told that he can’t continue as oyakata and can’t join an ichimon – which is now mandatory – unless he does so. He said that he cannot bend the truth and say that his accusation was groundless when he believes that it wasn’t, and that therefore he has decided to resign, feeling that continuing as-is will put his deshi in a position where they cannot concentrate on their sumo.
Together with his retirement paper, he also filed a request to have his deshi and other members of his heya (tokoyama, sewanin) move to Chiganoura beya. He said that years ago he had made a pact with Chiganoura oyakata to take over his deshi if anything happened to him.
He said that the heya, which is also his home, contains a dohyo, and he intends to continue with a life connected to the dohyo. When asked by reporters whether this means he will start his own sumo organization, he said that he has “no such intention at this time”. He later explained that he wants to teach sumo to children, preparing them for entrance into professional sumo.
When asked whether the fact that he is holding the meeting in a law firm means that he was going to litigate against the NSK, he denied it and said he wants to avoid any pressure or tension from hitting his deshi.
Asked whether there is a possibility of him remaining with the NSK should the latter refuse to accept his resignation, he said there was none.
The head of the public relations department of the NSK, Shibatayama oyakata, responded to the retirement announcement and the accusations.
He pointed out that to break ties with the NSK, a resignation letter (“taishoku todoke”) is required, and that they received a retirement request (“intai todoke”), and even though the meaning is taken to be the same, it does not fulfill the requirement of the rules. Once the resignation letter is properly handed, they will debate whether to accept it or not.
Further on the technical details, he pointed out that the request to transfer the members of the heya to Chiganoura beya has not been signed by Chiganoura oyakata. It will need his seal before it can be considered.
Referring to Takanohana’s claims, he said that the claim that Takanohana could not enter an ichimon unless he conceded the falsehood of his “letter of accusation” has no basis in reality. Furthermore, the claim that if he does not join an ichimon he cannot continue as oyakata is false. He went on to explain the reasons for the decision about joining an ichimon. The NSK is a public incorporation, and therefore has to keep all monetary affairs transparent. There are monies – subsidies and management fees – that are distributed between the heya, and this is done through the ichimon. With many heya unattached to ichimon, it becomes difficult to properly distribute those monies, and the process becomes opaque. The NSK is currently on a mission to improve its governance, and for this reason, too, a unanimous decision was made to require that the oyakata sort themselves into the remaining ichimon.
However, pointed out Shibatayama, there was no decision as yet as to what would be done with heya which did not belong to ichimon by the deadline. In fact, this was left to be discussed in the NSK meeting on the 27 which is why the deadline was set at that time. In any case, the foreseeable short term decision would likely be giving the still-unattached heya some additional time to further negotiate joining one.
In addition to Shibatayama oyakata, Onomatsu oyakata, the head of the Shimpan department, also spoke to the press. Onomatsu has been Takanohana’s boss since the most recent reshuffle of jobs in the NSK (following the elections), but he was also a member of his now deceased ichimon and a former supporter. He said that he tried to convince Takanohana again and again, for some time now, as two people who work together, to join one of the ichimon – “and raise the youngsters there” – but to no avail. He said he put his soul into this, and that he did not want to lose Takanohana. When asked, he said that the “letter of accusation” was never mentioned during those persuasion attempts.
Takanohana’s brother, the former Wakanohana, initially reacted to the news with “What, he could not find a single ichimon who will accept him”? Later, after the press conference, he more diplomatically said that it’s a sad decision, and as an older brother, he is worried what will become of his (estranged) little brother.
Demon Kakka, with his usual no-nonsense attitude, said he does not see, from the contents of the “letter of accusation” where the contention lies, and that it seems the two sides simply can’t sit together face to face and work it out. He urged the two sides not to betray the fans, and to find a way for Takanohana not to end up quitting.
Associates of Chiganoura oyakata say that he received Takanohana’s request to take in his deshi by telephone, at noon, right before Takanohana handed in his “retirement papers”, and was bewildered by it. “It was a one-sided phone call”, pointed the associates.
Today’s report is going to be relatively short, as the usual information (such as bouts and rikishi videos) about this Jungyo event was scarce.
There are two main reasons for that. One is that the local high school, Kanaashi Agricultural High School, has reached the high-school baseball finals for the first time in 117 years, and this event sort of outshined any minor sporting events in the area. Both local fans and local papers produced less sumo news.
The second reason was that around 10AM, while he was working with his low-ranking deshi outside the venue, Takanohana oyakata collapsed, had spasms, and lost his consciousness. By the time the ambulance arrived, he has regained his consciousness, but he was admitted to hospital for checkups and will be kyujo from the rest of the Jungyo.
He was released from the Akita hospital fairly quickly, returned to Tokyo, and will undergo further examinations at a hospital in the capital.
This further filled my Twitter feed, at the expense of actual sumo. We wish Takanohana good health (despite the fact that many of us foreign sumo fans feel that the man is either delusional or megalomaniac, he is a very popular sumo personality, and seems to be a skilled coach. And anyway, none of the above is a reason to wish ill health on anybody).
But the Jungyo event did proceed more or less as planned. So let’s start with a short video showing the building and dedication of the Akita dohyo:
On the day itself, as usual, some wrestlers were doing keiko while others were shaking hands:
Kakuryu has increased the level of his practice. Up until today he did not do any sumo on the dohyo, only offered his chest for butsukari. Today he had practice bouts vs. Shodai and Yutakayama, and overwhelemed them easily:
He also had four bouts with his uchi-deshi, but really, for Hakuho, that’s like taking a candy from a baby. He won them all (yorikiri, tsuri-dashi… poor Ishiura).
Also for the first time he joined the Torikumi. Unfortunately, I do not have the slightest information about either the order of the bouts or the results, let alone videos.
And as we have already come to expect – there was a star of the day. In fact, there are many rikishi who hail from Akita prefecture. But only one sekitori – Takekaze. He also happens to be a graduate of the same high school that got the locals so excited – Kanaashi Agricultural. He made sure to wear his Kanaashi kesho-mawashi.