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  • COUNTERPOINT: Sumo’s Scapegoating of Asashoryu

    Posted by Dr. ARUDOU, Debito on August 30th, 2007

    COUNTERPOINT
    An occasional series from Debito.org for contrarian views. Ghostwriting for busy people who would otherwise be their own authors.
    ==================================
    THE SCAPEGOATING OF ASASHORYU
    All the media attention is a diversion from what’s really wrong with Sumo

    ==================================

    By James Eriksson (jerik AT indigo.plala.or.jp), and Arudou Debito (debito@debito.org)
    Released August 30, 2007

    The Sumo Association has recently tag-teamed with the Japanese media to lay into Asashoryu—the Mongolian wrestler turned Sumo champ who has enjoyed a thorough winning streak. That is, until now.

    Asashoryu, even at age 26, has dominated the sport. As Sumo’s sole Yokozuna (Grand Champion) for years now, his winning streaks and stellar win records (21 tournament wins so far) have been the stuff of legends, bringing attention back to a lackluster sport, and an inspiration to the Mongolian people who view him as a national hero.

    But also earning him a place in the notoriety books has been his behavior. He has been known for fits of temper, flights of fancy, and throwing his weight around both figuratively and literally, in ways many felt were unbecoming the dignity of the sport.
    http://www.economist.com/world/asia/displaystory.cfm?story_id=9717691

    I believe these outbursts are symptoms of the unmentionable: the possible use of steroids. One of the downsides of the benefits of steroids (bulk and quick reaction time, all fundamental to Sumo) is the flash temper tantrums. And as far as I know, there are no enforced bans or even tests for the presence of steroids in Sumo rikishi.

    Never mind. He kept winning, and winning is everything in Sumo. (To the degree where in 1993, two successful Sumo stables merged so their wrestlers would face each other less, thus lose less in tournaments. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Takanohana_stable) And once Asa won enough to reach the top rank, people would support him because he’s the only Yokozuna out there. Within reason, of course.

    The reasons came. First, a new Yokozuna, Hakuho (also of Mongolia) was anointed in May 2007. Meaning Asashoryu was now expendable.

    Then, his little excursion to Mongolia this summer further chummed the waters.

    Asa went home ostensibly to recover from a sports injury. But then he was videoed playing a game of soccer. Not only with a lot of vim apparently inappropriate for an injured athlete, but also having a good time and performing for the cameras. Never mind that he has been trained to do precisely that by Sumo.

    People might say that this adultery with another sport and apparent cross purposes might be a breach of Sumo “etiquette”. But I believe Sumo etiquette works both ways here. Sumo is a sport for people who do what they’re told. Asa has been doing what his masters have been telling him to do for years now. Then when an authority as high as the Mongolian government (not to mention Japanese soccer start Nakata, who also happened to be there) invites him more than once to join in a friendly game for charity, he was probably not in a position to say no. I believe the press would have likewise criticized him if he had.

    But I believe the whole soccer-Sumo scandal is a smokescreen. The real reason Asa was finally called to the carpet for a change was because Sumo as a sport is in a panic, and needs a scapegoat.

    Not only has Sumo faced earlier this year yet another slew of allegations about bout fixing (http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/nn20070312f1.html), but also no Japanese signed up these days at the entry level last July to become junior wrestlers–for the first time in history (http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/ss20070702a2.html). Even though there is now another Yokozuna in existence, Asa was apparently needed this summer for recruitment purposes.

    Not that difficult to understand why youths are shying away from Sumo, actually. Hazing in the junior ranks of the sport is rife and well-known. And it has gotten progressively worse–to the point where people are being killed by it.

    Witness the death of wrestler Tokitaizan last June 26, after a “lynching”, where the body was found with a torn ear, broken teeth, broken bones, and cigarette burns.
    http://www.debito.org/?p=464#comment-53538
    Where was the media then? A blurb here and there, but coverage was definitely incommensurate to the degree of controversy a death should entail.

    Instead, the media circus has sensed the blood in the water around Asa, and the Sumo Association has fanned the frenzy by slashing his pay, banning him from two tournaments, and confining him to house arrest (a degree of policing power which cannot be legal!).

    Asa, meanwhile, is watching his world collapse around him. He is said to have suffered a mental breakdown, and needs treatment either here or in Mongolia. His wife has left him too—even left the country. Then there is the new charge of tax evasion. Speculation is growing that he’ll either leave Sumo for K1 pseudo-boxing (the Elephant’s Graveyard—witness former Yokozuna Akebono—for many an athlete in Japan), or abscond with all his riches back to Mongolia never to return—which would be a major black eye for the sport. He just yesterday actually did leave Japan for Mongolia, so breaths are being held to see if he ever returns. (After all, probably Sumo needs Asa more than vice versa at this stage.)

    But again, this is all a diversion from the real story: That Sumo’s house of cards is being shaken.

    We have a death deterring people from joining a system with institutionalized bullying, renewed allegations of bout fixing, the very real possibility of bodybuilding chemicals banned in most world sports, and the entirely possible death of the Sumo’s credibility that the Ohnaruto Scandal of 1996 (where a veteran wrestler and trainer, Ohnaruto, and commentator Hashimoto Seiichiro both became sick and died on the same day in the same hospital of unknown causes—shortly before they were to go before the press and spill the beans on charges of bout fixing etc.; see http://www.banzuke.com/96-3/msg00198.html) would have done a lot sooner.

    Time for people to wake up, and realize that something smells fishy in Asashoryu’s persecution. This time it’s not the chanko nabe.

    ENDS

    NB: Views expressed in this essay are generally those expressed by James Eriksson, with some embellishments from Arudou Debito.

    7 Responses to “COUNTERPOINT: Sumo’s Scapegoating of Asashoryu”

    1. g-harada@hue.ac.jp Says:

      It is sad indeed to witness Japanese citizen- Debito, again denegrate his newly adopted country. Now you have graduated from protecting discriminated onsen (hot spring) customers to now defending a Mongol who should at least recognize the implications of reaping the benefits of being the Grand Champion of a host-nation’s national sport. I am confident a Japanese wrestler would make many more efforts to rerspect Mongolian wrestling then this as you suggest “manipulated/scapgoated” Mongolian.

      Before this, as you allege- steroided bad boy, spirals further into his diagonised depression, he should contemplate all the benefits he has up to now and could have reaped as Yokozuna.

      Before, he tried to make some extra income “on the side” while dissing the organinzation…because he was injured…!!!?? “Embellishments” indeed Debito.

      May I add you made more sense in the role as natinalized Japanese defender of hot spring rights for foreign residents vs. another exuse making ex-American embellisher who should be translating the works of Kobayashi Yoshinore, pro-bono.

      Now, that might EARN you a well-deserved Kunsho from the Japanese Royal Family.

      ========================

      –THOUGHT THIS MIGHT HAPPEN, ESPECIALLY FROM THE DIEHARD SUMO FANS WHO WILL TREAT ANY POSSIBLE DEFENSE OF ASASHORYU AS A PERSONAL AFFRONT, AND GET PERSONAL BACK IN THEIR CRITICISM.

      READ THE DISCLAIMERS PROPERLY. “EMBELLISHMENTS” ARE MATTERS OF STYLE, NOT SUBSTANCE. THE THOUGHTS ARE THE AUTHOR’S–JAMES ERIKSSON’S. I PUT THIS ESSAY OUT BECAUSE I BELIEVE HE MADE COMPELLING ARGUMENTS WHICH DESERVE TO BE HEARD, NOT NECESSARILY BECAUSE I AGREE WITH THEM.

      YOU KNOW JAMES’S EMAIL ADDRESS, SO MAIL HIM THESE THOUGHTS. THEN AGAIN, YOU CAN’T–BECAUSE MOST OF THESE CRITICISMS ARE ESSENTIALLY DIRECTED AT ME, NOT AT THE ARGUMENTS MADE. THAT IS THE PROBLEM HERE. PEOPLE GETTING SO EMOTIONAL ABOUT THE ISSUE THAT THEY CAN’T ARGUE STRAIGHT ANY MORE.

      SIMMER DOWN AND DON’T SHOOT THE MESSINGER. DEBITO

    2. debito Says:

      DOREEN SIMMONS REPLIES:

      Thanks Debito. It’s one for the collection – par for the course.

      Just to take up one easily-proven lie: Onaruto had _already gone_ public at the time of the suspicious deaths of himself and his former supporters’ club manager. He had published a whole series of articles in Shukan Post. His allegations had been widely reported and discussed, and he had appeared at a press conference at the FCCJ. His articles had been collected into book form, and the book was ready for launching when the two died.

      Undoubtedly their deaths were fishy, and the police should have pursued the matter more thoroughly — but the obvious question is, who did it, and why? To prevent him from spilling _what_ beans???

      Thanks for keeping me in the loop.

      Doreen Simmons
      jz8d-smmn@asahi-net.or.jp

    3. debito Says:

      GEN KANAI REPLIES:

      Doreen Simmons has exposed the shoddy journalism around the “no
      Japanese signed up these days at the entry level last July” bit.

      http://www.nbr.org/foraui/message.aspx?LID=5&pg=26&MID=29100

      “The facts are that there were 70 new entrants in March [2007], and
      another seven in May [2007]. Certainly these figures are way below
      what they used to be — especially in the days when there were fewer
      options for big lads who weren’t much good at school lessons — but
      to make articles for the foreign press out of a zero figure in July,
      while ignoring 77 entrants earlier in the year, is not exactly
      respectable journalism.”

      – – –
      mailto:gen@kanai.net
      http://kanai.net/weblog

    4. KokuRyu Says:

      Good stuff, Debito.

      I’ve never been much of a sports fan, and when I first arrived in Japan I had no enthusiasm either for sumo until a fellow foreigner explained the sport as thus: “You’ve got two of the biggest guys anywhere throwing themselves at each other like a couple of tanks. You think it’s all just fat? Well, they need that blubber to keep from being thrown around by the other guy, and think of all the muscle packed on their bodies!” Needless to say, I took the sport more seriously after that, and, to this day, sumo is the only sport I care about, which makes the recent developments involving Asashoryu seem to be pretty tragic. Would like to hear more about those suspicious deaths, too…

    5. Andrew Smallacombe Says:

      Some of these theories are interesting, and while I don’t most of them, they are useful in exploring possibilities.
      My own view is that Asashoryu’s behaviour has been a liability for a long time and the soccer scandal was a mixture of a) the straw that broke the camel’s back; and b) a direct infringment against the Sumo Association that does not reflect on them as a body.

      My main concern with the whole media beat-up is that Asashoryu’s nationality (or lack thereof) is called into question over his individual actions.

      Too bad the Japanese media is following his every move and leaving no stone unturned, but can’t tell us exactl how much Yuriko Koike spent redigning the Ministry of Defence decor, or where those lost pensions went.

    6. debito Says:

      UPDATE SEPT 27, 2007:

      The Tokitaizan story finally gets the attention it deserves, a full three months after his death:

      Toku Da Ne TV this morning devoted its opening story to his case (his real name, Saitou, is the one mentioned).

      Mentions being hit in the head with a beer bottle (by the Oyakata, no less), not to mention the cigarette burns and apparent blows from a staff. Cause of death now rendered as external shocks to the system, not a weak heart. Found out after the autopsy.

      All part of “kawaigari” (rendered charitably as a) making one stronger through tough love, or less so, b) strict punishment).

      He tried to escape from his stable three times, as Saitou apparently found his stablemates “frightening”. His father tearfully mentioned in an interview that he told his son to stick it out. Regrets the decision.

      This blows the whole silly debate on Big Daikon out of the water.
      http://www.bigdaikon.org/board/viewtopic.php?t=100076&start=60

      Japan Today mentions the impending criminal charges against the stable.
      http://www.japantoday.com/jp/news/419272

      About time! We have people taken into police custody with no evidence whatsoever, for example:
      http://www.debito.org/index.php/?p=547
      yet a sumo stable that gets away with a suspicious death for three months! Pretty amazing judicial system.

      Arudou Debito in Sapporo

    7. debito Says:

      Sumo stable master Tokitsukaze faces charges over wrestler’s suspicious death
      Mainichi Shinbun September 26, 2007
      http://mdn.mainichi-msn.co.jp/national/news/20070926p2a00m0na019000c.html

      NAGOYA — Police are poised to form a case against sumo stablemaster Tokitsukaze and several wrestlers over the sudden death of grappler Tokitaizan in June, investigators said.

      Investigators are reportedly set to accuse Tokitsukaze of inflicting injuries on 17-year-old Tokitaizan, while several other wrestlers face charges of inflicting injuries on the grappler resulting in death.

      When questioned by police, Tokitsukaze said that the day before Tokitaizan died, he hit the wrestler with a beer bottle, and the other wrestlers reportedly admitted having attacked Tokitaizan as a group.

      Tokitaizan, whose real name is Takashi Saito, collapsed during a training session in Inuyama, Aichi Prefecture, on June 26, and was confirmed dead a few hours later.

      Aichi Prefectural Police said that on the day before his death, Tokitaizan escaped from the sumo stable, but was dragged back by other wrestlers in the stable. He had reportedly escaped from the stable several times in the past, so that evening Tokitsukaze hit him in the forehead with a beer bottle, leaving him with a cut. Afterwards, the other wrestlers apparently teamed up and beat him.

      Investigators said the other wrestlers had sometimes attacked Tokitaizan in the past, burning him with cigarettes. Burn marks were found on several places on his body.

      The hospital where Tokitaizan was taken following his collapse listed the cause of his death as a heart problem. An autopsy conducted by police on June 28 concluded that he had probably died from shock brought on by multiple external injuries, but the exact cause of his death could not be pinpointed. The tissue of his body is currently being tested. (Mainichi)
      September 26, 2007

      ====================================

      時津風親方:力士急死巡り傷害の疑いで立件へ 愛知県警
      毎日新聞 2007年9月26日
      http://www.mainichi-msn.co.jp/shakai/jiken/news/20070926k0000e040015000c.html
      けいこ中に急死した時津風部屋の序ノ口力士、時太山(ときたいざん)
       愛知県犬山市で今年6月、大相撲時津風部屋の序ノ口力士、斉藤俊(たかし)さん(当時17歳)=時太山(ときたいざん)、新潟県出身=がけいこ中に急死した問題で、愛知県警捜査1課と犬山署は、師匠の時津風親方(57)=本名・山本順一、元小結双津竜=を傷害の疑いで、兄弟子数人を傷害致死容疑で立件する方針を固めた。時津風親方は県警の調べに対し、斉藤さんが死亡する前日に斉藤さんを「ビール瓶で殴った」と供述しており、兄弟子も集団暴行したことを認めているという。
       調べによると、斉藤さんは6月26日午前11時40分ごろ、同県犬山市犬山の寺院の敷地内にある同部屋のけいこ場で、名古屋場所に向けた兄弟子とのぶつかりげいこ中に倒れ、午後2時10分、搬送先の病院で死亡が確認された。病院での死因は虚血性心疾患とされた。
       県警のこれまでの調べによると、斉藤さんは死亡する前日の同月25日午前、部屋から逃げ出し、直後に兄弟子らに連れ戻されたという。斉藤さんは4月に入門。それまでにも数回、部屋を逃げ出したことがあったため、同日夜、時津風親方がビール瓶で斉藤さんの額を殴り、切り傷を負わせたらしい。
       この後、兄弟子らが斉藤さんに集団で暴行したという。兄弟子らは以前から度々、斉藤さんに暴行したり、たばこの火を体に押しつけるなどしており、遺体にはやけどの跡が数カ所あった。
       死亡した26日は午前7時半ごろからけいこの予定だったが、斉藤さんは起きてこず、午前11時10分ごろから兄弟子とけいこを始めたという。約30分後に土俵上で倒れ、しばらく近くの通路で寝かされていたが、様子がおかしいことに気付き、午後0時50分ごろ、119番通報した。病院に運ばれた際には心肺停止状態だったという。
       県警が同月28日に行った解剖結果では「多発外傷によるショック死が考えられる」とされたが、死因の特定はできず、現在、遺体の組織検査を行っている。検査結果を待って立件する方針だ。【米川直己】
       ◇双葉山創設の名門
       時津風部屋は、協会理事長にもなった第35代横綱・双葉山が興した名門。現役中に立浪部屋から独立し「双葉山相撲道場」を創設。引退後に年寄「時津風」を襲名し時津風部屋となった。第42代横綱・鏡里をはじめ大内山、北葉山、豊山らの大関を輩出。その後、理事長となった元大関・豊山(先代)が部屋を継承。先代の定年退職に伴い、02年に現親方が師匠になった。秋場所番付発表時の所属力士は15人。幕内に秋場所殊勲賞の豊ノ島や、時天空、時津海。十両に霜鳳がいる。
      英文を読む
      毎日新聞 2007年9月26日 10時34分 

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