COUNTERPOINT: Sumo’s Scapegoating of Asashoryu


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


By James Eriksson (jerik AT, and Arudou Debito (
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.

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. 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 (, but also no Japanese signed up these days at the entry level last July to become junior wrestlers–for the first time in history ( 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.
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 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.


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

Japan Times Aug 14 on Valentine Case, plus new JT column Aug 28


Hi Blog. About to jump on my bicycle again for a few days and catch the tail-end of the Hokkaido summer, but here’s a link to a Japan Times article on the Valentine Case, which came out shortly before my last cycle trip.

Japan Times column: “ABUSE, RACISM, LOST EVIDENCE DENY JUSTICE IN VALENTINE CASE: Nigerian’s ordeal shows that different standards apply for foreigners in court” (August 14, 2007).

Column 37 for the Japan Times Community Page
More information and documentation on this case at

In 1999, a Brazilian resident of Japan named Milton Higaki was involved in an accident that killed a schoolgirl. Rather than face justice in Japan, he fled to Brazil fearing “discrimination as a foreigner in Japanese courts.”

Although the domestic media quickly saw this as a case of crooked-foreigner-as-flight-risk, human rights attorney Yasuko Morioka took a more nuanced view, criticizing Japan’s “lack of legal hearings that consider the rights of foreign(ers).”

While fleeing from justice is not to be condoned, cases like Higaki’s are more understandable considering the increasing awareness of the scarier aspects of Japan’s judicial system.

Not only is the United Nations aware of the potential for torture in Japan’s prisons (more below), but courts here also tend to use different judicial standards when coming to decisions in cases involving non-Japanese.

Consider the Valentine case…

Webbed with links to original sources on at Original blog report on this case at

Meanwhile, next Tuesday, August 28 (Wednesday in the provinces) will see my next column coming out in the Japan Times Community Page, on how NJ are being blamed for just about anything these days, and how that adversely affects any possible assimilation.

Enjoy. Arudou Debito in Sapporo



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Summer Tangent: EW on the “Giving ‘The People’ what they want” fallacy


Hi Blog. It’s summertime. Time to unwind a bit, take a break, and switch it off. To do that, here’s an excellent essay from magazine ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY (to which I have had a subscription to for about a decade; it’s my way of switching off in the evening at bedtime; it’s also a source of much consternation and teasing from some of my activist friends, who confuse it with PEOPLE magazine…).

Article is on the movie vs. television industry and their different approach to niche markets. The latter acknowledges and appeals to them, the former ignores them and blames the public for not liking their product.

But the essay is so well-written and eye-opening that it’s worth your time, even if it’s not Japan-related. And it is inarguably a departure from the usual fare on, non?

Enjoy the summer, like you should. I’ll be on my bike cycling Hokkaido for at least a week, so signing off for a little while. Arudou Debito in Sapporo

PS: I’ll have another article out in the Japan Times Community page next Tuesday, August 14 (Wednesday in the provinces), on the Valentine Case and racial discrimination in Japan’s court decisions. Have a look!


The Final Cut
Power to the People
It’s the big Hollywood lie: Movie studios say they’re only ”giving the people what they want” — but who are these ”people”?
By Mark Harris
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY Published in issue #936 Jun 01, 2007


In the movie business, there are several ways to spot a lie. Some involve math: For instance, the sentence ”The movie was great — it was just marketed badly,” which is said every hour in Hollywood, is true exactly 3 percent of the time, whereas ”The movie was bad — it was just marketed really well,” which is almost never said, is true 97 percent of the time. Some lies are formulaic: Anybody in movies who starts a sentence ”At the end of the day…” is clearly revving up the manure spreader. But there’s an even more common lie. The sentence ”We’re just giving the people what they want,” when uttered by a studio executive, is always, always untrue.

How can you tell? Easy: There’s no such thing as ”the people.” Not anymore.

Late May is a roller-coastery time in pop culture. In TV, the season has just wrapped; we are near the end of The Sopranos and The Shield and in the middle of Lost and at the beginning of Heroes and Friday Night Lights and The Tudors and, depending upon our tastes, following any number of dark, complicated, challenging, years-long story arcs, assessing and arguing about them every week. It’s a good moment.

Meanwhile, here’s the movie slate in which the studios invested something like $750 million this month: part 3 of a movie based on a comic book. Part 3 of a movie based on a children’s book. And part 3 of a movie based on a Disneyland ride.

Not much of a contest, is it?

This is where ”We’re just giving the people what they want” comes in. It’s the defiant lie told by those who want to pretend that their failures of ambition are your fault — that because ”the people” eat what they’re fed, they must like it. The moneymen behind Spiders of the Shrekibbean brag about meaningless numbers (Spider-Man 3 had the biggest opening weekend of all time!) and shrink from meaningful ones, like the fact that Spider-Man 3 cost more and will likely gross less than the first two. And they start planning Spider-Man 4 because ”the people” want it, and try not to listen to the moviegoers saying ”Ehh, 3 was okay, the second one was better.” Because nothing that anyone says after the movie counts.

Don’t you hate being referred to as ”the people” — as if you were a big mass of grazing cows being herded from one multiplex pasture to the next every week? You don’t hear it in TV anymore, because networks know that we’ve become a niche nation, and we’re going to stay that way. We don’t all like the same shows; we don’t all want to like the same shows. When the most popular (and most people-powered) TV series is American Idol, and three-quarters of households are happily watching something else every time it’s on, talk of ”the people” as a unified entity becomes pointless. (It’s even pointless on Idol itself: Remember when ”the people” decided that they liked Taylor Hicks better than Chris Daughtry, and then months later, when their CDs came out, decided they were only kidding?)

It turns out that not caring about ”the people” is liberating. It frees you to care about your people — the 2 or 5 or 10 million who are passionate about Friday Night Lights or Rescue Me or The Wire or Battlestar Galactica or The Office, who will stay with your show for as long as it’s good, whose enthusiasms and high standards and judgments may even help, indirectly, to make it better.

The problem isn’t with American filmmakers, many of whom are doing exciting work right now (wait until fall), but with mainstream-studio-chief thinking. The people who finance big movies are still pretending they’re doing it for everyone, but the only segment of ”everyone” they’re willing to spend enormous sums of money wooing are 15-to-24-year-old males and little kids (and whomever they drag along). The true translation of ”We’re giving the people what they want” is ”We’re making the only kind of movies we know how to sell, and we’re selling them to the only demographics we know how to sell to.” Everyone else is treated as a minority or special-interest group — including women, who get one or two mid-budget films tossed at them per summer (usually the extent of studio thinking about that half of the population is ”Um…is Angelina Jolie available?”), and ”old people” (in Hollywood, that means all Americans 35 and over), who are brushed off until well after Labor Day.

Will Hollywood notice how many of ”the people” are staying home? Not yet — not as long as there are self-serving ways of tabulating actual ticket sales and another biggest weekend of all time! around every corner. But if the studios don’t figure out that ”the people” are a lot more diverse than their movies, they’re in for some bad news. Thirty-seven percent (according to a 2006 MPAA study) of Americans now feel that ”the ultimate movie-watching experience” resides not in a theater but in their own living rooms. That number is going to grow. As it does, maybe the studios will finally have to think about who ”the people” actually are — and what we really want.

Posted May 25, 2007 | Published in issue #936 Jun 01, 2007

Ijuuren publishes “Living Together with Migrants and Ethnic Minorities in Japan, NGO Policy Proposals”


Hello Blog. Solidarity with Migrants Japan (SMJ, Ijuuren) has just published a book you might be interested in ordering. Debito in Sapporo

Living Together with Migrants and Ethnic Minorities in Japan
NGO Policy Proposals

Table of Contents

Part I: At the Crossroads of Migrants Policies
Chapter 1: Toward the Future of Harmonious Multiethnic and
Multicultural Coexistence
Chapter 2: Enactment of Legislation for Human Rights and Harmonious

Part II: Over Individual Issues
Chapter 3: Right to Work and Rights of Working People
Chapter 4: Rights of Migrant Women
Chapter 5: Human Rights for Families and Children
Chapter 6: Education of Children
Chapter 7: Healthcare and Social Security Services
Chapter 8: Local Autonomy and Foreign Residents
Chapter 9: Opening the Gates to Refugees
Chapter 10: Detention and Deportation
Chapter 11: The Right to Trial
Chapter 12: Eliminating Racism and Discrimination against Foreigners

Publisher: Solidarity Network with Migrants Japan (Ijuuren, SMJ)
Date of publication: July 31, 2007, 1st English edition
Price: JPY 1500 (excluding mailing cost)
ISBN 4-87798-346-8 C0036

This book is translated from the Japanese version published in 2006.

More information on both books at



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Subject: [s-watch] 政策提言の英訳版を出版しました!
Date: August 9, 2007 6:41:41 PM JST



Living Together with Migrants and Ethnic Minorities in Japan
NGO Policy Proposals

Table of Contents

Part I: At the Crossroads of Migrants Policies
Chapter 1: Toward the Future of Harmonious Multiethnic and
Multicultural Coexistence
Chapter 2: Enactment of Legislation for Human Rights and Harmonious

Part II: Over Individual Issues
Chapter 3: Right to Work and Rights of Working People
Chapter 4: Rights of Migrant Women
Chapter 5: Human Rights for Families and Children
Chapter 6: Education of Children
Chapter 7: Healthcare and Social Security Services
Chapter 8: Local Autonomy and Foreign Residents
Chapter 9: Opening the Gates to Refugees
Chapter 10: Detention and Deportation
Chapter 11: The Right to Trial
Chapter 12: Eliminating Racism and Discrimination against Foreigners

TEL:03-5802-6033 FAX:03-5802-6034
e-mail fmwj