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 (firstname.lastname@example.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.
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.
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.
NB: Views expressed in this essay are generally those expressed by James Eriksson, with some embellishments from Arudou Debito.
7 comments on “COUNTERPOINT: Sumo’s Scapegoating of Asashoryu”
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
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.
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.
“The facts are that there were 70 new entrants in March , and
another seven in May . 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
– – –
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…
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.
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.
Japan Today mentions the impending criminal charges against the stable.
About time! We have people taken into police custody with no evidence whatsoever, for example:
yet a sumo stable that gets away with a suspicious death for three months! Pretty amazing judicial system.
Arudou Debito in Sapporo
Sumo stable master Tokitsukaze faces charges over wrestler’s suspicious death
Mainichi Shinbun September 26, 2007
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
毎日新聞 2007年9月26日 10時34分