The Japan Sumo Association’s Surprising Impatience in Addressing the Hakuho Bullying Incident | FRIDAY DIGITAL

The Japan Sumo Association’s Surprising Impatience in Addressing the Hakuho Bullying Incident

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On April 3, Miyagino Oyakata visited Isekehama Oyakata for the first time.

Former yokozuna Harumafuji’s Miyagino stable moved to Isegahama stable on the 7th. Miyagino stablemaster was held responsible for the violence involving former rikishi Hakuho Sho and received sanctions, including demotion by two ranks. During the Haru Basho held in Osaka in March, Miyagino stablemaster was relieved of his duties, and Tamagaki stablemaster of the Isegahama ichimon (former komusubi Chionofuji) acted as interim stablemaster.

At the end of March, it was decided at a board meeting to transfer Miyagino stable to Isegahama stable. While violence issues in sumo stables have been frequently discussed, the fact that the dissolution of Miyagino stable was considered has raised voices of unfair Harumafuji bullying. An evening newspaper journalist revealed,

“The Compliance Committee of the Japan Sumo Association (chaired by Takayuki Aonuma, former chief prosecutor of Nagoya High Public Prosecutors Office) even suggested ‘rehabilitation is impossible, and Miyagino stable should be dissolved’. Although the executive ultimately decided on the transfer of the stablemaster (Miyagino oyakata) and all the wrestlers to Isegahama stable, it was one of the most severe punishments among past cases of violence in sumo stables.”


It’s rumored that the chairman of the Japan Sumo Association, Yasutoshi Hakkaku, is under more pressure than stablemaster Miyagino.

The reason the Japan Sumo Association’s executive committee, led by Chairman Hakkaku (former Yokozuna Hokutoumi), is pushing so hard to corner stablemaster Miyagino might come as a surprise.


“Despite being effectively in his fifth term, it’s unclear who will succeed Hakkaku, and that’s a key factor. In the recent board reshuffle after the March tournament, the position of No. 2 in the association’s executive committee, the head of the business division, unexpectedly went to former Komusubi Tochinowaka, now stablemaster Kasugano. This was surprising to many in the sumo world, considering he was involved in a physical assault incident involving one of his disciples back in 2011,” a journalist explains.


In the midst of the spotlight on violence issues, one might wonder if the Sumo Association is experiencing a shortage of talent, having to promote someone with a history of violent incidents to the No. 2 position. The journalist continues, 


“The past chairmen of the Sumo Association were almost always former Yokozuna or Ozeki, but among the directors chosen this time, only stablemasters Shibatayama (former Yokozuna Akinoshima) and Asahiyama (former Ozeki Sakio) fit that profile. However, Shibatayama, who has sometimes questioned the ways of the Hakkaku regime, was transferred from the head of the public relations department to the head of the training facility, essentially demoted.


As for Asahiyama, who is known for his integrity, there were expectations of a major role in the executive committee. It seems the executive committee approached him about transferring his stable to Miyagino stable, but he declined due to limited space. In the end, the position he waited for turned out to be Director of Regional Tournaments (Fukuoka), which is akin to a field sales role in a company.


There is currently no successor in sight to take over as head of the Sumo Association after Chairman Hakkaku retires. Therefore, if Miyagino stable is swiftly rehabilitated and Miyagino is elected as a director after Hakkaku’s retirement, there is a possibility that Miyagino might become Chairman Miyagino in the near future. However, his active days were marked by a record 45 tournament victories, but his approach, characterized by slapping opponents and launching surprise attacks, often diverged from the traditional image of a Yokozuna, drawing frequent criticism from Chairman Hakkaku. It’s likely that Hakkaku believes Miyagino is not suited to becoming a director.


The Sumo Association’s executive committee went as far as considering disbanding Miyagino stable, but they eventually decided on the transfer of Miyagino stable’s wrestlers and staff to Isegahama stable. This, to some extent, served as a way for the executive committee, which had been itching to take stern measures, to address the problem.”


Before the scandal involving his disciples came to light, Miyagino had confided in those around him that he intended to become chairman in the future, and he had planned to run for director in the recent board reshuffle.


“He was serious about running for the position. While he had plenty of election funds, he lacked the ‘personal charm’ necessary to inspire people to vote for him. When former Ozeki Kisenosato ran for director, he had the backing not only of former Yokozuna Takanohana but also of former Yokozuna Taiho within his faction. Miyagino has the money, but he didn’t have that kind of support.”


It seems that Miyagino felt he could drive a wedge into the executive committee led by Chairman Hakkaku, which is by no means united.


“Miyagino himself believes that in the end, his record-breaking 45 tournament victories will speak for themselves,” says a journalist specializing in sumo.


Miyagino is a central figure in one of the major factions in the sumo world, comprised of Mongolian-born wrestlers. If Miyagino were to successfully rehabilitate his stable and achieve his long-standing goal of becoming chairman,


“there’s a possibility that former Yokozuna Asashoryu and former Yokozuna Harumafuji, who left the Sumo Association due to trouble, might also return,” says a sports desk reporter.

After winning the first tournament of 2009, then yokozuna Asashoryu paraded with the national flag. This act offended some of the yokozuna’s bosses.

A stablemaster who openly objected to the Mongolian yokozuna

There was someone who clearly voiced dissent against former active wrestler Miyagino-oyakata. It was Kisenosato oyakata, who retired from the Sumo Association in 2018. During his active days, he openly criticized Yokozuna Hakuho, who accumulated victories while delivering moves like slaps and elbow thrusts that resembled lifting techniques.

“Sumo is not about injuring your opponent. It’s about facing your opponent and continuing to win by accepting their attacks.”

But that’s not all. At that time, Kisenosato oyakata was also harsh towards former Yokozuna Asashoryu, who had established himself as a legendary figure among Mongolian-born wrestlers. It all started with a certain incident.

In the 2009 New Year Grand Sumo Tournament, after winning, Asashoryu held the “Mongolian national flag” in his left hand while riding on the open car used for the victory parade.

“Kisenosato oyakata was extremely furious about this action. He mentioned that Japanese wrestlers had never held the Hinomaru (Japanese national flag) and ridden on an open car. Wrestlers from Hawaii had never been so arrogant. The stablemasters of those stables must teach sumo properly. (Mongolian wrestlers) might not understand it in one or two years.”

Takanohana oyakata had persistently refused to accept Mongolian-born wrestlers into his stable, but in 2008, he welcomed Mongolian-born Takanoiwa as the first foreign wrestler in the stable. There was a reason for this decision, as revealed by Takanohana oyakata himself.

“That child (Takanoiwa) lost his mother (the late Altangerel, aged 46) at the age of 8, and his father (the late Adiya, aged 64) when he went to Tottori for sumo training at the age of 16. He’s been through a lot of hardships. After seeing Takanoiwa’s training attitude during the summer training camp at the stable (Takanohana stable), I allowed him to join.”

Takanoiwa worked hard and patiently endured, becoming the first sekitori from the Takanohana stable. Ironically, he became a victim of the “Harumafuji assault incident” in 2017. At that time, Takanohana oyakata, who was the head of the regional tour department, was dismissed from his position as director for “failing to report to the Sumo Association and repeatedly refusing to cooperate with the Crisis Management Committee’s investigation,” which was considered a breach of his fiduciary duty as a director.

Furthermore, Takanoiwa himself retired later after assaulting his attendant. When Yokozuna Hakuho, who was present at the time of Takanohana oyakata’s retirement, heard about it, he solemnly replied,

“I wish he had guided us more. Even for myself.”

Isegahama oyakata (former Yokozuna Asahifuji), who took responsibility for accepting the Miyagino stable, reportedly advised Miyagino oyakata (Takanohana) to “meet the parents (of the disciples)” and go on an apology tour for this issue. Additionally, a Sumo Association insider reveals,

“Along with Asahayama oyakata, who is also a director in the same group, these two oyakata will report on Miyagino oyakata’s actions to the executive committee. The possibility of reviving the Miyagino stable is not zero, but it all depends on the judgment of Director Yokozuna.” 

There are four years left until Director Yokozuna’s retirement. Can he raise a successor whom he can confidently pass the baton to? Can Miyagino oyakata, who transferred to the Isegahama stable, endure the “unfair treatment” from the Sumo Association? And will the Miyagino stable be revived? In any case, starting from Miyagino oyakata’s new life in the Isegahama stable, which began with the move, his future remains closely watched.

  • PHOTO Kyodo News

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