By Thierry Perran
translated by Olivia Nagioff
proofread by Barbara Ann Klein
Tempestuous re-elections of NSK officials
A stroll in the park
Kitanoumi rijicho and Kokonoe oyakata re-elected
As they do every two years, the Nihon Sumo Kyokai (NSK) held elections to choose (in order of decreasing importance) its 10 directors (riji), including its president (rijicho), its supervisors (kanji), judges (shimpan) and delegates (yakuin taigu). These elections normally give rise to negotiations behind the scenes, and the ichimon (groups of heya) always try to come to an agreement before the elections in order to give an appearance of unity in front of the press and the Japanese public. This year there were no disagreements and the number of candidates was exactly the same as the number of posts. Here is a summary of the election results:
Worthy of note, former yokozuna (24 yusho) and current rijicho, Kitanoumi, was reaffirmed in his post for two more years. Former yokozuna (31 yusho) Chiyonofuji, current Kokonoe oyakata, has joined the management council as director in charge of public relations. In this position, he replaces Takasago oyakata who has clearly been punished following the unpleasantness with Asashoryu. For this reason, Kokonoe oyakata gives up his post as chief of the ringside judges, which has been passed on to former yokozuna Takanohana (22 yusho). At the age of 35 years and three months, Takanohana oyakata becomes the youngest ever chief judge, and that clearly indicates the high office which this yokozuna might later assume.
Takanohana oyakata promoted to chief of the judges at 35
From the next Haru basho, we will have the pleasure of seeing Takanohana oyakata at the microphone, explaining to us the decision of the judges after their deliberations.
An ill wind
Former Tokitsukaze arrested by the police
This little bit of good news, however, is unable to prevent the NSK from suffering one of the most dramatic periods in its history. After the psychological/diplomatic fuss around the on-off injury of Asashoryu, leading to his suspension at the moment when the NSK needed him most, they themselves became implicated in probably the greatest scandal of their long history. The investigation into the death of Tokitaizan has moved forward substantially and the police now have proof that the death of the young 17-year-old rikishi was a result of repeated physical abuse orchestrated by former Tokitsukaze oyakata. It is thus, with horror, but with no great surprise, that we learnt on February 8, 2008 of the arrest of former Tokitsukaze oyakata and rikishi Akiyutaka (age 24, highest rank: makushita 12), Doto (25, sandanme 65), and Tokiomaru (25, sandanme 96). This news fell like a bomb dropping on Japan, and although the directors of the NSK apologised to the Japanese people in the name of the organisation, they were unable to contain the fallout.
Changes to the management?
Kitanoumi, Musashigawa and Kokonoe face the music
All the recent blunders in professional sumo have thoroughly annoyed the Japanese government, conscious of the poor image of Japan which is conveyed abroad by the national sport. Indeed, we must remember that the NSK benefits from a unique and very advantageous tax statute, in exchange for which it plays the role of Japanese ambassador in foreign sumo tournaments. Professional sumo must, therefore, report back to the Ministry of Education, the Monbusho, under penalty of serious financial loss. This is exactly what Kenshiro Matsunami, the Deputy Education Minister for Science and Culture, demanded when he met with Isenoumi oyakata and Kokonoe oyakata.
Kenshiro Matsunami with Isenoumi and Kokonoe
Kenshiro Matsunami is well-known for not pulling his punches and he wasn't gentle with the directors of the NSK. Already, when the enquiry was opened and it was shown that the death of Tokitaizan was not accidental, the Deputy Minister made the NSK set up a committee of people from outside the sumo world, whose charge was to assess the training conditions for young recruits. That caused much grinding of teeth, but this time the brave Deputy Minister with the ponytail wants to break the greatest of taboos, and introduce professional managers with no sumo background onto the board of the NSK. The idea, which is quite straightforward, is to fill key posts with people whose main strength is their professional competence rather than former ability in the ring (as is currently the case). And this is a revolution which will be hard to stomach! But it must be admitted that becoming yokozuna doesn't give one any additional aptitude for marketing, for example, and the NSK will probably be more efficient with a little more professionalism.