Japan: Yokozuna gets the boot

Never far from controversy, Mongolian Yokozuna (sumo champion) Asashoryu (朝青龍) is again in hot water. Just before a regional sumo tour started, the yokozuna left for Mongolia claiming that he would not be able to participate, having submitted a doctor's note indicating that he had injuries in his arm and lower back that needed to be treated. Shortly after his departure, a video image showing the yokozuna playing soccer in Mongolia made it onto some of the major Japanese TV networks, sparking a controversy. Asashoryu has been penalized by the Sumo Association with suspension from the next two tournaments and a salary reduction. When the yokozuna was then reported to be suffering from depression, the story became further sensationalized.

Yokozuna Asashoryu

Many bloggers were harshly critical of Asashoryu's behaviour. Kazusan writes:


If they let the yokozuna go back to Mongolia… I just want to say “Don't ever come back, Asashoryu!!” This kind of person, who cannot even say something as easy as “I am sorry I created trouble”, is not needed in sumo, the national sport in which good spirit, technique and physical condition are required. Even when he comes out of the probation, I don't think we should accept a mentally-ill person as a yokozuna.

Another blogger also criticizes Asashoryu's misconduct:


He submitted his doctor's note and then went back to Mongolia. We thought he was recuperating in Mongolia, but instead he showed off his great [skill at] heading [the ball]. This outraged not only the Sumo Association but also the people of Japan. While Asashoryu was enjoying playing soccer in cool Mongolia, other sumo wrestlers were sweating on the sumo tour in the heat reaching almost 40 degrees. It was quite a forced march, and they were forced to continuously do the shows and then travel from Nagano to Hokkaido. There are 34 Mongolian wrestlers. None of them complained and they did their best to entertain the fans.

On the other hand, a number of bloggers express their concern about the treatment of Asashoryu and how the Association and others involved have been handling the sitution.

One blogger criticizes the old style attitude of the Association towards mental illness and its failure to deal with the problem:



Since the time the suspension was issued, Asashoryu has not come out of his house once. To be honest this is an insane situation, and he should be allowed to go home soon. Whether he should stay on or not should be left up to him, his oyakata (master) and the Association to decide. Within the Association, particularly its tour division, there were some masters who made a stupid comment in which they said that “(the illness) can be treated if you work up a good sweat”. I guess they still have an outdated view about mental illness, thinking “all illness comes from the mind”. Stress disorder and depression are legitimate illnesses. They are illnesses that are always best treated as soon as possible, and it can be a big problem if they are left [untreated] for too long.

Asashoryu does have faults in this case. However, what's more problematic is his oyakata as well as the Association, who have let Asashoryu behave this way. Particularly, I am really fed up with the way his oyakata, who is in the position to supervise him, has been handling the situation. The Association and the oyakata should deal with this with more awareness of the problem.

Another blogger expresses his anger at the media and Japanese society over their attitude towards mental illness:


The recent coverage of Asashoryu and people's opinions [about this issue] make me feel hopeless.
Whenever this topic comes up on TV, I cannot listen to it.
The majority of the Japanese are still not able to understand mental illnesses even in the 21st century.
The majority of the stupid Japanese press and of the Japanese people do not understand that it is best to let him be, and they assume that he is faking his sickness even though he was diagnosed by a doctor.
It really gets on my nerves.
Nothing is more hideous, cruel and stupid than ignorance.

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