It’s been a tough few months in the world of Sumo wrestling, Japan’s “national sport.” First, Mongolian wrestler Asashoryu, one of two yokozuna (the top wrestling class) returned to his homeland to undergo treatment for a mental disorder brought on by criticism that he shirked his duties, pretending to be ill, and then returned to Mongolia, where he was filmed playing soccer. Parts of the media decried how “Japan’s traditional sport” was being harmed by the influx of “foreign wrestlers” and “Japan’s traditional sport.”
Anyway, the problems took a turn for the worse when it was revealed that in June, a 17-year-old wrestler named Tadashi Saito (his ring name was Tokitaizan), who had just entered the tough world of Sumo, had died following a training session. At first his stablemaster, Tokitsukaze arguedthat the death was due to exhaustion, but it has now turned out that Tokitaizan was “bullied” to death, and the stablemaster has since been fired by the Sumo Association.
Many bloggers have discussed the treatment he received, which included being hit with an empty beer bottle. For example, one blogger writes:
He was forced to promise “I won’t run away anymore, I’ll do my best,” and they broke his cell phone into two so he couldn’t call his parents. It’s frightening. Can people really do that?
Blogger Matimulog expresses the widespread sentiment of disappointment in how it took such a dramatic event to shed light on the problem of bullying in sumo.
It seems that it takes the death of a young wrestler to make the story public. The environment is such that assault seems to be a daily occurrence, and it seems to takes a death for this to be seen as a problem, since people seem to believe that without the violence, young wrestlers cannot become strong. This should be seen as Japan’s shame, not Japan’s national sport.
One issue of common interest is the responsibility of the Sumo Association itself. As blogger Shosan no Blog writes:
Right after Saito’s death, the Sumo Association asked for an explanation from the stablemaster, but interviewed him again following a request from the Ministry of Education and Culture, after Tokitsukaze admitted to the Aichi Prefecture police that violence had been involved. He apparently gave a different explanation in the first interview.
Finally, while pinning the blame firmly on Tokitsukaze, blogger Igajin no Tensei Jingo talks about the bleak future of sumo.
Even now, the number of young men hoping to go into sumo is rapidly decreasing. If Tokitsukaze is not thrown out of the sumo world, a Japanese tradition, it is likely that the sport will be destroyed.
Who knows what trouble will befall the world of sumo next.