|Topics in Japan #27:
Scandals around sumo: "Traditions" being questioned
* 2007/10/3 配信 ALC Newsletter No.69(ALC International Marketing 発行)より
A wave of scandals is now shaking the world of sumo wrestling, the national sport of Japan. In June, it was reported that a 17-year-old wrestler died of heart failure. But it turned out in September that senior wrestlers had repeatedly abused him, sometimes using metal baseball bats. What was worse, the stablemaster not only neglected such assaults, but also beat the wrestler himself.
The case is still under investigation, but there is a high possibility that their assaults lead to the wrestler's death. The media has been covering the case almost every day, filling the public with rage. In the sumo world, it is common that sumo wrestlers have to train themselves very hard in order to be stronger, both physically and mentally. However, if "hard training" means "abusing someone until death," the foundations of sumo will be severely questioned.
Meanwhile, there had already been a series of sumo-related headlines earlier this year. Yokozuna (the highest rank of sumo) wrestler Asashoryu had been criticized for cheating, suspicion of bout-fixing, and also some violent acts outside the ring. Furthermore, in August, Asashoryu cancelled an official sumo tour, because of injury, but secretly went back to his home country Mongolia during the tour, and was filmed playing soccer. After this series of scandals, Asashoryu began to show symptoms of depression. Now he is back in Mongolia for treatment.
Of course, the death of a wrestler and Asashoryu's unfavorable behavior are totally different matters. However, they might be both showing that there are some strains beginning to appear in the sumo world, which has always honored its traditions and tried to preserve them. The irony is that sumo, which had been losing its popularity, is now getting more attention than ever before.