By Shuji Miki / Yomiuri Shimbun Senior WriterThe New Year Grand Sumo Tournament began on a high note with the announcement that tickets for the tourney had sold out. It is nevertheless disappointing that Shikimori Inosuke, a tate gyoji chief referee, is not in the dohyo ring as he has been suspended for three consecutive grand sumo tournaments for sexual harassment.
Inosuke himself has offered to resign and is set to step down from the Japan Sumo Association after the summer tournament to be held in May.
There are generally two chief referees. The higher-ranked one works under the ceremonial name Kimura Shonosuke, and the other goes by the name of Shikimori Inosuke.
Currently, the role of Kimura Shonosuke is vacant as there are no referees with the requisite skills and experience to hold the title. Inosuke has thus worked alone as the chief referee for the final bouts at grand sumo tournaments.
For the time being, both chief referee positions will remain unoccupied. Tate gyoji are the referee equivalent of yokozuna or ozeki wrestlers. They also serve as general supervisors for lower-ranked referees.
Usually, the chief referees are referred to as “Shonosuke oyakata” or “Inosuke oyakata.” Stablemasters in the sumo world are called oyakata.
Before the Japan Sumo Association became a public interest incorporated foundation, chief referees had the right to vote in elections for association directors.
The most recent sexual harassment scandal has jolted those concerned as chief referees hold distinguished, high-ranking positions.
Inosuke belongs to the Miyagino stable, of which the yokozuna Hakuho is also a member. To begin with, why do referees, who are duty-bound to fairly judge the outcome of matches, belong to sumo stables? Wouldn’t referees favor wrestlers who belong to the same stable? Many sumo fans are likely to suspect as much.
Many of the same opinions existed in the 1950s, when the association implemented various reforms. After receiving feedback noting such concerns, the association decided in 1958 that referees must belong to their own stables independent of those run by oyakata.
However, professional sumo wrestling is a business that depends on support from fans. Referee stables, which had no wrestlers, failed to attract sufficient sponsorship and became financially unsustainable.
In 1973, the association decided to once more permit referees to join wrestlers’ stables. Referees are prevented from issuing unfair judgments biased toward specific wrestlers, as five judges called “shinpan-in” sit ringside to monitor rulings.
If a referee makes an unfair judgment, the shipan-in file a “monoii” — meaning objection — and the referee is declared to have made a misjudgment. Such incidents adversely affect the professional standing of a referee.
Sumo stables are managed like a family, in which an oyakata, his wife, wrestlers, gyoji, yobidashi ushers and tokoyama (hairdressers for wrestlers) live together.
— Miki is a sumo expert.
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