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SUMO ABC No. 87 / Takanohana quit JSA after failing to move people with ideals alone

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Takanohana speaks at a press conference announcing his resignation from the Japan Sumo Association on Sept. 25 in Tokyo.

By Shuji Miki / Yomiuri Shimbun Senior WriterStablemaster Takanohana has resigned from the Japan Sumo Association, which seemed to be a dramatic sudden exit, yet also seemed inevitable. However, it is still not clear why he quit the JSA.

His style of sumo during his active career was straightforward, fair and beautiful. After Takanohana became a stablemaster, he had noble ideals about sumo — which made it difficult for people around him to keep up with the thinking of the former yokozuna.

There is probably no other way to understand his resignation.

On Jan. 20, 2003, Takanohana decided to retire as a sumo wrestler. At the end of a press conference at Tokyo’s Ryogoku Kokugikan on the day, he was asked, “What do you think a yokozuna should be?”

“[A yokozuna] should always show his full potential, and withstand the opponent’s charge with all his might. The most important thing is to have the strength of mind of regarding victory as a precondition whenever entering the ring,” he said, with no hesitation. Takanohana, then 30, expressed his thinking charismatically.

However, after he became a stablemaster, and then a JSA board member, impressions of Takanohana differed quite a bit. Though he boasted about his ideas for JSA reform based on the ideals he had cultivated in his days as a wrestler, he never specified actual reform ideas.

When then yokozuna Harumafuji became violent at a drinking party in 2016 and injured Takanoiwa, a wrestler who belonged to Takanohana’s stable, the stablemaster did not cooperate with the JSA at all when it launched an investigation of the case. He refused to even speak about why he did not intend to offer cooperation. The attitude he repeatedly displayed led to Takanohana being accused of violating his duty of loyalty as a JSA board member, resulting in his sacking as a board member — an unprecedented event.

Takanohana, along with Taiho and Kitanoumi, are the only three retired yokozuna who are allowed to maintain their ring name as sumo elders. This system is called ichidai toshiyori (one-generation sumo elder).

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  • Yomiuri Shimbun file photo

    Takanohana bears a thrust by Toki during the New Year’s Grand Sumo Tournament in January 2003 in Tokyo.

Ichidai toshiyori is a non-inheritable reward for a yokozuna’s outstanding achievements in grand sumo tournaments, and its value lies in the hope of fans and JSA members who want them to shoulder the responsibility for ensuring the JSA’s future.

When Takanohana left the JSA, he said he feels bitterly disappointed.

However, did he really “withstand the opponent’s charge with all his might” in his 15 years as stablemaster? Ideals alone cannot move people.

The ideals of Takanohana seem to have eclipsed the real person behind it, which led to this unfortunate result.

—Miki is a sumo expert.

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