SUMO ABC No. 89 / Takanohana saga casts doubt on value of one-generation elders

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo

Takanohana, left, executes an overarm throw on Musashimaru at the Summer Grand Sumo Tournament in May 2001.

By Shuji Miki / Yomiuri Shimbun Senior WriterOne month has passed since stablemaster Takanohana resigned from the Japan Sumo Association. Watching Takanohana, whose real name is Koji Hanada, with a broad smile on TV evoked mixed feelings.

What is the value of the ichidai toshiyori (one-generation elder) system? Under the system’s rules, retired yokozuna with outstanding results can be granted toshiyori elder status as oyakata stablemasters while maintaining their shikona ring name, though the special status is non-inheritable.

Besides Takanohana, only two retired wrestlers — Taiho and Kitanoumi — have received ichidai toshiyori status. Chiyonofuji was also offered the status but turned it down.

Takanohana won 22 Emperor’s Cups. However, his principles in the ring are even more memorable than his number of championships.

“It was an accolade for his outstanding achievements as a wrestler. The association rewarded him,” said an official who was a JSA board member when Takanohana received ichidai toshiyori status and a career achievement bonus of ¥130 million (about $1.1 million). “The reward reflected the wishes of the JSA, which hoped to entrust to him with the future of the organization.”

Takanohana also tried to resign from the JSA in July 2010, when the organization’s board members dismissed ozeki Kotomitsuki and stablemaster Otake — known formerly as the sekiwake Takatoriki — over a baseball gambling scandal.

“Takanohana apparently blamed himself for his inability to protect the two,” said the late Kitanoumi, a board member at the time who banged the table in seeking to stop the attempted resignation.

Hiroyoshi Murayama, a former external member of the JSA board of directors, was confronted with the debacle immediately after becoming acting chief of the board of directors. Murayama received Takanohana’s letter of resignation and kept it without accepting the offer. The problem was resolved by returning it to Takanohana.

At the time, young oyakata praised Takanohana for his valor while a number of elder oyakata berated him for behaving imprudently. Will perspectives on Takanohana’s resignation from the JSA be polarized again?

The latest saga is decisively different in that the JSA will not return the letter of resignation this time. The world of sumo has lost the hope it entrusted to the ichidai toshiyori.

— Miki is a sumo expert.

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