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2009年2月 8日 (日)


(Mainichi Japan) February 8, 2009

Fist-pumping yokozuna Asashoryu threatens sumo's hallowed tradition


 ◇失「礼」な横綱、模範にできぬ 国技館100年、自覚を

When he was a yokozuna (grand champion), Kitanoumi never extended a hand to opponents he had just toppled. He simply exited the ring, expressionless and indifferent, and is probably why he was known as a yokozuna who was so strong you hated him. Many years later, I asked him what he thought of being described in such a manner. He replied, "If I thought about how I felt when I lost, I could never contemplate wanting my opponent to extend a hand to me. That's why I couldn't rejoice even when I won," he said.


That makes sense.


The reason I'm bringing up Kitanoumi's demeanor is that various opinions have been expressed on the ring decorum of yokozuna Asashoryu, who came back from an extended absence to win the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament. His behavior was taken up by the Yokozuna Deliberation Committee after the tournament, and many of the committee members are said to have expressed their dismay at his victory fist-pumping pose after the winning match. Musashigawa, the chairman of the Japan Sumo Association, who apparently shares this opinion, issued a warning to Takasago, the stablemaster of the stable to which Asashoryu belongs.


However, members of the public have been asking why Asashoryu is being criticized for his decorum when he is merely expressing his joy candidly, and believe that he should be given a pass because of the excitement he brings to sumo, whose popularity has been on the wane. And on the TV talk and variety shows, Asashoryu's supporters have been vocal, though criticism has also been voiced.


Asashoryu's comeback performance was indeed impressive. His forceful techniques embodied the essence of smashmouth sumo. His relentlessness even after matches had been decided, his staredowns, and his fist pumping on the final day of the tournament are all probably extensions of his combative brand of sumo, and his supporters seem to have responded to all of this.


However, previous yokozuna never behaved in such a manner. Their hairdressers prepared their gingko-leaf topknots in the dressing room, they entered the ring when the ushers uttered their names, and they were all the more imposing and dignified when they appeared. The various rituals surrounding grand sumo suggest that it is not merely a contest consumed with winning and losing.


There are no strict rules for the initial charge that begins the match, and there is no written prohibition against fist-pumping. Sumo is about being in harmony with one's opponent, and it has always been considered natural not to express emotion. After the winner of the bout is determined, the two opponents are expected to bow to each other as if nothing had happened, and then silently exit the ring. The calm that comes after the action was supposed to be one of the appealing features of sumo. If Asashoryu had the ability to turn off his fighting spirit, which he can turn on like a light switch, the instant he is declared the winner, I believe that he would make an impression which far exceeds that made by his posing.



It is regrettable that a yokozuna who is a volcano of emotions exhibits no concern for his defeated opponent. When Kitanoumi was chairman of the JSA, he never issued a warning to Asashoryu, so it's ironic that his previous silence has brought on the current situation.


The changes in sumo are not due solely to the influx of foreign sumo wrestlers. Every year, more wrestlers enter professional sumo from the college teams, and some of these wrestlers are now retired and managing their own stables. Stablemaster Takasago was one of the pioneers of this cohort. In the past, if the master said night was day, you'd go fumbling around in the light -- but this is a different age. Old-school stablemasters lament that some of the new breed of stablemasters are more like college coaches, and are dismayed by the upheavals in the relationship between master and disciple.


Sumo had its origins as an event that was staged to insure a bumper grain harvest, and the earliest documents on the sport date back 1,400 years. While sumo has had its ups and downs, hasn't it survived this long because its rituals are based on decorum, and it is not a mere contest? It probably would not have survived this long if everyone fist-pumped like Asashoryu, or belted out victory shouts.


On Jan. 30, the juryo-division wrestler Wakakirin was arrested for possession of marijuana. The sumo world has been rocked by the antics of Asashoryu and a succession of scandals since last year. After suddenly being promoted to the head of the JSA last year, Musashigawa has been trying to implement major changes and has appointed outsiders as directors. But while agreeing there is room for change, he also believes that there are "things that must not be changed." The tradition of governing conduct in the ring in accordance with a code that "begins and ends with decorum" should never be tampered with.



Sumo was once staged outdoors, but began to be brought indoors into more permanent facilities, and a century has passed since the Kokugikan was built. In 1909, the first Umegatani, Ikazuchi Gondayu, reformed the way that tournament victories were determined, and established Japan's oldest press club in the building. This was the first year that the winner's portrait, which was later presented by the Mainichi Newspapers Co., was also displayed. And it was the first year that the yokozuna became more than appellation and began to denote rank.


In this milestone year, yokozuna must not give their forebears reason to grieve. ("As I See It," by Hisashi Muto, Sports News Department)


毎日新聞 200924日 東京朝刊


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