Finally the Sumo Association gets it right

If you are able to read Japanese, and you check the sumo headlines each day, then you noticed a certain pattern to the headlines last Thursday evening through Friday morning. Sports Hochi, the sports newspaper run by the Daily Yomiuri, posted the headline, "Asashoryu goes for de-geiko, is in high spirits." Nikkansports, probably the biggest sports newspaper in Japan, ran the headline, "Asashoryu in a good mood? Goes 16-0 at de-geiko." Then there was the biggest Asashoryu-bashing rag of them all, the Daily Sports, that ran a similar headline: "Has he forgotten the abusive language incident? Asashoryu in extremely high spirits." The word that all of these headlines had in common was "go-kigen", which means in Japanese to be in a good mood or to be in high spirits. And the nuance of each article seemed to speculate as to why the sudden change? You'll remember earlier in the week that the media was trying yet again to make a mountain out of an Asashoryu molehill.

On Monday, the day when the Haru basho banzuke was released, Asashoryu returned from a 10-day vacation in Hawaii after attending his brother's wedding. As he arrived at the airport in Honolulu, the Yokozuna was clad in an aloha shirt, white shorts, and beach sandals. Members of the Japanese press were of course present...not to do an interest story on the Yokozuna or to document his brother's wedding, but to do what they love to do best...record his every movement in hopes that they can catch anything that can be perceived to be a misstep so they can blow the story up and of course sell more newspapers. Asashoryu demanded the business card of a Sports Hochi photographer who was taking pictures of him at the airport and ordered him to delete the photos (he has the right to do so...that's why he asked for the business card). Word spread after the Yokozuna took off, and a throng of reporters were waiting at the Kansai International Airport for Asashoryu's arrival. Asashoryu arrived clad in his formal kimono, which he had in his carry on luggage so he could change on the plane, and hurried through the airport refusing to speak to reporters although he did say something to some cameraman. It was erroneously reported in the press that Asashoryu told them to f**k off and die. So just like that, the press had their story.

The wide shows (the morning gossip shows) ran with the story trying to make a big deal out of it, and the mainstream press also began taking their usual shots at the Yokozuna's character and behavior. Asashoryu was obviously upset by the incident, but he didn't back down even demanding the people that he supposedly told off to come forward. Of course no one dared, and you'd think that any member of the press these days who was stalking the Yokozuna would have some sort of recordable device with him. If he really did tell the media to f**k off and die, 1) they deserved it, and 2) they would have gotten the statement recorded. This back and forth continued through all last week until the Sumo Association finally commented on the incident Thursday evening. Isenoumi-oyakata spoke to reporters and said that the Sumo Association would take no action. The oyakata said that Asashoryu's stable master had talked to him about how to interact with the media, and as far as they were concerned that was the end of it.

Obviously disappointed by the Association's stance, Isenoumi-oyakata was then asked about Asashoryu's attire at the Honolulu Airport (sekitori are supposed to be dressed in kimono when in public) to which the director replied, "In Hawaii that's considered formal attire." End of that story.  Though I only read about the press conference, I'm sure the media was gutted at that point, but you knew that they would resort to their only remaining card: what about Asashoryu telling those people off? Isenoumi-oyakata replied, "He said that he didn't say it. We can't base anything off of a he-said she-said incident." Case closed; Japan media disappointed.

So you wanna know why Asashoryu was in such high spirits the next morning as he visited the Sakaigawa-beya for de-geiko? It wasn't because he was off the hook. It was because the Sumo Association finally stood up for their Yokozuna and protected him. Finally.

This latest incident was eerily similar to the one last summer when Asashoryu was playing in that charity soccer match. As I pointed out then, Asashoryu did nothing wrong. The press tried to make their usual big story out of it, and you know when the gossip shows get involved they smell blood, but the Sumo Association took the correct path and protected the one rikishi who has done so much for their sport for half of this decade.

Just look at the hype surrounding the Hatsu basho. Pre-basho ticket sales were as high as they were since back in the Taka-Waka days. TBS radio decided to resume their live broadcast of the final few Makuuchi bouts for the first time in eight years. And the television ratings on senshuraku were the highest this century. It's all because of Asashoryu. The Sumo Association has finally come to the realization that their sport is better off with the Yokozuna than without him, and so they're taking steps to protect him. I've been talking about it for months.

Love him or hate him, Asashoryu is an asset to sumo. As I speculated in January, Asashoryu is taking Goeido under his wing. He also likes Kisenosato. And he's also gone out of his way to acknowledge Tochiohzan (throwing him into the chairs during keiko the other day means's a senpai-kohai thing as they come from the same high school). Do you see the pattern there? Those three are some of the hopes of Japan, and Asashoryu is not trying to break them down. He's trying to build them up. He's trying to make the sport better. After an Asashoryu yusho when he makes the rounds and is interviewed for the nightly sports shows, he's the best there is. He's so candid; he's friendly; he's open; and he'll give everyone his time. He's an ambassador to sumo through and through...IF you give him the chance to do it. Treat him like a second-class foreigner as most of the Japanese media does, and you'll stir up his wrath getting no cooperation from his whatsoever, but give him the respect he deserves, and you'll get one of the greatest Yokozuna of all time. This isn't my opinion; this is fact.

And the Sumo Association realizes it now. That's why Asashoryu is in such a good mood these days.

In Hawaii that's considered formal attire? What a line! Sign that dude up to contribute for Sumotalk.





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