Asashoryu should retire?  What about Kitanoumi?

If you've ever lived in Japan, you've all seen it. It's the press conference where a company, government official, or organization has screwed up to the tune of lying to their consumers, misusing funds, getting caught with their hand in some skank's cookie jar, or in the worst case scenario, being responsible for an accidental death. The CEO or the man at the top and two other high-ranking officials will sit at these two cheap folding tables that are rarely the same height aligned together with a plethora of microphones on top of them. The introduction is very short. All three stand while the CEO uses a short sentence to briefly describe the trouble he's caused, and then the second sentence contains the phrase "taihen o-wabi wo moushi-agemasu", which is the humblest way of officially apologizing. The apology is followed by profoundly deep bows by all three men who stay down for at least ten seconds while a bevy of flashbulbs shower them in this position. And it's actually good news if the man in charge makes it this far. Often times when he or his organization is exposed, they find him hanging from the shower rod before he even has the chance to apologize. It's the old Japanese way: take responsibility for the organization you run. The samurai made famous the suicide methods of hari-kiri or seppuku, and even the referee in sumo for the day's final bouts carries a small dagger in his belt because way back when if he blew a call and dissed a Yokozuna, he was expected to take his life in shame.

Now I am in no way saying that I think someone should commit suicide in this day and age when he has allowed scandal to occur in his organization, but not even offering an apology or resigning his post is not the Japanese way. Or should I say it lacks "hinkaku" (dignity)? I was just watching NHK news tonight (8/23) and a company that produces electric fans did the apology/press conference thing today because a fan they had created 37 years ago had started a fire. 37 years! I'd say that's a pretty damn good fan, so why apologize? But they did anyway...for something as trivial as that because it's what the Japanese do.

When Asashoryu's punishment was first announced on August 1st, one of the news organizations ran a story the next day that listed Asashoryu's past missteps. We quoted them on our news page on August 2nd giving the following timeline:

Nagoya 03 Asashoryu feuds with Kyokushuzan, which included the hair-pull disqualification and Asashoryu's breaking the side mirror of Kyokushuzan's car.

December 03 Asashoryu returns home to Mongolia without informing anyone and misses the former Takasago-oyakata's funeral

Natsu 06 Asashoryu withdraws early from the tournament but is later in the locker room gathering signatures from fellow rikishi in support of an exhibition tournament to Mongolia

Haru 07 Asashoryu knees Kisenosato in the back after the Kid has already fallen in their bout. On day 10 of the same tournament, Asashoryu kicks a zabuton in the hanamichi after a loss to Aminishiki.

I look at that list and go, huh? That's all anyone can come up with? And people are calling for Asashoryu to retire because of that? Furthermore, incidents like kicking at a zabuton and gathering signatures are nitpicky as hell. Okay, let me present another list to you, and this one has to do with the general state of sumo under Kitanoumi Rijicho's watch the last couple of years. Dates are provided for the events that I can remember, but you'll recall the other incidents as well:

Nagoya 07 - 17 year-old Tokitaizan is killed after being severely bullied and tortured during a practice session at the Tokitsukaze-beya. The incident is nicely swept under the rug once the basho starts, and to no one's surprise, no criminal charges are filed. The Sumo Association hands down no punishment to anyone and they allow Tokitsukaze-oyakata to go kyujo

Nagoya 07 - Sekitori Takamifuji is booted out of sumo for running up gambling debts to the point where collection agencies are pestering the stable to pay up.

March 07 - Evidence of an audio tape surfaces that purportedly contains a conversation between Miyagino-oyakata and his mistress where the oyakata admits to paying off rikishi for fixing bouts. It is also learned that Miyagino-oyakata is a wife-beater

January 07 - Shukan Gendai alleges that bout fixing is wide-spread in sumo specifically citing bouts involving Asashoryu, but follow-up articles make accusations as far as 30 years back. Current Ozeki Kotomitsuki and Miyabiyama are cited as throwing bouts due to mounting gambling debts

July 06 - Roho assaults two cameramen after a tough loss to Chiyotaikai, and at the same basho Makushita Kotokanyu beats up his opponent for the day in the locker room after their bout

Sporadically the last few years - Exhibition tournaments are cancelled throughout Japan due to lack of interest in sumo and declining ticket sales

Continually the last few years - New recruit numbers dwindle with an all time low achieved at Nagoya 07 with zero new recruits signing up

About two years ago - Kitanoumi Rijicho is investigated for sexual assault of a waitress. The story is swept under the rug nearly as quickly as it began.

There are probably a few other things that I'm missing here, but I think you can see my point. Okay, I acknowledge that there are some mighty slow people out there (people who can't separate rooting interest from outright hate and disdain), so to you, let me ask you the following questions:

What would the media and NSK reaction have been if Asashoryu had been accused of sexually assaulting a waitress?

What would the media and NSK reaction have been if Asashoryu had bullied a 17 year-old kid to death during keiko and it was learned afterwards that he had struck the kid in the face repeatedly and burned him with cigarettes?

What would the media and NSK reaction have been if Asashoryu had reportedly been caught on tape in a conversation with his mistress telling how he paid money to have bouts fixed?

You get my drift, right? Let's take that last item about the tape. If it had been Asashoryu and not Miyagino-oyakata caught up in that scandal, the NSK would have paid to obtain the tape, they would have willingly leaked it to the media, and then they would have kicked the Yokozuna out of the sport outright. No one can doubt that point.

So to any retard who thinks Asashoryu is bad for sumo and should retire, explain to me how Asashoryu's actions have hindered or disgraced sumo worse than those of Kitanoumi Rijicho and the organization he heads. Sure, Kitanoumi wasn't at the Tokitsukaze-beya when that kid died, and he didn't encourage Roho or Kotokanyu to assault people, but it happened on his watch. And what's more appalling...the fact that Asashoryu showed up at a charity soccer game after informing his employers of his injuries or the fact that a 17 year old boy is slaughtered yet the Sumo Association makes no formal apology nor takes any responsibility, and the media and public at large don't demand answers nor give the manslaughter incident a tenth of the press that they have given Asashoryu's punishment? Pretty clear in those terms isn't it. The only conclusion I can deduct is that the Sumo Association, the media, and the Japan public at large want Asashoryu out of sumo...not because of his actions, but because he is on the brink of taking down the sport's legends and the Japanese can't deal with a fellow Asian kicking their asses. Going to the Asashoryu's-behavior-as-a-Yokozuna-is-bad card is just a scapegoat that at worst tarnishes Asashoryu's legacy in the minds of the Japanese (and people who hate him).

Getting back to Kitanoumi Rijicho and his poor leadership, he couldn't even handle the Asashoryu punishment correctly. When the announcement first came down, the Japanese public was in near unanimous approval, and one survey I saw was about 65% - 35% in support of calling for Asashoryu's retirement altogether...the reaction the Sumo Association wanted. Three weeks later, though, those same people who supported the punishment have switched sides and are now using phrases like "Asashoryu ga kawaiso" (I feel sorry for him). I know this because I've talked to those same people, and I can read the sentiment in the news. You have government officials, Hide Nakata (the famous soccer dude who reiterated my own takes regarding the matter on his personal website), and even the late Kotozakura himself coming out in support of Asashoryu and saying what a great person he is and how there has never been another Yokozuna like him. Where the Sumo Association blundered first was in the punishment itself. It was too harsh, it in no way fit the crime, and it was more about the anti-Asashoryu agenda than the actions of a Yokozuna. All of this sent Asashoryu in a mental tail spin and made the public rethink things. Second, they confined Asashoryu to his residence, which is pretty much a violation of someone's human rights if you ask me. Many people openly began to question the authority the Sumo Association had to do this. Third, they defied doctors' orders...doctors that they had appointed themelves to examine the Yokozuna.

If you're not familiar with doctors in Japan, first off, you're damn lucky. I mean, why isn't anyone questioning the death of Kotozakura? Dude checks himself into the hospital with stomach pains...the pain doesn't subside after a few days so doctors decide to operate (for what, who knows?)...they declare the operation a success only to have the former Yokozuna die on them 30 minutes later. Then the Japanese press...everytime they mention Kotozakura they add the phrase "who died from complete organ failure due to a blood infection" but the part they always conveniently forget to add after that is "brought upon by incompetent doctors who botched the operation". Anyway, that just strengthens my second point which is that the Japanese deeply respect doctors and never question them. If you've ever been in a hospital room with other Japanese people and the doctor comes in, the Japanese people immediately stand at attention with their eyes not quite meeting the doctor's (atama ga agaranai). They call him "sensei" which means master. So back to the original point, for Kitanoumi Rijicho to ignore the doctors' (that's plural by the way) orders which were to allow Asashoryu to receive treatment in Mongolia will only invite more criticism from the public and promote sympathy for Asashoryu. No wonder as of today, it was reported that Kitanoumi Rijichi has softened his stance on the matter.

The whole reason I bring any of this up is not to demand an apology from Kitanoumi Rijicho for terrible mismanagement of Asashoryu's punishment and his sport in general the last few years, but I bring it up to show just how foolish it is to even think that Asashoryu should retire without first questioning the commissioner of sumo, a former Yokozuna himself. Sumo fans who call for Asashoryu's retirement do it for two reasons: they hate Asashoryu because he always beats their favorite rikishi, and they are bitter. To question Asashoryu for his actions without batting an eye to everything else that has gone on in sumo the last few years is establishing a double-standard. It's also hypocrisy. Kitanoumi Rijicho has been making poor decisions throughout his tenure, and he hasn't taken any responsibility for anything. He doesn't need to because the media and public don't demand it. So why do they demand it from Asashoryu? They hate him, and he's a foreigner.

Sumo would not be better off without Asashoryu. How can anyone even make that claim? take perhaps the greatest Yokozuna ever out of the sport in his prime? And that makes sumo better? How? It would require the rikishi to do less in order to take the yusho. It lowers the standard of what type of sumo would be necessary to become a Yokozuna. Nobody has to try as hard anymore. How does that make things better? Name me one Yokozuna besides Asashoryu who has at least 20 yusho in his career where not a one of 'em was less than 13-2? The dude keeps the level of sumo at the highest standard the sport has ever seen, and you want to take him out of it? That's idiocy at its finest.

I'm gonna completely shift gears now and talk about Asashoryu's condition. We've all done know, think in your mind about how the legends of the sport would have fared against each other had they faced one another in their primes. Well, right now, we're seeing the mental matchup between Asashoryu and Kitanoumi Rijicho. Asashoryu knows that Kitanoumi and the other directors are badgering him to the point where they want him to just quit, and the board of directors know that Asashoryu is exaggerating things a bit so he can go home to Mongolia. If things were as truly bad in Asashoryu's noggin' as the press has been making them out to be, Asashoryu's family would have been there within a day. Mentally deranged people do things like pay money for Hanson records. Asashoryu was just cooped up by himself watching TV all day with the drapes pulled, unshaven, wearing the same clothes day in and day out with unkempt hair, not showing up for work, talking like a child, and ignoring those around him who were bugging him with questions. That's not mental illness; that's every married man's dream...what, now that sex is no longer an option. Asashoryu's just fine. In fact, when I saw footage of him coming out of his apartment, he looked like someone completely in charge of his faculties. He also had that look on his face that said don't eff with me. He's gonna continue to play the game just as the board of directors are doing to him, and I think in the end, he'll make it back to Mongolia sometime during the basho when everyone's minds are focused on the tournament itself.

If everyone can get Asashoryu off of their minds. This is the first time in memory when we've had new sumo news every single day in between basho, and this is usually the slowest time of the year as many people take summer vacation. People just couldn't get enough Asashoryu news, which leads me to question whether or not Asashoryu is bigger than the sport itself right now. We'll find out once the banzuke is released, but don't be surprised if we see very few keiko reports because the focus is still on the Yokozuna. And the Exhibition Committee members were saying that exhibition sumo is the second pillar which supports the sport. Yeah, uh huh. I saw maybe 5 total news stories coming out of the exhibition camp. The first was rikishi reaction to Asashoryu's punishment, not about the exhibition itself. The next group of reports focused on the Sadogatake-beya rikishi after Kotozakura became a victim of malpractice, once again, nothing about the exhibition itself. And then I did see one article early on that said in lieu of Asashoryu's presence, they were going to pit Kotooshu against Kotomitsuki to create a same-stable contest and try and spice things up. Wow!! Pretty please, someone email me and tell me who won.

So life goes on. The banzuke comes out in less than a week, but it seems as if no one cares. Of course not, we're still following the Asashoryu story day by day because he matters. If Asashoryu was sick of things, he'd be gone by now, so sorry Asashoryu detractors, he isn't going away just yet. I'm not saying root for the guy, and I'm not saying that you even have to like the guy. Just don't give me takes trying to justify why Asashoryu should retire and how sumo would be better for it. Just makes you look like an idiot. And believe me, we know an idiot when we see one.


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