Can You Say "Witch Hunt"?
Attention: The Sumo
Association need not read this article because it contains common sense and
Needless to say I've been glued to the wires the last couple of days waiting for the Asashoryu updates and laughing at those babies who make up the Exhibition Tournament Committee, but more on them later. The early speculation was that Asashoryu may be forced to miss a basho because of his behavior, but I nearly pee'd myself when I saw the actual punishment they handed down. It is ludicrous and makes no sense. Well, okay, it makes perfect sense to all of us, and I'll explain why.
First, let's go over the timeline of events that led up to this mess, and I'll pause the tape along the way to comment:
July 23rd - Asashoryu visits a hospital in Mie (with the obvious intention of getting out of the upcoming summer exhibitions) and obtains the results of a health exam that say he has chronic pain in his back due to an old stress fracture and a bad left elbow that needs surgery to fully heal. His oyakata turns the health exam results into the Sumo Association that same day along with his kyujo papers.
Pause the tape. The Sumo Association has just accepted Asashoryu's kyujo status and made no comments. The dude just freakin' took the yusho running off 14 straight wins. He's obviously not injured to the point where he can't go on the exhibition tour, but the Association accepts the kyujo no problem. Why? Because it's a Yokozuna's right to do so. It's not a written rule anywhere; it's just the way it is. If a Yokozuna loses two bouts in the first week of a basho, it's a given that he'll go kyujo. We know he's not seriously injured, but it's just his right to do so. The only reason Asa didn't go kyujo in Haru of this year was because it was just after the yaocho allegations came out...so he just couldn't. But the point is, it's common practice for Yokozuna to skip out on events once or twice a year. How many jungyo tours did Takanohana miss in his career? I'll bet at least 25% before he injured his knee. But he can do that because there are other rikishi--namely other Yokozuna--to take up the slack. It's just a common practice, and that's why zero people flinched at this point including the Sumo Association. No problem or misbehavior here.
July 24th - Asa goes to Mongolia for some much needed R & R leaving the new Yokozuna, Hakuho, to pull duty, something Asashoryu has done tirelessly the last five years...on his own.
July 25th - The Mongolian government learns that Asa has come home, and by their explanation afterwards, persuaded the Yokozuna to attend a charity soccer event for some kids even though the Yokozuna first turned them down saying he came home to rehab some old injuries. Asashoryu attends the event and joins in a game of soccer with Japanese soccer star, Nakata. Video shows Asa running down the field and jumping up and down cheering with that signature grin on his face. He's obviously having a good time.
Okay, pause the tape again. What part of the body do you use to play soccer? I know, I know, those of you going "it's called football loser" will say all high and mightily, well, you do use your feet, but there's also the head, and then you use your whole body and elbows to keep your opponent at bay or off your back, and then when you flop on the ground writhing in pain because you're faking an injury, you need all of your body to pull that off. I get it. And in Japan, it's called soccer, so deal with it. Anyway, when you play soccer--especially in a charity event--you use your feet and that's it. And I don't assume the players were running full boar either. Anyway, the more serious of the two injuries Asashoryu claimed was to his left elbow, which the hospital in Mie Prefecture said needed surgery. You can have your arms lopped clear off for godsakes and you can still play soccer. As for the back injury, it didn't hamper the Yokozuna from taking the yusho, so why would it be a problem for him to run around on a soccer field for awhile (the pitch, by the way, is what you throw in baseball). I realize the problem goes beyond this...the problem is that Asa was out playing around--and having a good time god forbid--while his coworkers were working. I'll address that later because that lies at the core of this incident. I just wanted to make the point that I don't see how playing a game of soccer could have worsened the two injuries Asashoryu claimed up front.
July 26 or 27th (guessing here) - Video footage of Asashoryu playing soccer is broadcast in Japan on what they call Wideshows, which are morning to mid afternoon gossip type shows geared at housewives. They take newspaper articles and paste them on a wall and then use a pointer with a big, fat, plastic white hand on the end to point out each article as they discuss it.
July 29th - Elections are held in Japan where the people vote for members of the Legislative branch in the government called the National Diet. This is the most boring television time of the year the Japanese people freely admit. Mainstream television is obligated the cover the event heavily, so for the weekend of the elections, the shelves of video stores nationwide are emptier than the inside of Paris Hilton's head. The whole reason I mention this is I think the media was dying for something else to cover than the boring elections.
July 30th - Asashoryu returns from Mongolia by order of the Sumo Association, who didn't ask him to return until the story blew up in the press. Upon arriving at Narita Airport, Asashoryu immediately meets his oyakata and the two head for the Ryogoku Kokugikan to meet with Kitanoumi Rijicho.
July 31st - An emergency meeting of the Board of Directors is called for the next day while the members of the Exhibition Tournament Committee cry to the press saying they want the Yokozuna banned from even the jungyo. In the meantime, the Mongolian Government issues a formal apology through the Mongolian Embassy saying that they persuaded Asashoryu to join the event despite his wishes not to and his explaining to them that he was home to rehab his injuries.
August 1st - The board hands down Asashoryu and Takasago-oyakata's punishment
I don't see how a true sumo fan isn't outraged and disgusted by the severity of the punishment, which is way over the top. The reason is because there was no deceit, no lying, and no shady intentions on the Yokozuna's part whatsoever. He did everything by the book. He obtained a medical record of his diagnosis and submitted it to the Association. They obviously accepted it and gave Asashoryu no conditions like "you can't go back to Mongolia." Everyone knew damn well where he was going.
Second, the Mongolian government is not lying. A country would not make the effort of issuing an apology through its embassy over something as trivial as sports and lie in the statement. So from this we know that Asashoryu did not want to participate in the event. We know that he told them that he was injured and would rather not go. They persisted, and Asashoryu agreed.
Third, Asashoryu is at a charity event for kids. You know...kids. The reason why you try the hell to get off work early and go home so you can play ball. The reason why you don't always update a website in a timely manner or provide the best comments. The reason you commit to a relationship and get married. Your pride and joy. The reason why you actually take vacation time at work. Yeah, kids. And then there's charity. You know, doing something for others they can't do for themselves with no expectations of getting something in return. And giving two white vans and a couple of wheel chairs each year to a local hospital is not charity, Sumo Association. It's publicity and you know it. And by the way, who is always there when you make those contributions? The Yokozuna of course. Asashoryu has been there for nearly five years. Everytime. All by himself because there was simply no one else except maybe one of the Japanese Ozeki.
So my argument is: what did Asashoryu do that was wrong? I just don't see any bad behavior. He followed everything by the book; he was up front with everyone; he agreed to attend a charity event because he's a good guy; and he didn't do anything to worsen his injuries. That's why the punishment is so outrageous to me. The Sumo Association has such obvious facts right in front of their face, yet they refuse to acknowledge them. That's why I call this thing a witch hunt because the press is also involved. Every article leads off with the word "kebyo" which means feigned injury. What did Asashoryu fake? He has two injuries diagnosed by a hospital that don't prevent him from playing soccer. And then the word "kyoujiru" is being used to describe Asa's attitude when playing soccer. Kyoujiru = to be happy or make oneself merry. That's the problem right there. Asashoryu was having a good time, and it rubbed the Japanese wrong. I've been reading letters, editorials, etc. that say Asashoryu doesn't respect the sport or the jungyo. Bull-shit. Suppose he never joined that charity event...he was still kyujo, and he was still in Mongolia. Would there still be this outrage? No way. No one would have said a word because Yokozuna and kyujo are as common as carrots and peas. And furthermore, if nobody likes Asashoryu and wants him banned from the sport, why the hell do you care if he's at the jungyo or not? It's just so godamn hypocritical and obvious it makes me sick.
I've asked a couple of Japanese people what they think and their response was the exact same as those whom George has asked in Tokyo. (Yes, that George. Hey, if Harry Potter can get killed and then be resurrected, George sure as hell can too!). Without fail, the response is that the punishment is just because he is a Yokozuna in Japan's national sport. What they don't say is "and we're getting sick of a foreigner dominating it!" That's the obvious reason right there. This is just another opportunity to try and attempt to tarnish a legacy that is imposing on the legendary Japanese Yokozuna, so the public at large is running with this as if someone was giving out free money. It's the same reason that the Shukan Gendai brought up the yaocho allegations when they did...Asashoryu had entered hallowed ground with his 20th yusho. And what galls me the most is that through this punishment the Sumo Association themselves are contributing to the smear campaign because Asashoryu is less than a handful of yusho behind two of it's current prominent members...one the head cheese himself. The Sumo Association vigorously defended Asashoryu's character when the yaocho allegations threatened the integrity of the sport, but now that same Association is attacking Asashoryu's character because all that's threatened is the integrity of the Yokozuna himself.
And thank god for Futahaguro, or odds are good that Asashoryu would have been forced into retirement because of this. If you're new to sumo, Futahaguro was a young, pompous dude in the mid-eighties who had excellent sumo skill but was a PR nightmare. After being promoted to Yokozuna at the age of 23, he got pissed at his stablemaster and beat his [the stablemaster's] wife in a rage as he stormed out of the stable. Futahaguro was booted out of the sport, and thus, the standard was set for forcing a Yokozuna out. What Asashoryu did last week is so inconsequential that to boot him out of the sport now would be like booting Barry Bonds out of baseball right now just because he's one homerun behind the all time leader, we have definite reason to believe that he used steroids, and we don't want him to break the hallowed record. In other words because we're bitter.
Well, the Sumo Association is bitter because Asashoryu has been dominating their sport and he hasn't been Japanese about it. You hear the excuses of "oh, he has no dignity (hinkaku)" or "a Yokozuna must be an example off the dohyo as well" but that's just a load of crap. It's an excuse and a reason to make themselves and the public feel just slightly better about having their asses kicked at the hands of a Mongolian, but regardless of how much they try and tarnish or belittle the Yokozuna's accomplishments, his name is there forever in your record books, and you're just gonna have to deal with it. Asashoryu couldn't have handled the situation any better simply stating, "I accept the punishment and am looking forward to getting back to the exhibitions in December and the Hatsu basho next year." And then just what the doctor ordered...literally. As Asa's doctor exited his residence the day after the punishment was handed down, he told the press that Asashoryu had told him, "I like Japan, and I like the Japanese. I also love sumo and will do my best once I'm back." I don't even have to tell you what the reaction deep down inside of the Sumo Association and the Japan public at large was when they heard that, but I'll tell you anyway: "damn, he didn't quit."
No, Asashoryu's not gonna quit. He's gonna remember this and the way he was handled unjustly. He's going to sit back and rehab his injuries. He's gonna prepare himself mentally, so that when next January comes around, all hell will break loose. You can't keep a true champion down, and Asa ain't goin' anywhere despite the lame attempts by the Sumo Association. It just pisses me off that they aren't more appreciative of the guy and what he has done for the sport. Can you imagine what a sorry state the sport would have been in for the last few years without him? We may just get a glimpse of that if Hakuho can't keep the yusho line at 13-2. To me, sitting one basho out and a paycut would have been acceptable considering Asashoryu's past. But sitting two basho out? All that does is clearly tell us the real intentions of the Sumo Association.
Stay tuned although I know a lot of you are so pissed that you're gonna boycott the sport until Asashoryu gets back. I don't blame you. As a fan, I would do the same thing even with this website, but the purpose of Sumotalk has always been to explain to the non-Japanese speaker what was really going on in sumo, so at least a few of us will be around the next two basho to point out why sumo needs Asashoryu's presence.
Hang in there my man, I know you will. And I can't wait to see what you bring in January.
Now, I know this is nearing Martin-report-length, but I just have to comment on the members of the Exhibition Tournament Committee. Don't be surprised if you've never heard any of the oyakata's names. They're as popular as the exhibitions themselves. Ever wonder why an ex-Yokozuna is never part of this committee? Of course not. It's obvious why not. Anyway, members of the committee have just been acting like babies in the press because they were dissed by Asashoryu. Give it up already, and stop pouting. If there's one thing I can't stand, it's adults who pout and act like children . And I have never witnessed a country where this is more prevalent than Japan where even the guys pout.
Quick personal example...don't worry, this one involves a girl. I'm in college and am going out with this Japanese chick. We're getting kinda serious, and one time, we along with a group of friends head to LA for the weekend. My older brother lives in LA, so I'm thinkin' yeah, go hang out with the bro, which means playing billiards, swim in the pool at his apartment, and watching the sporting event on TV that weekend (happened to be Agassi's first grand slam victory at Wimbledon) in our underwear. Well, the other group of friends are planning to go to Disneyland and that sorta crap, so we finally get to LA and we're ready to split up...me and my gal going to my brother's house, and the others going to Anaheim...and my girlfriend is suddenly sitting there with her head down and looking all sad. We all kind of stared at each other in surprise and then ask What's wrong? Silence. But, hey, at least we got some tears. We ask again. More silence. Finally, I say, "well, let's go." She doesn't move. After quickly looking at the others in the group and confirming equally puzzled eyes, I say again, "let's go" because she obviously wasn't going to tell us what's wrong, and I had a double-date with a billiard table. She doesn't move and is still looking down all sad. I ask one more time, and then just left her sitting there and headed to my bro's. I have my priorities in order you know. Well, I get a phone call the next night from her and it goes like this:
Me: "What's wrong with you?"
Her: More dramatic silence
Me: "Are you going to tell me what's wrong?"
Her: After more silence to build up the drama..."you hurt me"
Me: (thinking to myself) do I have to put up with this? "Okay, how did I hurt you."
Her: "While we were driving down you said that I'd probably have a lot more fun hanging out with the others than going to your brother's place with you."
Me: ( whispering to my brother) "Hey, could you hand me another slice of pizza. And turn the TV a little this way."
Me: (to her) "I said that? Well, it was probably an observation that I had nothing but guy things planned in LA. Why didn't you tell me this earlier...like right after I said it?"
Her: More silence
I don't remember the stimulating conversation after that, but once we all got back to our college town, I said "see ya honey." I refuse to put up with any adult who pouts or acts childish, and chicks are no exception regardless of how hot they are (note: acting Beavis and Butthead childish is completely acceptable if not encouraged). Anyway, she stalked me for like two months after that, so you know how I got her to quit following me? Started dating a white girl. Just a little advice for any of you who find yourself in the same situation.
Anyway, the point of the whole story is...I learned from my college days how to detect pouting from the Japanese. Then of course after having lived and worked in Japan for many years, I easily identified the pouting aspect of the culture, so as I read the comments from the various heads of the Exhibition Tournament Committee, the childish pouting alarms immediately go off in my head. They are using this reverse psychology language saying, "well, if he doesn't want to attend our jungyou, that's just fine with us. We don't want him anyway." That's the whole point!! He doesn't want to attend the exhibitions because they're worthless and stupid. That's why he bolted to Mongolia...to get out of them! The only people who care about exhibitions are old people and the curious gaijin, so stop using language like "exhibitions are the other pillar upon which sumo stands", and stop pretending to be what you're not. Exhibitions exist for two reasons: to bring in more caish in between basho, and to find potential recruits in the smaller areas of the country. That's it, so stop your bullshit rhetoric about how Asashoryu is making light of the exhibitions and how you don't really need him. Sumo needs Asashoryu.
Be well everyone, and if you have the means, let your voice be heard regarding the unjust punishment handed down to Asashoryu.