Enough of the hate and negativity

I've noticed an extremely disturbing trend the past year or so, and it starts with the Japanese press and the way that they are treating Asashoryu. In Japanese society they have a word called "ijime", which means bullying or pestering someone. Ijime is usually brought up in the context of school kids bullying each other after someone has committed suicide, but ijime is also prevalent in the workplace, and yes, even the Japanese press. Hide Nakata, probably the greatest soccer star Japan has ever produced, blogged back in August when the whole Asashoryu punishment story was the hot topic that he believed the Japanese press was taking unfair shots at the Yokozuna and to quote him, "they were taking any opportunity to bully him" (he used the word ijime). I'll give you a few examples of this "ijime" and expound on what Nakata meant by those comments using recent sumo headlines.

Daily Sports ran an article on 12/19 titled "Mitsuru Yaku cuts Asashoryu to the quick!" and Sports Hochi followed that up with "Mr. Yaku warns Asashoryu that he is in no position to make his desires known".

The gist of those two articles and a few others out there focused on the same subject, which was Asashoryu has no right to go home to Mongolia for the holidays (it's not like Japan is a democracy or anything). To quote Mitsuru Yaku directly: "His behavior is good now only because he's being watched. He may yet say, though, that he wants to go back to Mongolia for the holidays, but he is in no such position to ask for what he wants."

Mitsuru Yaku (pictured at right) is an anime artist who has been appointed to a useless committee formed by the Sumo Association to ensure that no more rikishi are needlessly killed due to over-the-top keiko. First of all, any dude over the age of 35 (I'm being generous with that number) who has long hair and isn't in a good rock band is a loser. Second, way to put words into Asashoryu's mouth. The Yokozuna has not indicated at any point since returning to Japan that he wanted to go back to Mongolia for the holidays; yet, Yucku is boldly declaring that Asashoryu has no right to say such things. Why don't you wait for Asashoryu to actually say something before you make those sorta comments? Furthermore, you have multiple press agencies jumping on the comments and painting this picture with exaggerated headlines that Asashoryu had requested that he be allowed to go back to Mongolia for the year-end holiday before being rebuffed by Mitsuru Yaku.

Let's go back the day before that where the same Daily Sports ran the headline: "Kitanoumi Rijicho has harsh words for Asashoryu". Oh really? Anyone who reads that headline will immediately think 'what's Asashoryu done now?'. The answer is nothing. If you actually open the article and read it, Kitanoumi's comments were that he expects nothing less of Asashoryu than to be in the yusho race for the Hatsu basho. He goes on to describe the responsibility of the Yokozuna at hon-basho. You can read the comments on our news page for December 18th. Many news agencies got this headline right using the word "noruma", or the norm as in the normal expectations for a Yokozuna, but a few exaggerated it to give the appearance that the commissioner was irritated by something that Asashoryu had done.

Rewind back a week or so when Asashoryu asked Tomozuna-beya if he could come for de-geiko but was refused. The day after when asked his thoughts, Asashoryu stated, "If I had known how they felt, I wouldn't have asked." but many of the news agencies exaggerated the headlines. Sports Nippon ran the headline: "Asashoryu loses his cool!". Sports Hochi's headline was "Asashoryu snaps back at the Tomozuna-beya 'I wouldn't have gone!'". These agencies were using exclamation points in their supposed quotes and the word "kireru" which means to lose one's temper to try and paint Asashoryu in a bad light. What really happened is a throng of reporters waiting outside of the Takasago-beya asked him for comment on the matter and he replied that he wouldn't have gone if he had known. Was he testy in his reply? Prolly. But how can you blame him for being irritated at the press after they've been so relentless towards him? And did Asashoryu snap or lose his temper? Not even close.

On the morning where Asashoryu returned from Mongolia back on November 30th one headline read: "If Asashoryu snaps, he's done for good!". They used the word "kireru" again and of course added an exclamation point. The article even contained a quote from Oshima-oyakata (anti-Asashoryu) saying that they would kick Asashoryu out of the sport altogether if he lost his temper at the press conference. The point of that headline was to paint the picture that Asashoryu is disrespectful and that he can't control his emotions. Of course the press conference went off without a hitch, and Asashoryu was on his best behavior, but the press did their best to paint an incorrect picture about the Yokozuna beforehand. The former Sadogatake-oyakata made it clear on his death bed whether or not Asashoryu is disrespectful.

And finally, sometime in mid-November, Nikkansports ran a big headline that said: "Asashoryu's in trouble...his work VISA has expired!". The article went on to say that it normally takes two months for someone to renew their work VISA and that if Asashoryu wasn't able to return in time for the winter exhibitions due to VISA problems that he would surely be kicked out of the Sumo Association. And of course Nikkansports asked Oshima-oyakata his opinion to which the oyakata replied "he's an idiot for letting this happen!". Way to take shots at someone who has been diagnosed as clinically depressed. The sensational story lasted only a day...just as long as it took for Asashoryu's camp to pull a few strings and get the VISA renewed without further incident, but the point is Nikkansports knew damn well that Asashoryu was going to get his VISA; they just pounced on the opportunity to take another cheap shot at the Yokozuna.

These are not the only examples; this kind of badgering happens all the time in the media, but this blog entry is not another attempt to defend Asashoryu. I've already expertly done that in previous entries and other reports. This article is a call to the Sumo Association to take some action and start protecting their Yokozuna. Look, I realize that controversy and negativity sells newspapers and magazines and that the media--as slimy as it may be--has a job to do. But, the Sumo Association is obligated in my opinion to demand responsible journalism from the mainstream press. The fact that they don't seem to care is disturbing because they have a huge influence over them. The Sumo Association does not tell the media what to write, but they have shown in the last few months that they will indeed revoke press credentials if someone crosses the line in their opinion.

Back in September, a former NHK anchorman and longtime sumo commentator had his press credentials revoked because he went on TV and criticized the Association. They restored them a few days later after an uproar in the media against the Association, but that didn't stop them a few months later from kindly threatening TBS (Tokyo Broadcast Company) not to air video that they had recorded of an interview with Asashoryu in Mongolia during his rehabilitation. Then you have the term "kyushi mondai", or sudden-death problem. To me sudden-death problem is deciding World Cup games on penalty kicks, but in Japan, it's the glossy term that the mainstream media uses (and that the NSK approves of) to refer to the Tokitaizan lynching. You see...it's all a political game here, so my problem is that the Sumo Association allows the press to continually badger their Yokozuna with false headlines and exaggerations when they clearly have the power to stop it. Why do you think the media always goes to Oshima-oyakata or Makiko Uchidate when they want comments on Asashoryu? Are there other members of this prevention committee besides Mitsuru Yaku? Yes. But the reason you always see quotes from Yucku and the other people I just mentioned is because they all hate Asashoryu and want him out of sumo.

The Sumo Association has got to start using the media to their advantage instead of letting them get fat on sensationalism at sumo's expense. If you were to ask anyone on the streets of Japan today what their impression is of sumo in general, the reaction would be negative across the board. The simple reasons are: the Mongolians currently rule, the Association allowed a 17 year-old to get lynched and then did everything they could to try and cover-up the story, and the media has generated such a negative image with their coverage of late. It's called public relations fellas, and the only public relations moves that I've seen coming from the NSK are attempts to cover their asses after their blunders have been exposed. The Sumo Association has got to start projecting a more positive image of themselves and do some marketing to the future rikishi. The way to do that is to start with the press, and let me illustrate that with a personal example.

13 years ago when I worked for the city government in Fukuoka, I caught on quickly to the bullshit political game that pervades Japanese society and the relationship between organizations with clout and the media. It's a complete you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours relationship. The city would organize the most mundane events and label them as summits or symposiums. Nobody cared about them and there is not a shred of good that ever came from them; it was just a way to waste the tax payers' money so we could bilk at least that much more budget the next year. When the day of the said summit arrived, whatever auditorium we reserved would be like a tenth full, and so there would be this big rush to call the other offices at the city hall and ask the employees to go sit in the auditorium because the press would be there at such and such a time. The press didn't want to be there either, but they were obligated to cover the event so that the next time they needed a favor from the city government, they'd get it with no questions asked. And if I had 1,000 yen for everytime someone called my office saying we need a gaijin over here quick...the cameras are coming...I certainly wouldn't be working for the MAN these days.

I will concede that if the Sumo Association really wanted the press off of Asashoryu's back they would step in. There's no question that Asashoryu sells and associating his name with anything will pique the consumers' interest more than any other rikishi, but it would be the correct step to take for the Association to request that the sensational headlines and ijime stop. All it does it breed more negativity when the sport desperately needs some positive publicity. 

Has anyone besides me noticed the trend lately where you have 16-17 rikishi call it quits per basho while the Association gets a hard-on if even 4 new kids sign up? Give sumo a -12 rikishi turnover per basho (that's being generous) and that's...let's see...(counting furiously on fingers and toes)...that's 72 rikishi per year that sumo is losing. Who's gonna fill in the gaps? Foreign rikishi of course. It's simple mathematics. Greatly reduce the number of Japanese rikishi, which decreases the native to foreigner rikishi count, and the foreigners will only get stronger even if stables are allowed only 1 foreigner apiece. Is it any coincidence that with nearly every new banzuke we set a new record in terms of number of foreign sekitori, foreign rikishi in Makuuchi, Mongolian sekitori, etc.? I say it all goes back to Kitanoumi Rijicho and his cohorts. Times are tough, yes, but as the leader of the band it's his responsibility to create measures that will start to shift the pubic perception of his sport back towards the positive.  At the current rate, we're not years away from Japan regaining power...it's more like generations.

I say start with the media. Sit down with them and say "hey fellas, let's try and keep things positive...why don't you focus on the up-and-coming local talent instead of continually trying to tear down the foreign talent? Why don't you cooperate with us in building up the images and potential of the Japanese rikishi instead of bemoaning the fact that foreign rikishi are dominating the sport?" I know, it's a stretch bordering on laughable, but have you ever heard the Japanese media talk about the national soccer team...especially around World Cup time? You'd think Nippon (clap, clap, clap) was the favorite to win it all the way they spin things. And the Olympics. I feel so sorry for the Japanese athletes due to the amount of pressure put on them by the media when let's face it, physically, they can rarely measure up. Expectations are built so high, and then there is the inevitable letdown, but at least the country was behind their athletes for a season. With sumo you have none of that; yet, I could go down the banzuke and list nearly every Japanese rikishi and find a positive way to spin his potential.

I'm not saying don't write about Asashoryu, and I'm certainly not saying that you can't dislike the Yokozuna. My point is that the Sumo Association is sitting idly by when they could be using their influence on the press to start putting a positive spin on things; whereas now, the commissioner's keeping silent on the subject is allowing the media to take the focus off of sumo itself and concentrate it on a character attack of Asashoryu...a circumstance that only focuses on the negative.

Let me put it to you in these terms using Martin as an example. Martin hates Asashoryu. He'd like to see Asashoryu get his ass kicked everyday, and I think there are a lot of you out there who feel the same way...which is perfectly fine. In that same vein, I hated Takanohana. I was simply sick of him winning every basho, and I wanted to see someone else take the yusho. But what I didn't do was come up with stupid takes to try and tarnish Takanohana's legacy or defame his character or try to belittle what a great Yokozuna he was. Martin and I chat frequently, and he never hides his glee when Asashoryu loses, and he's always optimistic that someone somehow will trip Asashoryu up so that someone else can yusho. And I'm completely fine with it because what Martin doesn't do is give inane takes or arguments to try and explain away Asashoryu's success or badmouth him because he hates him. So my advice to the Japanese press is hate on Asashoryu all you want. Root against him all you want. Go cream yourselves when Asashoryu loses. But DON'T make up these exaggerated headlines in an attempt to lessen people's impressions regarding Asashoryu. With the Sumo Association's influence, time could be spent so much more wisely for the press to try and rebuild the popularity of sumo. Make sumo attractive again to the youngsters in Japan. Make the kids want to idolize guys like Chiyotaikai (proud veteran, longevity) or Homasho (manners and respect) or Toyonoshima (underdog) or Goeido (rising star). Make some noise when a newcomer to Juryo like Ichihara kicks some ass and shows great potential by making it to Makuuchi in just one basho. Start hyping the Japanese rikishi and make kids aspire to become great rikishi themselves. All you are accomplishing now is spreading negativity regarding sumo and creating problems and misconceptions that simply don't exist.

And as for Mitsuru Yaku, he gained fame as a committee member by calling out an Asashoryu practice session with Kakuryu at a winter exhibition where the Yokozuna roughed up his fellow Mongolian using a tsuri-otoshi or two to send a message. Mitsuru claimed that the move could have injured Kakuryu and that Asashoryu was too rough in the keiko ring. The Sumo Association responded just a few days ago with Isenoumi-oyakata saying, "We are not just taking sides with Asashoryu here, but it was Kakuryu's own fault that he was worked like that." Kitanoumi Rijicho followed up with, "That was Kakuryu's fault because he let up." Hopefully Yucku gets the point. We don't tell you what kind of sick twisted porn scenarios to include in your comic books for Japanese salarymen to read on the subway as they return from work; so how about if you stop giving us your useless opinions on sumo. That was a step in the right direction, Sumo Association


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