Viewers Sound Off

Do you have an opinion or beef with anything going in Sumo?  Send us an email and we'll discuss it here.  Also, if anyone has their own daily comments on the current basho, send them along and we'll publish them here.

I'd like to see you guys address this issue in depth. Why did Akebono leave? I'd also like to hear you guys comment on a recent article from a Japanese newspaper.

"If (Akebono) was a Japanese, he'd have a greater understanding of sumo, the national sport, but with a different value system, that can't be helped. It might well be impossible for foreigners to understand the traditions, loyalty and empathy that are involved in sumo." 

This comment from a member of Akebono's former support group which disbanded after Akebono married an American. Isn't this always the excuse the Japanese use when confronted with the bitter realities of their culture? I'd like to add that Japanese themselves have little interest and thus do not understand the traditions etc of Sumo. That is why the sport is in danger of losing any popularity whatsoever. 

My two cents
Jeff Fountain

Mike--This is an excellent topic to banter around.  As for the question "why did Akebono leave?", the only one who really knows the answer is Akebono himself. The reason he gave was that the competitive fire within him still burned, and he wanted to continue to compete in a martial art, which in his case happens to be K-1. There's also speculation that he needs the money, which wouldn't surprise me either. What I do know is that he felt there was obviously a better avenue regarding his future then sticking around in the Sumo Association and paying upwards of 200 million yen to do so.

Akebono only needs to look at his own stable to see what the future holds in store for a foreign-born oyakata. His stable master, Azumazeki-oyakata (former Takamiyama) broke new ground in the seventies as the first foreign born rikishi to achieve success in the Makuuchi division. His highest rank was Sekiwake, but he achieved several longevity records and really earned respect from the Japanese for his hard work. Takamiyama has since done everything "by the book" and has achieved something that very few oyakata can: raising a Yokozuna. Still, how often do you see Takamiyama with any real responsibility within the organization? How many times have you seen him sit around the ring and judge the Makuuchi bouts. How many times have you seen this guy get any run for something not involving Akebono? The answer is never.

On one hand, the Japanese can say that "foreigners don't completely understand the national sport, etc.," but on the other hand, are the Japanese really giving foreigners equal treatment to prove themselves? I say no way. Does this make the Japanese racists? Not anymore than any other country on the earth. Show me one country that has never discriminated against someone else for their ethnic background, religious beliefs, etc. I think Akebono understands Japanese culture, sumo, the Japanese value system, etc. perfectly well. That's why he's getting the hell out of sumo.

I couldn't agree more with you in your assessment that the Japanese themselves are losing interest in the sport. Sumo is just like any other Japanese traditional activity whether it be kabuki, sword making, pottery, or tea ceremony. We just live in a day and age where devoting your entire life to this one practice and time-honored tradition is very unattractive when compared to everything else the world has to offer. Ask Wakanohana why he didn't' stay. Here's a former Yokozuna whose father was a great Ozeki and still plays a prominent role in the sport, but he bolted for greener pastures as well. It's sad in a way, but it's reality. I hate to see Japan lose its culture like this because it's taking it's toll on sumo. The only thing that will increase the sport's popularity again is another Takanohana. No, not a great Yokozuna, but a young, good-looking kid who can capture the heart of the nation.

Kenji--I see Akebono's leaving the Sumo Association as a classic case of a household name trying to regain celebrity status. He said so himself, making statements at a press conference to hype his upcoming K-1 bout with Bob Sapp like "It's nice to see my face plastered prominently on a poster (advertisement) again". I think he needs to be in the limelight, and staying in the sumo world as an Oyakata just doesn't cut it. 

I think the comment that foreigners don't understand sumo is malarchy. Akebono spent what, 13 years in sumo working his way from rock bottom to pinnacle? He picked up Japanese along the way and actually got half way respectable in his color commentary of bouts before he quit. Doesn't understand sumo? This is a guy who's been there and done it all; he understands sumo better than 99.9% of the Japanese population. Mike's assessment that Akebono's very understanding of sumo and its constraints as being the reason for his leaving is a good one. This, coupled with an itch to get his name back in the forefront of people's minds, is why we're seeing Akebono doing what he's doing.