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EDITORIAL | It's High Time Sumo Comes to Grips with Its Bullying Problem

Incidents of violence by sumo stablemasters and senior wrestlers against younger members should be dealt with harshly to eradicate the problem once and for all.

The Japan Sumo Association has demoted sumo elder and former yokozuna Hakuho, who now heads the Miyagino Beya for failure to stop multiple acts of violence within his stable and impeding the investigation of the incidents. 

Miyagino Oyakata will fall two levels within the ranks of the sumo elders and take a pay cut. Both penalties are for not properly supervising top division maegashira wrestler Hokuseiho, who bullied younger wrestlers within the stable. ("Miyagino Oyakata" translates to Miyagino stablemaster in English as a formal title; oyakata means "master.")

Control of the Miyagino stable will also be transferred to the Isegahama group. 

In other words, Miyagino has been judged unfit by his peers to run a sumo stable. 

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Hokuseiho (©KYODO)

The Accusations

The JSA investigation revealed that 22-year-old Hokuseiho had engaged in insidious acts of violence against younger wrestlers. Hokuseiho is accused of repeatedly hitting their faces, backs and groins, including with a broom handle. The accusations also include bringing lighted insecticide spray close to the victims and applying superglue to their fingers and wallets.

It was only natural that the JSA should discipline the stablemaster. Miyagino refrained from intervening even after becoming aware of the situation. His JSA peers judged him as "seriously lacking the qualifications and awareness required of a mentor."

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Miyagino, formerly known as Hakuho. (©KYODO)

Appropriate Punishment for the Sumo Legend

There is no denying that Hakuho had an illustrious career in the sumo ring. He won an all-time record of 45 Emperor's Cup titles. Furthermore, he stepped up to support the world of sumo as the sole yokozuna after the retirement of Asashoryu in 2010. 

However, during the second half of his career, he was frequently reproached for his violent techniques and behavior. Perhaps there was a reluctance to confront him over his dubious behavior because of his great achievements. 

The time finally came, however, when any further indulgence would threaten to completely undermine sumo. When he assumed the title of Miyagino Oyakata, Hakuho had to sign a rather unusual pledge that he would "protect the traditional culture and customs of sumo." 

Regarding Miyagino's punishment, Shibatayama (former yokozuna Onokuni), who heads the JSA's public affairs department, said, "His legacy is significant, so I hope he will do his best in the future." 

That should not be a concern at this point. Miyagino has been demoted to the lowest rank among sumo elders. Now, the only way for him to redeem himself is to convince people both inside and outside the world of sumo that he is working hard as an oyakata behind the scenes.

Sumo elder Miyagino, formerly known as yokozuna Hakuho, stands next to five Guinness World Record certificates from his legendary career on December 3, 2021.

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Bullying is Not an Isolated Problem at Miyagino Stable

Furthermore, the problem of bullying is not confined to the Miyagino stable. That stable has been put under the wing of the Isegahama stable run by stablemaster Isegahama (former yokozuna Asahifuji). However, Isegahama himself resigned from the Japan Sumo Association's board of directors in 2022. The reason: He failed to report bullying by members of his stable against younger wrestlers. 

In 2023, stablemaster Michinoku (former ozeki Kirishima) was punished for a similar issue. And the case of former yokozuna Takanohana is fresh in the memory. He was demoted two ranks and otherwise punished for covering up a violent incident involving one of his stable's wrestlers and other issues. He ended up leaving sumo altogether. 

Hokuseiho defeats Meisei on Day 10 of the 2023 Summer Basho. (ⒸSankei)

In the past in the world of sumo, violence by oyakata and senior wrestlers against younger wrestlers was an accepted practice referred to as kawaigari or "harsh training." However, it is hardly a practice acceptable in general society. It would seem that the lenient attitude that "sumo is special" continues to pervade the Japan Sumo Association as a whole. 

When he was wrestling as a yokozuna, Miyagino declared with strong resolve, "When there are no more yokozuna, the nation will be done for." 

Now is the time for everyone in the world of sumo, including the man who spoke those very words, to ponder their true meaning. 

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(Read the editorial in Japanese.)

Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun

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