The idea occurred to me as I began shooting at the Nagoya Summer Grand Sumo Tournament on the 14th and second to final day. There had been scandals and problems. Let’s list some here:
- Abuse of apprentices (resulting in the death of one 18 year old)
- Allegations of match fixing
- Unruly behaviour in public of one of the top wrestlers (Asashoru)
- Giving highly prized ring-side tickets to gangsters (extremely taboo in Japan), and most recently
- Illegal gambling on baseball, and high school baseball games.
I can’t hit all of those points, but I’ll tell you a story through pictures. Here’s the link the the complete Japanese Sumo Gallery.
This isn’t an abuse scene, it’s just regular practice, and no one batted an eyelid (if they even noticed this)
As a result of all the scandals, ticket sales were down 10%, according to the national radio and TV broadcaster NHK, so the first half of the tournament had few seats filled. This image was taken early in the afternoon before the crowds had finished arriving.
Whilst some see the light of day, many members of the public are still sceptical and suspect that there’ll be more scandals.
As a result of the most recent scandals, involving illegal gambling, some of the top wrestlers were told to withdraw from the tournament, which has caused a thinning out of the ranks.
However, the later half of the tournament saw the Aichi Prefectural Gymnasium filled, though with late ticket sales. This image below, shows the banner displayed thanking the spectators for making this a sell-out day, which was seen much less in this tournament.
Generally, the heads of the Sumo Association have been seen as weak, ineffective, or unable to deal with the problems. These ring-side judges are actually conferring on a bout where two wrestlers knocked the referee out of the ring so the referee was unable to rule on the bout.
In the past, the Sumo Association has not wanted foreign sponsors and their sponsorship banners. However, many major sponsors including HB-101 has withdrawn their support. As a consequence, the Sumo Association has allowed in some foreign sponsors… The Golden M.
An innocent victim. Not really a metaphor, but pertinent information just the same. This proud Mongolian, Hakuho striding away from this bout, had just scored enough wins to secure a tournament victory. The next day he won again, making him completely undefeated for three tournaments straight, a first in modern (post-war) sumo. In a rare show of emotion, Hakuho wept with joy afterwards. However, the Sumo Association decided not to award him the coveted Emperor’s Cup (another first), given the circumstances and the general public’s current displeasure for their beloved national sport. Not getting the Emperor’s Cup on the day that Hakuho made sumo history has got to sting.
Cover-ups. The Sumo Association has tried to keep a lot under wraps in the past, but have decided not to cover-up the latest scandal. I bet they wish they could have put a big green tarp over the illegal baseball gambling fiasco.
The winners of bouts in the top divisions are shown with a red mark above or below their name. The wrestlers who have withdrawn from the tournament have their name listed on the left. Usually one or two pull out due to injury in each tournament.
Every crowd has a golden lining. Sumo is special. It’s the only sport that Japan has exported, and is iconic to Japan. It has its group of eclectic supporters like all sports in all countries. The Gold Hat Man (as I call him) is ubiquitous. He is seen in the much sought-after ring-side area on every day of every tournament since I’ve been in Japan (about five years now). He is one of the many characters that really enjoy the sport through thick and thin. He’s an inspiration to many.
But the crowds still gather to see their favourite wrestlers leave at the end of the day.