Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Guilty pleas in Sumo Hazing Death: Tokitaizan

Story Link: Three sumo wrestlers indicted for the hazing of a 17-year-old stablemate named Tokitaizan who later died from multiple-trauma shock pleaded guilty

Three Japanese sumo wrestlers were handed suspended jail sentences on Thursday for beating up a 17-year-old trainee who later died, a court said, in a case that has sparked concern over training practices in the ancient sport.

The wrestlers, all in their 20s, had been accused of beating the trainee with a metal bat during sparring practice last year, a day after clobbering him for hours with a beer bottle and a wooden stick, local media reported.

A spokesman for the Nagoya District Court in central Japan told Reuters that two of the wrestlers were sentenced to three years in prison and the third was handed a sentence of two and a half years. All the sentences were suspended for five years.

"I am not satisfied, but I accept the court's decision," Masato Saito, the trainee's father, told a group of reporters outside the courtroom.

He said he wanted the sumo gym leader, or stablemaster, to be held accountable. The stablemaster is facing a separate trial.

The trainee's death set off a media frenzy about harsh training practices in the closed, males-only sport, which historians say dates back 2,000 years and involves wrestlers wearing only loincloths fighting in a rope-lined dirt ring.

The sport retains many Shinto religious overtones, including carefully choreographed ring-entering rituals which play almost as big a role as the bouts, which sometimes last only seconds. 

Iwate Prefecture: ouenka renshuu ("cheerleading practice")

Link to Japan Times

Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2007


An institutionalized hazing system

Yachiyo, Chiba
Public high schools in Iwate Prefecture have an institutionalized hazing system associated with ouenka renshuu ("cheerleading practice") in which "cheerleaders" use yelling, threats, humiliation and physical violence to terrify first-year students into absolute obedience and force them to sing a large number of school cheers as loudly as they can with convincingly sincere body language and facial expressions.
At some schools the cheerleaders punch, kick and hit the freshmen into obedience with kendo swords. Some of these "obedience" rituals appear to have nothing to do with cheerleading. All students are required to participate in these rituals, which usually last around two hours per day for the first two weeks of school. The purpose given by school administrators for these practices is to teach gaman (fighting spirit, hierarchal relationships, obedience to authority, group cooperation and, especially, respect for tradition).
During these ceremonies, first-year students are angered and frightened, sometimes to tears, yet many participating teachers and senior students laugh at them. Teachers have told me that some students drop out of school during the first few weeks specifically because of ouenka renshuu. What disturbs me most about these rituals is their effectiveness in permanently changing the personalities of dissenting students, whose parents may also disagree with the tradition.
Fear and violence are used to force students to enthusiastically sing school songs. In Tokyo, teachers have been punished for not singing "Kimigayo." In light of the recent education reforms, would it be such a big step further to use fear and violence to force students to sing Kimigayo or participate enthusiastically in politically motivated "patriotic"-behavior requirements?
The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer's own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.

Death of a Sumo Wrestler: All Talk and Little Action by Japanese Government

Link to CNN

From Kyung Lah
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font

TOKYO, Japan (CNN) -- When Japanese police arrested three sumo wrestlers and their stable master on Thursday over allegations they beat a 17-year-old wrestler to death, the case sent shockwaves across a country that links its national identity to the sport.

Sumo stablemaster Junichi Yamamoto following the young wrestler's death in October.

In scenes unprecedented in Japan's history, where wrestlers are seen as national heroes, the sumo stars were shown handcuffed and with jackets over their heads surrounded by cameras and reporters.

Police arrested sumo wrestlers Masakazu Kimura, 24, Yuichiro Izuka, 25, Masanori Fujii, 22, and their stablemaster, Junichi Yamamoto, 57, who is also known as Tokitsukaze. Aichi prefectural police allege Yamamoto ordered the three wrestlers to beat a 17 year old junior wrestler so brutally that he died.

Takashi Saito, 17, collapsed at his sumo stable and was rushed to the hospital.

Initially, the boy's death was listed as "ischemic heart failure", until his family viewed his body. They say his body was covered in bruises, cuts and burns. They begged police to open an investigation, believing he'd been punished for trying to flee the stable.

"He said he'd be a good boy, I just need to come get him (from the stable)," his father told reporters last summer, through choked tears. "I should have listened and trusted him."

Police say on June 25, Yamamoto instructed the wrestlers to beat the boy using sticks and a metal bat.

Yamamoto publicly denied striking Saito inappropriately, though he did admit to striking him on the head with a beer bottle during dinner that day. He told reporters shortly after Saito's death, "This was an ordinary practice. How could you think I would do anything to hurt someone I consider my child?"

The results of an autopsy conducted last year by Niigata University concluded that Saito died of shock caused by multiple injuries.

In a separate autopsy, specialists at Nagoya University confirmed earlier this month that shock caused by multiple external injuries contributed to Saito's death.

The arrests have shaken Japan's national sport to its core.

The Prime Minister, on the floor of the Parliament, urged the nation to carefully examine its sport. The Sumo Association says it will look at how young sumo are hazed, a process that often batters them to toughen them up.

"There will be some change in the short-term, but in the long-run, nothing will change," says sumo analyst and Japan Times sumo columnist Mark Buckton. "These are bad apples who took it too far."