Foreign Student (hereinafter FS): I often watch sumo on TV. When a yokozuna (grand champion) is defeated, spectators throw their cushions at the dohyou (ring). Isn’t that insulting? Teacher (hereinafter T): It’s not an insult, but an act that expresses admiration for the winner. Since this is dangerous it is prohibited, but in fact, the practice continues. FS: I see. Why doesn’t the victorious wrestler express his joy with a smile or a triumphant pose? T: In traditional Japanese sports, manners are highly prized and it’s important to consider the feelings of the loser. When the Mongolian former yokozuna ASASHORYU won the hatsubasho (January tournament) in 2009, he was condemned for pumping his fists in the air in the ring. FS: The yokozuna HAKUHO is also from Mongolia and broke the record of TAIHO, the Showa era’s greatest yokozuna, by winning the most tournaments ever. Hasn’t he ever been criticized? T: At the hatsubasho tournament in 2015, the bout with oozeki (wrestler of second highest rank) KISENOSATO was very close, and a “monoii” was raised. In sumo, besides the referee, five judges are watching the bout around the dohyou, and they can raise a hand to object to the referee’s decision. This is called a monoii. When it is difficult to judge which wrestler is the winner, a rematch is called. Hakuho’s remark that “Even a child could decide who the winner was,” caused quite a stir. The Sumo Association criticized Hakuho, but as he apologized, the controversy died down. In the video, the bout appears subtly different depending on the position of the camera, so the decision to have a rematch was justified. Hakuho won the extra bout. FS: Has there ever been a similar controversy in the past? T: There was a bout in 1969, which was dubbed “the great misjudgment of the century.” This occurred in a bout between Taiho – who Hakuho respects – and the senior grade wrestler TODA. At that time Taiho had 45 consecutive victories under his belt and was attempting to match a record of 69 consecutive wins made by FUTABAYAMA. The referee signaled that Taiho had won, but a monoii was raised and the judges decided that Toda was the winner, thus bringing Taiho’s record of consecutive wins to an end. A photograph in the newspaper the next day showed Toda’s foot outside the ring before the end of the bout. The Sumo Association came in for some heavy criticism and as a result decided to introduce video cameras as evidence in adjudicating bouts from the next tournament onwards. This misjudgment was the impetus for the adoption of video footage in sumo – ahead of other sports. FS: How did Taiho react? T: Whenever he was asked about this, Taiho said, “It was my fault that I put in such a performance as a yokozuna.” On later hearing these remarks the winner, Toda, said, “I’m comforted by his warm words.” In traditional Japanese sports, wrestlers are expected not only to be strong, but also to have a dignity worthy of their rank.
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