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Saturday, May 30, 2009

Former sumo stablemaster jailed

時津風 山本順一 相撲

Former sumo coach, Junichi Yamamoto, AKA Tokitsukaze, 59, was sentenced to six years in jail on May 29 for ordering the beating of an apprentice that caused the 17-year-old boy’s death.

The incident happened in June 2007 after the apprentice had tried to run away from the stable. Not only did Yamamoto assault him with a beer bottle and force him to train to the point where he could barely stand, but he ordered three other apprentices to “teach him a lesson” upon which he died shortly after.

Sumo is already in the doldrums in terms of the number of new recruits it is able to attract, so scandal is the last thing it needs. In spite of the world of sumo being, like any other traditional pursuit in Japan, cloaked in shadows and behind-the-scenes wirepulling, clearly manslaughter was too much, and the full spotlight was turned on it. It was decried by the then prime minister, Yasuo Fukuda, and the stable master, Yamamoto, was ejected from the Sumo Association.

The process from the incident itself to Yamamoto’s ejection can be partly deduced by the fact that the initial official verdict on the boy’s death was “illness,” but an autopsy ordered later on made clear it was due to physical trauma.

The atmosphere of a sumo stable is intense. I was fortunate to be able to witness it first-hand in a tour of a sumo stable earlier this year. Discipline is absolute, everything is done in unison, and the apprentices’ day is strictly regimented. And, as you can imagine, just being patted on the head by one of them would probably put you out cold, let alone getting intentionally beaten up.

Former stablemaster Yamamoto intends to appeal his sentence.

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