On June 26, Tokitaizan, a 17 year old sumo wrestler, collapsed and died after practising for the Nagoya Grand Sumo basho. His autopsy showed numerous bruises and wounds which the Coroner listed as the likely cause of death. At the time, his fellow wrestlers told authorities that he had injured himself during training. Police have since questioned his trainer Tokitsukaze and the other wrestlers in his stable since the injuries do not appear consistent with those sustained in training. Tokitsukaze has admitted to hitting Tokitaizan in the head with a beer bottle the day before he died, as well as forcing him to train so hard that he could barely stand on the day of his death, and several other wrestlers have also admitted to beating him and kicking him days before his death according to public broadcaster NHK. Tokitaizan had entered sumo this spring and was ranked 39th in the lower rankings before his untimely demise. Japanese police are now considering whether to charge Tokitsukaze.
Unfortunately hazing is widespread in Japan. It is considered a form of "training" in the sumo world and is also actively practised in junior high and high school sport clubs. It is justified as teaching gaman (fighting spirit, hierarchal relationships, obedience to authority, group cooperation and, especially, respect for tradition). This Japan Times article has more information.
Photo taken by me in September 2001.
Labels: culture, death, gaman, hazing, Japan, life, sumo, Tokitaizan, Tokitsukaze