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Le Monde du Sumo
N°3 - april 2004
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source : Nikkan Sports
translated from Japanese by Thierry Perran
translated by Ken Coller
proofread by John Gunning

Reflections on the world of sumo by Takanohana Oyakata

It's been less than a year since dai-Yokozuna Takanohana Koji (the winner of 22 yusho) announced his retirement, and already he's assumed an important position within the Nihon Sumo Kyokai (NSK) and is master of his own stable, Takanohana-beya. Always impressive, the Yokozuna still overshadows the dohyo, and there are high hopes that he will soon rise to higher prominence in the NSK. As Oyakata, he stands at theofrefront of those charged with the task of shaping sumo's evolution as a sport. We are fortunate that Nikkan sports reporter Tadashi INOUE was granted an interview with Takanohana on the occasion of the opening of Takanohana-beya, on the 29th of January 2004. Here's a translation:

Nikkan Sports : Greetings. From today, February 1st 2004, you will run your own heya, is this not so?

Takanohana : Yes, that's correct. As of now I manage all my heya's affairs. I'm very busy with all the preparations and ceremonial duties associated with such an opening. Sumo is a hierarchy where you must respect tradition. My ambition is to bring a breath of fresh air into my own heya to make it more productive.

Nikkan Sports : Do you have any specific ideas you can convey to us?

Takanohana : In a normal business (in the private sector) it can happen that the executive manager can challenge a worker by asking bluntly, "What are you doing?". This management style isn't healthy. Even if the executive manager has every right to ask, it puts the worker in a difficult position where he might say something "behind the backs" of other managers or senior workers. I think we should try to avoid this kind of embarrassing situation in sumo. In our case, I think of the new recruits. It may be easy for me to talk and listen to them directly, but I think it is preferable to keep an insulating distance. Indeed between the master and the recruit there are better graded fighters, trainers, and so forth. This actually simplifies life in the heya. It is healthy that an individual takes a problem to those who are next in rank, where the answer is waiting. If the question or problem is difficult, it can be passed on up to a higher echelon, until there is a resolution. It is this kind of "social elevator" which I would like to apply to my heya.

Nikkan Sports : Do you think this will be to the advantage of Takanohana-beya?

Takanohana : When I was Yokozuna I would socialize with my tsekibito, the attendants of Makushita rank who assisted me. When drinking with them, I saw only joy on their faces. During a basho, these are the only moments of relaxation. In spite of that, within the heya I kept a boundary between us and reminded them of the strict rules of the heya. You know, the knowledge that they must share and the extent to which they must submit to the rules of sumo society. This forms to some extent the mental discipline of being a rikishi. The early morning workouts, preparing the chanko (a stew of meat or fish in a vegetable stock) or even taking the communal nap are examples of this. There are many painful things in the life of a sumotori, but there is a saying, "Whether sad or happy, fight!" "Even if you have had a bad day, enjoy the evening so you can put your best foot forward in the morning!" In my heya, I want stout fighters who will not balk at scratches or infected wounds.

Nikkan Sports : Now that you are Oyakata and hold office in the NSK, what do you intend to achieve?

Takanohana : I want to raise active rikishi who have and are the heart of sumo, and are what the fans want to see. Our job is to give pleasure to the public who come to see sumo. For this reason I say the active rikishi are our reason for living and we must all undertake to protect them. This is my sincere belief!

Nikkan Sports : How will you protect them? Is there something that can be corrected?

Takanohana : For example, when you are in the shitaku-beya (dressing rooms) preparing to walk to the dohyo to fight, you think for a long time, even over the ages of the other fighters that have been in the same place. Here the rikishi tries to concentrate by raising his spirit to overcome apprehension related to his fight. In the same way, after he has finished the fight where he's offered all his strength, he returns to the peace of the shitaku-beya. Simply considering the effort made in the combat, one can easily see that the rikishi is expended and not ready to accommodate external requests. For all these reasons I feel that the shitaku-beya is quite a bad place to interview rikishi. They have earned a right to rest, release their spirit and find themselves. That's also valid for the Oyakata who nervously guards their protege. In my opinion, I would follow the example of the other professional sports which prohibit journalists from such invasions of privacy. In the Kokugikan, there are a great number of rooms available. One could be set aside for the press which the rikishi could visit after they have changed clothing and rested. The journalists could then dig for information without disturbing them.

Nikkan Sports : Besides that, do you have other ideas?

Takanohana : Yes. Sumo is primarily entertainment. I would like to make it more appealing to children. If we manage to attract them, our popularity would increase onehundredfold because they are the future generations. Some may become sumotori, but the vast majority will become spectators as adults and add to the popularity of sumo. To this end, one must allow children to support sumo with their pocket money. Why not have a lottery for the children, where they could win seats at the basho? At other festivals the children put their hearts into it. In the same kind of idea, we could lower the ticket prices on the second floor, to make them available to the children. This would not inevitably be a financial disaster as the majority of the children would be accompanied by their parents.

Nikkan Sports : When did these ideas come to you?

Takanohana : In fact I thought about these ideas while I was active as a fighter, and even before I became a father in my turn. When I think about the time my sumo shone brightest, I remember that people came in great numbers and they brought their children to see me. These people for the most part were of modest means. I was touched when I thought about the financial expenditure. Now that the economy has changed, it is up to us to make the effort to see that sumo guards its place near the children of Japan. Sumo must be flexible and adapt to the circumstances. With my direction, we will try to maintain the popularity of sumo. I want to bring back the crowds to watch sumo and to this I will devote all my energy.