The Sumo Scene / Banishment of Hokuseiho Was the Right Move, but Sad in a Way

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Hokuseiho, right, forces out former ozeki Asanoyama on the fifth day of the Nagoya Grand Sumo Tournament in July 2023.

On Feb. 23, a few days before the announcement of the rankings for the Spring Grand Sumo Tournament that is currently under way, the sumo world was hit with some very disturbing news.

Makuuchi-division wrestler Hokuseiho, blessed with a hulking 2.04-meter frame and a promising future, was forced to leave the sport for good at the young age of 22 to take responsibility for a scandal of his own making.

An investigation by the Japan Sumo Association revealed unspeakable acts of violence committed by Hokuseiho. He is said to have repeatedly tormented two stablemates for more than a year.

All of this occurred as the sumo world seemed to be making progress in eradicating violence by making use of lessons learned from problems of the past. Given that his acts were a blatant disregard for these efforts, in a sense, it was only natural that the punishment meted out should be particularly harsh.

Even so, I honestly can’t help thinking about what a waste it all is, just for the untapped and unlimited potential alone. With that towering height and those long limbs, one could feel the immense scale on which he operated — he could stop an opponent in his tracks by reaching over the shoulders and grabbing the belt with both hands.

He was still a newcomer to the uppermost makuuchi division when he made a splash at both the Summer and Nagoya tournaments last year, stunning the crowd with victories over former ozeki Asanoyama in both tournaments.

JSA Chairman Hakkaku (former yokozuna Hokutoumi) had expressed high expectations for Hokuseiho, comparing his style with that of Hawaiian-born former yokozuna Akebono, another tall, foreign wrestler who became the first non-Japanese to reach the sport’s highest rank. “I think he will become stronger if he learns how to do a slapping attack like Akebono,” Hakkaku said.

The term “Shin-Gi-Tai,” which translates as mind, technique and body, is often heard in the sumo world. It is used in the context that unless all three are nurtured together, a wrestler will never be able to achieve greatness.

Hokuseiho’s body was top-notch, and his techniques were making progress. But his mind — the most important element — was still too immature. Even if his acts of violence had not been revealed, he would have been tripped up in due course sooner or later.

Back in the day, Akebono squarely faced off in memorable bouts against the sibling yokozuna pair of Wakanohana and Takanohana, who had launched sumo to unprecedented heights of popularity.

If a wrestler like Akebono materializes again, it could only make sumo even more exciting. However, that remains just a wish.

— Kamimura is a sumo expert.