According to a New York Times article yaocho, or match-fixing, dates back to the Edo period (1603 – 1868). Back in the day, feudal lords kept sumo wrestlers “much like fighting dogs”. And they were taken out and made fight each other at festivals. But sometimes, to gain alliance with powerful rivals for example, the wrestlers were ordered to throw the bout!
In another account, a book published back in the Edo period, tells the tale of a young wrestler who turned up at Tanikaze’s door. (Tanikaze was the first sumo wrestler to be awarded the title of yokozuna within his own lifetime!). The young wrestler explained how his sumo coach, Sanoyama, was caring for his very sick father and was struggling to buy food and medicine. The young wrestler took it upon himself to try to help his coach and begged Tanikaze for a small amount of money, promising to return it once success was attained. The yokozuna was so moved by the young wrestler’s story that he borrowed 10 times that of what was requested of him and delivered the money to Sanoyama personally. He also performed a purification ritual in the home where the father lived to eradicate the daemon of disease. Not long after the old man made a complete recovery!
Tanikaze was a very generous man, and he wanted to help Sanoyama even further. When they both met at a sumo tournament at Tenjin shrine, the overwhelming favourite, Tanikaze, allowed Sanoyama to beat him. With the victory Sanoyama received much money and gifts. Aware of the “empathetic sumo” Sanoyama was moved to tears. Tanikaze took the fall, but it was far from the yaocho or lack of fighting spirit that was are used to seeing of late.
On a side note, I wonder if Chiyotaikai, when choosing his toshiyori name (oyakata Sanoyama), reflected on the generosity he had been shown during his career and somehow felt a connection with the name Sanoyama?! Or is Kaio perhaps is a little jealous that Chiyotaikai took that name before he could!!
But moving on… In much more recent times, there have been many accusations of match-fixing in the world of sumo. The following is a list of the more notable accusations:
Shintaro Ishihara, an author and politician, claimed that Yokozuna Kashiwado bought the final bout from Yokozuna Kaiho after both entered the final day of the September basho undefeated! Kashiwado was having a very poor year as yokozuna, sitting out for the first 4 basho of the year due to injury. Ishihara made the claims in a popular sports paper. When the JSA denied the claims Ishihara threatened legal action, but for whatever reason, the legal action never proceeded. Ishihara is now the currently the governor of Tokyo!
Maenoyama became an ozeki after the July basho in 1970. But missed his first basho as ozeki due to injury. So in November his first basho was fought in kadoban status. He finished 9-6 and regained his true ozeki status. In ’71 his first basho finished at 9-6 and his following 5 basho were all 8-7. For this reason he earned himself the nickname “the 8-7 ozeki” (hachinana ozeki). During his first basho in ’72 he only managed 3 wins before withdrawing from the competition, and entered the March basho as a kadoban ozeki. On day 12 ozeki Maenoyama (5-6) faced fellow ozeki Kotozakura. During the bout Kotozakura didn’t display his usual aggressive, forward moving sumo and didn’t initiate any offensive moves. He appeared to simply stay in yotsu sumo position and eventually allowed himself to be easily thrown to the ground. The following day the sumo association sent a letter of caution to the sumo coaches of both wrestlers. In the letter the association used the term unmotivated sumo, as opposed to intentionally unmotivated sumo. Either way the following day Maenoyama sat out the rest of the tournament, and subsequently lost his ozeki status.
1980 – 1997
During this period the Shukan Post published numerous articles accusing the following sumo wrestlers of yaocho. The source of their information was from former sumo wrestlers:
1980 – Shikinohana
1988 – Yokozuna Futahaguro (the only yokozuna in history to not win a yusho)
1996 – Kotetsuyama (Konoshin Suga, aka oyakata Onaruto)
1996 – Kotetsuyama (Keisuki Itai)
1997 – Akebono
Chiyonofuji, the 58th yokozuna in sumo, in 1988 won 53 consecutive bouts which put him in 2nd place at that time, behind Futabayama. Shorty afterwards Keisuki Itai (one of sumo’s biggest headaches) and oyakata Onaruto claimed that up to 60% of Chiyonofuji’s 53 winning streak were from yaocho!
1991 to present
Since 1991 some rikishi have been reprimanded by the sumo association for fights where they clearly did not exhibit true fighting spirit (unmotivated sumo), but the word yaocho was not specifically mentioned:
1992 Hatsu basho, Day 14 – Kotonowaka Vs. Tomoefuji
1992 Hatsu basho, Day 14 – Hitachiryo Vs. Tokitsunada
1992 Haru basho, Day 6 – Musashimaru Vs. Konishiki*
2004 Hatsu basho, Day 12 – Yanagawa Vs. Hamanishiki
2008 Aki basho, Day 4 – Hoshihikari Vs. Wakatenro*
2009 Natsu basho, Day 15 – Chiyotaikai Vs. Baruto
(*rikishi not suspected)
Konoshin Suga was a sumo wrestler who fought under the name Onaruto and afterward became Onaruto oyakata. Over a period of 13 weeks Onaruto wrote articles in the Weekly post with allegations that th world of sumo was rife with with match rigging, tax evasion, close connections with to the yakuza, drugs and orgies. These articles and more were formed into a book called Yaocho. But a few weeks before the book was published Onaruto fell ill and was taken to hospital. The co-author, Seiichito Hashimoto, also fell ill and both men died within 12 hours of each other on April 14, 1996, in the same hospital. The doctor who treated both men, Dr. Shigenobu Iwata, said the deaths were purely coincidental. No evidence of poisoning was found (even though an autopsy was only performed on one of the corpses) and the police concluded that there was nothing suspicious about their deaths!
In 2000, Keisuke Itai, a former komusubi who wrestled under Onaruto oyakata (
murdered mentioned above) said he had been involved in rigging bouts during a 12-year career lasting from 1978 to 1991, which he said coincided with “the worst period for match fixing in the history of sumo.” He also wrote many articles in the Shukan Gendai (published simultaneously with the Weekly Post) claiming that up to 80% of sumo bouts were being pre-arranged. He also testified before the Tokyo District Court that he received money from the Kitanoumi camp to throw fights.
The shukan gendai reported that Asashoryu paid up to 80,000 yen per fight to win the November 2006 tournament with a perfect score. Keisuke Itai popped up again to say that the Asashoryu v. Chiyotaikai (why can’t I find this video online??) in the November tournament was a perfect example of yaocho. Asashoryu went to court, which was the first time a yokozuna went to court, to defend himself. In March 2009 the magazine was ordered to pay ¥42.90 million in damages. All the accusations were dismissed and the reporting of the allegations were branded as shoddy reporting at best.
After being kicked out of the world of sumo for being caught with possession on marijuana, Wakanoho claimed that the world of sumo was far from pure. He claimed to have been forced to participate in yaocho for money soon after entering the higher ranks of sumo. In an article in the Shukan Gendai he claimed that Kotooshu approached him 3 times offering him money in exchange for yaocho, and threatened him if he didn’t comply. He quoted Kotooshu as saying: “If you do this for me. I won’t forget it. I will give you ¥1 millon. I’m even okay with ¥1.5 million. You have scruples, but you will get used to this. The sumo world may look good from the outside, but inside it’s different. So don’t worry.” Wakanoho claimed the world of sumo was all just a show. He said he threw a bout to Kotooshu in May 2008, the tournament when Kotooshu won the cup. Kotooshu denied all accusations. Later Wakanoho retracted his statements about match fixing and bribes saying that he was offered money to say those things from somebody for money!