The article to which I’m going to link a hundred words or so’s time, by the Wall Street Journal’s Mariko Sanchanta, is about a gambling scandal in the Japan Sumo League that may or may not involve the yakuza. On those terms, the piece works very well — if you begin reading it with the same knowledge level about the gambling scandal in the Japan Sumo League (that may or may not involve the yakuza) that I did, you will almost certainly finish the piece knowing a lot more about it. Which is something.
But the reason I liked the article enough to link to it here is the way in which it manages to so neatly and intelligently place the scandal and sumo wrestling within the context of Japanese culture. I can’t say that I’ll be following this story — well, unless I can break through with that Contributing Ungrammatical Sumo Wrestling Columnist gig at Bleacher Report I’ve been angling for — but I can now say that I’d like to take in a sumo basho sometime before I die, if only to experience what sounds like an experience that’s otherworldly in its weirdness, even by the standards of a sports scene that managed to turn Tsuyoshi Shinjo into some sexed-up multi-platform version of Superman. The combination of napping elderly dudes, bento box lunches, slow-moving endomorphs and underworld intrigue sounds pretty sweet.
The simple rules of this ancient sport are a touchstone for many Japanese”especially the elderly”to traditional culture in a country that has modernized at a breakneck pace. It has also been rocked by the news that more than 60 wrestlers admitted to illegally gambling on baseball and card games, with involvement, according to media reports, by the Japanese mafia. (In Japan, gambling in general is illegal, though it’s legal to bet on Japanese soccer and horse and other kinds of racing.)
Over the past few weeks, the scandal has ballooned and claimed many a top-knotted scalp: More than a dozen wrestlers were banned from participating in the Nagoya tournament, and the chairman of the Japan Sumo Association, the sport’s governing body, was suspended for the first time in its history…
…The Japan Sumo Association”an organization that itself has been criticized as being secretive and opaque”has taken pains to show the public that it won’t tolerate any association with the yakuza, or Japanese mafia. This at times reaches comical proportions. During breaks between matches, a recorded voice on a loudspeaker intones repeatedly: “No individuals belonging to organized-crime groups are allowed to enter the stands.”