Japan's Big Bad Boys

Article excerpt

Byline: Takashi Yokota

In Japan, sumo wrestlers are supposed to be the (ample) embodiment of classical virtues such as discipline and honor. But these days the sport is governed by a dysfunctional, hidebound organization and constantly mired in disgrace. The latest blow to hit the fighters is a fixing scandal, uncovered earlier this month when police found text messages from more than a dozen wrestlers colluding with their oversize opponents to throw bouts for money. (One typical text, from a rikishi named Kiyoseumi: "Could you give me a win in the next tournament? If not, I want my 200,000 [yen] back." Rival wrestler: "Sure thing! Could you wait a little? I need to make a payment of 700,000 [yen] after this tournament, so let me get back to you after that.")

The wrestlers' unscrupulous behavior couldn't come at a worse time for sumo, which has been sullied by a string of controversies in the past few years. Since 2007, participants have been busted for smoking pot, engaging in illegal gambling, and, in one particularly sorry case, beating an apprentice to death. …