• Sat. Apr 20th, 2024

Japan Subculture Research Center

A guide to the Japanese underworld, Japanese pop-culture, yakuza and everything dark under the sun.

Sumo Wrestlers Fixed Matches, But Who Gave The Orders?


Feb 2, 2011

Japanese police sources are saying that there is evidence sumo wrestlers contacted each other via cell-phone to fix sumo matches in advance.  AFP has an excellent piece on the recent developments. AP also has a substantial follow-up piece posted as well. The Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department Organized Crime Control Division has been aware of contacts, collusion, corruption and betting between members of the Yamaguchi-gumi organized crime group and sumo wrestlers since 2008, but only really began investigating the links in September of 2009. The actual investigation is grinding to a halt with the arrest of a few key figures. At present, it seem unlikely that the police will press charges against any sumo members for throwing matches or fixing the outcomes of various bouts. It is unclear why the wrestlers threw matches or who gave them the orders to do so.

In a way, it’s kind of vindicating to see the investigation turn out as I expected it would and a little disappointing. In this interview with AP in July of 2010, I expounded as succinctly as possible on the problems with yakuza and the sumo world.

“Sumo is involved in organized crime because they’ve had a symbiotic relationship for years,” said Jake Adelstein, a former crime beat reporter for a Japanese newspaper and author of the best-selling book “Tokyo Vice.” “The wrestlers and the yakuza have a macho admiration for each other. The yakuza by being seen with the sumo wrestlers, acquire ‘status’ and the sumo wrestlers get money, booze, food, and women.”

Adelstein said smaller training stables don’t have big corporate sponsors and need the money the yakuza offer. “The average salary of a sumo wrestler is a pittance and they need the cash,” he said, adding that once a wrestler is beholden to the mob he is vulnerable to demands to throw bouts — which the gangsters bet on — to clear his debt.”

In the best of worlds, the sumo baseball betting scandal would be pursued until it was proven that yakuza had also been involved in match-rigging as well. Perhaps the latest judicious leak from the police is an attempt to garner public outcry so that they can pursue the investigation even farther. However, if I was going to bet on the outcome, which I would never do, since gambling is a crime in Japan–I’d bet that the investigation ends with a few arrests and a post-humous prosecution of the yakuza boss who was believed to have organized a great deal of the betting.

I wouldn’t mind losing the hypothetical bet, though.

UPDATE:  The current head of the Japan Sumo Association(JSA)  has apologized for the scandal and announced that they will conduct a serious investigation into recent allegations. With a former lawyer for an organized crime front company still working with the JSA, we can probably be pretty sure that the investigation will uncover nothing more than a convenient scapegoat.

19 thoughts on “Sumo Wrestlers Fixed Matches, But Who Gave The Orders?”
  1. Max, that’s right. But to have written “other than specifically designated venues run by the Japanese government, gambling is illegal” would just have been way too long. 😀

  2. Rose,
    The NY Times piece probably didn’t have enough space to go into the yakuza role in the whole scandal. Admittedly, it would have made more sense but the police haven’t officially announced that the sumo wrestlers throwing the matches were doing it on yakuza orders. It’s pretty apparent to everyone in Japan but getting the police to confirm that as a gaijin reporter is another matter entirely.

  3. Mr. Adelstein –

    Thanks for the reply. But Hiroko Tabuchi? Gaijin? Really? Or is her gender a barrier to getting the goods on yakuza dealings?

    Also – I loved (and was haunted by) Tokyo Vice. Can’t wait for the next book.

    1. Rose-san,
      Hiroko works for the NYT not a Japanese paper and is thus treated as a gaijin. I think she wrote what she could verify in a short time while handling several other stories. She’s one of the best foreign correspondents in Tokyo and her earlier piece on Japanese efforts to get the yakuza out of the construction industry was stellar.
      Thank you for reading the book. Well, I hope it doesn’t haunt you for too long. It’s not a fun thing being haunted. The next book should take another year to finish and hopefully will be out next year.
      Until then, I’ll post some things on the blog.
      best wishes

  4. Looks like your initial theory about yakuza involved in the latest yaocho is off the mark. But it would be great if you could find out the real reason WHY the police leaked this, and why now.

    As it stands now there are only losers on all sides… But there must be somebody who profits from it. Maybe the DPJ, who could take over the JSA’s considerable (44 bil yen) assets???

    1. Umigame-sama,
      So far the majority of the bets made by the sumo wrestlers were made via yakuza bookies. You can find article after article on that. I have good sources that say the yakuza were involved in both arranging bets on sumo matches and brokering sumo wrestlers own bets on sumo matches (not necessarily their own). Think about it, if you have inside information on who’s going to win a sumo match, you have a great chance to make money but you need a bookie.
      If it’s a rigged match, and the yakuza are in on it, they can make a huge amount betting on it. There were plenty of sumo wrestlers who lost lots of money betting on baseball and needed a way to pay off their debts. Why did the police leak the information? Because they want to finish up the investigation. Who’s in their way? Governor Ishihara Chiji. Did you miss his remarks about Sumo along the lines, “Oh, we always knew it was fixed. We should enjoy it anyway, just like Kabuki.” Do you think that’s the voice of a guy who’s backing the Tokyo Police?
      Remember, he has a big say in their budget and other priorities.
      Who do you think leaked the first news of the Sumo wrestlers betting on baseball to Shukan Shincho? The yakuza? The sumo wrestlers/
      Right now, there are losers on all sides but the winners for having this come out are the cops.
      They get to do their investigation and by showing that the whole Sumo world is corrupt, some may land themselves cushy jobs as JSA board directors etc to “keep the Sumo world clean.”

  5. > As it stands now there are only losers on all sides… But there must be somebody who profits from it.

    I take that back. Obviously the papers, the media are profiting from this mess.

    But is that enough to explain the whole thing? (he asks the media guy…)

    1. Umigame. Well, I think I’ve gotten the same comment from you twice but there aren’t losers on all sides. The cops win by the scandal becoming public knowledge. They may get public support to finish an investigation the governor clearly isn’t backing, they cut off future revenue to the yakuza, and the probably ensure that the JSA is going to have to hire some ex-cops “to maintain the integrity of the sport.”
      Hey, I could be wrong but I don’t think I am. I was right about Goto Tadamasa and his Soka Gakkai connections. He was kind enough to admit it in his book. To what extent the yakuza are involved in match-rigging I don’t know. I wouldn’t say every single fixed match was masterminded by them but they are definitely involved as they have been involved from the beginning of this scandal.
      PS. I like Sumo. I’m not happy to see the sport turned into a joke. I hope they clear out the anti-social forces and the barbaric spartan training and turn it into a clean and fair sport.

  6. Jake, thanks for your reply. But I have to inform you that your version of the events is wildly different from just about everyone.

    Currently 13 rikishi have been named, and all but one are from the juryo division. The juryo guys have huge incentives — financial and otherwise — to avoid getting a makekoshi and dropping out of juryo: that is why they are brokering matches between themselves. If they drop out of juryo they lose almost all of their salary… AND have to work as tsukebito for a higher ranked wrestler, which is humiliating and hard work.

    Also, the yen amounts mentioned in the emails are 200,00 yen and 500,000 yen, which is relatively small and would suggest juryo-level back-scratching rather than yakuza gambling. There is no logical reason to assume Yakuza involvement, and yakuza involvement has not been mentioned in any Japanese news report or fan forum I’ve seen.

    It may very well turn out in the end that your lone voice in the wilderness is actually the truth… but right now the facts of the case strongly suggest otherwise.

    I know you’re not a sumo expert, so my aim is not to knock you down regarding sumo details.
    I’m just a sumo fan who is very unhappy that there will be no sumo to watch this March — and I know that you _are_ a police expert, so I’m hoping you can explain why the cops leaked this now, even while they admit the yaocho was not illegal. The elders of the sumo association are seriously getting their asses kicked right now, and I’m just trying to figure out how, why and by whom.

  7. Umigame-san,
    I may be wrong. But if you look at the initial reports in Shukan Shincho of the baseball gambling betting, there is surprisingly no clear mention of the yakuza. In this case, I think the emails recovered are only part of the scandal.
    The police are very selective in releasing leaks. There is a principle in Japanese law enforcement called 暴露の秘密 (the details of a crime that only the criminal could possibly know.) It’s an essential component in getting a solid confession that will hold up in court.
    What has been leaked has probably been very selective.
    I’m sorry to see Sumo get run through the mud as well, but the decision of many at the JSA and as individuals to pal around with the bad guys has repercussions.
    Lay down with dogs and get up with fleas.

    So keep in mind that what has been leaked is probably just the tip of the iceberg. And I was right that there was betting on sumo matches and match fixing as well :-D.

    Sumo wil recover. Thank you for writing in such a detailed update. Would you care to write a piece about the whole scandal for the blog? We pay terribly but I can try and scrape together money from the change bucket.

  8. Jake, thanks for the writing offer. Right now I’m not interested, but I appreciate the offer.

    I see what you mean about the possibility of the police being very selective about what they leak.
    I guess now we can only wait and see if any other leaks come out.
    But if gambling were legal in Japan, I’d probably take you up on your bet above.
    Let’s call it a gentleman’s bet… those aren’t illegal here, are they? 🙂

  9. […] For the most part the article is applicable, its a well know fact that practice makes perfect. The only thing that chess provides over most games is that its winners are so well documented in their wins and losses making it quantifiable, and for the most part from what I can tell these were honest games where each opponent was actually trying to win and not taking falls for some sort of financial gain or honorary status like players in many other sports. Take sumo wrestling for example it’s probably the worst offender for fixed games. (more on that here: http://www.japansubculture.com/2011/02/sumo-wrestlers-fixed-matches-but-who-gave-the-orders/) […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *