More Odd News from the World of Sumo Wrestling

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One of the few international topics covered in the original Freakonomics was the chapter describing how sumo wrestlers collude to throw matches. Over the years, the sport has provided plenty of odd fodder for the blog. By that measure, the latest bizarre scandal that’s shaking the sumo world does not disappoint.

On Oct. 29, news broke that a top “sumo elder” was under investigation for abusing former apprentices. Details from The Japan Times:

Japan Sumo Association chief Hanaregoma has launched an investigation into allegations by a weekly magazine that sumo elder Naruto once beat a former apprentice with a block of wood and injected Czech-born wrestler Takanoyama with insulin in an attempt to increase his appetite so he could bulk up.

The article claims Naruto beat the apprentice wrestler with a block of wood if the taste of the protein-loaded “chankonabe” hot pot was not to his satisfaction. It also said he hit former sekiwake Wakanosato over the head with a shovel and injected Takanoyama with insulin to increase his appetite during the year before last, when he was in the third-tier makushita division.

While the wooden-block beatings may sound worse, it’s the insulin injecting that’s the real issue. Insulin is listed as a prohibited drug by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). Naruto, along with Takanoyama, the Czech-born wrestler, were called in for questioning.

On Monday morning though, hardly a week after the investigation was launched, the 59 year-old Naruto died of an alleged respiratory failure while in the hospital. Naruto, a diabetic, had been admitted the night before, complaining of ill health. The investigation into the insulin injecting has now been called off.

[HT: Robert Fillingham]


Didn't the two whistle blowing sumo wrestlers mentioned in Freakonomics also die of respiratory failure in the hospital?


They sure did! Unexplained, uninvestigated, sudden respiratory failures plague a certain population of the Sumo industry, specifically, the population that is about to go on the record.


the insulin may be more dangerous than the wood as well- i forget the tabloid story, but in the 70s, some rich guy offed his wife via insulin injection


I'm very anxious about the continuation of a Japanese traditional sport. So much structural troubles there.



Read your book several years ago; just finished reading Joe McGinniss' "The Miracle of Castel di Sangro", a book about the Italian professional soccer leagues. He details the move up, move down nature of the competition, which is very similar to the sumo wrestlers. Also eerily similar is the way they cheat - an intentional loss, when it will not hurt your team, but will advance the opponent, and performed on a quid pro quo basis. McGinniss spent an entire season with a team, and only discovered this by unintentionally overhearing an end of the season conversation. It appears that nearly everyone does cheat...