With stablemaster in poor health and out of the picture, new rules were put in place, prompting escape to karaoke box.

In many ways, sumo isn’t just a sport, but a way of life. Sumo’s highly specialized training regimen and diet, combined with its many cultural and religious traditions, make it unique from other athletics; so unique that sumo wrestlers generally live in a combination dormitory/training facility called a heya (Japanese for “room,” but generally rendered as “stable” in English).

Ideally, the stable environment is supposed to instill discipline, camaraderie, and focus in the wrestlers who live there, leading to better performance in the ring. However, this week nine wrestlers from the Shikihidebeya stable decided they’d had enough of the living arrangement, and ran away from their sumo home.

The incident occurred on Tuesday night, when the wrestlers slipped out of the stable located in Ryugasaki, Ibaraki Prefecture. From there, the escaped wrestlers made south over the border into Chiba Prefecture, where they holed up in a (presumably quite cramped) karaoke box and called the Nihon Sumo Kyokai, the sports governing body, to voice their grievances and ask for help before continuing their exodus and eventually arriving in Tokyo, where the Nihon Sumo Kyokai is headquartered.

▼ Shikihidebeya stable building

The group of nine represents almost half of Shikihidebeya’s 19 affiliated wrestlers, and it’s a surprising turn of events given that its current stablemaster, former sumo wrestler Hidetoshi Kitazakura, instilled “Cheerful, fun, and energetic” as the stable’s motto when he took over the position. However, Kitazakura has been in poor health since the beginning of the year, and in his absence the highest authority has rested with his wife, Megumi Muko, the stable’s okami.

▼ Megumi Muko

In the sumo world the okami, who is often the stablemaster’s wife, works as a general purpose manager of the stable. It’s a broad role, with activities including financial management, building management, providing moral support, and even assisting in running training sessions, if need be.

The runaway wrestlers, though, feel that Muko’s rules have crossed a line, especially in her lifestyle regulation endeavors, such as her harshly criticizing anyone who fails to respond to messages on the stable’s Line app group chat as quickly as she thinks they should. Then there’s the requirement that whenever wrestlers receive a care package from their parents, or purchase something online and have it shipped to the stable, they must open the box and immediately take a photo of its contents, which, again, must be posted to the group chat.

With such strict digital communication policies in place, it would naturally behoove Shikihidebeya’s wrestlers to keep their smartphones or other devices charged at all times, but paradoxically Muko has instilled a rule that anyone wishing to use a power outlet in the building must first ask her for special permission to do so. Other complaints include unannounced inspections of wrestlers’ personal lockers at the stable and Muko ordering them to write essays of apology following their performance at the July sumo tournament in Tokyo, and her alleged habit of telling wrestlers who disagree with her policies “You’ll be kicked out of the stable!”

Taken together, the runaway wrestlers say Muko’s actions constitute harassment and invasion of privacy. The Nihon Sumo Kyokai has agreed to serve as arbitrator in sorting out the issue, but in the meantime at least it looks like they won’t have to answer any of the stable’s group texts.

Source: Nikkan Sports via Hachima Kiko, Wikipedia/Nico Nico News, Doto Walker Tokidoki Gochamaze
Top image: Wikipedia/FourTildes

Insert image: Wikipedia/FourTildes
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