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Scandals push sumo's grand family
from the asahi on-line
Scandals push sumo's grand family
Asahi Evening News
By MARIKO AKAMOTO
October 27, 2000
Noriko Hanada found herself at the center of a series of scandals that has
hounded sumo's most famous family.
The 52-year-old wife of a sumo stablemaster was featured on TV shows for
several weeks this summer. Reporters from news and entertainment programs
surrounded her home, the Futagoyama stable in Tokyo.
The media circus revolved around a report in a July issue of a weekly
magazine that said Noriko had an extramarital affair with a medical doctor.
Noriko, the mother of the stable's two biggest names-Masaru Hanada (retired
yokozuna Wakanohana) and Koji Hanada (yokozuna Takanohana)-sneaked out of
the home and hid. Her action fueled the speculation.
Later, she wrote her side of the story in a monthly magazine, saying the
weekly's report was false. She also said the media frenzy that followed the
report hurt her so much that she nearly killed herself.
In the October issue of Bungeishunju, she expressed her distrust of the
media, saying reporters had ``repeatedly infringed my family's privacy by
running rootless gossip.''
``The media has ignored our comments and even distorted them,'' she wrote.
She explained that such past experiences had made her run away from the
We still don't know who is telling the truth in the recent scandal. It is
true, however, that the Hanadas have not escaped from scandals over the
past several years.
This might be the price the elite sumo family has to pay for its
The family's story of fame can be traced back to 1958, when Katsuji Hanada
reached the highest rank of yokozuna in professional sumo wrestling. His
younger brother, Mitsuru, pursued the same career and gained explosive
popularity during the 1970s as an ozeki, the second-highest rank. Mitsuru
married Noriko, a former actress, in 1970. He opened a stable after his
retirement in 1981.
A new chapter of the success story opened when Mitsuru's teenage sons
joined the stable in 1988.
Reporters swarmed the building to cover the brothers' ``departure'' day. TV
footage showed them carrying out a few boxes of belongings from the
stable's third floor (the family's private quarter) and moving into a large
communal room on the second floor where they joined other lower-ranked
The stablemaster made it clear that he would treat his sons equally with
the other trainees, but the future grand champions were already celebrities
on Day One of their careers.
As the brothers quickly climbed the rankings, the popularity of sumo
skyrocketed. Fans' excitement reached a peak in January 1992, when Koji,
then known as Takahanada, won the championship for the first time. The TV
viewing ratings of NHK's live sumo coverage topped 60 percent on the final
day of the tournament.
Journalist Yorimasa Takeda described the Hanadas as the second-most popular
family in Japan, following only the royal family, in his book ``Gachinko,''
published last month by Kodansha.
Unlike the imperial family, however, the Hanadas have been an easy target
of scandal-oriented journalism.
It wasn't always that way.
The media provided unconditional praise on the two promising wrestlers and
their parents until around 1992. Then, negative coverage started to loom.
Takeda says the turning point came when Koji abruptly canceled his
engagement with popular actress Rie Miyazawa in January 1993.
The merger of Mitsuru's stable with that of Katsuji's the next month was
another factor that prompted negative media coverage, Takeda writes in his
The coalition was criticized as being unfair because it accounted for a
quarter of all the 40 highest-division wrestlers. Of the strongest nine,
four belonged to the stable.
Matches are not arranged between wrestlers of the same stable, so the
merger meant Futagoyama wrestlers could automatically avoid fighting four
of the sport's strongest athletes.
This criticism escalated into media attacks on the personalities of the
After Masaru married Mieko Kurio in June 1994, she became the frequent
target of spiteful reports by television shows, tabloids and weekly
magazines. The former flight attendant was described as a half-witted woman
full of vanity.
TV reporter Reiko Yokono points to a news conference the couple held to
announce their engagement.
Yokono says she knew the media would pounce on the bride when Mieko
mentioned ``gratin and spaghetti'' as her best cooking recipes.
``I knew some people would say such food would never make a strong sumo
wrestler,'' Yokono writes in her recent publication ``Oni-chan'' (FUJI TV
Her recollection reveals the media's assumption that the sumo community is
ultra-conservative, which apparently provided the framework for Mieko
If Mieko had not been engaged to a sumo wrestler, her mention of common
Western dishes would not have caused the slightest stir. But the media
expected the fiancee of then-ozeki Wakanohana to point to traditional
dishes, such as chanko nabe, which wrestlers eat.
Noriko had always been depicted as an ideal wife and mother. The media had
pretty much left her alone until the recent scandal arose.
In fact, Noriko appeared to be the perfect wife and mother and had made
much effort to live up to the social expectations.
That's why she was shocked when a reporter accused her on TV of being
``irresponsible'' for the condition of the stable in relation to the
scandal. ``My 30-year effort was completely denied by that comment,'' she
writes in the magazine.
After undergoing such difficult days, however, Noriko has come to an
``I have always lived as the mother of the two yokozuna and the wife of a
stablemaster,'' she writes. ``All the while, I may have been agonizing
myself as an individual.''