24 June 2005

Scandal and the Plummeting Popularity of Sumo

Japundit's Ampontan reports on the plummeting popularity of sumo, some of it tied to the scandals surrounding what was once the most popular family in sumo: the Waka (Cain) and Taka (Abel) Hanada brothers.
It’s as if Americans were to give up eating hot dogs and apple pie and stop having picnics on the 4th of July: public interest in sumo is sharply waning in Japan. This week a television network reported on a comparison of two public opinion polls, the first taken 10 years ago and the second taken this year. The pollsters asked a sampling of the Japanese public to name their favorite sport. Ten years ago, more than 60% of the respondents answered sumo. This year, the percentage of people giving the same answer had fallen to the teens....

A third factor contributing to the lack of interest in sumo among Japanese [besides weak local economies and the lack of Japanese in the top ranks] is the disappearance of the so-called Waka-Taka boom. This refers to the immense popularity of two brothers, Wakanohana ... and Takanohana ..., who rose to the rank of yokozuna in the 90s. They were the sons of another popular wrestler, Futagoyama, who died about three weeks ago. Both were very successful in the ring, especially the younger Takanohana, but they stopped competing some time ago. Wakanohana tried his hand at American football and then Japanese television, but bellyflopped twice. Takanohana took over his father’s training stable for developing new wrestlers. The brothers had been out of the public eye until recently.
Philip Brasor of the Japan Times has more about the scandal.
It's not clear if the media's previous restraint was due to tact or ignorance, but once the funeral was over it was every reporter for himself. The surviving sons, whose real names are Masaru and Koji Hanada, openly admitted that they are, in fact, not speaking to each other and haven't for years. During the pair's dominant period in the 90s, when they were the stars of their father's almost invincible stable, the press loved to portray the Hanadas as the ideal Japanese family, though one could hardly call them examples. Rich, imperious, and completely removed from the everyday lives of most Japanese, the Hanada clan was about as average a family as Michael Jackson's.

The media's sudden and overwhelming obsession with the story is thus self-generating, since it was the media who placed the Hanadas on a pedestal from which their fall was much farther than it should have been. However, the real reason the saga has had huge coverage in the tabloid press is that none of the principals are acting the way they were portrayed 10 years ago.
Yet another aspect in which the 1990s were the Decade of Illusion.

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