A day after the former master of the Tokitsukaze sumo stable and three of his disciples were arrested, the father of the 17-year-old novice they allegedly beat to death said Friday that he was relieved the four were finally in custody.
“It did take a long time and I was very worried, but now I’m grateful that the arrests were finally made,” said Masato Saito, 51. “I think my son was a bit relieved also,” he said, referring to Takashi Saito, who went by the ring name Tokitaizan.
At a press conference in Tokyo, Saito’s lawyer, Retsu Tomita, said he also intended to file for damages against the former stable master, Junichi Yamamoto, 57, and three senior wrestlers who allegedly assaulted the teen on Yamamoto’s instructions.
The Japan Sumo Association may also face legal action for failing to supervise the stable, he said.
The death shocked sumo’s fans and wrestlers at a time when the sport is already suffering from a dearth of newcomers interested in maintaining the iconic centuries-old national sport.
When Takashi Saito’s body was returned to the family in June, they were shocked by the severe bruising all over his corpse. Aichi Prefectural Police initially treated his death as a case of heart failure, but autopsies later revealed that Saito had died of multiple traumatic shock.
Yamamoto reportedly insisted the injuries resulted from regular training.
Police Thursday said Yamamoto has admitted to beating the teen but denied he instructed the senior wrestlers to punish him.
“I really want the (former) master to tell the whole truth, about how it happened,” Saito said firmly. “When the criminal trial starts, I may have to hear terrible stories (about what happened), but I’m willing to accept that because I really want the truth to come out.”
Saito said he wished that the three senior wrestlers had second-guessed their master’s alleged orders.
“I do understand that the master’s orders are absolute, so maybe they couldn’t help it, but if they had reconsidered, this would not have happened,” he said.
The Japan Sumo Association has set up a panel to find a way to prevent violent bullying cases from recurring.
“(The association) did not have any organization to look into these things, so I guess it’s an improvement,” Saito said. “I sincerely hope Takashi’s death will change the industry, even if only in a small way.”