Stablemaster payout overturned

The Tokyo High Court on Wednesday overturned a lower court ruling ordering the master of the Tatsunami sumo stable in Tokyo to pay his father-in-law 175 million yen for the inheritance of the stablemaster title.

The Tokyo District Court ruled in favor of the previous stablemaster in February 2003.

The title allows a retired wrestler to remain a member of the Japan Sumo Association, operate a stable and train wrestlers.

The district court had ordered the current stablemaster, 25-year-old Tatsunami, to pay the elder Tatsunami for the title, even though the title transfer was taking place within the family.

Judge Tsuyoshi Ono, head of the district court’s panel of three judges, had said, “There is a practice of buying and selling stablemaster titles in the sumo world.”

The judge said there was an oral agreement between the two that the younger man would pay a certain amount in accordance with this practice.

In overturning the ruling, presiding Judge Hiromu Emi said Wednesday that there was no such oral agreement.

Emi acknowledged that it has become common practice in the sumo world to receive a huge sum of money for a title of this kind, given the high financial value placed on the transfer.

But the judge ruled in favor of the current stablemaster, citing factors such as his marriage to the daughter of the elder Tatsunami and his status as his adopted son.

He also cited the fact that there were no actual negotiations regarding payment for the title, adding that the circumstances surrounding the agreement, as claimed by the elder Tatsunami, were ambiguous.

The plaintiff, 69, went by the name Haguroyama as a wrestler, while the current Tatsunami went by the name Asahiyutaka.

According to the court, the elder Tatsunami retired from the sumo association at the mandatory age of 65, giving the title to the current stablemaster in February 1999.

“The trading of stablemaster titles has been going on in practice without the sumo association’s involvement,” Ono said in last year’s district court ruling.

He added that the free inheritance of such titles was inconceivable, noting that the Tatsunami stable is among the more famous and that the defendant’s brother inherited a similar title after paying 175 million yen.

The younger Tatsunami argued in court that no promise of payment had been made with the previous master and that the practice of trading the title had never existed.

He further contended that he inherited the title free of charge by becoming the adopted son of his father-in-law.