Former stable master gets six years for young wrestler’s hazing death

NAGOYA (Kyodo) The Nagoya District Court sentenced a former sumo stable master Friday to six years in prison for telling wrestlers at his stable to haze and beat a 17-year-old wrestler who died in the 2007 assault.

Presiding Judge Masaharu Ashizawa said that Junichi Yamamoto, 59, with his “immeasurable power” as stable master, ordered the two days of physical abuse that “grossly disrespected the victim’s human dignity.”

Yamamoto immediately appealed the ruling.

Three senior wrestlers at his stable who abused Takashi Saito, who went by the ring name Tokitaizan, received suspended prison terms and were dismissed by the Japan Sumo Association after their guilty verdicts were finalized.

The high-profile case has put the spotlight on questionable traditions in the sumo world, including the way new wrestlers are trained, prompting a rethink about its customs and traditions.

Prosecutors had sought a seven-year prison term for Yamamoto, who was also dismissed by the association, in October 2007.

The court accepted the prosecutors’ contention that Yamamoto ordered the three wrestlers to attack Saito to punish him for trying to run away from the stable.

The judge also said a sparring bout that took place on the second day of the abuse “obviously deviated from the realm of normal practice.”

Yamamoto’s defense counsel tried to get a suspended term, claiming the senior wrestlers attacked Saito on their own initiative and that the sparring was a regular practice.

According to the ruling, Yamamoto hit Saito with a beer bottle during dinner on June 25, 2007, and told the three wrestlers to beat him with a wooden stick afterward.

Saito was smashed onto the ring and beaten with a metal bat by the wrestlers in a 30-minute sparring session the next day and died from shock from multiple trauma at a hospital.

Yamamoto, who was released from detention on bail of ¥8 million in March, about 13 months after his arrest, apologized to Saito’s family during the trial but denied he ordered the assault.