Sumo stablemaster Matsugane rented a building in the city of Osaka from a business executive with alleged close ties to the Yamaguchi-gumi underworld syndicate and used it for training and lodging wrestlers in March, sources said Wednesday.
The revelation is another blow to the ancient sport as it grapples with the scandal over illegal gambling involving wrestlers, stablemasters and the yakuza.
Matsugane, 53, who was at the Aichi Prefectural Gymnasium in Nagoya as a judge for the Nagoya Grand Sumo Tournament, was summoned to Tokyo over the matter by the Japan Sumo Association’s special investigation panel.
He claimed to reporters in Tokyo, “I thought he was a business executive, not a man linked to the underworld.”
The JSA panel will look into the latest revelation by questioning Matsugane and others implicated. Association sources said the Matsugane stable has been using the building for about two decades.
Investigative sources said Matsugane has been associated for years with the executive, a real estate company president who was a close friend of Masaru Takumi, a top Yamaguchi-gumi cadre gunned down at a Kobe hotel in 1997.
The unnamed president received a suspended prison term last year for engaging in talks to evict tenants from a building in Tokyo when he was not licensed to do so. Conducting such talks requires a qualification as a lawyer.
Matsugane, who once held the second-highest sumo rank of ozeki, has used some of the floors in the five-story building in Osaka’s Higashisumiyoshi Ward to accommodate and train wrestlers when they take part in the Osaka Grand Sumo Tournament, according to the investigative sources and property registry data.
Matsugane, who wrestled under the ring name of Wakashimazu, won two championships as an ozeki. In 1985, he made headlines when he married pop singer Mizue Takada.
Sumo fans at the Nagoya tourney responded to the latest allegations.
“More links with gangsters may be found and more problems will surface,” said Tooru Ito, 39, a company employee.
“Since I was a child, I felt that sumo wrestlers and gangster have some links,” said Kyo Hayashi, 66, another sumo fan from Kita-Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture.