Warning: A portion of this contribution deals with suicide, which some readers may find distressing.
In this age of medical miracles, it has become increasingly common to read accounts of women who have given birth in their 60s or even 70s. For professional sumo wrestlers, however, continuing to fight at the age of 30 is already old and at age 40 almost unheard of. So weekly magazine Shukan Jitsuwa (June 22) had to concede it was noteworthy that Hanakaze, a member of the Tatsunami stable ranked No. 58 in the lower jonidan division, had reached the venerable age of 50 on May 28.
Hanakaze, who joined his stable in 1986 at the age of 15, will go down in history with the unique distinction of being the only grappler to have competed in the Showa, Heisei and Reiwa eras. Stablemaster Tatsunami, who at 51 is just one year Hanakaze’s senior, told the magazine that the wrestler’s remarkably long career can be attributed to his abundance of spiritual power and physical durability.
“The important duties in our communal kitchen make him irreplaceable,” he says.
Some members of the Sumo Association, however, have been critical, arguing that it is unkind to keep a wrestler of advanced age, with no prospects for future promotion, on the payroll. As Hanakaze has never reached the second-tier professional jūryō division, he won’t be eligible for a retirement stipend. At present, his annual earnings would only amount to around ¥500,000.
“If you can’t climb any higher than the third division, you’re better off quitting and returning home to the countryside,” former grand champion Kitanofuji is quoted as saying.
Hanakaze might have another motive for persisting: If he hangs on for two more years, he’ll break sumo’s all-time record as the most senior wrestler, which is currently held by a wrestler named Miyagino, who died in 1868 while still active at age 52.
In other news, minors using a handgun might very well be the rarest form of suicide in Japan and so, naturally, the nation was shocked when a 15-year-old high school student killed himself in his Hachioji home on June 8 using a .38-caliber Smith & Wesson M60.
“Youth A,” a minor whose name was not divulged according to practice in Japan, did not leave a suicide note. The boy had a record of truancy from school but was alternating online studies with attendance three days a week. The principal at the school says his attendance had worsened from mid-May and, on May 27, he had been diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease. His last day to attend school was June 1.
“He seems to have acquired some knowledge about gun use,” Tetsuya Tsuda, an authority on guns, tells weekly Shukan Shincho (June 18). “As soon as I heard that a Smith & Wesson had been used, I presumed it would be the M60, a five-shot revolver.”
Tsuda says the model, widely sold in the U.S., is popular with Japan’s gangsters and can be purchased here illegally via the internet for ¥1 million or more.
Shukan Shincho expresses intrigue over how the boy managed to acquire the weapon. The boy’s late father, who passed away two years ago following a stroke, had been employed by the Foreign Ministry, and a police source believes the father may have smuggled the handgun into Japan using a diplomatic pouch, which is exempt from customs inspection.
“Since a crime (suicide by handgun) has been committed, the case will be prosecuted posthumously,” the source says. The boy’s mother has declined to comment.
With new conveniences come new hazards. Noting that more food service businesses are selling takeout meals as part of their survival strategy, evening daily Yukan Fuji (June 1) warns that the onset of hot, sticky weather raises the risk of food poisoning.
On May 17, some 60 people in the city of Mitaka in western Tokyo were sickened by box lunches prepared for local children. Seven were found to have been infected by clostridium perfringens, a common cause of food poisoning. Those affected said they consumed the lunch boxes the same day they received them; the problem was that some ingredients had been prepared one or two days earlier and not properly stored.
Professor Makoto Kanauchi, an authority on food management at Miyagi University, explains that microorganisms causing food poisoning easily propagate in temperatures from 30 to 50 degrees Celsius, and over a period of nine to ten hours increase exponentially.
More restaurants have been selling takeout meals on the street, where temperatures may exceed 30 C.
“They’re probably safe if sold and consumed within one hour, but beyond two or three hours they can be dangerous,” Kanauchi says.
“If you buy one, it’s best to eat it right away,” Kanauchi says. “If you keep it longer, separate the rice from the other ingredients and refrigerate them. Then after heating them in a microwave oven, transfer them to another dish.
“In this season, the curry you stored in the refrigerator may be dangerous, as microbes propagate rapidly, so caution is warranted,” he says.
Some media have reported that people forced to stay home during the pandemic have acquired pets to keep them company, and this has opened up a whole new can of worms.
Writing in weekly magazine Shukan Bunshun (June 18), journalist Sumiko Kajiyama advises readers on how to safeguard their pets from the novel coronavirus. The article lists seven things to avoid.
First, don’t allow pets to come into contact with any people or pets other than those in your immediate household.
Second, restrict walks to your own property. If this is not possible, take them out when other people are not around.
Third, avoid dog runs.
Fourth, owners should wear a mask while walking and practice social distancing, especially when engaging others in conversation.
Fifth, after returning home, gently wipe off the pet’s feet with a towel. Wash your hands afterward.
Sixth, keep cats inside the home, without exception.
Last but not least, practice sensible environmental sanitation by cleaning up and disposing of pet droppings.
If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency in Japan, please call 119 for immediate assistance. The TELL Lifeline is available for those who need free and anonymous counseling at 03-5772-0992. For those in other countries, visit https://bit.ly/Suicide-Hotlines for a detailed list of resources and assistance. Big in Japan is a weekly column that focuses on issues being discussed by domestic media organizations.