Photo/IllutrationYokozuna Harumafuji starts a news conference in Dazaifu, Fukuoka Prefecture, on Nov. 29 to announce his retirement. At left is his stablemaster, Isegahama. (Masaru Komiyaji)

Acquaintances of Harumafuji expressed disbelief that the kind, caring and intellectual yokozuna they have known for years could have committed such violence that led to his retirement on Nov. 29.

Harumafuji, 33, admitted to beating fellow sumo wrestler Takanoiwa during a drinking session in Tottori in late October. The scandal rocked not only the sumo world but also the entire nation, where yokozuna are expected to always show a high level of dignity and discipline both inside and outside the “dohyo” ring.

Yoshiyuki Okamoto, 70, professor of economics at the graduate school of Hosei University, recalled such traits in Harumafuji.

“He was a very serious person with a very strong intellectual curiosity,” Okamoto said.

In April 2014, Harumafuji enrolled in the graduate school because he wanted to learn more about the economy and education system in his home country of Mongolia.

During breaks from sumo tournaments and circuit tours, he attended classes on Saturdays and weekday nights. He also joined biannual parties and accepted other students’ requests to be photographed with them.

He left the school in March this year, saying, “I want to concentrate on sumo.”

After reports of the beating surfaced on Nov. 14, Okamoto sent Harumafuji an e-mail that read, “You have got a serious problem.”

The former student replied: “I will do my best.”

Okamoto is still stunned by incident in Tottori.

“The yokozuna is an intellectual who cares for other people,” he said. “How could such a scandal take place? It’s really sad.”

Mitsuo Endo, 75, chairman of Endogym in Tokyo, was also distressed by Harumafuji’s retirement.

“Causing violence is not good,” Endo said. “But still, his retirement is regrettable.”

Harumafuji started training at Endogym as an 18 year old who weighed 85 to 90 kilograms.

Endo advised him to build up his muscles to increase his weight. Under the policy, Harumafuji trained up to three times a week.

The gym chairman said the manner in which the Harumafuji retired underscores the personality of the yokozuna.

“Harumafuji retired without hesitation before he was officially urged to do so. That is his character. I think he felt that he did not want to cause problems for his supporters,” Endo said.

The Isegahama stable, to which Harumafuji belonged, holds a summer training camp at Yahikojinja shrine in the village of Yahiko in Niigata Prefecture.

In summer 2015, the shrine created a new dohyo on its compound, and Harumafuji performed a ring-entering ceremony to celebrate its opening.

The performance led Yahiko to start exchanges with the village of Erdene in Mongolia’s Tov province. In summer 2016, the Yahiko village government sent six junior high school students to Erdene.

Yahiko Mayor Toyohiko Kobayashi said Harumafuji volunteered to serve as a bridge between the two villages before the exchanges started.

“(The yokozuna) was a catalyst for children to open their eyes to the world. His retirement is sad, but we want to continue the exchanges,” Kobayashi said.

Photographer Hiroyuki Usami, 65, a friend of Harumafuji for about 10 years, saw the Nov. 29 news conference in which the yokozuna announced his retirement.

“I felt that he was hiding his remorse. All I can say now is that ‘it’s regrettable,’” Usami said.

Usami is also head of the secretariat for the Heart Saving Project, a Tokyo-based nonprofit organization that offers medical support to children in Mongolia.

Harumafuji became a member of the NPO in 2008 and has since been engaged in such activities as encouraging children with heart diseases and calling for donations.

“He is honest and has manners. He cares about others, as shown by the use of part of his earnings to construct a school in Mongolia. Violence is not good, but the loss (caused by his retirement) is immense,” Usami said.

“I cannot accept the fact that he retired when the real truth of the scandal has not been clarified,” he added.

Harumafuji, whose father died in a traffic accident, has also cooperated with another NPO that supplies Japanese ambulances and other vehicles to Mongolia.

The Sabae-Nyu firefighting union in Fukui Prefecture presented to the NPO three ambulances and one water-pumping vehicle, which were renewed in the period from 2013 to 2016.

Harumafuji attended the presentation ceremony held in Sabae.

“He had dignity as a yokozuna and a soft attitude,” said Masanori Yoshimura, 52, head of the Asahi branch of the union. “I was surprised when I saw the news about the violence. He was in a position that could influence society. Therefore, it was good that he retired right away.”

In Mongolia, Harumafuji is immensely popular largely because he used a variety of skills to defeat bigger opponents.

He is also regarded as quiet and intellectual in his home country, so the beating scandal also stunned his fans there.

A reporter of a Mongolian newspaper that carried articles about the scandal said the beating was simply a fight that often occurs in Mongolia.

“I can’t understand why such a fight has been made into such a big incident (in Japan),” the reporter said. “Many people (in Mongolia) think that a Mongolian wrestler was expelled from the dohyo because Japanese wrestlers could not defeat him.”

However, a road construction engineer in Mongolia said, “Harumafuji did what a yokozuna must not do.”