Photo/IllutrationMasato Kitamura, left, chairman of the Japan Sumo Association's Yokozuna Deliberation Council, and stablemaster Shibatayama attend a news conference on Nov. 26. (Kensuke Suzuki)

  • Photo/Illustraion

Although a top sumo council passed a unanimous resolution of "encouragement" toward struggling Kisenosato on Nov. 26, the ambiguous message shows members' frustration with the frequent absences by the only Japanese yokozuna.

The resolution marked the first time the Yokozuna Deliberation Council, which was established in 1950 by the Japan Sumo Association, has issued such a document related to a dohyo performance.

After sitting out or not finishing eight consecutive tournaments through the Nagoya Grand Sumo Tournament in July, Kisenosato posted a 10-5 record in the Autumn Grand Sumo Tournament in September. While that is a disappointing mark for a yokozuna, council members felt that the 32-year-old Kisenosato was on the road to a full comeback after suffering a nagging injury to his left chest and arm.

The yokozuna himself said before the Kyushu Grand Sumo Tournament, which began on Nov. 11, that he wanted to win the Emperor's Cup. Expectations were high because the two other yokozuna were forced to sit out from the start due to injury.

But Kisenosato lost miserably over the first four days, forcing him to join the other yokozuna on the sidelines from the fifth day on Nov. 15.

At the Yokozuna Deliberation Council meeting on Nov. 26, some members said Kisenosato had to consider the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament in January the "make or break" point that determined if he would continue as an active sumo wrestler.

Masato Kitamura, the council chairman, said at a news conference after the meeting, "The disappointment among fans is huge."

Kitamura has often spoken about the expectations placed on Kisenosato as the only Japanese yokozuna, the first since Takanohana retired in 2003. But Kitamura was harsher on Nov. 26, saying Kisenosato had failed to demonstrate his strength for a long period.

No similar resolution had been directed at Kisenosato over the eight tournaments that he did not finish.

But ever since becoming yokozuna in January 2017, Kisenosato has a dismal record of 36 wins, 32 losses and 97 bouts that he sat out.

Other members also said they were losing patience with Kisenosato.

Masayuki Yamaguchi, a professor emeritus of history at the University of Tokyo, said, "We have looked over (Kisenosato) in a rather forward-looking and magnanimous manner, but there are times when he will have to make a decision by himself based on the gravity of the good sense and rank of yokozuna. The January tournament will be one such time."

Akira Okamoto, senior adviser at Okayasu Securities Co. and a council member, said he personally wanted to tell Kisenosato that his performance was disgraceful, but that now was not the time for such words.

Other members said that no yokozuna should be forced to retire.

In fact, the only time the Yokozuna Deliberation Council has passed a resolution recommending retirement was in 2010 after Asashoryu was found to have engaged in a number of questionable activities.

When Kisenosato announced he was withdrawing from the Kyushu Grand Sumo Tournament due to an injury to his right knee that he said he suffered on the first day, he did not clearly state if he would enter the January tournament.

But Kitamura indicated that if the yokozuna sits out the New Year's tournament, the council would most likely approve an even stricter resolution. However, all council deliberations are not legally binding, so the ultimate decision will rest with Kisenosato.