Photo of Saito from With-Malice.com; I’m not sure where they got it because I couldn’t find it; A Japan policeman “on the job” from Flickr
According to a recent L.A. Times article, a 17-year-old sumo wrestler with bruises, cuts and burns on his face and legs was declared by police to have died from “heart disease.” The news has already made laps around the world in the last few months. BBC, The New York Times and everyone else and their mama has reported on it, however, I think The L.A. Times brought up something new.
“As is common in Japan, Aichi police reached their verdict on how Saito died without an autopsy. No need for a coroner, they said. No crime involved. Only 6.3 percent of the unnatural deaths in Aichi are investigated by a medical examiner, a minuscule rate even by nationwide standards in Japan, where an autopsy is performed in 11.2 percent of cases.”
This is the same Takashi Saito that Reuters reported on in June. Because of the teen’s profession, “heart failure” was spun to make sense as a health-related cause of death.
Here’s the old news brief that I found.
TOKYO (Reuters) – A 17-year-old sumo wrestler died from heart failure after a training session this week, the Japan Sumo Association said on Thursday.
Tokitaizan, whose real name is Takashi Saito, suffered discomfort after training on Tuesday for a Nagoya tournament. He was taken by ambulance to hospital where he was pronounced dead.
A native of Niigata, two hours north of Tokyo, Tokitaizan was ranked 39th in sumo’s junior rankings for the July 8-22 Nagoya Grand Sumo tournament.
Most sumo wrestlers intentionally put on weight but can face heart problems in later life. Some of the biggest wrestlers weight over 200 kilograms.
Last month senior wrestler Tochiazuma announced his retirement from sumo after suffering a slight stroke and being diagnosed with high blood pressure.
The Economist reported in an article this month that Saito, who competed in sumo wrestling under the name Tokitaizan, tried to runaway from his training camp after being severely beaten by senior wrestlers but each time he escaped he was brought back. Wrestlers refer to this bullying as “petting.” Think of it as the same way frat brothers initiate each other. The formal name for it is called kiai-ire or “instilling spirit” according to the article. Apparently, this is a case where the bullying got out of hand. The article also noted how sumo wrestling is a sport in trouble in Japan because of the severely declining ticket sales and number of new recruits. This fact could have also kept the murder hush. After public backlash, the JSA banned the stablemaster, who had let the beatings take place, from the sport of sumo.
If police are not investigating potential homicides this means the declining crime rate in Japan that I briefly mentioned a couple of posts ago could very well be false. Japan claims one of the lowest per capita homicide rates in the world. According to the L.A. Times, officers made arrests in 96.6 percent of the country’s 1,392 homicides in 2005. Doctors are pressured to keep quiet about observation that point to unnatural deaths and normally contribute deaths to health reasons like heart failure.
“Forensic scientists say there are many reasons for the low rate, including inadequate budgets and a desperate shortage of pathologists outside the biggest urban areas. There is also a cultural resistance in Japan to handling the dead, with families often reluctant to insist upon a procedure that invades the body of a loved one.”
The writer’s source, Hiromasa Saikawa is a former member of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police security and intelligence division. In 1997, he left the force after 30 years of seeing police trying to avoid investigating homicide cases to keep their almost perfect solution rate. Officers won’t investigate unless the killer’s identity is obvious, he said. Saikawa has written a memoir entitled Policeman at the Scene that describes the Japanese police culture.
Corruption and inefficiency are not the surprises here and neither is the unfortunate cruelty of the crime against Saito. What I want to know is how large the role of “culture resistance to handling the dead” has played in these murder cover ups. If families are reluctant to getting autopsies performed on their loved ones then how is anybody going to know that there is a cover up in the first place?