Japan is crazy about pot. Crazy about eradicating and demonizing it, that is.
Last month, three sumo wrestlers were expelled from the sport, given life time bans, for smoking pot.
The fun started with Russian Wakanoho, who is reported to have lost his wallet somewhere in Tokyo. The good news for him was that, true Japanese-style, it was handed in to the local koban (police box). The bad news is that apparently it had a joint tucked in it. The coppers found it and he ran into a bit of strife when he went to pick up his wallet. His life and career are ruined, actually, as he was given a life time ban. He was a talented rikishi, still very young and had everything ahead of him. He was already in the top division. His stable master got the chop as well, as he was forced to take some responsibility.
It didn't stop there, as the shitstorm unleashed took another two victims when authorities decided they had to test everybody for dope. Two other Russians, brothers Roho and Hakurozan, tested positive and were also expelled. Hakurozan was not in the top division but was definitely up-and-coming. As for Roho, I'd liked him immensely as he provided interest to the sport. As well as being a talented belt thrower with an inside right hand grip, he'd been involved in several controversial incidents with other rikishi. In fact, he's a bit of a thug, refuses to show respect to senior wrestlers, and once punched out a couple of photographers and smashed a window when he lost a bout. Great stuff, brings colour to the sport.
Well, a rational balanced human being can't help but feel sorry for these lads. For one, testing for marijuana amongst sumo wrestlers is just a way to create a scapegoat. It's a bit of an open secret that the real drug problem in the sport is steroids, which are never tested for (because that would catch Japanese rikishi, get it?) And then there's the fact that marijuana is obviously not a performance-enhancing drug. The only thing dope improves performance in is the appreciation of South Park. And let's face it, if you had grown up in autocratic Russia, land of declining alcoholic life expectancies and mafia showdowns, and then come to Japan at the age of 16 for a lost youth of training and beatings, well... you would want to light up to.
In fact, the only thing that surprises me is how few wrestlers were caught smokin the wacky tabacco.
Ah, the irony. It is so deep it is hardly worth putting into words. Japan, a country where alcohol, an infinitely more dangerous and harmful drug, is freely available, cheap and potent, while tobacco use is so ubiquitious you cannot even go to a Wendys Hamburger restaurant without dying from passively-acquired lung cancer. Well do I remember the 'smoking station' outside the Board of Education office in Nejime, Kagoshima. The old alcoholic cancer-ridden pachinko-adicted oji-sans would puff blissfully away, poisoning my hair and skin and lungs and soul, right under the community poster urging everybody to be on the look out for the 'devil weed', marijuana.
The saddest thing, the biggest waste, is that it is hard to imagine a society that is in more desperate need of marijuana than Japan. What a range of problems a few joints at university age would solve. Think about the benefits: openmindedness; critical and innovative thinking; artistic appreciation; sense of humour. Who would want to work 14 hour days 6 days a week who had been exposed to counter culture as a youth? Hey, even sex is better with dope!