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Wrestling with diplomacy: Trump to award sumo trophy bearing his name during Japan state visit

A closer look at some of the day's notable stories with The National's Jonathon Gatehouse: Trump and Abe plan to take in some sumo in Tokyo this weekend; whistleblower Christopher Wylie is passionate about curbing abuse of personal data, and he has some advice for the public.

Newsletter: A closer look at the day's most notable stories

President Donald Trump's Japan visit, starting on Saturday, will include an evening of watching sumo with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. (Takumi Sato/Associated Press)

Welcome to The National Today newsletter, which takes a closer look at what's happening around some of the day's most notable stories. Sign up here and it will be delivered directly to your inbox Monday to Friday.


  • Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's meeting in Tokyo this weekend includes watching sumo wrestling, where the U.S. president will present the "Trump Cup."
  • Whistleblower Christopher Wylie is passionate about curbing corporate and government abuse of personal data, and he has some advice for the public.
  • Missed The National last night? Watch it here.

Wrestling with diplomacy

U.S. President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe are tight.

They've met in person or chatted on the phone more than 40 times since Trump's election, have gone golfing in Florida and Virginia, and at the request of the U.S. government, Abe nominated Trump for the Nobel Peace Prize following his June 2018 summit with North Korea's Kim Jong-un.

But their relationship will take a new turn this weekend during Trump's second official visit to Japan.

U.S. President Donald Trump, escorted by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, reviews an honour guard during a welcome ceremony at Akasaka Palace in Tokyo during a previous visit to Japan on Nov. 6, 2017. (Koji Sasahara/Associated Press)

The Japanese government is pulling out all the stops during the four-day tour, arranging for Trump to become the first foreign leader to meet the country's newly installed Emperor Naruhito, who officially took over after his father's abdication on May 1.

"I am the guest, meaning the United States is the guest, but Prime Minister Abe said to me very specifically, 'You are the guest of honour. There's only one guest of honour,'" Trump gushed to reporters yesterday. "I represent the country. Of all the countries in the world, I'm the guest of honour at the biggest event they've had in over 200 years."

It's not clear exactly what that "biggest event" is. A game of golf is on the weekend agenda. So is a state banquet and a meal at a traditionalrobatayaki grill restaurant, where Trump will be able to indulge his preference for extra-well-done steak, although perhaps not with ketchup.

U.S. President Donald Trump gestures to news media outside the Oval Office on Thursday. This weekend's schedule for his state visit to Japan includes diplomatic talks and a tour of a newly outfitted navy ship, as well as some golf. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

On Monday, Memorial Day back home, Trump and Abe will tour a destroyer that is being converted into Japan's first aircraft carrier since the Second World War — a stop that is meant to underline all the money the country intends to spend on American-made weapons.

There's no shortage of issues to discuss, from North Korea's nuclear ambitions to Trump's threats to impose tariffs on Japanese cars and auto parts.

But the highlight of the trip — at least as far as the media is concerned — is likely to be Trump's introduction to sumo wrestling.

On Sunday, the president and the first lady will attend the finale of the 15-day Summer Grand Sumo Tournament at the Ryogoku Kokugikan arena in Tokyo, watching the championship match and awarding a specially made "Trump Cup" to the victor.

Trump has a history with grappling, having played a major role in Wrestlemania XXIII back in 2007, body-slamming Vince McMahon in the "Battle of the Billionaires" and then shaving his head.

(It seems there were no hard feelings, since the WWE impresario became a major Trump donor, and his wife Linda McMahon served in Trump's cabinet and now chairs his 2020 re-election super PAC.)

However, it's safe to assume that the U.S. president knows little about Japan's national sport, and its hallowed traditions that some say date back as far as 2,000 years. And the changes that are being made to accommodate Trump's visit are riling some sumo purists.

For example, the president and his wife will be seated ringside on chairs, rather than cross-legged on the floor on cushions as is customary. And may of the prime viewing areas for the match — fans apply for tickets years in advance — have been given over to the security details for Trump and Abe.

Local media report that the sale of canned beer will be curtailed for security reasons, and that there might be a prohibition on the cushion-throwing celebration that happens when a grand champion is toppled.

And no one is quite sure what will happen when Trump goes to award his new trophy, following the presentation of the Emperor's and Prime Minister's cups. Will he remove his shoes, as is customary, before walking on the ring's sacred dirt?

Sumo wrestlers take part in a 'honozumo,' a ceremonial sumo exhibition, on the grounds of Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo on April 15. Sumo wrestling in an ancient tradition in Japan, and the sport includes many ritual elements related to the Shinto religion. (Charly Triballeau/AFP/Getty Images)

Trump won't be the first foreign dignitary to award a Grand Tournament prize. Former French President Jacques Chirac was a big fan of the sport — he named his tiny dog Sumo — and donated a trophy that was presented for seven years until Nicolas Sarkozy took office.

("Sumo wrestling is really not a sport for intellectuals," Sarkozy opined in 2004, wondering why anyone cared about "battles between fat guys with slicked-down ponytails.")

But there are concerns that his Trump Cup might be too big or flashy and somehow overshadow the traditional awards. 

If that happens, angry sumo fans might have Abe himself to blame.

During his first meeting with the then president elect at New York's Trump Towers in November 2016, the Japanese prime minister came bearing an over-the-top gift. A gold-coloured, high-tech Honma Beres driver that retails for $3,755 US.

Trump reportedly reciprocated with a golf shirt from one of his clubs.

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Debating privacy

Whistleblower Christopher Wylie is passionate about curbing corporate and government abuse of personal data, and he has some advice, The National co-host Ian Hanomansing writes.

Christopher Wylie reminds me of the very quickest university debaters I would sometimes run into at tournaments — except this was no academic game.

The Canadian data consultant sparked the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal when he released documents showing how the illegally harvested private information of more than 50 million Facebook users was used to target voters on behalf of Donald Trump's 2016 U.S. election campaign.

He explained it in this 2018 interview with The National's Adrienne Arsenault:

Canadian whistleblower explains Facebook data misuse

5 years ago
Duration 3:29
CBC's Adrienne Arsenault speaks with Christopher Wylie

When we spoke, he remained deadly serious and fearless about his criticism of Facebook.

And he has a detailed list of suggestions on how to deal with companies that fail to protect privacy or abuse the data they're collecting on people. They range from government oversight, to the professionalization of software engineers so they would have a duty to report wrongdoing.

But back to the debating. I'd try to play devil's advocate and toss out an analogy: "Maybe Facebook is like a library. We don't consider libraries dangerous, even though there are books we find offensive."

Without a pause, he'd parry: "It's like a library where the librarian throws Mein Kampf at you and gets money if you pick it up and read it."

Cambridge-Analytica whistleblower Christopher Wylie, left, tells Ian Hanomansing that government has the ability to crack down on abuses of data-mining technology, but people need to push for action. (Sean Brocklehurst/CBC)

But while he is truly alarmed at how we're filling our lives with devices that listen to us and track our movements, he says he is optimistic that we can push governments and companies to protect our privacy.

When I asked for one piece of specific advice about how to protect privacy, his reply wasn't about things like anti-virus software or two-factor authentication.

Instead, he said that if you're concerned about the intrusive reach of technology, tell your MP we need the government to take action.

- Ian Hanomansing

  • WATCH: The interview with Christopher Wylie, Sunday night on The National on CBC Television and streamed online

A few words on ... 

Rediscovering your youth.

Quote of the moment

"It is, and will always remain, a matter of deep regret to me that I have not been able to deliver Brexit."

- Theresa Mayannounces her intention to resign as British prime minister on June 7, following another failed attempt to force her divorce deal with the European Union through parliament.

British Prime Minister Theresa May became emotional as she announced on Friday that she would resign on June 7. (Toby Melville/Reuters)

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  • Naomi Wolf discovers a major thesis of her new book is wrong, during an interview (Digg)

Today in history

May 24, 2000: Polluted water in Walkerton, Ont.

People in Walkerton started falling ill with stomach pains and diarrhea on May 17. But it took officials a full week to disclose that the source of the illness was the town water supply, which had been tainted with E. coli bacteria. The mayor says that everything is under control, but schools and daycares are closed, and locals are now drinking bottled water. In the end, almost half the town — 2,300 people were sickened, and seven died. A public inquiry later blamed lax monitoring by the town water supply manager, and provincial budget cuts for the tragedy.

Polluted water kills four in Walkerton

23 years ago
Duration 4:33
Four people have died and hundreds more are sick after drinking polluted water in Walkerton, Ont.

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Jonathon Gatehouse

CBC Investigative Journalist

Jonathon Gatehouse has covered news and politics at home and abroad, reporting from dozens of countries. He has also written extensively about sports, covering seven Olympic Games and authoring a best-selling book on the business of pro-hockey. He works for the national investigative unit in Toronto.