CultureGo Go Greg! vol.1 Inside Morning Practice at a Sumo Beya

Greg from N.Y. will report on various experiences in Japan. In the first episode, he gets to watch sumo morning practice and eat chanko. We got to go inside Hakkaku Beya, right next to Ryogoku Kokugikan, the holy ground of sumo. What did Greg think of the sumo world up close?

Inside Morning Practice at a Sumo Beya

We got to Hakkaku Beya (heya, which means stable,
is pronounced beya in this case) around 8:00 in the morning. When we walked into the training room, the rikishis, or sumo wrestlers, were training on practice dirt. They looked like they’d been at it for a while already.
We got to watch practice for an hour, basically the wrestlers running practice matches one at a time, with the others watching or practicing
moves on the side. Everybody was pretty much quiet the whole time, but no one looked relaxed. One of the wrestlers got thrown right off his feet, and got up with dirt on his back. Everybody was hitting hard, and I couldn’t tell if they were going full-strength but it sure looked that way to me.

Chanko nabe

When practice was over, I thought the rikishis might be tired, but after a shower they all looked fresh again. By the time we walked over to the meal room, most of them were standing there while the others were getting our food ready for us. We got to eat chanko nabe, which is the classic hot pot sumo wrestlers eat to put on weight.

The heya manager, Hasegawa-san

The heya manager, Hasegawa-san, told us the rikishis make the chanko themselves and change up the flavor every day. That day was salmon nabe, with the fish straight from Hokkaido. Hakkaku Beya’s Oyakata (master), Hokutoumi, is from Hokkaido, and a lot of the rikishis who train here come from the north, so they have the connections to get food sent straight to them. The rikishis served us chanko and gave us refills whenever we got close to finishing our bowl. I was pretty full after just one, to be honest, but I ended up eating two whole ones.
Hasegawa-san talked to us about different aspects of how things work in the heya. Most of the rikishis in the room were low or middle rank level. Some of them had their hair tied up in a knot and some didn’t have it long enough to do it yet. Rikishis usually wear kimono when they’re outside the heya, and Hasegawa-san told us if you don’t get to a certain rank, you can’t wear anything over it in the winter time. I wonder if the fat keeps them warm, because winters in Tokyo get pretty cold.
The manager introduced us to all of the wrestlers in the room, told us about where they came from and what they were like. We heard about the tallest rikishi in the room, who according to Hasegawasan, was definitely going to be a yokozuna (highest rank) if he put on another 20 kilos. Putting on weight is hard though, and there’s no guarantee he can do it. Another wrestler had a special mental condition but had an upfront personality, and Hasegawa-san said if he won some
bouts he was going to be on TV all the time.
The manager told us some old-time stories too, like about how wrestlers used to drink all night after dinner and go straight to morning practice. This doesn't happen so much anymore, apparently.

after eating

When we finished eating up we were shown out the door and were on our way. To be honest, I didn’t really want to leave. The sumo lifestyle seemed like so much fun once I got a closer look at it that I was hoping they might take me in, or at least let me stay for a week. I’ll have to start eating more though or the closest I’ll get to them again is probably on tournament day!

Clipping Data
Professional sumo wrestling is managed by the Nihon Sumo Kyokai (Japan Sumo Association). Basho, the official tournaments which determine rank and salary, are held six times a year, each lasting 15 days, for a total of 90 days of official competition a year. Basho are held in Tokyo in January, May and September at the Ryogoku Kokugikan, in March in Osaka at the Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium (BODYMAKER COLOSSEUM), in July in Nagoya at the Aichi Prefectural Gymnasium, and in November in Fukuoka at the Fukuoka Kokusai Center. Regional exhibition tours are held on occasion as well.
Sumo beyas each have their own rules and particularities. Observing morning training is not allowed at all beyas. For more details, get in touch with the Japan Sumo Association. Travel agencies such as JTB occasionally organize tours to observe training and/or eat chanko hot pot, so be on the lookout for these announcements!

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