Written by MATCHA
Watching A Sumo Practice Session At Musashigawa-Beya
Let's visit Musashigawa-beya, a sumo training facility in Edogawa ward, Tokyo. See what the daily practice sessions of sumo wrestlers consists of, what the wrestlers eat and find out what to you need to know in order to visit a sumo stable.
Sumo has been practiced in Japan since ancient times. More than a wrestling sport, it has long been performed ritually at festivals. In the world of sumo, the regulations prescribed by tradition are being strictly respected. This is one of the reason why, besides watching sumo bouts for real or on TV, we usually have few occasions to get into contact with this world.
The places where the rikishi (sumo wrestlers) live and perform their practices are called heya. Lately, some of the sumo beya allow visitors to watch the practice sessions. We had the chance to visit Musashigawa-beya the other day, a sumo practice facility in Tokyo.
Musashigawa-beya, One of the Newest Sumo Training Facilities
Musashigawa-beya was initiated by yokozuna (*1) Musashigawa Mitsuhide. Originating from Hawaii and known as Musashimaru, Musashigawa Mitsuhide has won 12 tournaments consecutively, registering for the first time this record as a non-Japanese sumo wrestler. With the support of the Japan Sumo Association, he opened Musashigawa-beya in April, 2013.
*1 Yokozuna: the highest rank in the sumo world, symbolized by the tsuna ("thick rope") in their ceremonial attire, which is inspired by the shimenawa from Shinto, the rope demarcating sacred ground.
Musashigawa-beya has 16 disciples at present. Besides living in Musashigawa-beya, they undergo harsh training every day, striving to become professional sumo wrestlers.
The Daily Practice of Sumo Disciples
The daily program of the sumo wrestlers begins early in the morning, as the practice sessions start at 8 o'clock.
The young disciples' training is supervised by Musashigawa Mitsuhide himself and by two oyakata (licensed sumo coaches). Their practice includes footwork drills, bouts during which they confront each other, as well as ending sessions called shiage, during which they confront the coaches themselves.
While watching their practice sessions, you realize that not only strength is needed in order to win a bout, but also speed and agility. During a visit to a sumo stable such as Musashigawa-beya, you'll come to understand a lot more about the depth and history of sumo.
Shiage, the last part of the training practice, is the most difficult part. The disciples get to face the senior rikishi and have to work their hardest to confront them.
This small shrine placed on the wall right beside the photograph of the yokozuna Musashigawa Mienoumi, the mentor and coach of Musashigawa Mitsuhide, serves as a reminder of the sacred and ceremonial origins of sumo.
Enjoying a Meal at Musashigawa-beya
At around 11 o'clock the morning practice comes to an end. This is the time when the sumo wrestlers have their first meal of the day. If there are guests present, they are invited to eat first and the wrestlers themselves eat afterwards.
The food that sumo wrestlers eat is called chanko. We had the honor of being invited to taste the chanko nabe - the stew that stands at the basis of the sumo wrestlers' diet. This special dish consists of vegetables and fish or chicken boiled in a broth containing sake and mirin. Besides being highly nutritious, it is truly delicious.
We also received these original Musashigawa biscuits as souvenirs of our visit.
What Is It Like to Be a Sumo Wrestler?
We talked with Buken Jo ("Kenta"), a 19 year-old disciple of Musashigawa-beya.
Kenta, as he is called by his fellow disciples, was born in Fukuoka and has entered the sumo world when he was 15 after hearing a proposal from a sumo coach. He became the second disciple of Musashigawa-beya, after Musashikuni Mamu, the nephew of yokozuna Musashimaru.
When asked what the hardest thing about the daily training is as an aspiring sumo wrestler, Kenta says that the shiage (the last stage of the daily practice) is the most challenging. During shiage, you not only need physical strength, but also considerable emotional strength, as you are facing off against your coaches in person.
Despite the strict regulations that come along with sumo wrestler status, Kenta seems to enjoy his life at Musashigawa-beya and is highly motivated to become a professional wrestler.
Visiting A Sumo Stable
Please be aware that it is rather rare that sumo training facilities such as Musashigawa-beya allow access to visitors who want to watch the practice sessions. Usually, the visitors allowed access are individual supporters of the facility.
If you wish to assist at a practice session, please contact the facility beforehand using the inquiry form on their official website. Please note that visits in large groups are not permitted and that it is customary for visitors to show their gratitude for being allowed to watch the training sessions by paying a small fee. The chance to visit a sumo beya is very special, so it is essential to respect their manners and watch the disciples' practice in silence.
Witnessing the world of sumo, a especially its inner workings and harsh training is not only impressive, but also fascinating, even to casual sumo fans, and an opportunity not to be missed.
Bonus: Experience the World of Sumo at the Miyamoto-ke Villa
A reformed farmhouse boasting more than 200 years of history, the Miyamoto-ke Villa is a lodging facility in Chichibu, Saitama prefecture. Besides being a great place to relax in a traditional Japanese house with an beautiful garden and large bath, the guests of Miyamoto-ke can see a display of kesho-mawashi (the ceremonial attire of sumo wrestlers), since the owner, Miyamoto Kazuteru, used to be a sumo wrestler himself.
By staying at the Miayamoto-ke Villa, guests can also try on a sumo wrestler's kimono and taste authentic chanko stew prepared with local ingredients on an open hearth. Those interested in learning more about sumo should definitely consider stopping by or staying at Miyamoto-ke Villa.
Address: Tokyo, Edogawa-ku, Chuo 4-1-10
Nearest Station: Shin-Koiwa Station, Chuo Sobu Line
Access: 10 minute walk from the North Exit of Shin-Koiwa Station
Official Website: Musashigawa-Beya (Japanese)
Address: Saitama, Chichibu, Ogano-cho, Nagaru 510
Hours: 9:00 - 22:00
Credit cards: accepted
Nearest Station: Nishi-Chichibu Station (Seibu Ikebukuro Line), Chichibu Station (Chichibu Railways)
1) Free pick-up service from Nishi-Chichibu Station or Chichibu Station (reservation required: 0494-75-4060)
2) From Nishi-Chichibu Station or Chichibu Station take the Seibu Bus going to Ogano. Please get off the bus at Matsuida station, which you will reach in around 25 minutes
Price range: 12,000 yen ~
Official Website: Miyamoto-ke