One explanation for the genesis of Japan’s national sport, sumo, can be found in Japanese mythology, which says that the gods used to wrestle one another. One wonders if they bothered to do so at 5 a.m., when the modern-day gods of the dohyo get a most rude wake-up call.
Most of the sumo heya — the “stables” where wrestlers train, sleep and eat — start their day in the wee hours with some of the most rigorous training imaginable.
There’s none of the well-rehearsed, media-directed showmanship of baseball training camps here, nor the pomp and ceremony of a sumo tournament. During sumo keiko (training), even the most junior grapplers stand up to be counted.
Most stables allow visitors to watch the early-morning training sessions free of charge, with only the general proviso that you keep the noise down. While training times vary from stable to stable, most are in full flow by about 8 a.m., when the top wrestlers start to stir into action.
Some stables have conditions: Visitors are requested to call in advance of their visit (there are days when wrestlers are not in town due to tournaments, and others when they are resting); not descend on a stable in a large group (some stables are not large); and either speak Japanese or take along someone who does.
One of the most pleasant environments to enjoy keiko is at the Oshiogawa-beya in Koto Ward. The stable may not feature many major names of sumo’s top-ranked wrestlers (veteran Daishi is an exception), but there is a laid-back and welcoming attitude toward visitors here. The stable is just a few minutes’ walk from Kiba Station on the Tozai Line, and training takes place on most mornings between 6 a.m. and 11 a.m., 2-17-7 Kiba, Koto-ku, (03) 3643-8156.
Wakamatsu-beya is one of the stables that has put itself online, and the 400,000th visitor to its Web site ( www2s.biglobe.ne.jp/~wakamatu ) will be invited to the stable to watch keiko and join in the communal post-training feast, which is prepared by junior wrestlers and enjoyed at all stables.
Wakamatsu-beya is a 10-minute walk from Honjo-Azumabashi Station on the Toei Asakusa Line. Wrestlers are pretty laid-back here, too — training usually starts about 8:30 a.m. 3-5-4 Honjo, Sumida-ku, (03) 5608-3223.
Other stables include: Futagoyama-beya (home of grand champion Takanohana), which is a 10-minute walk from Keisei Koiwa Station on the Keisei Main Line, 8-16-1 Kita Koiwa, Edogawa-ku, (03) 3673-7339. Training can be viewed between 7 and 10 a.m. most days.
Musashigawa-beya is happy to have foreign visitors along to watch training (5:30 a.m.-10 a.m.), but insists that a Japanese-speaker accompany anyone not conversant in Japanese. The stable is a 5-minute walk from Uguisudani Station on the JR Yamanote Line, 4-27-1 Higashi Nippori, Arakawa-ku, (03) 3805-6343.
Training at Oshima-beya takes place most days of the week between 7 a.m. and 9:30 a.m., but officials urge visitors to call (03) 3632-6578 to make an appointment. The stable, home to popular Mongolian wrestler Kyokushuzan, is a 10-minute walk from Ryogoku Station on the Sobu Line, 3-5-3 Ryogoku, Sumida-ku.
Although it is not an obligation, a small gift, such as a bottle of sake, can make your experience a more enjoyable one and the stable master very happy.