Last Friday, several members of the Ireland rugby team, including Clan Healy and Rory Best, visited Isegahama stable to watch a training session.

It’s unusual for outsiders to be allowed into a stable during tournaments as the rikishi involved understandably want to avoid distractions, but also because training itself is lighter and shorter, and fewer wrestlers are present.

Stables don’t want guests to come away feeling disappointed or thinking sumo training is easy so they tend to restrict visits to inter-tournament periods.

An exception was made for the world’s top-ranked rugby team though, and after watching Terunofuji, Takarafuji and several others train for two hours, the Irish players presented the stable with a jersey signed by the entire squad and some additional gifts. They even made a speech in Japanese beforehand.

The group traveled from their base in Makuhari, Chiba, where the team hotel also has sumo connections.

Now with 20 hotels worldwide, the New Otani chain was established by a former rikishi in 1964.

Yonetaro Otani, who had fought under the ring name Tonamiyama, opened the first New Otani hotel at the request of a Japanese government worried about an accommodation shortfall for that year’s Olympic Games.

Otani was a self-made millionaire who had only moved into business later in life. Indeed his sumo career didn’t even start until he was in his 30s and was a last resort after failing to find work as a day laborer upon moving to Tokyo from his family farm.

Otani made it to the makushita division. But after an injury cut short his career, he created a sake business that only stayed afloat by supplying the Kokugikan. He eventually moved into the metal industry and built a large empire.

That first New Otani hotel was the tallest building in Tokyo when in opened and also was used as the headquarters of both Osato Chemical and SPECTRE in the James Bond film “You Only Live Twice” — a movie with plenty of sumo connections of its own.

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