Sumo wrestling is an integral part of Japan’s culture and has been practiced in one form or another for around 2000 years.
In part 1 we shared everything you need to know if you are new to Sumo, and want to attend the Nagoya Grand Sumo Tournament. If you haven’t read it yet, follow this link.
But a Grand Sumo Tournament like the one held in Nagoya each summer isn’t the only way to experience Sumo. Nagoya also plays host to all 42 active Sumo Stables for around one month before and during the tournament. And many open their doors to visitors during the morning hours, to observe a stable’s morning practice.
Exactly, What Is a Sumo Stable?
In Japan, there are currently 42 official stables. In these stables (called Beya) the Sumo wrestlers (Rikishi), low and top-level wrestlers alike, live and train together. With very few exceptions once a wrestler joins a Sumo stable, they will stay with the same stable for their entire career. Sumo stables vary in size, with the smallest having only a handful of wrestlers to the largest having around 30.
Each stable is headed by an Oyakata (literally parent figure), or Stable master. Stable masters are always successful retired wrestlers themselves. Their role is to manage and administer their stables and to take care of the wrestlers under their care. They also judge Sumo matches and are the point of contact for other stables and associations.
Every day the Rikishi at each Sumo stable wakes up early and has training first thing in the morning called, Asageiko.
What Is Asageiko? and How Can You Watch
Each Sumo stable has its own way of conducting Asageiko, but most follow a similar pattern. The training day usually starts around 7:00 (although in some places it might start at 7:30). The youngest wrestlers begin with stretching exercises.
You can tell they are of a low rank by looking at their loincloth, or Mawashi. Those who wear the black Mawashi are those of lower rank and the ones of white color are those of higher rank (Sekitori).
The wrestlers are situated around the Dohyo (ring) in rows and one of them begins to lead the count for stretching exercises. The body areas that are stretched the most are from the waist down.
Although they might not look muscular or particularly flexible, Sumo wrestlers work a lot on body flexibility and strength. This flexibility is achieved with the traditional stretching technique known as Matawari. A technique that requires the Sumo wrestler to sit with their legs as far apart as possible. While keeping the knees locked, the fighter must lean forward until his chest touches the ground. If you have never tried this move before we highly recommend doing so, just to see how difficult it is.
After rigorous stretching, they move on to warming up with Suriashi. Suriashi is a movement exercise that involves squatting down and moving forward without standing back up. A Rikishi will glide forward in a straight line ideally without any movement of the body up and down. While this might sound easy it is actually quite difficult.
While the low-level wrestlers continue to warm up with the Suriashi, the top-level wrestlers begin their own stretching and warming-up routine. Shiko is a very important technique in Sumo wrestling. A Rikishi will plant one foot on the ground while lifting their opposite leg as far up into the air as possible, holding for 2-3 seconds, and then stomping down. This movement helps improve balance and strengthens the core.
After almost an hour of stretching and warming up, the real training begins.
Often they will start by practicing Butsukari Geiko, where one Rikishi stands firm while his opponent rushes at him with all his strength and pushes him across the ring.
Another form of training is called Moshiai, where two Rikishi fights each other. The loser leaves the Dohyo and the winner stays and chooses his next opponent.
Sanban Geiko tests the Sumo wrestler’s endurance; two Rikishi continue fighting to the point of exhaustion.
Moshiai and Sanban Geiko are first done by low-level wrestlers, then among low and top-level wrestlers, and finally among high-ranking fighters. During training the coaches and the stable chief correct and advise the fighters quite strictly.
If it’s your first time at an Asageiko you will be impressed by the sound of two wrestlers colliding with each other. The large and heavy almost naked bodies pack an immense force and it somehow reminds us of watching a frontal car crash.
Between bouts, brief breaks are taken to collect the sand from around the edge of the Dohyo and spread it back out evenly. Breaks are also times for wrestlers to catch their breath, dry their sweat and take a drink. Top-level wrestlers will have an assistant, usually, a low-level wrestler, who during breaks will provide fresh water while also cleaning the sweat from their bodies.
After roughly two hours of intense training, the public portion of practice will end. Although the atmosphere is generally quite strict, the wrestlers themselves are very friendly.
How to Watch and Enjoy Asageiko or Morning Training
Starting about two weeks before the Grand Summer Sumo Tournament and continuing until the end of the tournament’s 15-day period, it is possible to visit some of the Sumo stables and watch the Rikishi (Sumo wrestlers) during their morning training.
When stables allow visitors to observe Asageiko or morning training for free they do have some very important rules that need to be observed. Please remember that Asageiko is very important for all wrestlers, it is not a tourist attraction, and so all of the rules are designed to not interfere with their training.
Behavior Rules at Sumo Stables
– Show Respect: The Sumo stable is the Sumo wrestler’s home. Please show respect when arriving at a stable, with a slight head nod towards the Oyakata (coaches) and the Rikishi. This will give a very good first impression.
– Turn off mobile phones: As in a movie theater, you need to turn off your phones.
– Do not take pictures with mobile phones: Some Sumo stables allow you to take pictures with a digital camera but you should check before taking any photos.
– Do not use flash photography: Photos can only be taken with digital cameras, but flash photography is forbidden as you could distract the wrestlers while training. If there is no way to silence the shutter of your camera, you should refrain from taking pictures since this can also be a distraction for the wrestlers.
– Do not take video: It is strictly forbidden to take video with any device.
– Do not talk: For the total concentration of the wrestlers, you have to be quiet.
– Do not eat or drink: Absolutely do not eat or drink except water for hydration.
– Do not smoke: Some of the coaches might smoke, but visitors are not allowed to do so.
Sumo Stables in Nagoya Where Asageiko Can Be Observed
Not all Sumo stables allow people to watch their Asageiko. Below you will find a partial list of some of the stables in Nagoya where Asageiko is allowed to be observed. Please be aware that even the most open stables sometimes need to close their doors to visitors, sometimes with very little notice. Asageiko is free to observe but as such the stables are under no obligation to have an open-door policy every day.
Location: Zenko-ji Betsuin Temple
Address: 1-377 Nakaotai, Nishi Ward, Nagoya, Aichi 452-0822
Access: Take the Meitetsu Nagoya line to Naka-Otai Station. From there it is a 5-minute walk.
Website (Japanese only) | Google Maps
Location: Nishiazai Community Center
Address: Shinmei-928 Azaicho Nishiazai, Ichinomiya, Aichi 491-0113
Access: Take the JR Tokaido Line to Owari-Ichonomiya Station. Change to bus number 30 to Nishi Azai. From there is a 5 minutes walk.
Website (Japanese only) | Google Maps
Address: 3 Chome-29-12 Osu, Naka Ward, Nagoya, Aichi 460-0011
Access: Take the Higashiyama subway line to Fushimi Station. Change to the Tsurumai Line to Kamimaezu station. From there it is a 4-minute walk.
Website (Japanese only) | Google Maps
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