Sumo is an ancestral sport that appeared 1500 years ago. Visiting Japan is an opportunity to discover this little-known sport.
There are only 6 Sumo tournaments per year in Japan and these last 2 weeks. The Osaka tournament ends the day after our arrival in Osaka. Not having thought to inform me in advance, we miss the opportunity to attend the tournament. It’s a pity.
Outside of tournament periods, it is however possible to attend morning training sessions in a Heya (stable) of Rikishi (sumo wrestler).
If you want to be sure you can attend a training session, you can book a tour on the Viator website (link Viator).
How to attend a free Sumo training session?
I read on several blogs that it was possible to attend a sumo training for free. Having some knowledge of Japanese is a great help but it isn’t necessarily essential.
In Tokyo, there is a “sumo district” (Ryogoku) in which there are many stables.
The ideal is to call the day before to find out if there is training the next day (normally training takes place every day between 6:30 and 10:00 am approximately) and especially if you are allowed to attend.
Not speaking a word of Japanese, I decide to try my luck by going there unexpectedly.
On this page: http: //www.dosukoi.fr/annuaire-internet-heya/, you will find a directory of the Heya. Most of them are easily found on Google Map.
On Tuesday, May 1st, I get up at 5:45 a.m. and leave the apartment at 6:15 a.m. I’m quite playful because Monday and Wednesday are holidays in Japan. Not sure that the trainings will take place.
I leave for about 30 minutes walk to get to the nearest heya.
I take advantage of the path to learn by heart the following sentence: ohayô (gozaimass’) – keiko no kengaku wa dekimasuka? (Hello, can I attend the training?).
First attempt: Shikoroyama-beya
The first stable I go to is called Shikoroyama-beya. The door is closed but a sumo poster on the door confirms me that I’m in the right place.
I ring on the intercom, when someone picks up the phone, I instantly forget the sentence that I have just memorized. So I stutter my request in English. A young sumo wrestler opens the door, I bow in a sign of respect and ask him my question. It is surely incomprehensible but he understands the idea. He beckons me to be patient and comes in, probably to ask the owner’s permission.
My interlocutor comes back a few moments later, the answer is negative.
I obviously do not insist, thank him and will try my luck elsewhere.
I’m reassured that the practices are taking place between these two holidays.
Second attempt: Takadagawa-beya
The second stable I spotted is only a few minutes away.
This time the main door is open. I enter and I see, in the opening of another door, two sumo wrestlers getting ready.
I tell myself that I’ve never been so close. I’m a little hesitant about how to proceed. As I am about to take off my shoes to look for the master of the house, a young assistant passes by. This time I remember my sentence in Japanese. The pronunciation is probably not better but the answer is the same: no.
It’s hard, it’s really frustrating to be so close and not be able to attend practice.
Third attempt: Arashio-beya
For my third attempt, I go to Arashio-beya.
This stable is the most “touristy” and the one I am most likely to attend training at.
Here indeed, there is no need to ask for an authorization. The interior of the room is visible from the street through the windows. It is therefore possible and allowed to observe the training from outside.
I arrive at 7:10 and training is supposed to start at 7:30, but I find it strangely quiet.
A few minutes later, an American tourist arrives and asks me if I phoned (it is possible to call to find out if a training session is taking place the next day). He explains to me that he had already come the day before, that there was no training. He notices that the windows are open today, which is an encouraging sign. Other tourists arrive little by little.
At 7:30 am precisely, someone comes to open the curtains that were hiding the inside of the room. This time I tell myself that it will be good.
Weary, the minutes go by and the room remains desperately empty. I wait until 8am before giving up.
Conclusion of my attempts
There would be many other stables to test but I tell myself that it’s too late, there’s no way I’ll be accepted if training has already started.
It is possible to attend a sumo training for free, many have succeeded. The uncertainty of being allowed, the honor of being accepted, the chance to be the only “tourist” to attend, … must make this experience unique.
But it won’t be for me. There is clearly some luck and speaking or being accompanied by a Japanese person should help.
Japan has also recently been marked by several scandals in the world of Sumo, which should not help either.
How can I pay to attend a Sumo training session?
If I stayed longer in Tokyo I would have tried my luck another morning but time is running out. So I decide to pay a ride to make sure I can attend a training session.
I find a tour on the Viator website organized by “Beauty of Japan” (link Viator). It’s quite expensive and degressive according to the number of people. It costs us 150 € for two.
Note that if you are lucky enough to be in Japan during a tournament period, Viator also offers tours to attend (link Viator).
The day after the order, we receive the instructions, the appointment will take place at 8:30 am in front of the Tamanoi-beya stable.
We arrive 15 minutes early, I am physically and psychologically exhausted by waking up at 4am to follow the semi-final of the Europa League Salzburg – Marseille.
The person in charge of the tour is already present, he hands us a sheet with several instructions in English such as :
- Prohibition to eat or drink
- Prohibition to speak
- Permission to take pictures but only without flash
- Putting phones in silent mode
After learning the rules, we enter the room and sit down, about fifteen tourists attend the training. I would obviously have preferred to be alone for more authenticity but it’s okay, it’s not too much of a tourist factory.
The advantage of attending a training session rather than a tournament is the great proximity with the wrestlers, we are 3 or 4 meters away from the fight. Close enough to hear the impact of the bodies colliding, to see the sweat dripping, to hear the groans. It’s impressive.
The training consists mainly in the repetition of fights. Each time, the loser leaves his place while the winner stays. A sumo wrestler only needs to win 3 or 4 bouts in a row to see him suffocate and sweat so much physical effort is important.
During fights, two coaches provide advice. You can tell from their movements that the advice is mainly about how to catch the opponent and the movements to make. One feels a very great respect towards the masters, when one of them gives advice, one listens religiously and then bows to thank them.
Fighting sessions seem to be organized by weight categories (or level?). There will be 4 different sessions from the lightest (the lightest rather?) to the heaviest. During the bouts, the other wrestlers do some stretching without much conviction. This waiting time could in my opinion be exploited more efficiently.
At the end of each session, the wrestlers do a rather amazing exercise of strength, they have to hit a comrade and move him for a few meters. Given the weight of the molosses, you have to go for it.
The training will last about 3 hours. The sumo wrestlers will finish with some stretching, some push-ups and a physical exercise where they will have to move a big tractor wheel.
At the end, we have the chance to pose for a picture with some of the wrestlers.
Small video of fights
Attending a sumo training is a great experience to discover a part of typical Japanese culture.
The discomfort of sitting in the lotus position for 3 hours without being able to pronounce a word and the very repetitive side of the training can however seem long. Not necessarily advisable to come with children who will have difficulty holding on.
To book a training session on Viator’s website, click on this link.