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Daily Life at a Sumō Stable
A Visit to the Takadagawa Stable
[2018.08.23]

The sumō heya, or training stable, is where keiko (daily practice) takes place and wrestlers live communally. We visited the Takadagawa stable in Tokyo’s Kiyosumi-Shirakawa district and observed the daily routine, including both brutal practice sessions and a more laid-back pace during the rest of the day.

All professional sumō wrestlers, from the lowliest recruits to the top dog yokozuna grand champions, belong to heya, or training stables. Under the Nihon Sumō Kyōkai, the association that governs the sport in Japan, there are currently 47 stables training nearly 700 wrestlers. During the grand sumō tournaments held six times a year, wrestlers from the same stable are never paired against each other, although in rare cases stablemates may face off on the final day of the tournament if they have won an equal number of bouts up to then.

Sumō Ranks & Numbers of Rikishi

Divisions Ranks No. per Rank or Division
Makuuchi Yokozuna 3
Ōzeki 3
Sekiwake 2
Komusubi 2
Maegashira 32
Jūryō 28
Makushita 120
Sandanme 200
Jonidan 224
Jonokuchi 69
Total 683

Source: Nihon Sumō Kyōkai (numbers as of July 2018)

It’s difficult to call sumō an individual sport, since although matches are one-on-one, there is a communal aspect to sumō. During practice, rikishi (wrestlers) grapple to mutually improve their strength and technique. Not only do wrestlers train together, they also live together, unlike other sports where athletes may share quarters during training camps but normally live apart. At sumō stables, though, everyone eats and sleeps under the same roof.

The typical sumō stable consists of a keikoba (practice area) on the ground floor and wrestlers’ living quarters on the higher floors. The oyakata (stablemaster) and his family often occupy the topmost floor. The setup is thoroughly paternalistic, with the stablemaster acting as “father” to his charges and his wife, the okamisan, the “mother.” In addition to looking after the wrestlers as she would her own sons, the okamisan handles the day-to-day operations of the stable.

As a rule, the only wrestlers who can leave the stable and live on their own are sekitori, wrestlers in the two highest-ranked divisions (makuuchi and jūryō) who are married. Everyone else from the makushita division on down lives in shared quarters (ōbeya), although making it to sekitori rank entitles them to a private room. Thus, home for most wrestlers is the stable they are affiliated with.

Early to Rise

Every stable has a slightly different routine, but one thing they have in common is an early start. Wrestlers generally rise around 6:00 in the morning and head for the keikoba after washing up and getting ready for the day. They do not eat breakfast; their first meal of the day will be around noon, after they finish the day’s practice.

At the Takadagawa stable, it’s up to the wrestlers to decide when they start practice, but no one is a slugabed. Since the higher-ranking sekitori start practice early, the lower ranks have to get going before that. By 7:00, most of the wrestlers are in the keikoba, where each follows his own warm-up routine to loosen up.

At this stage of the practice, no one enters the ring. The wrestlers practice the basic sumō moves around the ring—shiko (walking squats), teppō (lunging against a post), and suriashi (a crouching walk without lifting the feet off the ground)—over and over, building up muscle memory. Carefully repeating these moves helps build up lower body strength and flexibility and protects against injury. There’s no chatting: each wrestler concentrates on his breathing and is mindful of every inch of his body. This is all in preparation for the actual grueling wrestling that awaits them later in the ring.

The basic sumō moves: shiko (top frames), teppō (bottom left), and suriashi (bottom right).

  • [2018.08.23]
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