It’s sumo time!

Sumo flags, Naruto beya, Nagoya, Japan, July 2012
Flags advertising the presence of the wrestlers. Each flag portrays the name of a wrestler.

Today, July 8th, is the start of the Sumo Grand Tournament in Nagoya. There are six tournaments throughout the year, three of which take place in Tokyo. But come July, everyone in the sumo world travels to Nagoya for the July basho.

The wrestlers arrive in Nagoya about two weeks prior to the start of the tournament. They traditionally stay at a temple, since in the olden days those were the only buildings large enough to house an entire sumo stable (a stable is a group of sumo wrestlers who live and train together, called a ‘beya’ or sometimes ‘heya’ in Japanese).

Sumo wrestlers temple
Inside the temple grounds

Sometimes the training sessions at those temples are open to the public. And guess what? Thanks to a Japanese friend of mine who kindly looked up all the necessary information, we were able to witness one of those training sessions!

Imagine our excitement at being able to watch the titans from close-by, rather than on a tv-screen or from the other side of a giant venue; to get an inside look into the life of a sumo wrestler and watch their daily routine … If you like sumo, it’s exciting to say the least.

Watching sumo training
Watching sumo training

Beforehand, we were a little worried that we wouldn’t recognize any of the wrestlers (we’re relatively new at this whole sumo thing). But there was no need to worry. Immediately upon arrival we spotted an ozeki (second highest ranking wrestler). I’m not one to get starstruck easily but this made me jump up and down like a little girl on her birthday. “OMG, OMG, it’s Kisenosato!” And there even were two other guys that we recognized. One of them was a wrestler from the Czech Republic called Takanoyama and the other one was rising star Takayasu. They are all members of the Narutobeya.

After the training everyone was invited to a bowl of ‘chankonabe’, the traditional sumo wrestlers’ food. It is a thick soup with lots of protein and vegetables. Ingredients include chicken, tofu, eggs, cabbage, onion, daikon … Sumo wrestlers are able to gain a lot of weight quickly by eating vast amounts of chankonabe and rice at lunch time, followed by taking a nap in the afternoon.

Chankonabe uncooked
Chankonabe ingredients before cooking. The uncooked ingredients might not look like much but the finished chankonabe was delicious!

To our surprise, the wrestlers themselves were handing out the nabe. I would never have imagined an ozeki to carry out such a lowly task. But there he was, Kisenosato himself, handing out bowls of nabe to the fans.

Sumo wrestlers handing out chankonabe
Sumo wrestlers handing out chankonabe. From left to right: Takayasu, Takanoyama, Wakanosato and Kisenosato.
Chankonabe from kisenosato
Dennis gets his bowl of chankonabe from Kisenosato himself. Lucky!
Chankonabe changing hands
Chankonabe changing hands

We were able to get very close to the wrestlers. When watching them on tv, you don’t fully realize how big these guys really are. Sure, they look fat, but they are also very tall (for a Japanese that is) and very broad. I imagine they must be incredibly strong as well. What an experience to meet them face to face!

If you’re in the Nagoya area, don’t miss your chance to see live sumo. The basho is held every day from now until July 22nd. Follow the links below for more information.

Japan Sumo Association homepage (in English)

Ticket information. Click through to the Chunichi Shinbun web site. They have a page in English that seems to work well.

Current banzuke (ranking of all the top-players, with links to their profiles).

12 thoughts on “It’s sumo time!

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  1. Hi I was just wondering where’s the temple you watched the sumo practice? We live in Nagoya and would love to see this too. We do have tickets for the basho but it would be fun to see them up close.

    1. Sorry for taking a while to respond. I had to ask my Japanese friend who arranged it for us last year about the name of the temple. The temple is called DAIYOUIN だいゆういん in Nagakute. Phone (0561)62-1206, website

      Naruto Beya is training there now. Unfortunately the chanko nabe day was yesterday but you can still see them train every day. There is no reservation necessary. You just go there quite early in the day. I believe they start training around 6am and finish before 9am. It depends on the day.

      Let me know if you have any trouble. In that case I will put you in touch with my Japanese friend in Nagakute. Best of luck!

  2. That Czech sumo looks so small! Does he know what he’s getting into? Or maybe I should not underestimate his power!

    A sumo once came to my middle school to take a kid away for the sumo training. The guy who came was hyuuuuuuuuge! 🙂

    1. The Czech guy does have a bit of trouble facing the heavier guys. He’s constantly going from Maegashira to Juryo and back, because he’s too good for Juyro but not strong enough for Maegashira. I have no idea why he doesn’t gain more weight. But of course compared to your regular Joe, he’s still very strong and big.

  3. My goodness, what a great experience you’ve had!! I’ve never done this. Never been to a sumo match though I’ve encountered wrestlers in restaurants in Tokyo ^^ but they are their private selves then. That chankonabe looks great.

    1. It was a great experience indeed! The wrestlers were quite different in real life. Right before a match Kisenosato’s face is so tense. He’s blinking the whole time. When he’s at training, he looks completely different, a lot more relaxed and likeable.

      The chankonabe was delicious! It’s amazing that the wrestlers can get so big on such a healthy diet.

      If you’re interested in sumo, you should go see a match one of these days. What I like about it is that you get a feel for the atmosphere of the whole thing when you’re there in person. Even if you just buy one of the cheap seats, it’s still a nice experience. Bring binoculars though 🙂

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