This week I got a Facebook reminder that it was two years ago that I went to watch the morning sumo training, asageiko. This was something that had been on my ‘Japan bucket list’ for a long time, but as my trips tend to be short and busy, it can hard to fit in. I’ve also often been in Tokyo when there’s been a tournament on, so no morning training, or when there are mini-tournaments happening elsewhere in the country. This time, however, everything came together. I spent a lot of time doing research about where I could go to view the training and also did a short list of places that I would like to go, based on where certain rikishi are based. In the end, I went to the Azumazeki-beya (東関部屋). It’s not in the heart of the sumo area around Ryogoku, but was easy enough to access via Shibamata station.
I arrived at a little before 8 a.m. and could hear that training had already started. I pressed the buzzer to be let in (from the rain) but was told to wait until 8. They didn’t open the doors at 8, so I had to press the buzzer again to be let in. You can take photos, but you cannot use flash & there should be no shutter noise (so smartphones are better than professional cameras) and videos are not allowed (a few other guests tried and were told off – you are watched most of the time). You also need to be quiet – so no talking. And no eating. Try to sit still as much as possible too. The training last for about three hours, and you should not leave early.
Here are a few photos that I took. I’m not posting many, as in the end, I didn’t take a huge number as I preferred to just observe and take it all in. Having been a sumo fan since the 1980s (though less so during the 2000s as it became dull… despite the success of Chiyotaikai, who is a friend of a friend and I had supported since well before he became a household name and an Ozeki), and having been to many tournaments and a mini-tournament, I really enjoyed getting to see another side of sumo. In fact I enjoyed it so much that the visit ended up being the basis for part of my novel Tokyo 20/20 Vision and what happens in that part of the book is largely based on my observations and experiences that morning. So if you’d like to know more about what it’s like, I suggest you pick up a copy of the book!