Reflecting on the Closure of the Azumazeki-Beya

Over the weekend it was announced that the Azumazeki-beya (東関部屋, Azumazeki Stable) is closing, merging with the Hakkaku-beya (八角, Hakkaku Stable). In amongst the stories about this closure, I also discovered that its former Oyakata (stable master), who had previously fought under the name of Ushiomaru (潮丸, real name Motoyasu Sano), had died at the age of only 41 back in December 2019. I’m not sure how I had missed this news – but I guess it’s not possible to catch every story. This post is to reflect on the passing of both the stable and Ushiomaru.

The Azumazeki-beya may not have been the biggest or most well-known stable, but it wasn’t without its significance, both in the sumo world and also to me. It was the first stable to be established by a foreigner – former Sekiwake Takamiyama, better known as ‘Jesse’ (full name Jesse James Wailani Kuhaulua, and native of Hawai’i). I had the pleasure of meeting Jesse back in 1996 – although I remember struggling to have a conversation with him as I wasn’t tuned to his voice issues (due to an injury picked up in a bout). The meeting came about thanks to a media interview that I had done and not only did the reporter introduce me to Jesse and take the photo below, but also gave me access to his press seat close to the dohyo.

Meeting ‘Jesse’ on 18 May 1996

While Azumazeki-beya wasn’t the largest stable, back in the early 1990s it did have one of the biggest stars in sumo, Yokozuna Akebono. I have already included one picture of Akebono in a post – when it turned out that he was staying at the same hotel as me. The photograph that I put in that post ties in with a story within my novel FOUR. Akebono also gets a more explicit mention in the book during a discussion of sumo and his strong stare. Hopefully the picture below (also take in May 1996) does some justice to this.

Fast forward to 2018 and I visited Azumazeki-beya to watch the morning sumo training, asageiko and I have discussed this in a previous post. As I noted in that post, I really enjoyed the experience, to the extent 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. As well as the sumo aspects which made it into the book, observing the Oyakata after training ended as he proudly walked around with his baby daughter (changed to a son in the book) also made it into the book…

I can imagine that had I lived in Tokyo that I could have become a regular visitor to Azumazeki-beya in the same way that Iwakura (the protagonist) visits the stable which is based on it. Perhaps I would have got to know all of those at the stable as well as Iwakura did with its fictional version. And although that didn’t happen, I still feel a connection to the stable and am sad at learning of the Oyakata’s passing and now the closure of the stable itself. I wish well to all those connected to the stable and particularly the former Oyakata and his family.

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