Attending a match at a sumo tournament is just one way to experience real-life sumo. Another is to visit a sumo stable (or sumo-beya) where professional wrestlers live and train. In fact, visiting a sumo-beya will give you a better understanding of the culture of wrestling. Plus, as tournaments are only held a few times a year in selected places across the country, visiting a sumo-beya could be your only way to see the sport in action.
A sumo-beya is not a tourist attraction. Although some are open to the public, you cannot just turn up — you need to book and plan your visit in advance.
It is best to call the sumo-beya you want to visit at least a day before to find out if training (keiko) is taking place the next morning. Practice usually takes place on weekdays only and wrestlers have around a week off right after a tournament.
Keiko can start as early as 5:30 a.m. and usually begins no later than 9:00 a.m. You will need to be at the sumo-beya right before the start of practice; otherwise, you’ll be unable to enter. Keiko lasts around three hours and you’ll have to stay the entire time.
You’ll need to sit completely still for the full three hours of keiko. You’ll receive a spot at the back of the room where you will sit on a cushion (zabuton). It is important to avoid pointing the soles of your feet in the direction of the wrestlers.
The other rules are:
It is crucial that you adhere to the rules while you watch keiko to show respects to the wrestlers.
A few places offer a viewing point of keiko from the street. This can be a good option if you want to gain an idea of what the training is like — but you’d rather not spend three hours sitting in the sumo-beya. Still, it does fall far short of the experience you receive being inside the dohyo.
If you have the opportunity to visit a sumo-beya, you should take it — you’ll be glad you did. There may be strict rules, but the experience is well worthwhile. Not only will you have the chance to see professional wrestlers practice in faux matches, you’ll also see them perform their ritual strength-building and flexibility exercises up close.