The Arashio Sumo stable is located in Tokyo’s Chuo Ward. The stable allows the public to view the wrestler’s morning training session through a huge window, which has become quite the tourist attraction. The mascot of the stable is an 11 year-old cat named Muur. He watches over training and even manages to bring smiles to the faces of tough-guy wrestlers. Muur also knows how to strike a pose when cameras are aimed in his direction. To learn about Muur, we interviewed Okami-san, the woman who takes care of the stable.
A Lucky Cat from Kyushu
– How did you first meet Muur-chan?
“Eleven years ago, I found him sitting right in front of the apartment we were staying at during the Kyushu Sumo event. He was tiny, and I thought he must be a stray cat. He was so cute that after spending a night together, I just couldn’t let him go, so I decided to take him home with me to Tokyo. I was at first afraid that the stable boss might not approve, but they’ve become great friends.”
– And you have another cat as well?
“Yes, Mugi is his name. He’s up on the third floor right now. I think he used to be a house cat, but was abandoned in the parking out front. We decided to take him in and watch over him until we found a volunteer to take care of him. However, we ended up being that ‘volunteer.’ Mugi never leaves the wrestlers’ rooms. And he’ll run away whenever a stranger comes to visit. If we’re all gone for a while for a sumo tournament, he’ll treat us like strangers for a bit after we get back. In other words, he has the complete opposite personality as Muur.”
– And you also have a dog?
“Yes, Sankichi. Twice daily, wrestlers take turns taking him on walks – once in the morning and once in the evening. Both Muur and Sankichi are getting old and have calmed down a bit, but when they were young, they used to meddle with each other. We also had another dog named Hachi, but he passed away three years ago. So now we have three animals – all of them male. So that makes me the only woman in the entire stable. (laughs)”
– Can you tell us a bit about Muur’s personality?
“He’s very affectionate and is a very good friend to all the wrestlers. He goes out during the day and hangs out with a stray cat, which we suspect might be his girl friend. He then comes back in the evening to watch over the training. When we have foreign tourists visiting our stable, he’ll be all stretched out with his tummy up, sleeping in the middle of the street. Many tourists take more photos of him than the do the wrestlers.”
– What do you feed him?
“Muur suffered from a urethra stone once, so now we feed him some dried food that was recommended by the vet. However, bonito flakes are his favorite. He goes crazy when we give him bonito for dessert. Well, actually his true love is seaweed, but we can’t give him that because of all the salt in it.”
– Where did you get his name from?
“’Muur’ is Mongolian for ‘cat’. Sokokurai, our top-ranking wrestler, is from Mongolia, so he’s the one who named him. We were surprised at first because whenever his Mongolian friends came to visit, they would automatically call him ‘Muur’ as if they already knew his name. We didn’t know that it just meant ‘cat.’ (laughs)”
– Do you worry about allowing him to kind of be ‘half-stray’?
“Considering he was a stray to begin with, I think Muur gets stressed out if he’s kept inside for a long time. Everyday, he’ll cry out and signal to us by sitting in front of the door. And when he comes back he gives us verbal report on how his day went, with unique intonation. Just the other day, a dog on a walk tried to pick a fight with him, and he ran away. He didn’t come home for a while, so I began to think that I might never see him again. I even cried a lot because I saw his blood on the dog and knew he had been injured… But then three days later, he came back as if nothing had ever happened. I didn’t see any scars on him, so the blood must have actually been from the dog’s wound. So Muur is quite a tough guy, even though he’s calm most of the time.”
Muur: Like a boss who watches over training
– How would you describe his relationship with the wrestlers?
“They all love Muur in various ways. Some try to communicate with him using a cat translator app, and some of them take naps with him. You might be surprised to hear this, but Sumo wrestlers are quite delicate. They treat animals with great care and kindness. They never force animals to do anything, so the animals intuitively trust them. Cats must think wrestlers are of the same breed. Muur will just sit on his favorite floor cushion and watch over them all through their training. I don’t know of any other cats who likes watching Sumo training this much. (laughs)”
– So he’s kind of become an important mascot for the Arashio stable…
“I think Muur is definitely a ‘lucky cat.’ When we started up this stable, we had so much trouble. But after Muur-chan came, things got better little by little. He’d sit on the boss’s lap in the morning and have him clean his ears and get his fur brushed. In fact, I think our boss is the person who’s most attached to Muur. The wrestlers are his apprentices after all, but Muur doesn’t care who the boss is. He is the only being in this stable that is allowed to be selfish. We’d all miss him terribly if he wasn’t here.”
– Given the morning training tour, I get the impression that this stable is a bit more open than most…
“Basically, most Sumo stables don’t show what’s going on inside. But being the first Sumo stable in Chuo ward, and being located in a residential area, we thought it would be a good idea to let people know what’s going on inside through the big window. Recently, we have daily tours of 40-50 foreign tourists. Some may worry that it could distract wrestlers from concentrating on their training, but this has been our way since the beginning. After the training session is done, the wrestlers will take pictures with tourists and answer questions. I think active communication with people from the outside is good for the wrestlers, too. We are proud to be a part of Japan’s one-and-only national sport, and have an obligation to partake in international public relations. I am also aware that there are arguments both for and against having animals in the training room. But they are not forced to be there. Places for Sumo training tend to lack tenderness, but having dogs and cats eases the air and heals wrestlers’ minds, too.”