The thuds of physical contact and harsh breathing come from the sumo ring. During the morning training held from 7 a.m., the 45-year-old stablemaster Hidegoro Shikimori calls out, "That's good" and "Keep it up."
Nineteen sumo wrestlers who belong to the three lower divisions are training at his Shikihide stable located in Ryugasaki, Ibaraki Prefecture.
Some are known for their unique ring names, such as Urutora and Oatari.
Megumi Muko, the "okami" who manages her husband’s stable, watches the training but occasionally leaves to check on the kitchen.
At the Shikihide stable, "chanko," or meals for sumo wrestlers, are served twice a day. The first meal is served after the morning training session that lasts about three hours, while dinner is served at 6 p.m.
The meal is prepared by two seasoned sumo wrestlers and other wrestlers take turns assisting them.
The 49-year-old okami checks the nutritional balance of the menu and gives advice on the cooking procedures and seasonings.
On the day this reporter visited the stable, the first meal of the day consisted of the standard hot pot, bell peppers stuffed with pork, rolled eggs, a vinegar-flavored dish, "natto" (fermented soy beans), pickled plum and pickled "rakkyo" scallion.
Holding bowls heaped high with rice, the wrestlers tucked into the fare.
The dishes on the menu reflect Muko’s inventive spirit.
She originally came up with the stuffed bell pepper to entice her now 25-year-old daughter Arisa, who used to dislike bell peppers. When Muko stuffed cooked ground pork into the raw bell peppers, Arisa took a liking to the texture and ate them up.
Tofu is mixed with ground pork for a milder effect and to enhance the protein.
Thanks to this recipe, sumo wrestlers who did not like the bitterness of bell peppers are said to have overcome the problem.
The cooked ground pork can also be enjoyed wrapped in lettuce or as a rice topping.
Muko also takes great care in the colors of the dishes and places parsley, for instance, beside the rolled egg.
"If it looks nice, your appetite for the dish is enhanced," says Muko.
Born in Fukuoka in 1968, Muko first worked at a design company. It was when she was running an eatery in the city that she met her future husband when he was wrestling as Kitazakura. In 2013, Shikimori took over the Shikihide stable, and Muko became the okami.
5 bell peppers (piman variety)
200 grams ground pork
1/2 block hard-type ("momen") tofu
2 Tbsp sesame oil
Seasoning A (2 Tbsp each of sugar and soy sauce, 1 Tbsp sweet "mirin" sake)
Some roasted white sesame
Cut bell pepper in half, lengthwise. Remove calyx, seeds and soft white part. Wrap tofu with kitchen paper to remove water, break up with hand. Mix Seasoning A. Cook ground pork briefly in boiling water, drain.
Add 1 Tbsp sesame oil in frying pan and stir-fry ground pork over medium heat. When pork is cooked and dry, add Seasoning A and mix.
Add tofu, mix and turn off heat. Pour remaining sesame oil and mix.
Stuff mixture in bell pepper. Sprinkle sesame on top.
Serve with lemon wedges.
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From The Asahi Shimbun's Watashi no Ryori column