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Three times each year, Hanaregomabeya, the stable where I'm staying, tears up and then remakes its practice floor. Japan's sumo association requires all of Tokyo's stables to do this and it probably has some mystical purpose, but when I asked Murayoshi why they do it, he just said, "I don't know. I guess the center of the ring gets worn out?"

The whole process, called dohyo-tsukuri, takes three days: one to wreck the floor, one to redo it, and a third for the dohyo matsuri, a sanctification ritual. The wrestlers began the process on Tuesday as soon as they finished their breathing exercise. They reached into a closet in the practice room and took out shovels, trowels and rakes. They started digging into the dirt floor, working without shoes and pushing their shovels into the ground with bare heels. Most still just wore mawashi, but some had tied towels around their waists that they wore like miniskirts, hiked up high so their mawashi-bisected asses flashed perversely out the back.

With all but the most highly ranked wrestlers cooperating, it didn't take them very long. Pretty soon they had reached the border that Kazuya had etched into the floor a few feet in from each wall. (Note: Kazuya is the young wrestler I've been inconsistently calling by his given name, Hayeshida, in these posts.)

There was no sumo practice the next day. Instead, the wrestlers woke up at the relatively indulgent hour of 7 a.m. to start remaking the practice floor. They were joined by three yobidashi—sumo announcers— who came from outside the stable to help out. Yobidashi, apparently, are the engineers of the sumo world. It's their job to oversee dohyo making and to themselves execute the finer points of the job. The yobidashi who came for the dohyo-tsukuri wore tabi, thin-rubber-soled shoes whose cotton uppers separate one's big toe from one's other toes, like a mitten. They're the traditional footwear of Japan's building trades.

Katsuyuki, the senior yobidashi of the bunch, was in his forties. He was also attached to the stable where I'm staying, but doesn't live here. He took charge of the operation, directing Haruki, the 16-year-old yobidashi who does live in our stable, and two yobidashi from other stables, who both looked like they were in their 20's.

By 8 a.m., when I and the higher-ranking wrestlers with whom I bunk awoke, the reconstruction had already started. Katsuyuki was changing into his work clothes in the common room and seemed dismayed to see a little white guy with sleepy eyes enter through the sliding door wearing rumpled sweat clothes.

The two yobidashi from other stables, meanwhile, were outside preparing the tawara, the sleeve-shaped bags of dirt that are sunken end-to-end into the practice floor in a circle to form the dohyo. Wrestlers were shoveling soil into the slits down the sides the already-prepared tawara. When they were packed tight, the yobidashi bound them shut and beat the lumps out of them with large beer bottles made of thick glass.

While they did this, the wrestlers started pounding down the earth on the practice room floor. They took turns, using a thick two-foot-high segment of tree trunk with two 2 x 4's jutting up from either side. Working two at a time, they lifted the trunk up with the boards and slammed it down onto the floor. They moved around the floor, packing it down one tree-trunk-sized footprint at a time.

Once the tawara were all prepared and the floor completely flattened, Katsuyuki directed the wrestlers as they ran a rope from the center of one wall to the center of the opposite wall, then stomped on the rope to make a long indentation near the middle of the room. They did the same thing from the other two walls, forming a cross in the center of the practice floor, into which Katsuyuki hammered a stake.

A younger yobidashi then tied the rope to the stake and used a tape measure to determine the spot on the rope six shaku, an indigenous Japanese unit of measurement that equals about eight feet, from the stake. He stuck a large nail into that spot on the rope, then walked it around the stake in the middle like a giant compass, etching a large circle into the ground.

Then Katsuyuki and one of his subordinates scraped up a layer of dirt inside the circle, starting in the middle and pushing the dirt outwards, so it formed a rough perimeter where the circle had been drawn. The junior yobidashi spread that dirt back over the circle. Wrestlers then took turns again packing that dirt back down, first with the tree trunk, then with thick boards fastened to the end of poles that they lifted up over their shoulders and slammed forcefully onto the ground.

After that, they used the rope to relocate the midpoint and redraw the circle, the inside of which Katsuyuki and two wrestlers slammed down again with the boards on poles. Other wrestlers, meanwhile used trowels and shovels to dig a gulley around the outside of the circle. While they were doing this, a yobidashi used a trowel to cut straight down along the giant circle. When he was done, the circle was a perfectly round cylinder of tightly packed earth, rising out of the gulley in the still rough practice floor.

Following lunch, a younger yobidashi started putting the new tawara in place in the gulley around the circle. He beat them in the middle with a big empty beer bottle so they'd sit flush against the convex side of the raised circle. As he worked around the circle, the wrestlers packed down the earth on the remainder of the practice floor. Once finished, the practice floor looked spotlessly clean, in spite of the fact that it was made out of dirt, with fresh-straw-colored tawara replacing the old muddy ones that had been there before.

While this construction was going on, three guys looking like typical handymen in quilted jackets, fingerless gloves and work boots had arrived and set up a ladder by the shrine near the ceiling of the practice floor's back right corner. One guy took down the broad rope that hung over the shrine and the purple curtain bearing the Oyakata's family seal—a leafy pattern—that partially obscured it. He moved aside the white ceramic jars of offerings and vases of freshly cut leaves, and pulled down the doll-house-sized shrine itself, which they took outside to dust. An older guy, meanwhile, hung a straw rope around the practice room ceiling with bits of twine and white paper cutouts in the shape of lightning bolts hanging off it. Before they left, the workmen replaced the shrine and its accoutrements, complete with a new broad rope hanging over it and a fresh purple curtain in front.

The wrestlers didn't practice the next day, Thursday, either. They spent the morning sorting through banzuke—sumo ranking sheets: I'll write more about them later. In the afternoon, Nobutaka, the stable's senior gyoji, or sumo referee, arrived to lead the dohyo matsuri, the ring-purification ritual.

If yobidashi are the engineers of the sumo world, then gyoji are clearly its priests. The stable where I'm staying has two gyoji: Kichijiro, the 27-year-old who lives in-house, and the older, more established Nobutaka, who has his own place.

Kichijiro spent much of Thursday afternoon preparing for Nobutaka's arrival, setting out his robes, paddles and other paraphernalia. Kichijiro had Ishikawa, one of the wrestlers, dump dry, silty soil into the middle of the dohyo and sweep it into a mound, on which he placed a freshly cut paper idol. In front of the paper idol, he laid a straw mat, on which he placed a small wooden alter with dishes of dehydrated seaweed, dry fish, uncooked rice and salt, and a leafy branch. Next to this alter, he stood a tall bottle of sake. Finally, he poured three small mounds of salt in each corner of the room.

Nobutaka showed up after lunch. He was a short old guy in a blue suit with broad pinstripes. He had a bad combover. When I later asked one of the wrestlers what his name was, he replied, "Hage-san"—Mr. Baldie—before telling me his real name.

As soon as Nobutaka arrived, he started undressing himself in the middle of the common room, while Kichijiro helped him into his black under-robe, over which he wore a blue kimono with wide, low-hanging sleeves, kept closed with a sash. The kimono was printed with another leaf-seal design and had little puffy orange-and-white ornaments that resembled fly-fishing lures fastened to its sleeves and collar, and near its hem. Finally, he put on a low, pointy black hat with a band that ran under his chin and slid into his sash the narrow wooden paddle that Kichijiro had laid out for him in a satin-lined box.

As the wrestlers lined up on either side of the practice floor, with the Oyakata, the Kashira and the Sekitori standing side-by-side along its back wall, Nobutaka kneeled down on the straw mat and clapped twice, the same way people here clap when they approach a shrine and want to get god's attention. He spoke a Japanese prayer I didn't understand a word of, leaned forward with his paddle sticking out of his fists, stuck the paddle back into his sash and clapped again, twice.

He picked up the leafy branch and swung it over his shoulder. He took it to the Oyakata, Kashira and Sekitori, who bowed to it, then brought it to the rows of wrestlers, who also bowed, before returning it to the alter. He clapped again, then leaned forward again with his wooden paddle.

Then he picked up the bottle of sake and carried it to each corner of the room, pouring a few drops on each of the salt mounds Kichijiro had left there. After that, he walked around the dohyo, pouring sake all along the tawara dug into the ground.

Finally, he returned to the straw mat and handed the alter and wine off to Kichijiro, who placed them aside on the ledge to the common room. Kichijiro handed him a much broader, gold-colored paddle with stylized green writing on it from the satin-lined box. He kneeled with the paddle, and recited another prayer I couldn't understand, this time shouting it. After that, he filled up two glasses of wine, which he gave to the wrestlers who each took a sip before passing them on.

The wrestlers also started eating off the tray of rice and dried fish, which surprised me, since I thought that stuff was for god. I was even more surprised when Matsunaga motioned for me to eat some myself. I looked over the spread and thought the strips of dried fish looked best, so I popped one in my mouth.

"No," said Matsunaga. "You're supposed to do it like this…" He mimed taking a pinch from each plate—fish, rice, seaweed and salt—and popping the whole handful into his mouth in one shot.

"Ooops, sorry," I said, and did what he told me.

NEXT: The Banzuke