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I didn't practice on Saturday morning either. After the discouragement I'd been getting from the wrestlers, I wanted to check with the Oyakata, and hadn't had a chance to. So, again, I came downstairs to watch from the common room when I woke up.

It was a busy day for spectators in the stable. Not long after I'd taken a seat in my customary spot near the heater behind the Kashira, two middle-aged men and a woman came in and sat down right in front of me. I assumed they were patrons of the stable. Stables get much of their financial—and, when the wrestlers go on the road, logistical—support from individual fans like these.

I moved down the ledge, to the other side of where the Oyakata sits. About an hour before practice ended, a family of Caucasians joined me there. A woman, whom I assume was the mother of the family, sat down next to me, while a younger woman, two very young boys, and a middle-aged man sat behind me.

It was the first time I'd seen any white people in the stable, and my initial reaction was to consider them intruders. I felt possessive: "These are my sumo wrestlers," I thought. "Go get your own sumo wrestlers." But that passed quickly. When I saw the woman beside me craning her neck to see past the Oyakata in front of her, I obligingly shifted over.

"Merci," she said to me.

By the time the family settled in, the Sekitori had started practicing, facing off repeatedly against a Mongolian wrestler from one of the other stables. The Sekitori finally seemed to have met his match. The Mongolian was tall and broad and fleshy, built like a toned Michelin man, and he was quick on his feet.

The Sekitori, I'd come to recognize, has an impeccable ability to make wrestlers fling themselves out of the ring by skipping to the side as they are applying the most force on him. It's his chief defense. But for it to work, he has to be able to get his opponents into a grip from which he can manipulate them. The Mongolian hardly let him to that, keeping him at a distance by rapidly slapping his chest and throwing him off balance by darting in unexpected directions within the ring. The Mongolian only rarely floored the Sekitori, but he was pretty consistently able to get him out of the ring. At each loss, the Sekitori twisted his mouth into an angry grin and sighed loudly.

Of course, the Sekitori wasn't losing all the matches. When he did get the Mongolian where he wanted him, he could maneuver him out of the ring at a velocity I hadn't yet seen a wrestler fly from the dohyo. Sometimes, unable to stop himself, he'd collide into a wall, and once even stumbled up onto the common room floor, compelling Fuchita to race over with a towel to swab his sweat off the tatami.

When the matches between the Mongolian and the Sekitori were over and the wrestlers finished their closing exercises, the family stood up and bowed deeply to the wrestlers, who ducked their heads with some embarrassment at being bowed to. Then, for some reason, they bowed to me. I said, "Bye," and the younger woman responded, "Adieu."

Having seen me sitting with a family of white people, the Kashira caught my attention and mouthed the question, in English, "Friends?" Except I thought he asked, "French?" so I nodded affirmatively, which left us both confused.

It turned out that the Kashira wasn't the only one who assumed that the French family members were my guests. For the rest of the day, wrestlers kept asking me, "Who were your friends?" and "Was that your family?"

Kazuya even asked me, "Was that woman next to you your girlfriend?"

"Kazuya," I replied, "First of all, I'd never met any of those people before in my life. And second, that woman must have been at least 50."

"That's why I was wondering: she looked like an obasan," he said, using a word that literally means "aunt" and is commonly used to refer to older women.

Since I've moved in, the wrestlers have often used me as a foil to ridicule each other's supposed sexual predilections. One wrestler might say about another, "He likes young girls," intentionally speaking loud enough for the subject of the claim to hear. Another wrestler, I'd be told, "likes American woman." Another one might prefer men. And Kazuya, I've heard, digs obasans, so maybe he envied me the middle-aged French woman I was watching practice with.

The wrestlers probably invent these stories about each other to compensate for their lack of a real love life. The Sekitori, the Kashira had told me, goes out with "a call girl," and I often hear Moriyasu on the phone in his futon, sweet-talking his girl, a wedding consultant. But aside from them, no one in the stable seems to be in any sort of relationship. Hiroki, who joined the stable when he was 16, said he's never had a girlfriend.

It's not surprising. If they had girlfriends, it's not like they could take them back to the stable. Relationships are actively discouraged among all but the highest-ranked wrestlers. And even if they were permitted to date, I don't think the low-ranking guys have the time or money to sustain a relationship. It made me wonder how these wrestlers—who spend their late teens and much of their 20's isolated from women—could ever have successful marriages, though I haven't come across anything implying that they don't.

NEXT: Mawashi Redux