BOUND TO PLEASE / Smiles at sumo stable glimpsed through cats’ eyes

The Japan News

By Atsuko Matsumoto / Japan News Staff WriterMoru and Mugi, the Sumo Stable Cats (Arashiobeya no Moru to Mugi)

By Yukai

Little More, 72pp

With the cat cafe fad spreading overseas, some might say the cat boom has gone viral.

A quick search on social media sites easily fetches such celebrity felines as a “stationmaster” and a “chief mouser,” to name a few. But surely, “the most experienced cat observing sumo training in the world” can only be found in Japan.

The photo book “Moru and Mugi, the Sumo Stable Cats” features dark-furred Moru and his marmalade housemate, Mugi, living in the Arashio stable in central Tokyo.

Formerly stray, the two male cats separately joined the stable, which includes 12 sumo wrestlers, a tokoyama hairdresser and a gyoji referee.

The book begins with shots taken during morning training. In contrast to the wrestlers fiercely engaged in a tough practice, Moru looks unabashedly relaxed on stablemaster Arashio’s lap. His steady purring can almost be heard coming from the image.

This unusual combination of the adorable, fluffy animal and big round men creates a soothing effect. It doesn’t take long for the images to develop a hold on viewers’ attention.

The book continues with more pictures and informative text exhibiting how the felines comfortably fit into everyday life in the stable.

Moru lies on the floor doing nothing or roams around young wrestlers glued to their smartphones. Although he looks completely unconcerned about the seriousness of training, he never sets foot on the dohyo ring, according to the stablemaster.

Unlike sociable Moru, shy Mugi tends to stay in the room where the wrestlers sleep. In the spacious room with futon sets spread out on the floor and shelves crammed with manga and the wrestlers’ belongings, Mugi sits up proudly as if it were his own empire.

Despite sumo’s popularity as the national sport of Japan, life inside a stable is not widely known. Arashio stable does not allow visitors to come inside, so each photograph, in that sense, may give readers some idea of what it is like.

The book also introduces the stable’s 12 wrestlers in a series of portraits. From a sumo powerhouse high school graduate to a former nursing home employee, they come from different walks of life. While they may show stern looks in the ring, the men, posing with Moru, give beaming smiles free from the tension of bouts.

Some join a stable, away from their families, when they are as young as 15. Young wrestlers are so nervous that they often find it hard to speak to their superiors. But with Moru and Mugi around, the atmosphere softens.

“Moru serves as a lubricant of this stable,” said stablemaster Arashio in a recent interview with The Yomiuri Shimbun.

The stable attracts spectators to its windows from near and far. It is not surprising that this book, written in Japanese and English, is not the only publication featuring this stable.

For those who know cats, this book will draw lots of nods acknowledging their beauty and cleverness. For those who have never lived with them, they will remain mysterious creatures.

Throughout the book are views of the space shared by animals and humans who are content and trust each other. Seeing what goes on in the stable, many cat people will probably say there’s no such thing as a cat boom. They have always been there for humans.

Where to Read

Anywhere comfortable with a cat on your lap.

Price: ¥1,300 plus taxSpeech

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