As fans wait to hear whether there will be a Spring Grand Sumo Tournament next week, a group of young sumo hopefuls gathered for their first test on Saturday, where stablemasters in protective masks added to a tense atmosphere.
Having passed their mandatory physicals at an Osaka hospital, the 45 "shin deshi" or new sumo apprentices were shepherded by sumo elders and officials -- all required to wear masks. While the world around them worries about the potential of a global epidemic, the aspirants shared their views as they entered a new phase in their lives.
Because March is the end of Japan's school year, the Osaka grand tournament is referred to as the "job placement tourney" and attracts the most new recruits. Despite that, the current crisis saw each media outlet limited to just one reporter to interview the recruits outside the hospital.
Takuto Fukai, a 22-year-old from Toyo University who joins the Takasago stable, is set to start his sumo career without a chance to attend his graduation ceremony, one of the many public events canceled in Japan amid coronavirus fears.
"I want the (spring tournament) to go ahead, but the circumstances can't be helped," Fukai said.
"I want to train and build a strong body. I'm afraid of getting infected with the coronavirus."
The Japan Sumo Association's board of directors meets Sunday to consider canceling the 15-day tournament, which gets under way on March 8 at Edion Arena Osaka, or holding it behind closed doors.
Takamori Naya, another 22-year-old and a grandson of former yokozuna Taiho, was less anxious, the Otake stable wrestler saying he will not lose sleep over things he cannot control.
"If it's happening it's happening, and all I've got to do is wrestle as I'm capable of doing. I'm not that concerned," he said.
Stablemaster Sakaigawa, the acting chief of the JSA judges division, expressed his worries for the 15-year-olds whose junior high graduation ceremonies will be hit by the coronavirus situation and who make up a large number of the new apprentices.
Saturday's test included a screening for physical measurements. Apprentice wrestlers must be males under 23 years of age who have completed compulsory education. They must be 1.67 meters or taller, and weigh at least 67 kilograms.
After receiving the results of their internal organ examinations, names of those who qualify as new apprentices will be announced on the opening day of the spring tournament.