Updated: Jan 15, 2022
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One of the things you can do while staying in Japan is experience the wonderful culture of 相撲 (Sumou) Sumo wrestling.
What is Sumo Wrestling?
Sumo wrestling is a very popular and spectacular professional sport in Japan. Thousands of people all over the world are drawn like magnets to heavy weight 本場所 sumo wrestling tournaments.
My Sumo Wrestling Tournament Trip Experience
I had the awesome opportunity to attend a 本場所 sumo wrestling tournament in May 2017. I was privileged because one of the persons who signed up for the tournament initially cancelled. I took his place and purchased a package deal, which included a fantastic brunch at the New Sanno hotel and the sumo wrestling event in Tokyo, Japan. The total package including discounts was a remarkably cheap $25.
At 0500, I boarded a greyhound bus towards Tokyo. The bus tour guide cordially greeted me with a respectable bow as I stepped onto the bus. Before the bus departed, the tour guide helpfully distributed maps, our daily itinerary, as well as her contact information just in case we got lost in the largest district in Japan.
Two hours later, we arrived at the luxurious New Sanno hotel (Western style hotel) that is restricted to military and government officials. The hotel is located in downtown Tokyo. We disembarked the bus and proceeded towards the hotel. Upon entering through some glass doors, I turned left and found a nice souvenir shop that sold everything from shirts to magnets, to Japan themed post cards.
Following the souvenir store, the tour guide escorted me to a fancy open seating restaurant that was elaborately decorated with pretty and flawless white table cloths. This organized decoration created such a romantic ambience.
In the center of the room was a six course buffet that included everything from savory crab, shrimp, sushi, grilled and fried fish to salads, soups, appetizers, to fancy and creative looking desserts. It was indeed a 5 Star class buffet. I felt like I had been invited by the emperor of Japan to dine with him.
After dinning on a scrumptious buffet, it was time to board the bus for the Sumo wrestling tournament. Within about 15 minutes, the bus arrived at the Ryogoku Kokugikan Hall in Tokyo, Japan. Staring intently at the long lines and anxious people patiently waiting to enter through the hall doors, I wondered how long we would be standing frozen in line to be admitted into the stadium. When the bus came to a halt, all the people disembarked from it. Once off the bus, the tour guide encouraged us to visit the Edo Tokyo Museum.
The Ryogoku Kokugikan is next to the Edo Tokyo Museum, which I would highly recommend especially if you interested in learning about the samurais during the Edo period. A friend and I visited the Edo Tokyo Museum. We entered into the Edo Noren Hall that painted a clear mental picture of the Edo period giving one a nostalgia. In the same area, there were several Japanese restaurants as well as souvenir shops.
After the museum tour, we went to the sumo stadium. The tournament commenced at 0800 a.m. Our guide told us to show up around 1200 because the tournament ended around 1500 or 3 p.m. We came back at 1200 and then took our seats in the stadium.
What is the history of sumo wrestling?
Sumo wrestling dates back to the ancient times going back as far as 1500 years.
What do Sumo wrestlers wear?
For those that are not familiar with Japanese terminology, the sumo wrestlers don on a mawashi (Japanese for loin cloth) that is also considered a silk belt. Prior to the match, the 力士 rikishi (professional wrestler) is adorned with a cute, colorful, and unique ケショウマワシ apron that is valued at about 450,000 yen, which is an unbelievable $4,041.93.
The sumo wrestlers grapple their opponents in a circular dohyo (Japanese for dojo or ring), which is constructed from sand and clay. The first person to exit the ring or touches the ground is out of the match and loses.
What is the religious significance of Sumo wrestling?
Sumo wrestling is indeed embedded in the Japanese tradition and it has an important religious significance. Japan’s primary religion is Shintoism. Given this fact, the cover above the ring is sacred and many say it spiritually protects the wrestlers in the tournament. Furthermore, prior to the commencing of the tournament, the sumo wrestlers gradually elevated their gigantic legs in the air and then violently stomped the mat. Sumo wrestlers believe they are stomping the malicious spirits. Before and after a match, a great amount of salt was quickly tossed all over the ring. The salt symbolizes purity. Many believe the salt purifies the mat. The religious significance of sumo wrestling is captured by the Shinto religion.
What do Sumo wrestlers eat?
Interestingly, the sumo wrestlers are particular when it comes to food. After one of the matches, my tour guide asked us if we were hungry. After replying yes, I followed her to a kitchen like area where they served exactly what the sumo wrestlers eat on a daily basis. Each of the wrestlers eat a stew called Chankonabe. Basically the stew consist of vegetables, some meat, fish, tofu, and mushrooms. It was a very delicious stew. The tour guide knew people at the stadium and the cooks that prepared the stew. Eating this stew was a great privilege because many people who attend sumo wrestling tournaments do not get the opportunity to eat it.
While eating the stew with the guide and some new Japanese friends I met, I learned sumo wrestlers eat 20,000 calories on a daily basis. That is a substantial amount of calories.
What Types of Seats can be Reserved?
The first kind of seats is called the Ringside seats. These are physical cushions inside the ring. Typically, ringside seats are considered the most dangerous because sumo wrestlers sometimes fall into the seats when the wrestlers are thrown out of the ring. The seats, however, are regarded as the most expensive of all the seats in the stadium. It is very rare for foreigners to reserve these seats.
The second kind of seats is called a box seat, which have A, B, and C classifications. These Japanese style seats are located on the first floor of the stadium.
The third kind of seat is the balcony seat. Unlike the box seats, the Western style balcony seats are situated on the second floor of the balcony.
How much do seats cost?
The prices for the sumo wrestling tournament vary depending upon how close up you want to see the tournament. The following are the prices: (1) Ringside seat for 14,800 yen ($130.02); Box A seat for 11,800 yen ($103.66); Box seat B for 10,600 yen ($93.12); Box C seat for 9500 yen ($83.46); Chair seats A 8500 yen ($74.67), Chair Seats B for 5100 yen ($44.80); and Chair Seats C for 3800 yen ($33.38).
When are Sumo Tournaments Held?
The sumo tournaments are typically held 6 times a year: Tokyo (3 in Tokyo– January, May and September), Osaka (March), Nagoya (July) and Fukuoka (November). Check out the most recent Sumo tournament schedule, which is constantly updated.
What are some Tips?
(1) Buy tickets early- the person who cancelled the sumo tournament for whatever reason had booked 5 months in advance.
You can also contact the Ryogoku Kokugikan box office at 03-36622-1100. Business hours of operation are from 1000 am to 1600 p.m.
2) Show up early. The last thing you want to do is wait in line for hours. If you decide to arrive early, I would recommend staying to around 1200 and then come back at 1500 for the ceremony.
3) Pick up a rental radio. The sumo tournament is in the Japanese language. This radio helped me greatly with following the sequence of the tournament.