I admit that the idea of seeing a sumo wrestling match in Tokyo was not on the top of my to do list. It took me quite some time to come around but boy am I glad I did. The pomp, the ceremony, the heft! Like so many other things in life, the more you know about it the more likely you are to you enjoy it. We lucked into this fun experience and I’m happy to share some of our tips and hints to get the most out of this Adventure.
Tickets and Timing
There are six sumo tournaments in Japan throughout the year. Tokyo hosts them in January, May and September. Since we were visiting in May it was perfect timing. The tournaments last for 15 days each and can be an all day affair. Sumo wrestling is to the Japanese what professional football or baseball is to Americans. Nearly every Japanese school boy knows who the top wrestlers are and has a favorite. I started to hunt down tickets a couple of weeks before hand and realized that I was already too late to buy them directly. Tickets are released about a month before the event. These matches sell out early so as soon as you decide you might want to go, purchase tickets. Just by luck, I happened to come across a Viator tour that included the sumo match and Chanko nabe(Hot pot stew) meal. I paid $129 per person which included the meal. Regular non-tour tickets run between $50 and approximately $125, depending on your seating choice, so the tour seemed reasonable.
Hotel pick up was included in the price of a our ticket, but since we were staying in an Airbnb rental we took public transportation to Hamamatsucho Bus Terminal. We wandered a bit and needed to ask directions to find the tour office, but relative to some of our experiences getting lost, this was pretty easy to find. We were greeted by our guide, Yuki, who made the whole experience fabulous. Yuki spoke perfect English and had an extensive knowledge of sumo. She gave us a thorough introduction into what we were about to see and do and then we were off to the tournament. We traveled to the stadium by rail, with our group, switching trains a couple of times with Yuki watching over us the whole way.
The Center of Sumo
When you arrive at the JR Ryogoku station you realize that you are in sumo country. There are numerous monuments and displays to past and present wrestlers. The Kokugikan stadium seats over 10,000 visitors and is surrounded by Sumo stables where wrestlers live and train. We entered the stadium grounds and headed to the museum first. The museum closes at 4:30 so we needed to pay it a quick visit. Admittedly, some of the sumo history was lost on us. There were photos and drawings of each of the past Yokozuna(Grand champions). We met back out at the entrance where we watched as each of the wrestlers walked to the stadium. It was fascinating to see these huge man accompanied by their apprentices and wearing elaborate kimonos. Spectators line the route and politely clap and discreetly take photos. These men are Japanese heroes and the excitement really starts to mount when you see what they mean to the locals.
Yuki led us to our seats when the top level divisions were about to begin. We were in the second tier in western style seating so I was quite pleased to be comfortable. The box seating is at ground level on Japanese-style cushions and although they looked cozy and fun, I couldn’t imagine sitting on the floor for the 3+ hours we were there. Yuki prepared a thorough guide for us so we could identify the wrestlers in each of the matches. She included fun details like who looked like Nicholas Cage, who was a rising young star, who was the heaviest(440 lbs) and lightest(297 lbs). We figured out pretty quickly that the pomp and circumstance of sumo is really important. The opening ceremony, purification rituals, and careful positioning of the wrestler before each match create and elaborate spectacle. The actual match is over in seconds! The goal is to push your appointment out of the ring or off-balance. When this process takes more than a few seconds the crowd goes crazy. Many wrestlers are from Mongolia or other locations outside Japan, so any Japanese wrestler is particularly beloved. Like any sporting event, when there is an upset and the underdog wins, the excitement level is through the roof. Our tournament ended with a Japanese wrestler taking an unexpected victory. The crowd went crazy, trowing their seat cushions into the ring and cheering madly.
We gathered together afterward and headed out to a chanko restaurant which serves the tradition hot pot stew the wrestlers eat before matches. Sitting at communal tables, we chatted about the experience and eagerly waited for our stew to bubble and boil until it was ready. There was something there for each of us. My daughter loved the variety of tofu and my son appreciated the large chunks of chicken. This was the perfect way to cap off this exceptional evening. What started with my reluctance, ended up as one of my favorite memories of Tokyo.
Pin for Later:
Linking up with Weekend Travel Inspiration