Sumo wrestling is a fascinating cultural experience, and one of the dream activities for many who visit Japan is to see a sumo wrestling match. But, as sumo wrestling tournaments are only held at certain times of the year, advance planning is required if you are keen on a day of action at a sumo tournament. Tickets can be hard to come by, especially if you want to watch the semi-final or final games. So, here are some tips on when to go, how and what ticket to get, and what else you need to know about the event!
A List of Content in This Article
- What Is Sumo?
- What Are the Rules of the Sumo Match?
- When Are the Major Sumo Tournaments?
- Booking Your Sumo Wrestling Tickets
- How to Get to Ryōgoku National Sumo Arena in Tokyo
- Making the Most of the Whole Day of Sumo Action
- What Are the Rules for Spectators During Sumo Matches?
- Be Respectful of the Culture Surrounding the Event
- What if I Can’t Attend the Sumo Tournament?
What Is Sumo?
Sumo is Japan’s national sport; the name literally translates to “striking one another”. The sport first appeared in Japanese mythology and has been practiced since the 8th century. Initially, Sumo was performed as a part of the Shinto ritual to celebrate a good harvest.
But it isn’t until the Edo period (1603 – 1867) that Sumo wrestling became a profession. The tournament became periodic in the mid-Edo period, with most of the tournament’s rules that continued to be obeyed until now set up at the time.
Over time, the tournaments have evolved, but the customs and contests remain largely the same.
Sumo wrestling is very different from pro wrestling in Japan, which you can also enjoy watching across the country. In promotions like NJPW, you will see high-flyers in a ring with ropes putting on displays in predetermined fights. With Sumo, it is a sport that is more of a true contest and a feat of strength between competitors. These wrestlers, or Rikishis, train in stables to become the best at their sport, and some of these in the Ryōgoku district of Tokyo are open to the public.
What Are the Rules of the Sumo Match?
The aim of a sumo contest is simple.
There are two men in the ring (Dohyo in Japanese) trying to show that they are the strongest and most skilled fighters. The first one to force their opponent out of the 15ft diameter space or to make them touch the ground with anything other than the soles of their feet is the winner.
This means that some contests can last a long time where competitors are evenly matched. Others can be over very quickly when you have a far more dominant wrestler in the ring and only last a few seconds. Typically, the top division has a time limit of four minutes.
A surprising factor here is that there aren’t strict weight classes for the match-ups. You can often see much heavier men trying to out-muscle smaller opponents. But, those smaller men may be more agile and able to force the larger man onto their back within the ring.
When Are the Major Sumo Tournaments?
If this all sounds like a fun activity, you need to plan and make sure to book tickets early.
Tournaments are rare, with three in Tokyo in January, May, and September, one in Osaka in March, one in Nagoya in July, and one in Fukuoka in November. You have a better chance of seeing one in Tokyo but may need to travel elsewhere depending on the date of your trip.
The tournaments start on the second Sunday and last for 15 days. Tickets can be purchased a month before the tournament. You can get your tickets in advance from the Japan Sumo Wrestling website or directly from the stadium. But remember that they sell out quickly.
Booking Your Sumo Wrestling Tickets
Next, you need to decide what sort of seat you want for the tournament. The arena is split into sections, and you can pick the best spot depending on the sort of experience you are after. Some foreign visitors prefer to go for the comfort of the seated section up on the balcony. This elevated view also means you get a good look at everything happening during the match and the ceremony surrounding it.
The alternative option is to go for something ringside. Here, you get to sit on a cushion on the floor with the rest of the patrons and feel closer to the action. It is much more immersive, but be aware that if a wrestler falls out of the ring in your direction, they may land on you.
- Refer to the Grand Tournament Schedule HERE and mark the dates on your calendar!
- You can book your ticket online HERE. It is recommended you purchase the ticket on the first day it goes on sale.
- Prices range from 9,000 yen to 20,000 yen. The closer the seat is to the ring, the more expensive it is.
- You can peek into Tokyo’s venue, Ryōgoku National Sumo Arena (両国国技館) HERE.
Tip: Book a Sumo Wrestling Tour with Viator. You will be accompanied by an English-speaking guide who will walk you through the tournament details and about the sport.
How to Get to Ryōgoku National Sumo Arena in Tokyo
Ryōgoku National Sumo Arena is less than a 5-minute walk from Ryōgoku Station (両国駅). You can get to Ryōgoku Station by taking a JR train or Tokyo’s Toei Subway (都営地下鉄).
Making the Most of the Whole Day of Sumo Action
Another important thing to remember about your sumo wrestling ticket is that it grants entry to the whole day’s action in the stadium, not a single match. This is great as it gives you time to learn a lot more about the culture and experience a full tournament. It is advisable to go along at the beginning of the day rather than just for the big matches, as here you can see the juniors compete in a quieter setting. It is a good warm-up for the main event.
The higher-ranked wrestlers’ matches start at around 2 pm, with the day of action ending at around 6 pm. The day’s best matches are scheduled between 4 pm and 6 pm.
Important: If you are sitting at the front, be aware that cushions might fly over your head at the end of the match. It is common for audiences to throw their cushion to the rink when a lower-ranked Rikishi wins over a higher-ranked Rikishi.
You can refer to HERE for some basic Sumo movements before you attend the big day (starting from page 3). On the actual day, see if you can recognize some of the movements in the document!
Also, refer to this YouTube video for some Sumo calisthenics you can do at home!
☛ If you plan to attend the tournaments in Tokyo, check with the staff for an English audio guide.
☛ Ensure you stop by the Sumo Museum (相撲博物館) at one corner of Ryōgoku National Sumo Arena to learn about the history and items used in the event. When tournaments aren’t on, it is free to enter. You will need to show a tournament ticket if matches are held on the day.
What Are the Rules for Spectators During Sumo Matches?
Generally speaking, the rules for spectators during sumo contests are quite relaxed. The main arena has a fun and sociable atmosphere as long as viewers don’t do anything to disrupt the match. For example, you can get out of your seat during the tournament and enjoy food and drink. Furthermore, you should find that you can take photographs during the match. This is a great way to capture memories as a tourist. Just be careful not to bring in any professional equipment and double-check the venue’s rules first.
As with any indoor cultural event, it is a good idea to check all the venue rules to ensure you aren’t bringing in anything prohibited or could do something to get you evicted.
Be Respectful of the Culture Surrounding the Event
While the rules for spectators are relaxed, don’t forget that this is a national pastime with a lot of pride and deep traditions. It is easy for those outside Japan to see Sumo as an old quirk or a bit of a laugh to come and watch. However, you must respect the sport, athletes, and culture during the event. If the wrestlers maintain those three high standards of politeness, discipline, and mutual respect, you can do the same.
This all starts with the pre-match rituals. There is a lot to take in here. Wrestlers will sip sacred water, throw purifying salt into the ring, and clap to summon the gods. This all ties in with ancient Shinto beliefs, and even the referee dress like a Shinto priest. Use the free time between contests to learn more about Sumo and politely ask questions of guides if you want to know more about the traditions and links to Shinto.
What if I Can’t Attend the Sumo Tournament?
If you can’t make it to the Sumo Tournament, you can visit the stables or training grounds around Ryōgoku National Sumo Arena. It is best to contact the stable before your visit to ensure practices will be on on the day.
When you visit the stable, ensure to keep noises at a minimum and don’t disrupt the practice. Some stables forbid photography, whereas others allow it as long as you don’t turn on the flash. A few other rules that should be followed are:
- Turn on the silent mode of your phone.
- No phone calls during training.
- Refraining from visiting the stable if you are sick.
- You can stretch out on the ground but don’t point your legs to the Rikishis.
- No eating or smoking.
The training of lower-ranked Rikishi starts at around 6 am, with higher-ranked wrestlers trained from around 8 am. As the training usually concludes between 9 am to 10 am, starting your day earlier is a must if you want to visit these stables.
Tip: You can also book one of the Sumo experiences through websites such as Klook.
☛ Book Your Sumo Experience & Chanko Hot Pot Lunch in Tokyo HERE.
☛ If you want more interaction with a sumo wrestler, including putting on a sumo suit and wrestling, book and join Sumo Wrestling Experience and Chanko Lunch tour HERE!
☛ For a sumo experience session without lunch, refer to HERE.
Below is a list of stables that you can visit during your time in Tokyo. All of them have nurtured many top-ranked Sumo wrestlers, including Yokozuna.
Hakkaku Stable (八角部屋)
Hakkaku Stable is just a 10-minute walk east of Ryōgoku National Sumo Arena. The training isn’t held every day. So make sure you contact the stable before you visit it by emailing [email protected].
Futagoyama Stable (二子山部屋)
After Azumazeki Stable (東関部屋) closed down in March 2021, Futagoyama Stable was relocated from the Saitama Prefecture.
It is unclear how the general public can attend their training at the moment. This should be announced when the pandemic is over.
Dewanoumi Stable (出羽海部屋)
South of Ryōgoku National Sumo Arena, Dewanoumi Stable is said to be the top training ground in the country, with many Yokozumas trained here.
However, the stable isn’t open to the entire general public. Only those who have joined their fan club or are introduced by a member of the fan club can make a reservation to visit the stable.
Regional Sumo Tours
Regular tournaments are held in odd-numbered months. In even-numbered months, regional sumo tours are held. These tours offer a more relaxed atmosphere. They also allow observers to get a bit closer to wrestlers.