There’s a sentence at Time’s 10 things to do in Tokyo I like: Forget Kabuki, Sumo is better theater. When I was organizing my trip to Japan I had almost forgot about attending a Sumo match. It wasn’t that it did not interest me but because I had assumed that it’d be expensive and tourist-oriented. I was so wrong…
One day, I was at the Supermarket and I saw a Sumo wrestler. Wow! I knew they were big (well, I knew they were fat) but I wasn’t expecting a two-meter tall man shopping healthy next to me. Next day I learned the tournament would start 1 day before I my departure from Tokyo. I had to investigate, was I wrong about other aspects of it?
Here’s what I found out:
Sumo wrestling isn’t boring
We have all heard that at a Sumo match you get 5% combat and 95% ceremony, but it can be very fun. There are strategies, points and different techniques to take the opposite out of the field…
If you can, get an official booklet with their profiles and their pictures. It costs around 3€ at the souvernir shops inside the stadium.
Attending a Sumo match in Tokyo is not that expensive
Ok, it isn’t cheap either. It just goes on what you want to pay. The seats that are closer to the wrestlers are over 15,000 yen per person and you will be seating on your legs. The ones with a seat (above the ring) can cost you around 35-60 euros if you get one of the few sold for foreigners at the official Pia site in English or a book one through Govoyagin (with way more availability because they buy from the counters, and they deliver it to your hotel). But if you really want to go cheap, you can seat all the way up to the top of the second floor and pay 2.200 yen (about 18€) for a whole day of matches.
You can get same-day tickets, even when they are sold out
I was checking for tickets when I found out that the tickets for the day I wanted had sold out. Then I found out that I could try to get ticket for the top floor of Ryougoku Kokugikan, since these are only sold on the same day of the match.
I had two options: buy a named ticket (with a specific seat number) for the day I was leaving, or go on the same day of the tournament and try to get a same-day ticket. The difference was not only the “risk” of not getting a ticket and the selection of seats, but if I got a named ticket I wouldn’t be able to see the greatest wrestlers (their matches are the last ones and I was risking my flight back home.)
We were there at half past six in the morning, waiting in line for the tickets to get our same days. What an experience!
Waiting in line in Japan is waiting in line
We had been waiting for over two hours, no breakfast (everything was closed in the surrounding area but the JR), so my friend Uli decided to go check if we could find a konbini nearby. Well, while he was exploring the people from the tournament decided they should number the people waiting.
Around 30 minutes before they start selling the tickets they give you a numbered ticket. They say it is to avoid cheating on the queue, but my friend wasn’t there and although we had been there all the time, they wouldn’t give me his number, no matter what I said.
And then came a japanese man to my rescue. Right before us, there was this man (he must have been a total fan, he knew everyone by their name) and he told the people from the organization that my husband and me had been waiting there all the time. Thank you, thank you, thank you !!! If it wasn’t for him, my friend would have to go to the back of the line, where he wouldn’t get tickets.
Well, the man didn’t give me Uli’s number but when he finally came back (with breakfast :) ) I went looking for the man and only when he checked with our good neighbour that he was my husband, he gave us the ticket.
5 minutes later we got our tickets (only cash accepted) and got inside Ryogoku Kokugikan.
Sumo is not for tourists (well, not designed just for tourists)
From all the touristic things I did in Tokyo, from going to a depressing maid-cafe or to a tea ceremony, Sumo was the most authentic experience I got. The people attending are real fans, they know the wrestlers, their points and losses and they cheer them a lot.
That said, being a tourist at a Sumo tournament doesn’t mean you won’t be welcomed there: there’s a guide in English that explains what to expect at the matches and there’s a radio channel in English that broadcasts the main ones. Also, if you don’t bring a radio with you, you can rent one for the day, so you don’t get lost in translation.
One tip: if you are a foreigner they don’t give you the matches’ spreadsheet. It is only in Japanese, but you can request a free copy at the entrance. That’s what real fans use to keep updated with the scores.
This is a 15-day tournament, and each ticket is for the whole day
There are matches all day long, from 8 in the morning to 6 p.m. But, is it worth spending all day there? I’d say no, unless you want to become a pro Sumo wrestler.
Everything interesting happens over 2 p.m., when the main wrestlers get into the stadium. The very important matches start at 4, when the English broadcasts go on.
And here’s a tip: If you don’t plan to watch every combat, don’t get in after you buy your ticket. You can only re-enter the stadium once. They’ll get you a transparent stamp on your arm to get back, like at discos, just remember where they put it or they will not let you back in.
When to go to a Sumo match in Japan
The Sumo season includes 6 tournaments which last 15-days each. They are held at Ryogoku Kokugikan in Tokyo (January, May, September), Osaka, Fukuoka and Nagoya. Named tickets can be purchased one month before the tournament at each stadium, online or at the machines at Family Mart, 7-eleven and Lawson konbinis. Just a note: Tokyo ones are much more expensive than Nagoya ones (but the wrestlers are the same), so take it into account when planning your trip around Japan.
If there aren’t tournaments, you can still attend the trainings at a Beya (a Sumo gym), some of them still accept visits but you’ll need somebody who speaks japanese to request access in many cases. There are plenty of them near Ryogoku, but also in other areas of Japan.
And, they also do Sumo Events around Japan where wrestlers have smaller matches and have some meet and greets with the fans. And some interesting tours, including training at a beya yourself.
Good manners: do’s and dont’s at a Sumo tournament
- You can bring your own drinks and food (except for the seats that are closer to the wrestlers) or buy them at the stadium. Most expensive seats have it included by sponsors
- You can take pictures and video, but never block a corridor or the view from others. Not that other attendants will say anything (they are too polite) but the guards might
- You can speak (quietly) and fans also cheer their favourites
- Although it will be more difficult to get a cab or public transport at the end of the game, you shouldn’t leave before the end, you’ll probably miss the best 15 minutes of the day.