Japan is truly a great country to visit. I honestly have never met anyone who went there and wasn’t amazed by all that Japan has to offer from food, attractions, to just really nice polite people. I was lucky enough to visit Tokyo again a few weeks ago….yes I know, it seems like I keep ending up there lately, but really I have no complaints about this.
This trip I was able to attend Sumo with a real aficionado who has been to over 400 matches. I mean that is real dedication to the sport. So here’s a little on what I learned about Sumo.
The History: Sumo originated in Japan and is the only country where it is practiced professionally. The sport is known as the national sport of Japan and is even broadcasted on TV. The sport is deeply embedded in tradition and to this day, they still adhere to these traditions.
The Matches: Professional Sumo matches are organized by the Japan Sumo Association and there are 6 matches each year, with each match being 15 days long. Every year, 3 matches take place in Tokyo, 1 in in Fukuoka, 1 in Nagoya and 1 in Osaka. The 2018 schedule is:
- Tokyo – January 14 – 38
- Osaka – March 11 – 25
- Tokyo – May 13 – 27
- Nagoya – July 8 – 22
- Tokyo – September 9 – 23
- Fukuoka – November 11 – 25
The Wrestlers: Sumo wrestlers are more than just giant “fat guys,” they actually have to work hard to maintain that physique and even need to grow out their hair in order to form a top knot whenever in public. If you see someone out and about while in Japan and they look like a Sumo wrestler, they most likely are one. In order to maintain their size, Sumo wrestlers eat Chankonabe which is a very rich stew that is made up of meat, fish, and vegetables in a very rich broth. I liken it to a shabu or hot pot, but more calories. You can even try chankonabe outside the Sumo stadium, but be prepared to be stuffed! You would think that with such large wrestlers, Sumo regulations would be like Western wrestling where each opponent is matched by size. Well Sumo does not have any weight classes or weight restrictions, so a smaller wrestler could come face to face with someone much larger than them. The only hierarchy that they have is by rank, so basically the more you win the higher you will go in the hierarchy.
The Rules: The wrestlers face off on an elevated ring that is made of clay and covered in sand, the rules are simple, the first wrestler who leaves the ring or touches the ground with any body part other than the soles of his feet is the loser. Sometimes you will see the top knot of the wrestler fall down and touch the ground and in that case, he would also be deemed the loser.
Sumo No Nos:
1. No closed fists (slapping us perfectly acceptable)
2. No hair pulling
3. No grabbing below the belt
Since there are 3 matches a year in Tokyo, your chances of seeing Sumo in Tokyo are pretty good. The Sumo Stadium is located right by Ryogoku Station (near the west exit) and near this station is also where the Sumo Stables are. Sumo Stables are where the Sumo wrestlers live and train.
Tickets for the matches can be purchased at the stadium or at convenience stores (7-11, Lawsons). You can also make purchases online at the Official Sumo Site or Buy Sumo Tickets. It is definitely suggested to get your tickets in advance, as tickets are known to sell out. Next time I go, I want to sit in the ringside tickets. You sit on the floor with cushions and whenever the people don’t agree with the match results they throw their cushions. The floor area definitely seems fun and where all the action is! This past time I saw some Sumo wrestlers fall on some people in the ringside area! Umm… OUCH!
The stadium doors open at 8 AM each morning and the preliminary round starts at 8:30 AM. Top division wrestlers are called Makuuchi and they do not even start until 4:15 PM and many ticket holders don’t even show up to the stadium until around that time. When these top division wrestlers finally make it into the ring, people start cheering and getting really excited (before they come, some people really conserve their energy). Each tournament ends promptly at 6 PM, just in time for the nightly news to start!
If you want to see top division wrestlers outside of the ring, they usually arrive to the stadium around 2 PM. We were lucky enough to run into them.
So here we are at Chanko Kirishima, right in between Ryogoku Station and the Sumo Stadiums, enjoying some Chankonabe. The meal also came with sashimi and chicken wings! The restaurant was very busy, but luckily we had reservations. I hear they aren’t easy to come by, but if you can, stop in to get some food here! YUM!
If you ever make it to Japan when the Sumo matches are going on, definitely get yourself some tickets and just check it out!