I love going to the Sumo! On May the 14th the Canadians and I went and spent the day at the sumo.
The are 6 major tournaments a year, 3 in Tokyo and 1 each in Osaka, Nagoya and Fukuoka. Each tournament begins on a Sunday and runs for 15 days. The top divisions have one bout a day and the winner is the wrestler with the best win loss ratio out of 15 possible bouts.
I love the pomp and ceremony, the atmosphere, the excitement, the colours, the history, the architecture of the the Sumo Hall (or Ryōgoku Kokugikan) in Ryōgoku, the funny live English commentary available on NHK radio, the symbolism of the sumo ceremonial “aprons”, the deep cultural ties and the passion of the fans. It makes for an excellent afternoon out.
I could really go to town and write 2000 words plus on Sumo bu will stick to pictures and add a Wikipedia link which is a good place to start if you are interested in a good overview to Sumo
Getting Tickets to the sumo
Tickets go on sale about a month or so before the tournament. You can buy online and pick up on the day. Tickets do sell out so it can be difficult to buy tickets on the day. There are a certain amount of tickets available on the day but you need to be down at the venue by about 7 am in the morning and they go quickly! The cheap nose bleed seats offer a good view and for a beginner they are pretty good I think. The box type seats are fun but can be cramped with 4 people in them and a little uncomfortable sitting on the floor for 2 hours plus. I prefer a seat myself. There are tours for foreigners and if you can’t get a ticket yourself this is an option but it is expensive. from what I can tell you are paying about 9000 yen for a 3000 yen seat.
On the day
My advice to you if you are thinking of attending the sumo is to be seated in the hall by about 3,45 for the grand entrance of the upper ranks and stay till the end about 6 pm for the closing ceremony done by the Yokozuna, the top ranked sumo. Sumo has a deep cultural link to the Shinto religion and the opening and closing ceremonies each day are based on Shinto agricultural rites.
It is also fun to get there a little early about 2 to 2.30 and watch the Sumo arrive. Fans line the footpaths and cheer for them as they enter. The higher ranked a guy is the more “wee” junior sumo minions he has following him and carrying his gear. Judging by the cheers and screams for these big fellas they have super star status!
Recently there has been an influx of foreigner wrestlers,notably the Mongolian wrestlers. At the moment the top 3 ranked Yokozuna are all from Mongolia. There are wrestlers from Greece, Egypt, Hungary, Bulgaria, Georgia and Brazil too. For a while Sumo seemed lose its popularity among the die hard Japanese fans as they felt disillusioned with their precious national sport being invaded by gaijin ( foreigners) but recently Sumo seems to be gaining popularity again and as the foreigners prove themselves to be worthy practitioners and respectful of the traditions and values of sumo.
English Sumo Commentary
If you have time from 2.30 you can get a small radio receiver for 100 yen about $1 ( there is a 2000 yen cash deposit required which you get back) From 4 pm you can listen to a live English commentary on NHK . It is very informative and I always find in quite amusing as the guy has quite a dry take on things. I think it really enhances the experience and helps you know what is going on. There are a limited number of these radios so I go a bit early line up for 2.30 and then usually pop out for something to eat before coming back to be seated. I haven’t tried it myself yet but I am sure if I put a radio app on my iPod I could probably get the commentary. Must check that out!
The Sumo is definitely a “Japan Love” for me!
Yoroshiku Onegai shimasu