Sumo is a Japanese style of wrestling that can trace its roots back to ancient Japan and the Shinto religion. Although you are unlikely to see a sumo wrestler outside of his training school – known as sumo-beya (stables) – if you did see one he would be instantly recognisable for his large size and physique, which plays an important role for success in the sumo ring.
Sumo is Japan’s national sport and an important and fascinating aspect of Japanese culture. Six grand sumo tournaments are held in Japan each year. Taking place over 15 days, the tournaments feature senior and junior wrestlers who compete with similarly ranked sumos in a series of matches.
The rules of sumo are simple and easy to understand. Two wrestlers (rikishi) compete within a sumo ring (dohyou) and try to force the other off balanc and push over their opponent. Whoever touches the ground (except with their foot soles) or leaves the ring first, is the loser.
Watching a grand sumo tournament is a once in a lifetime experience for most visitors to Japan and provides a fascinating insight into this unique and ancient sport. Out of the six grand tournaments, three are held at the Ryogoku Kokugikan sporting arena in Tokyo in January, May and September each year.
Tickets are usually sold out well in advance of the tournament so you will need to book ahead if you want to get good seats. Information in English on venues, dates and booking can be obtained online at the Japanese Sumo Association (Nihon Sumo Kyokai). If you prefer not to book your seat over the Internet there are always a few unreserved seat tickets available for purchase on each day of the tournament (for that day) at the Ryogoku Kokugikan.
If you are not in Tokyo during the tournaments you might still wish to visit the Ryogoku Kokugikan stadium and take a tour of its Sumo Museum on the first floor (Japanese; weekdays only). The excellent Edo-Tokyo Museum is also nearby, which has English-language tours and information on its exhibits.
Directions: Ryogoku Kokugikan (1-3-28, Yokoami, Sumida-ku) is near Ryogoku station on the JR Sobu Line.