After the unexpected snowfall on Monday, we were back to a sunny—albeit windy and cold—day for sumo. I was excited. I’ve always been fascinated by it, but after watching several bouts on TV I’ve become a huge sumo fan and couldn’t wait to experience the whole only-in-Japan event.
Tickets are available as either box seats or western seats (chairs) in various amounts of money. Box seats were out of the question for many reasons—the main one being that they consist of only cushions on the floor within a very tiny piece of real estate. Our Japanese friends told us these areas are mostly for the older, traditional (and tiny) Japanese fans. Regardless, I knew there was no way I could sit on a pillow for longer than ten minutes so we went for the cheapest reserved seats (about $45pp). There are cheaper $25 seats available for previously unsold seats if one wants to arrive on the day of the event around 8am, and hope something is available—but I wasn’t taking any chances and missing out, so we opted for the reserved options. Here’s the official link to purchase tickets: http://sumo.pia.jp/en/.
With a pre-purchased ticket one has the option of going to the sumo hall anytime after 8am when the doors open with the bouts starting at 8:30am. However, few people come that early since it’s only junior wrestlers in the early part of the day. The top division of wrestlers doesn’t start until 3:45, and the division directly under them—the Juryo—doesn’t start until 2:20pm. We got there about this time and the stadium was still pretty empty.
I didn’t care that we were early, in sumo-viewing terms, however. I wanted to explore the stadium and the sumo museum, and take advantage of any and all the available photo ops (of which there were blissfully quite a few), and to fully absorb the whole experience.
And there were lots of fun surprises starting at the subway station of Ryogoku Kokugikan. Here there were huge paintings of some of the top wrestlers, a display featuring their handprints and autographs, and lots of posters for the tournament. It was obvious we were in the right place and about to see sumo.
Exiting the station, there were a few tables selling sumo trinkets, and a small stone statue of two wrestlers. Turning right at the statue, past some Chanko Stew restaurants—which makes up the official sumo diet—we headed towards the flags flapping in the wind.
Or one can just follow big boys in top-knots and kimonos shuffling in that direction.
In this area between the station and the stadium there are more vendors for gifts and food. We stopped to have a nibble of fried chicken pieces and hot sake before heading to the stadium. Near here is also the South Gate where all but the highest-ranked wrestlers enter the stadium which makes it a great chance for photos of the rising stars.
After picking up our tickets at will-call, we went on through the gates and directly found some fun photo opportunities.
Then we entered the stadium, and on the right, just past the huge cardboard cutouts of the sumo champions, is the small sumo museum which is currently featuring the life of a champion who recently died. Facing this main entrance is a huge display case of past trophies, and going left we found food and gift stalls.
After buying a few things, we then went upstairs to where we could enter for our nosebleed seats. On this level there were more food and gift stalls as well as a photo booth to get a photo with your choice of a top-division wrestler—which, of course, we did.
Finally we entered the hall itself and I was surprised at how empty it still was, but by later in the afternoon when the higher division wrestlers began, the place was filled.
Though there is an option to rent a radio that announces everything in English, I actually enjoyed the fact I couldn’t understand what was being said and was able to just listen to the cadence of the announcer’s words. When the sponsor’s flags were marched around the ring I didn’t know that he was probably saying something along the lines of ‘This is brought to you by the dried soup sponsor…’ I got to hear it as melodic sounds and it was much more aesthetically pleasing.
The afternoon was filled with ancient history and modern-day sponsor flags. It was beyond interesting and so much fun watching and listening to everything: the announcements of the wrestlers names as they all entered at once, climbed up into the ring, circled it, then raised their arms and their ceremonial aprons; the wrestlers getting ready to fight; the men who came out before each bout to sing its announcement; the referee’s calls; the Shinto dances of the top champions; the excitement of the quick bouts; and the crowd calling out the names of their favorite superstar.
Some of the wrestlers took longer to get ready to fight then the bout lasted. They would puff up their chests, and stomp and slap themselves, then throw out handfuls of salt to purify the ring, and the crowds would cheer their bravado. Sometimes they would do it multiple times, then face off, and a few minutes later one—sometimes both—would be on the ground and one declared a winner.
It was exciting right until the end when the top guys squared off and the event ended for another day.
We then ended our day of sumo by enjoying a smaller version of the meal of a sumo wrestler. Apparently, they only eat one meal a day and it's Chanko Stew--which can consist of sea food, or chicken, and veggies all thrown into boiling broth at the table. There are lots of restaurants near the stadium that offer it and it was just what we needed on this cold night.
Overall it was an awesome day and I’d go again in a minute. And that’s saying a lot from one who doesn’t much like sports.