Sumo – Watch The Big Men Fly
Baseball and soccer are more popular these days, but it’s sumo that has been the national sport of Japan for several centuries. We’ll show you the easy way to experience a tournament, or at least get a little taste of the sport while you’re here.
There are some great guides out there that will give you the ins and outs of every technique used in sumo, but essentially all you really need to know is that the rikishi (wrestler) who steps out of the dohyo (ring) first, or touches the ground with anything other than his feet, is the loser of the bout.
national sport of Japan
national sport of Japan
It’s also important to note that sumo takes place without the weight divisions that you will find in traditional wrestling or boxing. So although agility is key, size definitely matters in sumo!
There are six major tournaments held each year. Tokyo hosts three of them at the Ryogoku Kokugikan Sumo Hall in January, May and September. Osaka holds a tournament in March, Nagoya in July and the final tournament each year is held in Fukuoka in November. Tournaments last for 15 days and the wrestler with the highest number of wins, versus losses, is crowned as champion, with playoffs held in the event of a tie.
Live bouts are broadcast each day on the government station NHK which has bilingual coverage available for the final session of the day from 3.30pm – 6.00pm. While all days have their merits, it is this session that we would recommend attending as the excitement builds when the top ranked wrestlers compete. In the event of an upset, especially if a lower ranked wrestler defeats a yokozuna (grand champion), you can expect to see wild scenes as spectators hurl their seat cushions towards the ring to show their appreciation.
Recently, these major tournaments have developed a global following especially with the prevalence, and recent dominance, of foreign wrestlers. The Hawaiians were very strong in ’80s and ’90s and currently Mongolians dominate the sport with three yokozuna. This interest from abroad means that getting to a tournament has never been easier. The official site of the Sumo Association has all you need to know for securing a ticket as well as news and info on the wrestlers.
With only six major tournaments a year, you may find there is a not a tournament on when you are here. If experiencing sumo is high on your list regardless, then you may want to try going along to one of the sumo training stables (beya), where you can see the wrestlers being put through their paces each morning.
Once a rarity, these days an increasing number of stables are allowing visitors in to watch, or at least peer in from outside the training ring. Prices vary depending on the level of tour you are expecting but it is free to watch from the outside at many stables, including the Arashio Beya located in Nihonbashi, in the Chuo district of Tokyo – just remember to abide by their rules as you don’t want to make the big guys angry.
Eat Like a Yokozuna!
If there are no tournaments on, and you don’t want to get up early to watch a practice session, you can always experience the meal that helps the wrestlers bulk up. Chankonabe is a high protein stew that is a staple of the sumo wrestler’s diet but is also offered in many restaurants around Japan, often run by retired wrestlers who obviously have a certain expertise in preparing the hearty dish.
One of the most famous restaurants is Kawasaki Chanko in Ryogkoku, but Chanko Kirishima is also great. It is said that no two chankonabe are ever the same as the chef will use whatever ingredients are available, but the basics are a chicken soup loaded up with chicken, fish, tofu and vegetables, and traditionally served with beer and rice so that you can really pack on the pounds!