Sumo’s Grand Tournament Returns to Tokyo
In just a few short weeks the Sumo Grand Tournament will be back in Tokyo, with matches scheduled between September 14 and 28. Ticket sales started on August 9, but there is still time to snag a reserved seat. The art of sumo wrestling has a long history in Japanese culture and is considered the national sport of Japan, making it a popular event for tourists and locals alike.
Doors to the national sumo hall, Ryogoku Kokugikan, open at 8 a.m. and the first oosumo matches (junior division) start an hour later. The more exciting matches between the top athletes start around 2 p.m. The wrestlers in this division are considered professional sumo wrestlers, and before the matches begin they parade out together wearing colorful kesho-mawashi aprons. The intense bouts last only seconds, but there is a long pageantry of salt throwing, posing, and stretching that leads up to each clash. Each of these elements is steeped in tradition.
The food selection inside the stadium includes various bento boxes and Japanese snacks, but also a surprising amount of junk food like French fries, hot dogs and hamburgers. If you need to head out for a food break it’s no problem, as the tickets are valid all day and you are allowed to exit and re-enter once. If you have the time, try one of the many nearby chanko-nabe restaurants that serve up the classic sumo hot pot stew. A foreigner-friendly recommendation is the nearby Kappo Yoshiba, which has a mock sumo ring in the middle of the restaurant, English menus, great sushi direct from Tsukiji market and ¥900 lunch deals.
If you’re heading to the tournament with children, I would suggest going around lunchtime when it’s less crowded and you have more flexibility to move around to different seats, but still have the chance to see some of the first highly ranked sumos. Towards the end of the day when the top matches are happening, every seat will be filled and the stadium gets loud. If your kids need a break, head outside to the South Gate to watch the athletes exit the building. They are treated like celebrities and fans line up in hopes to get a picture with their favorite.
In case you miss out on the September tournament, you can catch the 15-day tournament in Tokyo every January, May and September. The main sumo association’s English website will have details on the full upcoming calendar and pre-sale start dates.
When: September 14-28, 2014
Where: Ryogoku Kokugikan, 1-3-28 Yokoami, Sumida-ku, Tokyo
How much: Individual tickets range from ¥3,800 to ¥14,800 for ringside seats, and there is usually at least a ¥1,000 service fee per ticket added to the charge. Children aged four and older need their own ticket, and there is no children’s price. Those under four are free, but they must sit on a lap. If you miss out on the pre-sale period, you can get in line early at the Kokugikan Box Office on tournament day and try to snag a general admission ticket for just ¥2,200 (children aged four to 15 are only ¥200). The 350 available tickets sell out early on each day.