Tuesday, May 27, 2008


Last week, several guests descended upon Japan and sent me scrambling for many days worth of fun and exciting sightseeing itineraries. My greatest planning and scheduling success was a day at the Tokyo Grand Sumo tournament.

The challenge to seeing sumo is getting a hold of tickets. For foreigners who don't have a decent command of Japanese, this can seem a daunting task. The official sumo website provides detailed information in English on ticketing and pricing, but warns that the telephone lines and box office will accept Japanese inquiries only.

To avoid showcasing my deeply flawed Japanese, I tried a Lawson's convenience store. A note on the official grand sumo home page states that tickets can be purchased at Lawson's. I had ignored this at first, not quite understanding how a convenience store would help me see sumo. In fact, many convenience stores have an ATM-like ticketing service machine. It only took ten minutes to get six tickets to the opening day of the May Grand Sumo

Our day of sumo was a really fantastic experience and I encourage anyone in town for a grand sumo tournament to attend (a complete schedule is listed in English on the official homepage found below). A ticket gives you entrance to the whole day of matches. For us, this began at 8am. Not really understanding very much about the sport, we eagerly made our way across the city at the crack of dawn, only to find the stadium....... nearly empty.

Of course, there were several proud mothers and focused coaches gathered around the dohyo (sumo 'ring' where the match is held). But our group made up almost the only spectators. Those early morning matches are comprised of the lowest ranked sumo competitors; those just beginning their sumo careers. These are often very young looking, slim boys who don't fit the general stereotype image of a sumo.

As the day continues, the competitors get progressively higher in rank until between four and six in the evening. At this time, the stadium is packed, the atmosphere is charged and the best wrestlers appear for their matches.

In total, I spent about nine hours watching sumo that day. Besides the fast-paced bouts and the crowd-watching opportunities afforded by the other spectators, there are many things for the visitor to appreciate. Chanko nabe, the tasty and nutritious 'sumo stew' eaten by wrestlers was available for only 200 yen a bowl from the stadium cafe. Gift shops and souvenir stalls were set up in the Kokugikan (stadium building) and walking around offered the chance to glimpse some of the wrestlers headed to their matches.

One of the most entertaining parts of the day took place when my band of sumo watchers left the Kokugikan to stock up on snacks from the convenience store. Outside the sumo stadium was a spectacle in its own right. A crowd was gathered around the entrance watching and cheering for the sumo champions and highly ranked wrestles who arrived later in the day. Kids ran after them seeking autographs and pictures. Best of all, sumo wrestlers were wandering around the restaurants and convenience stores alongside us, stocking up on water, snacks, and even enjoying a bowl of gyudon from the Yoshinoya.

Nihon Sumo Kyokai The offical Grand Sumo home page in English
fROM: japan-guide.com
Sumo is a fascinating way to spend a day in Japan. It offers quite a look into traditional dress and shinto practices as well as being a great spectacle in terms of crowd watching. Never one for combative sports such as wrestling or boxing, I found the ritualized stretching, short bouts and detailed list of official moves really engaging. Everyone in my party really enjoyed all nine hours at the Kokugikan. I think sumo has a few new followers.

No comments: