When one thinks of heading to Japan or Tokyo for a holiday, you usually think of the usual, Sakuras, Disneyland, Mt Fuji etc. But for your next trip, how about doing something absolutely different and stand out from your friends by watching a Live Sumo Match? (Read also: 14 Things to do in Tokyo)
One of the oldest and most-respected sports in Japanese history, is sumo wrestling. Sumo wrestling dates back as early as the Edo period, and it is a sport adorned by many in the country but less publicized in the global arena.
It is a highly competitive sport where the wrestler tries to push the opponent off balance, causing them to fall and touch the ground, or force them out of the ring. It is an all male sport, and all wrestlers are to adhere to strict rules regulated by the Japan Sumo Association. Wrestlers live in their training stables for the most part of their life, and every detail from their diet and attire are highly regimented.
How to Watch Sumo Wrestling in Japan?
The Grand Sumo tournament is the biggest event in a professional sumo wrestler’s career. Not all professional sumos get to go on the stage to compete. It is held 6 times a year starting from January, and the tournament venue rotates around Tokyo, Osakam Nagoya, and Fukuoka. A Grand Sumo tournament lasts for a period of 15 days, and you can keep track of the Sumo Grand Tournament schedules here and check if they happen to have a tournament during the dates that you are visiting Japan.
Getting Tickets for Sumo Wrestling
Tickets can be purchased through various channels, but for foreigners who would like to secure better seats in advance, you can purchase your Sumo Tickets online HERE and you can have them mailed to your home address prior to your departure to Japan. Alternatively, you may purchase them in convenience stores in Japan, or directly at the arena, but risk having those tickets sold out.
For guests, the seats are separated into 3 categories (i) Balcony seats, (ii) Box seats and (iii) Ringside seats.
Balcony seats are on the cheapest and are situated on the second floor balcony, with western styled chairs. They are further categorized into 3 classes, A, B and C, depending on the distance of the seats to the ring.
Box seats are Japanese styled which seats up to 4 person and are cushioned mats. Shoes have to be removed when seated in the box, and box tickets are sold by per box rather than per pax (You would have to pay for the entire box even if you have less than 4 people) Similar to balcony seats, they are further categorized into 3 classes, A, B and C, depending on the distance of the seats to the ring.
Lastly, the best seats in the house, comes with the biggest risks! Ringside seats are literally as per it’s name, located at the side of the ring. These seats although gives you the best seat in the house, exposes you to the potential risk of wrestlers who in the midst of competition, may run/slam/be pushed off the ring and onto your seats and you. When purchasing the tickets online, the site prompts you of the risk and you would have to choose if thats what you truly wish to do. Despite it’s hefty price tag, these ringside cushioned mat seats are also usually the most difficult to obtain as they are usually sold out and purchased by hardcore Japanese Sumo fans.
Livelaughtravel.net Sumo Wrestling Review
Our Singapore Food Blog and Travel Blog have had the opportunity to attend one of the Grand Sumo tournaments in Osaka, and it was truly an eye opening experience. We pre-planned it and booked our tickets months before our actual visit. We opted for A class Balcony Seats which cost us around 11,500Yen (Appx SG$150)/ticket. The tickets was delivered straight to our home in appx 2 weeks, which is relatively quick as compared to some of the stuff that we buy online from abroad.
Like any other fight events (i.e UFC, Boxing etc) there are undercut fights that feature unranked or low ranked fighters. But because we had a long night the day before, we chose to skip the prelims and just went for the featured fights.
When we arrive at the Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium, I recalled it being a slightly rainy day but that didn’t stop the hordes of fans from standing and waiting at the gate for their favorite Sumo wrestlers to arrive. Fans would line the entrance and have their cameras in hand as they eagerly anticipate. This was to be just a glimpse of the kinda super stardom Top Sumo Wrestlers receive in Japan.
Cheers echoed throughout the packed out stadium as we figured our way to our allocated seats. The atmosphere was electrifying to say the least. The locals were all kept at the edge of their seats as they cheered every time a wrestler went down. There was no commentary (not like we could understand) and it took us quite some time before we understood what was going on.
Before it was time for the main cards, the ranked fighters would walk into the ring oozing confidence as the crowd went wild. The Top Ranked Sumo wrestler, Yokozuna, would also do a sort of a ritual dance, stomping his feet while showcasing his amazing agility despite his size.
When the main cards started, the cheers grew louder with groups of people holding banners of their favorite wrestlers across the stadium. The atmosphere became even more intense as the audience become visually more invested in each fight and fighter. The crowd gasp with every move and cheered with every win.
Despite the loud cheers, the slam of the bare bodies between 2 sumos that size could be heard throughout the arena and it was amazing to witness first hand how these 200+kg human beings move like they were just 60.
We were also lucky enough to witness Japan’s reigning top Sumo Wrestler, Hakuho, in action. He made short work of his opponent and as the crowd screamed their lungs out, he calmly and collectively took his prize money and returned into the tunnels.
Despite not knowing any fighters in particular, the excitement from the crowd had our adrenaline rushing the whole night and it was such a spectacle to be able to witness Japanese Culture in the form of a sport first hand.
If given the opportunity, we would definitely do it again and would also highly recommend anyone who is lucky enough to be in Japan during tournament times to watch it as well.
Additional Information about Japan Sumo Wrestling
After we came back from our trip, we got so excited that we started to watch documentaries after documentaries about Sumo and read endless articles about Sumo wrestling. For the benefit of those who are watching it soon, here are some additional information that would be good general information to impress your date during the match:
- Sumo Wrestlers stay in stables and follow a strict hierarchy system where the lower ranked fighters would serve/cook for the higher ranked ones. This hierarchy is strictly respected and has to be adhered to.
- The highest ranked fighter is called a Yokozuna. For every other rank, promotions are based on fight performance. However, for someone to be promoted to Yokozuna, aside from fight record, the individual is also assessed for his character and personality and whether he would be a good representative for Sumo.
- A Yokozuna cannot drop rank. If he loses too many fights, he is often forced to retire instead of removing his rank.
- Sumo is an all Male sport and girls are banned from entering the ring.
- As part of the Sumo wrestlers pre fight ritual, salt is often thrown across the ring for a ring purification process.
- Sumos clap their hand and slap their belly to gain the attention of Gods in order to ask for protection
- A sumo match ends when one party touches the ground with any part other than their feet and/or steps outside the ring
- Win or Lose, sumo wrestlers are expected to not show any emotion
- Pay is only given to Sumo wrestlers who have obtained Juryo rank and above, with the Top Ranked Yokozunas earning appx US$30,500 every month (excluding fight bonuses etc). This is relatively little as compared to a mid-range baseball player in Japan who would be earning the equivalent.