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Japanese Sumo Wrestling: Everything You Need To Know

Japan’s national sport is sumo wrestling. Each year, Tokyo organizes three tournaments with hundreds of wrestlers from Japan and across the world competing in six divisions. These games offer a fascinating peek into traditional Japanese society and an enjoyable element of any Tokyo schedule since they are fast-paced, colorful, and full of ceremony. Japanese Sumo wrestling is thought to have started in the third century and is based on the Shinto religion. In the 1600s, the first professional matches were held to earn funds for new temples and shrines. Many of the rituals and traditions from that time are still practiced in today’s tournaments, from the salt thrown into the ring to the wrestlers’ consumption of “strength water” just before the match. Even the commercials, rather of being displayed on large screens, are paraded around the ring on fabric banners.

Japanese Sumo Wrestling: Everything You Need To Know

How to get tickets

Each year, Japan hosts six sumo tournaments, three in Tokyo (January, May, and September) and one each in Osaka (March), Nagoya (July), and Fukuoka (October) (November). Tickets go on sale three weeks before the tournament begins and frequently sell out. They can be purchased in advance at the stadium or on the official website of Japan Sumo Wrestling. Alternatively, on the day of the competition, a limited quantity of balcony tickets are available for purchase.

The stadium

The Rygoku Kokugikan is located in the heart of Tokyo (take the JR Sbu Line to Rygoku station). It has a modest museum with photographs of grand champions throughout history, as well as shops selling food, drinks, and souvenirs, as well as a 13,000-seat arena.

The stadium is divided into three sections, with traditional Japanese seating (cushions on the floor) in the ringside and box seats, and chairs in the balcony seats further back. Wrestlers sometimes tumble out of the ring and onto the crowd during particularly hot battles, therefore ringside seats are truly ringside.

The matches

The matches of Japanese Sumo Wrestling

Wrestlers try to frighten their opponents and play to the crowd during pre-match rituals. The matches itself are fierce and fast-paced, consisting of only a few seconds of circling, locking bodies, and twisting. The wrestler who exits the ring first or makes contact with the ground with anything other than his feet loses.

Because there are no weight divisions in sumo, gaining weight is an important element of the training process. Although there is sometimes a significant weight differential between the opponents, the bigger wrestler does not necessarily win.

The rules

The beauty of sumo is that even if you don’t know the rules, you’ll figure it out after one battle. The rules are straightforward: the wrestler who steps out of the ring first or touches the ground with any part of his body other than his feet loses. Matches are held on a raised clay ring known as a dohyo that is coated in sand.


The major events are timed to coincide with seasonal changes, such as the New Year, spring, and fall. All of these events last approximately two weeks, so if you’re willing to travel and get tickets quickly, you’ll have lots of possibilities to see a game.

What happens at sumo?

What happens at sumo?
Japanese Sumo Wrestling

A sumo tournament lasts all day, often starting as early as 8:30 a.m., giving you lots of opportunities to watch the action. Because the tournament is based on a ranking system, many regular sumo fans forgo the early fights and return later in the day, around mid-afternoon, when the tournament’s higher-ranked wrestlers begin.

The final match, which takes place around 6 p.m., is the event’s conclusion. The sumo superbowl is held when the tournament’s two champions face off against each other.

Food-wise, there are plenty of snacks and beverages to keep you going throughout the day, just like at any sporting event. If you want a truly authentic Japanese experience, purchase a bento box (a lunch box filled with little Japanese dishes), which will be filled with a variety of delectable treats.

Check out a chanko nabe restaurant once the day is done and you’re ready to feast like a sumo. Given that sumo wrestlers eat it as a staple, there will undoubtedly be enough strewn throughout the venue.

Chanko nabe is a hot pot dish that can be made with a variety of ingredients, including vegetables, shellfish, and meat. Many of the nabe eateries in Ryogoku are managed by former sumos, so you know you’re getting the real stuff.

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