Home TravelAsia Sumo wrestling in Japan: complete guide to an impressive cultural experience

Sumo wrestling in Japan: complete guide to an impressive cultural experience

by Elisa Flitter Fever
0 comment 2.3K views
This content is available in:

Attending a sumo wrestling match in Japan has been on my bucket list for years. Last May 25th, it was finally time. A month earlier I had bought tickets online – for the first day of our Japan tour. Luckily our flight landed on time. In this article I share my experience, tips and background information about this fascinating cultural event.

Sumo wrestling in Japan is an experience
Sumo wrestling in Japan is an experience

Introducing sumo wrestling in Japan

Sumo wrestling is THE national sport in Japan. This special martial art is an important part of Japanese culture. In sumo wrestling, full body contact is allowed. The goal is to push the opponent outside the ring. As a spectator, sitting all the way in the front is therefore not without risk!

Some sumo related Japanese words:

  • Rikishi – professional sumo wrestler
  • Basho – tournament sumo wrestling
  • Chonmage – man bun on the head sumo wrestler
  • Dohyo – ø4.5m circle (ring) surrounded by bales of rice straw
  • Heya – training center sumo wrestlers
  • Yokozuna – champion class sumo wrestlers
  • Mawashi – loincloth
Sumo wrestlers face each other in the dohyo sumo wrestling Japan
Sumo wrestlers face each other in the dohyo

The life of a sumo wrestler

Sumo wrestlers live in their own community, in a very traditional way. Anyone who does not respect these rules can count on a fine or suspension. Sumo wrestlers, for example, are not allowed to drive a car, although that would be difficult anyway due to their enormous size. There are also all kinds of rules for clothing, behavior, daily routine, food, etc.

To start training as a professional sumo wrestler, you must first complete high school. That is around the age of 15 or 16 years old (maximum 23 years). Candidates must be at least 1.73m (5.7ft) tall and weigh at least 75kg (165 pounds). The average professional sumo wrestler is in their twenties and weighs 150-160 kg (330-352 pounds). Like the samurai centuries ago, sumo wrestlers wear their jet black hair in a bun on top of their heads.

The competitive form of sumo wrestling in Japan is exclusively for men. Women are not even allowed to enter this dohyo! There are about 650 professional sumo wrestlers active throughout Japan. At least one retires every year. A small-scale competition is then organized between tournaments to raise money for the sumo wrestler who is retiring.

The history of sumo wrestling in Japan

Nowadays, sumo wrestling is very popular in Japan. Sumo wrestlers enjoy a kind of pop star status in Japan. That status is important to them and – in addition to the prize money – a very important incentive to win. The matches are broadcast daily on national television, watched by millions of Japanese people. And that 15 days in a row, because that’s how long every sumo tournament lasts. For Japanese people who work for a boss, this is more difficult to follow during the day, given their long working days.

The first evidence of a sumo wrestling match in Japan dates back to 712.

Sumo wrestling has not always been so popular in Japan. During the Edo period (1603–1867), sumo wrestling was even banned in the city for a while. Around 1868, the social system in Japan changed, with wealthy sponsors withdrawing from the sport and the sport began to be seen as embarrassing and backward. When Emperor Meiji organized a tournament for sumo wrestling in Japan 16 years later, the sport regained its popularity.

Sumo match Japan
Sumo wrestling is an ancient tradition in Japan

Sumo match in Japan: classes and colors

Wrestlers in sumo are divided into different classes. These are: Juryo, Maegashira, Komosubi, Sekiwake, Ozeki and Yokozuna. The latter is the so-called champion class. In tournaments, wrestlers of this highest class come last.

The color and fabric of the loincloth (mawashi) says something about the occasion and class. The satin mawashi, the shimekomi, is only worn at competitions in the upper class. During training a cotton version and with the lower class wrestlers also during competitions.

Amateur wrestlers must wear a white cotton mawashi. The lower class professional wrestlers wear a black cotton mawashi. The shimekomi should officially be dark blue or dark purple. Nowadays you can see almost all colors of the rainbow at competitions, completely decorated with strings.

Sumo wrestlers are often quite superstitious. When they have lost a match, it is not uncommon for them to wear a different color of mawashi or shimekomi the next time, if allowed. A mawashi is about 9 meters long and weighs 4 to 5 kilos!

The satin mawashi is called a shimekomi sumo wrestling Japan
A satin mawashi is called a shimekomi

Sumo match in Japan: the experience

Colored flags hang outside the stadium. There is an enthusiastic energy inside. During the match, as the upper classes get their turn, there is a short ceremony at each round in which colored flags are carried around the dohyo. These flags belong to the sponsors. The amount awarded to the winner of a match round increases as the tournament progresses.

First, the sumo wrestlers face each other from their side of the dohyo. Then they walk to the right side and two men in traditional clothes enter the dohyo. The wrestlers do some stretches as it seems, e.g. pulling one leg up high, then the other. Drink some water, wipe the sweat from their faces and grab some salt.

The sumo wrestlers both sprinkle some salt into the ring to purify it, as the dohyo is considered a sacred place.

They crouch down opposite each other and raise their hands. They get up again and walk out of the ring again, grab some more salt, sprinkle it in the ring. Now they move closer to each other, again some stretching exercises with the legs. Squat, arms on knees, squat again, arms out in front. They attack each other, the struggle begins. Until the other lies down or ends up outside the ring. Sitting all the way in the front is therefore not without risk.

This is followed by the ceremony of the winner by the referee. After the match, the dohyo is sweeped and everything starts all over again, with two other wrestlers. This video is not mine, but gives a good idea of ​​how a sumo match goes. The matches follow each other at a fairly rapid pace, so it never feels boring.

Sumo wrestling in Japan is an exciting experience!

As I mentioned before, a sumo match in Japan is truly a cultural experience. Of course quite a lot of people come and relatively many Japanese. As you can read in this article, there are many traditions and customs surrounding wrestling and the wrestlers have pop star status. Because the tickets are not easy to get, it also feels extra special to be there

The special thing about a sumo match is that you experience the Japanese in a more exuberant way than you usually see them. On the street, in the shop, at work, in traffic… The Japanese are known as calm, collected and polite people. During a sumo match they sometimes shout and call the whole stadium together, especially when it gets exciting. This is how they encourage their favorite sumo wrestler. They will not insult the opponent.

Sumo wrestler and referee after winning a Japan sumo wrestling match
Sumo wrestler and referee after winning match

Where and when is sumo wrestling in Japan

Attending a sumo wrestling match is a cultural experience not to be missed. But just like football, there isn’t a game every day of the year. Six tournaments per year are spread over four different cities in Japan.

A sumo tournament is organized three times a year in Tokyo; in January, in May and in September. These tournaments in Tokyo take place in Ryōgoku Kokugikan. This stadium can accommodate more than 11,000 spectators per day at sumo matches.

In March, sumo wrestling in Osaka will take place, more precisely, in Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium, also known as EDION Arena Osaka. This stadium can fit 8,000 people a day.

July is the month when the tournament takes place at the Aichi Prefectural Gymnasium, also known as the Dolphins Arena, in Nagoya. There is only room for 7,515 spectators per day.

A sumo tournament is also organized every year in the south of Japan, in Fukuoka in November. The Fukuoka Kokusai Center can accommodate 10,000 people per day.

All stadiums where the sumo tournaments are held are easily accessible by public transport. In Tokyo, the stadium is a short walk from Ryogoku Station. Tip: buy a Suica or Pasmo card, a kind of public transport card (a bit like the Oyster card in London but with more options), upon arrival at the airport.

Sumo tournaments in Japan in 2024

  • Jul 14-28, 2024 in Nagoya (ticket sales from May 25, 2024, pre-orders from end Feb)
  • Sep 8-22, 2024 in Tokyo (ticket sales from Aug 10, 2024, pre-orders from early May)
  • Nov 10-24, 2024 in Fukuoka (ticket sales from Sep 14, 2024, pre-orders from mid Aug)

Sumo tournaments in Japan in 2025

  • 12-26 Jan 2025 in Tokyo (ticket sales from 7 Dec 2024, pre-orders from end Aug)
  • 9-23 Mar 2025 in Osaka (ticket sales from 8 Feb 2025, pre-orders from mid Oct)
  • 11-25 May 2025 in Tokyo (ticket sales from 5 april 2025, pre-orders from mid Jan)
  • 13-27 Jul 2025 in Nagoya (ticket sales from 17 Mei 2025, pre-orders from end Feb)
  • 14-28 Sep 2025 in Tokyo (ticket sales from 9 Aug 2025, pre-orders from early May)
  • 9-23 Nov 2025 in Fukuoka (ticket sales from 14 Sep 2025, pre-orders from mid Aug)

In short, the dates are not exactly the same every year, but they usually do not differ much. And each tournament therefore lasts 15 days. So with 6 tournaments you can enjoy sumo wrestling in Japan for a total of 90 days a year.

Pre-orders go through BuySumoTickets, see further in this article for more information. Also regarding special events between the tournaments.

Sumo wrestlers in attacking position sumo wrestling Japan
Take the chance and visit a sumo match when you are in Japan

Sumo special events

Throughout the year there are also special sumo events in the cities: Toyota (Aichi Prefecture), Tachikawa (Tokyo Prefecture), Ryugasaki (Ibaraki Prefecture), Sendai (Miyagi Prefecture), Oyama (Tochigi Prefecture) and Kanazawa (Ishikawa Prefecture). For locations, see the map in this article. Sometimes there are also retirement ceremonies held at Ryogoku Kokugikan in Tokyo.

Tickets for special sumo events in Japan can be purchased via BuySumoTickets. When we were in Kanazawa last May, we also saw a poster of the special event in Kanasawa, mentioning this website, but all is in Japanese. Please note: everything in this article about times, seats, prices, etc. may differ for special sumo events.

At what time does the match start

The starting times vary per day. On Days 1-12 of the tournament, the lower league wrestlers will start as early as 8:40 AM. On days 13 to 15 this is at 10:30 am. The middle class wrestlers start on days 1 to 14 at 2:30 PM, on day 15 already at 1:45 PM.

Top ranking sumo wrestlers will start at 3:45 PM on days 1-14 of the tournament and at 3:00 PM on the last day. The matches end at 6:00 PM. On the final day, the trophy ceremony will take place at 5:30 PM.

Tip: I would advise you to be there around 15:00 at the latest. Then you have some time to find your place, get some food/drinks and experience the opening ceremony of the best wrestlers.

Sumo wrestling in Japan Ryogoku Kokugikan Tokyo Yokozuna
The champion class gathers around the dohyo

How to get tickets for sumo match in Japan

As you can see from the above data, the entrance tickets for sumo wrestling in Japan usually go on sale 4 to 8 weeks in advance. This differs per tournament. I would advise you to buy tickets preferably on the day of the start of ticket sales, if not within a few days afterwards, otherwise you run the risk that it is already sold out.

Tickets for a sumo tournament are available in different ways:

  • Official sumo website – collect tickets (48 hours) at local convenience store such as 7-Eleven
  • BuySumoTickets – very reliable website that can ship your tickets to your home address or hotel in Japan and also accepts pre-orders (earlier than the start dates mentioned above)
  • Stadium box office – on the morning of the match, make sure to be there no later than 07:00h. Last chance!

Tickets for the weekend days within a tournament are the most popular and will therefore sell out the fastest. The more expensive seats and boxes closest to the dohyo usually sell out earlier than the cheaper seats at the top of the stadium. And the further into the tournament, the more popular the tickets, culminating in the final on day 15.

Before the tickets go on sale, consider carefully: which dates you could go, what you would like to spend, etc. When choosing a date, keep in mind at what time and date your would arrive in Japan, which may be only the next day (such mistake is easily made, trust me, I’ve been there).

Tip: with BuySumoTickets you can specify multiple data options when you want / can. Moreover, you do not have to take into account the time difference at the start of ticket sales if you request them in advance from them.

The entrance tickets for sumo wrestling in Japan are old-fashioned officially printed tickets. They don’t do e-tickets here yet. Lost tickets cannot be reprinted.

Delivery address of your ticket purchase

Is your home country not listed as delivery option? The solution is simple: have your sumo tickets delivered to your accommodation in Japan. Jeff from BuySumoTickets: “Domestic shipping is the safest option we can offer, especially shipping to hotels. It’s also much cheaper than international shipping. People seem to be a bit wary of hotel delivery, but we ship thousands every year and never has someone missed his/her event. AirBnB is not our first choice to recommend, but it is possible, if there is no other option. We ship to accommodation for delivery 1-3 days before the customer arrives.”

The coveted tickets sumo wrestling in Japan Ryogoku Kokugikan Tokyo
The coveted tickets

Costs sumo wrestling match tickets in Japan

For the best box seat tickets (buy off 4 seats) you pay about JPY 55,200 (US$ 395). The price of an arena seat starts at about JPY 5,000 (US$ 35) per person. This is a target price; prices vary slightly between locations and by seat type. We paid EUR 98.70 (credit card) for 2 tickets Arena C during the week (including shipping to my home country The Netherlands, which was still possible at the time).

Seat types and prices

With a sumo match in Tokyo you can choose from 6 different seats:

  • Box A: 4-person seating area without backrest, 1.27m (4.2 ft) x 1.20m (3.9 ft), 16-24 meters (52-78 ft) from the ring, approx. JPY 13,800 p.p. x 4 seats
  • Box B: like Box A but 18-31 meters (59-101 ft) from the ring, approx. JPY 11,700 p.p. during the week x 4 seats
  • Box C: like Box A but 25-33 meters (82-108 ft) from the ring, approx. JPY 10,200 p.p. during the week or JPY 13,000 on weekends or holidays x 4 seats
  • Arena S: 48 cm wide ‘cinema seat’ and mini foldable table, 22-28 meters from the ring, approx. JPY 10,700 p.p. during the week
  • Arena A: class between Arena S and B, no further information about
  • Arena B: 45 cm wide seat with hard partition, 31-41 meters from the ring, approx. JPY 6,500 p.p. during the week or JPY 8,900 on weekends or holidays
  • Arena C: 45 cm wide seat with no partition between seats, 38-46 meters (125-150 ft) from the ring, approx. JPY 5,000 p.p. during the week or JPY 7,300 on weekends or holidays

The box didn’t seem comfortable to me, sitting on the floor like that. And then you are also obliged to buy off all 4 seats, which we found too expensive for just the two of us. Arena B seats are a bit too narrow for my wide hip line. I would have loved Arena S tickets, but they were already sold out, so we went for Arena C. We paid just under EUR 50 p.p. for that. Worth every penny! The BuySumoTickets website also contains photos of the different chairs and boxes per location/tournament.

Ryogoku Kokugikan Tokyio sumo wrestling Japan match seats

 

Other tips sumo wrestling Japan

  • Never drank sake and/or eaten yakitori? Grab your chance in the stadium.
  • Bringing your own food and drinks is officially not allowed, only a reusable water bottle. In practice, however, many people do. Bags are not checked upon entry.
  • All kinds of sumo fan items are for sale in the stadium. Scarves and buttons are popular. Fun and cheap: the Christmas tree figures in the gumball machines in the hallway (coin JPY 500).
  • If you have wide hips, try to get an Arena S seats, which are slightly wider.
  • Dress code: The Japanese usually go to a sumo match dressed neatly, including kimono (women) and suits (men). It really is an important outing!

Sumo wrestling: attend a training

Did you unfortunately not manage to get a ticket for a sumo match? Or are you not on the right dates in Japan? Or do you really want to get the complete experience? Then book a sumo tour in Tokyo. Also fun with kids! These are the options I recommend:

As far as I understand, children under 4 years old can attend sumo matches for free, I would not recommend going to a sumo match with small children. It’s a martial art after all. I also saw almost only adults in the stadium. But that’s for each parent to decide for themselves. Teenagers can.

Do you also want to meet a sumo wrestler in the flesh sumo wrestling Japan
Do you also want to meet a sumo wrestler in person?

Where to eat after sumo match in Tokyo

Because the sumo matches mainly take place in the afternoon, it is the perfect opportunity to have a bite to eat in the area afterwards. Since you will not be the only one with that idea, it is very wise to book a table in advance if you want to eat out near the Ryogoku stadium.

Sumo wrestlers apparently love Chanko Nabe, a kind of well-filled soup with vegetables, meat and/or fish. Some call it a “stew”, or stew. But because of the amount of liquid added, it felt more like a filled soup in a pan (hotpot) to me. Often you can choose a soup / sauce flavor. At the restaurant where we ate there was one flavor, duck, which turned out to be very tasty.

The hotpot comes with fresh ingredients and hot water with flavor on the table, with a gas burner underneath. It often has to bubble for about 10 to 20 minutes before it can be eaten. Officially slurping is allowed then, but do it nicely if I’m not there haha

The map below shows a number of Chanko Nabe restaurants near the Ryogoku stadium. Since most of them were already full, we had to search. We hit Tokitsunami; it is a little further walk from the stadium but well worth it, it felt very authentic. The father of the owner of the restaurant was also a sumo wrestler. And ideally located, diagonally opposite our hotel. You can roll home like this haha

Map to experience sumo wrestling in Tokyo

This map includes places and spots mentioned in this article (and more). This one is ‘smartphone friendly’; you can easily use it via the Google Maps app. Click the icon at the top left to open the menu and see the categories. To adapt the map to your own preferences and interests, (de)select a category. Via Google Drive you can copy the map to your own My Google Maps account.

Best accommodation sumo wrestling in Tokyo

At The Gate Hotel Ryogoku by HULIC you are ideally located opposite the stadium and is super new. Both the terrace below on the river side and the roof terrace have a nice location. The APA Hotel & Resort Ryogoku Eki Tower is also literally around the corner and is competitively priced. But you have to be quick, because around the sumo matches these hotel rooms are so fully booked.

We stayed at the Dai-ichi Hotel Ryogoku. Although a 7-minute walk away from the stadium, it is very doable. Directly opposite the hotel is a Family Mart and a good Chanko Nabe restaurant. Ryogoku Station is a few minutes walk down the street.

Usually when I am in Tokyo, I stay at Apartment Hotel Shinjuku. But for the night after the sumo match it seemed more practical to stay closer to the stadium. Otherwise you will have to take the metro for more than half an hour after the game (which is also quite doable of course).

Dai-ichi Hotel Ryogoku Tokyo
Dai-ichi Hotel Ryogoku
The Gate Hotel Ryogoku by HULIC in Tokyo opposite the sumo stadium
The Gate Hotel Ryogoku by HULIC roof top terrace

What else to do in Ryogoku e.o.

Ryogoku is a relatively quiet neighborhood in eastern Tokyo, especially the streets around the Dai-ichi Hotel Ryogoku for example. Especially at night there are not many people on the street, even after such a big sumo match. A really different atmosphere than in Shinjuku, Shibuya or Harajuku, for example.

The Ryogoku district is home to one of Tokyo’s most important museums, the Edo-Tokyo Museum. Sadly, it will be closed for major renovations until sometime in 2025. But dear museum lovers, don’t worry; you will also find the Japanese Sword Museum, Touken, here.

Before or during the break of the sumo match you can take a relaxing walk in the Kyu-Yasuda Teien Gardens, which is located near the Ryogoku stadium.

Across the street from the main entrance of the Ryogoku stadium is The Gate Hotel Ryogoku by HULIC‘s Anchor Restaurant. There you can sit on the terrace overlooking the river, for lunch or a refreshing drink, for example.

Do you feel like escaping the hustle and bustle of the city and going to the spa? Relaxing floating in the warm water, possibly getting a massage… Edo-yu Ryogoku is the place to be.

Not in Ryogoku itself, but so close that I can’t leave it unmentioned: Tokyo Skytree. Half an hour’s walk or 10 minutes by public transport and you’re there. With 634 meters the highest tower in the world!

During the wisteria season (mid April to early May usually) you could take a look at the Kameido Tenjin Shrine, which is located in a neighborhood next to Ryogoku. It is a 38-minute walk or 18 minutes by public transport.

Thanks to Peter van Hal, who visited many sumo tournaments and inspired me to do the same.

Have you ever been to a sumo match in Japan, or would you like to? Hopefully you found this an interesting and inspiring article about sumo wrestling in Japan. Feel free to ask a question or share an additional tip via a comment at the bottom of this article.

Read more about Japan

On this website you will find many more articles about Japan:

  1. Special experience: meeting a geisha or maiko in Japan
  2. Onsen in Japan: relax in a traditional hot spring ryokan
  3. Cherry blossom hunting in Japan: Matsumoto Castle and Joya Park
  4. Robot hotel in Japan, the coolest and weirdest hotel experience ever!
  5. Walk the amazing Nakasendo Trail from Magome to Tsumago
  6. Japan: what you need to know about the JR Train Pass
  7. Kyoto: don’t miss these fun temples near Arashiyama bamboo forest
  8. Japan: fantastic places beyond the Golden Triangle Tokyo – Kyoto – Osaka
  9. Japan: Miyajima Island & Hiroshima, a recommended and wonderful combo
  10. Riding my bicycle around Mount Fuji, Chureito Pagoda and Lake Kawaguchiko
  11. Tokyo: 25 fun things to do in a mind-blowing metropolitan
  12. Tokyo’s Fun Food Fairytales at themed restaurants and cafes
  13. Visiting the unique Jigokudani Yaen-koen Snow Monkey Park in Japan

To stay informed of the latest Japan articles on this website, I recommend that you subscribe to the Flitter Fever travel blog newsletter and/or follow the Flitter Fever Facebook page. We have just returned from our last tour of Japan and I am full of inspiration, so many more articles will follow. Take a look at our latest Japan tour on Polar Steps (in Dutch, sorry).


This article contains affiliate links to support this website. It does not cost you anything extra if you buy something after clicking on one of those links. Partner websites that I am affiliated with, reward me with a small commission for making useful connections between buyers and their service or product. This helps to cover the costs for this website. Consider it as a compliment for my work. For more information click here.

Don’t want to order anything via these links but would like to support me to continue to create new content? You can always buy me a glass of wine or take a look at my partner page. Thanks in advance & enjoy your next trip!

Last Updated on 05/28/2024 by Elisa Flitter Fever

You may also like

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

error: Content is protected !!