Watching sumo in Japan is an amazing experience, but you’ll want to make sure you plan ahead & know what you’re in for. Luckily, we’ve got it all spelled out below:
1. Plan Your Trip At The Right Time
Japan’s Grand Sumo Tournaments are only held a handful of times throughout the year. If you’re looking to check this one off your bucket list, make sure to check the official schedule (you can find the 2017 schedule here) and plan your trip accordingly. Otherwise, you may have to settle for visiting a sumo stable and watching a practice session. If you have to settle for this, it can be booked through a variety of sites including Viator.
It’s also important to note that not all tournaments are in Tokyo. Luckily, Japan is small and fairly easy to get around. We attended one Edion Arena in Osaka, just 2.5 hours from Tokyo on a Shinkansen train.
2. Purchase Tickets Well In Advance
If you’re planning to go on a weekend, this is twice as important. Since these tournaments are only held a few times a year, tickets sell out fast. Don’t think you’ll be able to show up at the venue on the day of and get in. Even on a weekday, you’ll want to secure tickets ahead of time – especially if you’re attending one of the Tokyo tournaments.
Usually, tickets go on sale about a month before each tournament starts. However, if you book through this channeler, you can preorder tickets even earlier.
3. Understand The Different Seating Options
There are 4 basic seating options you’ll have to choose from: Ringside, Box Seats, Arena Seats and General Admission.
Ringside Seats are known to be pretty much impossible for foreigners to obtain, so if you’re dead-set on these, you’ll probably need to find a travel agent in Japan to help you.
For the ‘Arena’ seats, you’ll have foldout chairs just like a baseball stadium. These are the most common seating option and what I would advise going for. Based on the section you choose, these are anywhere from $30-$100 USD.
There are also ‘Box’ options, which usually consist of pillow-style floor seating for 4 people (as is customary with floor seating, you’ll be expected to remove your shoes). Just keep in mind that you have to buy the entire box, which means 4 tickets.
Lastly, if the event doesnt sell out completely, you can buy GA tickets at the arena on the day of. They’re usually really cheap (around $20 USD) but you’re really winging it to get into the event. If you’re able to go this route, you’ll have access to a certain ‘section’. Go early to make sure you can claim an available seat.
4. Reserve Tickets Online & Have Them Sent To Your Hotel
If you choose to preorder tickets through BuySumoTickets.com, you’ll have a few options for having them delivered. Personally, I think the easiest is to have them sent to your hotel in Japan. As long as you’ve already made hotel reservations in your name, the front desk can hold them for you until you check in. This made everything so easy for us! We didn’t have to worry about any confusion or delays with internationally shipping the tickets, and the postage fee is much less since you are shipping within Japan. We booked our sumo tickets months in advance and they were waiting on us at check-in!
5. Read Up On Sumo Rules & History
Lots of people (us included!) make the mistake of planning for sumo, securing tickets, etc, and then they get there and realize they have no idea what’s going on. Sumo seemed easy enough to understand (they’re wrestling – how hard can it be to follow?), but once we started watching we realized there was a lot more to it! The rikishi (wrestlers) are dressed and even have their hair styled based on ancient traditions. And all of the stomping and stretching before the match starts? There’s actually a method to all of it.
I highly suggest reading up on the rules & history of sumo before you go. This website has a great guide to get you started!
6. Plan The Best Time To Arrive
Although the sumo matches generally start at around 8am and run the entire day, you probably won’t want to get there first thing in the morning and stay all day long. Most people arrive between 2-3 pm, and stay for the evening matches. The atmosphere gets a little more exciting later on in the day, and you’ll get to see some of the higher ranked rishikis compete.
Side Note: If you arrive a little on the early side, take the chance to sneak down into the lower sections. Although we failed to do our research on this, plenty of other spectators say they had no problem sneaking down into some of the closer seats for a better look. You’ll get a whole new appreciation for the rikishis’ size, and a closer look at things you wouldn’t have caught onto (i.e. intimidating facial expressions). If you get caught in someone’s seat, just politely get up and apologize (playing the dumb foreigner card works well here!).
You can also hang around outside for a glimpse of some of the contestants!
7. Be Prepared For No English Commentary
This one seems like a given, but it’s worth mentioning. Everything’s in Japanese. Although there’s an announcer, he won’t be much help. The only tiny bit of info you’ll get is in the program. It’s not much, but make sure to pick up an English copy for names of the rikishi and some history on sumo. Other than that, you’re on your own!
8. Bring Snacks
You aren’t *technically* allowed to bring in outside food or drinks, but no one checks your bags at the entrance. Although food is sold at most tournaments, it seems like almost everyone is on board with the BYO plan. Some of the Japanese attendees get pretty brazen with this and bring in entire coolers, so you really don’t have to worry. Just stop at your nearest 7-11 and grab a few beers and some snacks – you’ll be good to go!
P.S. Here’s a photo of one contestant spotted outside McDonald’s after his match. We got a good kick out of this!
9. Make Sure To Stay For A Ceremonial Entrance
These happen a few times throughout the day, and in my opinion they’re worth sticking around to watch. Wearing elaborate aprons, the contestants make a single file entrance into the arena. They’re then announced one by one until they form a circle on top of the dohyo (wrestling ring). It’s a great chance to see who’s about to compete, and get a shot of all the contestants together!
Hope you enjoyed! 🙂 For more ideas on what to do in Japan, click here to read 12 Spectacular Things You Absolutely Can’t Miss In Tokyo.