Sumo Wrestling: A Complete Overview and How to Get Sumo Tickets

Grand Sumo Tournament Ryogoku Stadium Experiences

Sumo (相撲, sumō), the Japanese style of intense contact wrestling, is a very popular activity amongst both locals and tourists (as a spectator that is). Not many people practice Japan’s national sport as the wrestlers need to adopt a very strict and disciplined lifestyle. The rules of sumo are fairly easy to understand and the matches tend to be short, but intense. Together with the many rituals and traditions, as well as excitement, the tournaments attract large crowds and tickets often sell out within the hour! When you visit Japan, we highly recommend that you try to squeeze in some time to watch this exciting sport. Let us explain to you everything that you need to know about the sport, as well as how to get sumo tickets for the grand sumo tournaments!

Check out our Sumo Tours!
We offer special sumo tours including a grand tournament tour and daily morning practice tours at a number of different sumo stables. Don’t miss out on a great opportunity to watch sumo up close with a local and knowledgeable English-speaking guide!

*The May 2024 Tokyo tournament tours are now available! Book yours before they sell out!*
The Tokyo Grand Tournament takes place on May 12-26, 2024. We offer the tours every day during the tournament!

The Best Sumo Tours
Discover the fascinating world of sumo wrestling with our special and exciting tours! We offer the Grand Sumo Tournament...

▼If you answer the quick survey, you can get a 10% discount for the sumo tours!
Sumo Tournament Seats Preference Survey

What is Sumo?

famous sumo

Sumo, or sumo wrestling, is a form of competitive contact wrestling that originated in Japan and is said to have first started hundreds if not thousands of years ago. To put it simply, the name of the game is trying to force your opponent out of the ring or get any body part other than the soles of their feet to touch the ground.

History of Sumo

In ancient times sumo originated as a performance to entertain the Shinto deities. Legends say that sumo was practiced by the gods, before being handed down to the people long long ago. However, sumo didn’t actually become a form of public entertainment until the 16th century, especially during the Edo Period. Before this, sumo wrestling was repurposed from a performance for the gods to a form of combat training that was used by samurai.

Stuart Rankin, (CC BY-NC 2.0), via flickr

Once it started to get bigger and more popular among the public, it wasn’t uncommon for daimyo to sponsor individual wrestlers. It is said that the famous daimyo and one of the ‘Unifiers’ of Japan Oda Nobunaga became a big fan of the sport and even held a tournament in the 1570’s in which 1500 wrestlers participated! This is thought to be where the Dohyo (ring) made its first appearance, which is a major part of the sport today. Sumo had its ups and downs over the next few hundred years but made a big comeback in the late 1800’s when a tournament was organized by Emperor Meiji. From here on out small rules/additions were put in place and it became the sport it is today.

Sumo Wrestling Rules and Customs

There are many rules/rituals in Sumo that have their roots in religion, most relating to Shintoism. As previously mentioned, the way that a wrestler wins a match is by getting their opponent out of the ring or getting any body part other than the soles of their feet to touch the ground in the ring. There are lots of ways of ‘winning’ a match, or kimarite(winning techniques), as well as a few that can get you disqualified.

Cesar I. Martins, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The rituals, customs, and ceremonies of sumo have a long history and are still a huge part of the sport today. You may have seen a few of the main ones such as a ceremony when entering the dohyo(ring) in their flashy mawashi(loincloth), tossing salt into the ring to purify it, rinsing of the mouth before a bout, shikiri(warm up before the bout), as well as the acceptance of their win that often comes with a nice chunk of cash.

Sumo Wrestlers: Rikishi

Sumo Grand Tournament

The appearance of the rikishi is very striking and traditional; their samurai-like hairstyle chonmage originates from the Edo period. The samurai used chonmage to hold their helmets steady atop their heads in battle. Also, the only piece of clothing is the belt called the mawashi. The mawashi is worn before, during, and after the game. The upper-ranked professional wrestlers wear a keshō-mawashi during the ring entry ceremony.

Divisions, Ranking Hierarchy

The professional rikishi are divided into six divisions. The wrestlers are classified in a ranking hierarchy [banzuke], that is updated after each tournament based on the wrestlers’ performance. The top Makunouchi division is subdivided into five ranks: Yokozuna at the pinnacle, followed by Ozeki, Sekiwake, Komusubi, and Maegashira. The second division is called Juryo.
Fun fact: in sumo there are no weight restrictions or classes, meaning that your opponent can be many times your own size! As a result, weight gain is an essential part of sumo training. 

Grand Sumo Tournaments

Sumo Kokugikan

Every year six Grand Sumo tournaments “本場所 [Honbasho]” are held. Occurring on the odd months, each tournament starts and ends on a Sunday and last 15 days.

  •             January, May, and September at Ryogoku Kokugikan in Tokyo.
  •             March in Osaka.
  •             July in Nagoya.
  •             November in Fukuoka. 
Ryogoku Kokugikan

Tournaments start at 8:00am with matches between lower-ranked wrestlers. Around 3:30pm the ring-entering ceremony [dohyō-iri] of stronger wrestlers starts. Reserve at least three hours and to make the most out of your experience we recommend you go together with a guide. A guide will tell you about the history and traditions of sumo so you understand the sport better and have a great experience.
Grand Sumo Tournament Guided Tours

How and When to Get Sumo Tickets

The official tickets are usually released one month prior to the tournament’s first day. However, getting tickets can be tricky as they are very popular and often sell out within the hour!

But don’t worry, you can still get tickets for the tournament! We offer a sumo tournament tour in which one of our trusty English-speaking guides will take you to the tournament and explain everything you need to know about sumo. And rest assured, the tickets are included in the tour!

May 2024 Tokyo Sumo Tournament Tickets On Sale Now!

Those of you who visit Japan during one of the six Grand Sumo Tournaments should certainly take the opportunity to go. It will surely be one of the most exciting things you do in Japan and allow you to feel the atmosphere of sumo culture! We offer tours available every day during the tournament. Book the tour now before they sell out!

📅Date: May 12-26, 2024
📍Meet up: JR Ryogoku Station
⏰Time: 2:30pm-6pm
🎫Price: ¥18,500(Standard B Seats, per person)

Availability for May Sumo Grand Tournament

Which Seats Should You Book?

Ringside Seats

Ringside seats are the seats right in front of the dohyo and are the closest to the action. You will have the chance to see the wrestlers up close and these seats can make for a great experience, and the wrestlers may even fall on top of you! However, these seats can be very hard to get and are often reserved for people associated with the sumo and VIPs. They are more expensive than the other options but aren’t impossible to obtain.

Box Seats

A view from Box seats

Box seats are all on the first floor and also give you a great view of the dohyo and bouts. These seats come in a set of 4 seats, and you have to buy them as a package. They are cheaper than the above mentioned ringside seats, and can also be a little tough to get depending on the tournament and day. These seats are divided into 4 main sections; S, A, B, and C seats. The S seats are closest to the dohyo right behind the ringside seats, and the C seats are at the very back of the first floor. Be aware that these are cushion seats, there is no backrest, and you need to take your shoes off when sitting here.

Limited tours with a first-floor box seat are now available for May 14 and 16, 2024 on our website!

📅Date: May 14 and 16, 2024
📍Meet up: JR Ryogoku Station
⏰Time: 2:30pm-6pm
🎫Price: ¥100,000 (per B or C-Class Box Seat)
*typically fits up to 4 guests

Stand Seats (chair seats)

A view from S-Class stand seats

The most common and readily available type of seating is the stand seats which are all on the 2nd floor of the arena and are individual fold-down chair seats. These are the least expensive seats and are usually divided into 4 different sections; S, A, B, and C seats. The S seats are at the very front of the 2nd floor seating and the C seats are at the very top. Although you may think that these might be the worst seats as they are the most high up, the arena itself isn’t all that big and you will have a pretty good view of the dohyo no matter where you are watching from.

S-Class Stand Seats are now available on our website!
📅Date: May 12-26, 2024
📍Meet up: JR Ryogoku Station
⏰Time: 2:30pm-6pm
🎫Price: ¥27,000 (per person)

▼Please answer the quick survey and get a 10% discount for the tours!
Sumo Tournament Seats Preference Survey

Fun Things to Do at Kokugikan during the Tournaments

Eat a Bowl of Chanko Nabe

As mentioned earlier, chanko nabe is the famous sumo wrestler food that is eaten by them pretty much on a daily. It’s great to go to an actual restaurant and eat a big bowl of the delicious hot pot, but if you are in Kokugikan, you can try a small bowl on the spot for only 500 yen! Head to the basement where they serve the delicious hot bowl of deliciousness for everyone.

Buy Sumo Goods

When you make the trip to Kokugikan, you will want something to remember it by. There are plenty of sumo goods such as each wrestler’s towels, magazines, keychains, T-shirts, snacks, and much much more. Leave the arena with a full belly, in a good mood, and with something that you will always remember the day by.

See the Sumo Trophy Case

As soon as you walk into Kokugikan, one of the first things you will see and walk by is the big trophy case. This is where the tournament trophy sits until the end of the tournament when it is awarded to the winner. It can be fun to take a picture alongside the trophy before it is taken out of the case at the end of the tournament.

Drink Beer and Eat Tasty Stadium Food

If you are planning on spending a good chunk of your day at the arena, you will surely get hungry and thirsty at some point. Luckily, there are lots of concessions that have delicious food and cold drinks. They sell world-famous yakitori that is grilled at Kokugikan, as well as top-notch katsu sandwiches, ice cream, and french fries. And what would a sports event be without some cold beer straight from the tap? There is plenty of beer and other drinks sold throughout the arena as well.

Take a Picture with a Sumo Cutout

Right outside of the Kokugikan building you will find a number of different sumo wrestler cutouts where you can have your picture taken. This always adds to the fun and can be another great way to remember the day.

Yagura Daiko (Taiko Drumming)

Before the start of the tournament for the day, and after all of the Makunouchi bouts are over, you will hear the beating sound of taiko drums outside of the arena. This is a great way to both start and end the day, and it only adds to the amazing sumo atmosphere that Ryogoku and Kokugikan hold.

Watch Sumo Wrestlers Practice at Sumo Stables

Arashio Stable where the three brothers (Wakatakakage, Wakamotoharu, and Wakatakamoto) practice

Sumo wrestlers [rikishi] live together in a sumo stable, under the strict regime of the stable master. The sumo stable is the place where they live, train, and sleep together. Almost every morning they practice and have serious and energetic practice matches. In the greater Tokyo Region, approximately 40 sumo stables can be found, many of which are located in the Ryogoku area.

How to Visit a Sumo Stable

A small number of sumo stables welcome people to come and see the morning practice. However, there are strict rules and manners to being the audience. All sumo stables require that tourists are accompanied by someone who is fluent in Japanese and familiar with the customs of the sumo world. Furthermore, visitors are expected to follow the house rules strictly and not disturb the training session. In practice, it is very difficult for foreign tourists to find a way to visit a stable on their own. Instead, the recommended way to witness a morning practice is to join a guided tour.

See all of our sumo stable tours here

*Please note that during the Grand Sumo Tournaments, there is morning practice but it finishes earlier than usual. And during the tournaments in Osaka, Fukuoka or Nagoya, there is no morning practice in Tokyo.

Try Wrestler’s Staple Food, Chanko Nabe (Hot Pot)

In addition to your visit to the stables, you can also experience the food culture of sumo. Sumo wrestlers follow a strict diet, taking in approximately 20,000 calories each day! The most popular food cooked and eaten by sumo wrestlers is Chanko Nabe, or Hot Pot. This dish is rich in protein and includes a variety of ingredients that are soaked into warm soup.

Other Sumo Things to Do in Tokyo

For centuries, Tokyo has been the sumo capital of Japan, especially Tokyo’s Ryogoku district. In Ryogoku many sumo stables are located as well as the Kokugikan sumo stadium where three of the six annual tournaments are held. In this district, you will be able to find many sumo-related attractions.

Sumo Museum

The Sumo Museum is housed inside the Ryogoku Kokugikan Sumo Hall. The museum has a wide range of materials related to the history of sumo on display, from woodblock prints and official listings of the rank, and banzuke, to the ceremonial aprons worn by the great Rikishi of the past. 

Sumō Museum
1-3-28 Yokoami, Sumida, Tokyo 130-0015
Open weekdays 10am – 4:30pm

Ekoin Temple

The Ekoin Temple is the spiritual home of sumo and has hosted many tournaments before the first Ryogoku Kokugikan was built in 1909. Those days, the sumo tournaments were held outdoors at the temple, just a short walk from Ryogoku Station. Today, you can see a stone monument on the temple grounds that honors past rikishi and stable masters.

Ekoin temple
2-8-10 Ryōgoku, Sumida City, Tokyo 130-0026
Open daily 9am – 4:30pm

Sumo at Universities

Some universities have sumo club and they do practice hard. These students are the future of sumo wrestling in Japan and the training is equally to the professional sumo wrestling training. It is a unique experience to see sumo by future professional sumo wrestler.

Regional Sumo Tournament

Every year sumo wrestlers will go on a provincial tour that covers different areas. These always take place outside the Tokyo Grand Sumo Tournament period. Please check the official website of Nihon Sumo Kyokai for the up-to-date schedule.

Sumo Tours in Tokyo

Sumo wrestling is something that you can only experience in Japan. Being the location for 3 of the 6 tournaments throughout the year, Tokyo is the best place to immerse yourself in this fascinating part of Japanese culture. Sumo is a pretty complex sport and therefore the best way to go see a Tournament is with a fun and knowledgeable English-speaking guide. There are tours where you can see one of the 6 national tournaments, but there are also tours where you can watch the Rikishi(wrestlers) up close during their morning practice!

Have a look at all of the sumo tours that we offer in Tokyo below

The Best Sumo Tours
Discover the fascinating world of sumo wrestling with our special and exciting tours! We offer the Grand Sumo Tournament...

Sumo is something that is a huge part of Japanese culture and is a must-see if you are visiting Japan. There is truly nothing like experiencing a sumo tournament live or going to see a sumo morning practice session. We hope you learned a thing about sumo in Japan and that you have a chance to get your sumo tickets and see it live next time you visit!

▼Please answer the quick survey and get a 10% discount for the tours!
Sumo Tournament Seats Preference Survey

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