Top 10 Things to Do in Tokyo’s Ryogoku District, Home of Sumo Wrestling, in 2018

  • Ryogoku (両国) is one of the districts in Sumida (墨田区), Tokyo (東京). Located northeast of the capital, Ryogoku is widely known as a sumo (相撲) town with sumo statues in different fighting positions, handprints and portraits of sumo wrestlers, and large murals adorning its calm and quiet neighborhood. Wandering around is like traveling back in time where you can learn more about the history of Tokyo and appreciate sumo as one of Japan’s traditional sports. Here are the top 10 things to do in the area!

    1. Watch a sumo match at the Kokugikan Sumo Stadium (国技館)

    The Kokugikan Sumo Stadium is where three (January, May, and September) of the six national sumo tournaments take place every year. With a capacity of more than 10,000 seats, the stadium is always crowded with visitors and sumo enthusiasts during the tournament season. This relaxed and peaceful area can turn into a bustling one as people from different places gather to witness spectacular battles between sumo wrestlers.

    A Sumo Museum (相撲博物館) is also available during the off-season (on tournament days, the museum is only open to ticket holders). Various materials related to sumo wrestling such as woodblock prints and ceremonial aprons worn by high-ranking sumo wrestlers are displayed here. Entrance to the museum is free of charge.

    Booking Details: Get Tickets for the Sumo Wrestling Tournament in Tokyo

    2. See a sumo practice

    If you happen to be in Tokyo when there are no scheduled tournaments, do not worry as you can still catch the sumo action by visiting a sumo stable. Some sumo stables, or “beya” in Japanese, accommodate foreign tourists to see their early morning training called “asageiko (朝稽古)” during the non-tournament season. You can also get a chance to have your picture taken with a sumo wrestler at the end of their practice.

    Some of the sumo stables in Ryogoku that have morning practices open to the public are Dewanoumi Beya (出羽海部屋 – Japanese only), Hakkaku Beya (八角部屋 – Japanese only), Kasugano Beya (春日野部屋), and Kokonoe Beya (九重部屋 – Japanese only). Some of them, however, require an advanced reservation to watch a sumo practice. Others also require having a companion who is fluent in Japanese. It is advisable to call beforehand (you may ask a hotel staff to do it for you) and inquire about the requirements and schedule before going to your preferred venue.

    Sumo wrestlers regard their sport as a sacred one and it is important to follow and observe the following rules while watching their practice:

    • Be still, keep quiet, and avoid whispering so as not to distract the sumo wrestlers.
    • Food and drinks are not allowed inside the stable. Chewing of gum is also not allowed.
    • Remove your shoes and sit on the designated place with your feet not pointing at the ring or dohyo.
    • Do not go inside the ring as this is a sacred place for the sumo wrestlers.
    • You can take pictures as long as the shutter sound and flash are turned off.

    Booking Details: Watch Early Morning Sumo Training in Tokyo at a Sumo Stable

    3. Learn the history of Tokyo at the Edo-Tokyo Museum (江戸東京博物館)

    The Edo-Tokyo Museum presents the capital city’s transformation from the year 1600 (Edo period) up to the present. It tells various subjects such as the history, way of life of the townspeople, economic activities, and culture that contributed to today’s Tokyo.

    A vast array of fun and interactive models and materials are displayed in the Permanent Exhibition Area of the museum. A life-size replica of the Nihonbashi Bridge (日本橋) which symbolizes the trade and commercialism of Edo (former name of Tokyo) is also found here. The museum also has a Special Exhibition Area featuring different aspects related to Tokyo. The exhibits in the Special Gallery are different from those in the Permanent Exhibition. Admission fees to both exhibits are charged separately.

    Furthermore, volunteer guides are also available for visitors who want to be guided throughout the museum. Take note, however, that an advanced reservation is required to avail of this service.

    Other facilities found in the museum are cafes and restaurants that serve both Japanese and Western cuisines, a library, and a museum shop to cap off your visit.

    Edo-Tokyo Museum Website

    4. Appreciate the Japanese art of ukiyo-e (浮世絵) at the Sumida Hokusai Museum (すみだ北斎美術館)

    The Sumida Hokusai Museum is named after Katsushika Hokusai (葛飾北斎; 1760 to 1849), a world-renowned ukiyo-e (woodblock printing and painting) artist. This museum features some of Hokusai’s works including one of his masterpieces, “The Great Wave off Kanagawa.”

    The museum’s permanent exhibition shows high-definition replicas of some of Hokusai’s notable works with extensive information about it. The special or temporary exhibition displays the artist’s original works, including original woodblocks. The museum also demonstrates Hokusai’s life, particularly his life and work in Sumida where he spent most of his entire life.

    Sumida Hokusai Museum Website

    5. Visit Yokoamicho Park (横網町公園)

    Yokoamicho Park was built in 1930 with two facilities dedicated to the victims of natural disaster and war, namely the Kanto Earthquake Memorial Museum (復興記念館) and the Tokyo Memorial Hall (東京都慰霊堂).

    The Kanto Earthquake Memorial Museum tells the tragedy that occurred on September 1st of 1923 wherein a massive earthquake hit Kanto (関東) area, including Tokyo. Evacuees went to this empty lot supposedly for shelter and protection, however, a ghastly fire swept the area causing to kill thousands of people. Various pictures, paintings, and artifacts are found in this museum to remember the great disaster that shocked the nation.

    The Tokyo Memorial Hall was also built in 1930 in memory of the victims of the Great Kanto earthquake. In 1951, the hall was reconstructed and victims of the 1945 Tokyo air raid bombings during World War II are also enshrined in this place.

    The memorial hall and museum both offer free admission. Opening hours are from 9:00 AM to 4:30 PM (closed on Mondays).

    Yokoamicho Park Website

    6. Eat chanko nabe (ちゃんこ鍋)

    Chanko nabe is a traditional food of sumo wrestlers. It is a hot pot dish of various meat and vegetables simmered in seasoned broth. Many restaurants in Ryogoku serve this high-calorie food as their specialty. Some of which are Kawasaki (川﨑), Chanko Kirishima (ちゃんこ霧島), Chanko Tomoegata (ちゃんこ巴潟), Chanko Tomoji (ちゃんこ 友路), Kappo Chanko Ouchi (割烹ちゃんこ 大内), and Sumouchaya Terao (相撲茶屋 寺尾). Some chanko nabe restaurants are actually owned by retired sumo wrestlers.

    7. Relax at Kyu-Yasuda Garden (旧安田庭園)

    Kyu-Yasuda Garden (translated as “Former Yasuda Garden”) was reportedly built during the Genroku era (元禄; 1688 to 1703) by Honjo Inabanokami Munesuke of Hitachi Kasama Domain (常陸国笠間藩主本庄因幡守宗資). In 1891, the garden was taken over by Zenjiro Yasuda (安田善次郎), one of Japan’s best entrepreneurs of all time. It was then later donated to the government in 1922 as part of his last will.

    This Japanese-style garden had seen and witnessed the war and calamity that destroyed the city. After World War II and the Great Kanto earthquake, this small garden had been renovated and restored to its former glory.

    Opened to the public in 1971, this beautiful garden with a red arched bridge, bonsai plants, stone lanterns, small shrines, and a pond will help you relax and take a glimpse of what a typical garden looked like during the olden times.

    The park is open from 9:00 AM until 4:30 PM, which extends until 6:00 PM from June to September. Admission to the park is free.

    Kyu-Yasuda Garden Website *Automatic translation available

    8. Visit Eko-in Temple (回向院)

    Eko-in Temple is a Jodo Sect (浄土宗) Buddhist temple with a history dating back to 1657 when the Great Fire of Meireki (明暦の大火), also known as Furisode Kaji (振袖火事) or Kimono Fire, destroyed more than 60% of Edo and claimed the lives of more than 100,000 people. The fourth shogun of the Tokugawa shogunate, Ietsuna (徳川家綱), granted a land that would serve as a resting place for the victims of the said tragedy. Most of the victims did not have surviving relatives to pray for them, thus a monument for all their souls called “Banninzuka (万人塚)” was constructed and a great memorial service was conducted for them. Eko-in Temple was also built at the same time for prayer offerings and memorial chants for the dead.

    The grounds of Eko-in Temple also served as a place for sumo tournaments in 1768. It continued to be the main venue for sumo wrestling until 1909, when hosting of the sumo matches was moved to the newly built Ryogoku Kokugikan Sumo Stadium.

    There are a few famous names buried in this temple and one of them is Nakamura Jirokichi (中村次郎吉) who is also known as Nezumi Kozo (鼠小僧; 1797 to 1831). Nezumi Kozo, which literally means “Rat Boy,” is a thief and folk hero. He was known to have stolen money from more than 100 samurai estates and it is believed that the money was given to the poor, thus dubbing him as the “Robin Hood of Japan.” Before his captivity and death, Kozo was able to file divorces from his wives to spare them from sharing the same punishment that he had to deal with.

    Eko-in Temple Website *Japanese only

    9. See where the 47 Ronin (赤穂浪士) attacked at Honjo Matsuzaka-cho Park (本所松坂町公園)

    Honjo Matsuzaka-cho Park is a section of Lord Kira Yoshinaka’s (吉良義央) residence where the legendary 47 Ronin (masterless samurai) attacked. The story began when the 47 ronin avenged the death of their master, Asano Naganori (浅野長矩), by killing his enemy, Lord Kira. The ronin chopped off Kira’s head while sleeping, after which it was offered back to their master’s tomb before committing suicide. The well used to wash the decapitated head of Kira is still standing on this site, which recounts the story of what happened on that fateful night.

    Honjo Matsuzaka-cho Park Website

    10. Buy sumo-related souvenirs

    There are shops in Ryogoku that sell sumo-themed items which you can take home as a souvenir to commemorate your visit.

    The first one is the Kokugikan Shop. Located at the Kokugikan Sumo Stadium, this shop sells numerous items related to sumo such as mugs, towels, fans, and bags among others.

    Another known shop in the area is Ryogoku-Takahashi (両国高はし). Opened since 1912, this shop also sells various sumo-related items such as pillows, fans, bento boxes, magnets, and many more. It is open from 9:30 AM to 7:00 PM every day except on Sundays.

    Kokugikan Shop Website *Japanese only

    Ryogoku-Takahashi Website *Japanese only

    Among these several things to do in Ryogoku, which ones are you interested in? Why not spend some time strolling around the area to discover the way of life of sumo wrestlers, as well as to understand the history and culture of Tokyo? Ryogoku has so much to offer which makes a visit to this serene neighborhood worthwhile!