Japan is known for a wide variety of things – beautiful scenery from sakura blossoms to Mount Fuji, amazing food (anything from natto to sushi) and a fast and easy transportation system. However, no sport is as tied to Japan as sumo is.
For the uninitiated, sumo has quite a long history dating back over 1500 years! It is quite a remarkable achievement of strength, skill and dexterity. Sumo wrestlers train for years from a young age just for the honor of competing at the grand master level tournaments. For those wanting to see one live, just getting a ticket can be mind boggling. Once you get past the Japanese webpage, there is a myriad of rules and regulations, not to mention price differences for stadium seating versus floor seating. Because it is so popular, it is not unheard of for the matches to be sold out, especially the last days of a tournament where the finale culminates in an ultimate fight between sumo masters.
So how does one get in to see a sumo match, much less be able to do it for free? Especially in Tokyo? Luckily there are plenty of sumo venues that will let you watch practices for free. One can even sit, eat and talk with sumo wrestlers live over chanko-nabe – a communal sit down hot pot which the wrestlers devour on a daily basis to keep their weight requirements. These morning practices, or “keiko” in Japanese matches are usually free and can be easily found in multiple places from Hamacho to Ryogoku.
However, if you are lucky enough to be in Tokyo near the end of hanami or cherry blossom season, there is a free match held yearly at the Yasukuni Shrine. Usually held in early April (April 18th this year) the sumo matches are held in a small arena on the Shrine grounds themselves. As tickets are free and first come first serve, there are lines.
This is a great way to be able to interact with sumo wrestlers as they arrive at the venue and await their match. It also lets big name wrestlers fight each other on the same day instead of waiting for the last day of a regulation match. So it really is a treat and a rarity. There is actually a touring site for their scheduled free practice matches, though many are outside of Tokyo and still worth checking out depending on when you are in Japan!
So make sure to check out the websites below and enjoy live sumo in action. You won’t regret it!