Ryogoku is a neighborhood in Sumida, Tokyo which is known as the heartland of sumo. Many times you’ll be able to spot rikishi wrestlers around town going about their daily business, you can even see them at train stations sometimes! Every year, around three of the six Grand Sumo Tournaments that are held, are staged at the Ryogoku Kokugikan Sumo Hall. This is a popular indoor sports arena where sumo wrestling tournaments are held in January, May, and September. It is the best place to see sumo wrestlers grapple with each other, read on to find out more!
The sumo hall can hold more than 13,000 people. It was opened in 1985, and it was mainly used for sumo wrestling competitions. The ring is located at the hall’s center which is surrounded by spectator seats. There are three kinds of seats to choose from when you go see a match, namely the ‘chair seat’, ‘suna aburi seki’ (ringside seat) and ‘masu-seki’, which is a four-person box seat with wooden boards. If you want to watch a match during the tournament, it is best to book your seat in advance. The ringside seats are closest to the ring, where you can actually feel the action of the tournament. However, spectators are unable to eat due to the possibility of getting sprayed by sand resulting from the bouts. You can eat freely if you choose the box seats, though. It is a better way of watching the tournament while eating a tasty bento if that is what you prefer.
The fun actually already starts at the entrance on the day of the match. Here, you will be meeting the oyakata stable masters, who will be tearing your stubs upon entering. If you have a favorite sumo wrestler then this might be the right time to meet him in person. What’s more, if you go to the hall’s first floor you can find a Sumo Museum that displays various artifacts related to sumo wrestling. Some of the items on display are woodblock prints, belts, ornamental aprons, lists of wrestlers’ rankings, and so on.
What actually happens when there is no sumo wrestling tournament going on? At those times, the sumo hall is rented out for other indoor combat tournaments, such as boxing and professional wrestling.
If you are in Tokyo this May (or September or January), go and experience the Grand Sumo Tournament for yourself. Tickets are usually sold out about a month in advance so hurry while you still can! You can click here for more information in English, and here to book your tickets for May 2016.