What is Sumo?
Sumo (相撲) is Japan’s national sport of competitive full-contact wrestling. Sumo wrestling dates back nearly 1500 years, but its present form emerged during the Edo period.
What are the Traditions of Sumo?
Folk traditions and religious rituals are the roots of sumo wrestling. It began as a way to pray for a good harvest and to entertain Shinto deities. Before each bout, wrestlers throw salt into the ring to purify it because the dohyo is considered a sacred space. The dohyo is for men only; women are considered bad luck.
The gyoji (referees) wear a kimono patterned after those of a samurai from the Kamakura Period (800 years ago). Their black hats resemble a traditional Shinto priest’s hat. Gyoji have ranks similar to the wrestlers, and are denoted by the color of his fan’s tassel and his footwear.
Who are the Sumo Wrestlers?
There are currently 800 rikishi in professional sumo. At one time, the wrestlers were all Japanese. Today more wrestlers are from foreign countries. The majority of foreign wrestlers come from Mongolia, followed by China, Russia, Bulgaria and Georgia.
The Japan Sumo Association regulates the life and intense training of a sumo wrestler. Most wrestlers are required to live in heya, which are communal training stables where schedules, meals, and dress are controlled.
Sumo wrestlers do not use their birth names. Trainers and family members assign wrestling names to the individual wrestlers. It is not uncommon for a wrestler to change his wrestling name multiple times throughout his career.
A sumo match is called a bout, and is one round and typically only last a few seconds.
The rules of sumo are simple. Two rikishi (wrestlers) enter the dohyo (ring) and attempt to force their opponent to the ground or out of the ring. During a bout, the opponents enter the ring and appear to start multiple times before actually wrestling. A bout cannot begin until both wrestlers place their fists on the ground at the same time.
There are no weight classes or restrictions in sumo, so wrestlers vary in size. This encourages weight gain during training because having a bigger body means having a greater chance of winning.
When are Competitions?
Many people come to Japan thinking that they can attend a sumo match at any time, but there are actually only six basho (tournaments) per year. Tokyo hosts tournaments only in January, May and September. Osaka (March), Nagoya (July) and Fukuoka (November) hosts the other three basho.
Sumo tournaments are two weeks long (15 days). The ranks of the wrestlers determine the timing of the matches on each day of the tournament. Lower division matches start at 8:30 a.m. While still interesting, these matches are less exciting and typically have low attendance. Second division matches start at 3:00 p.m. and top division matches start at 4:00 p.m. These matches are much more exciting and entertaining, and draw large crowds. The highest ranked wrestlers compete at the end of the day, just before 6:00 p.m.
You can check the Grand Tournament schedule on the Nihon Sumo Kyokai Official Grand Sumo homepage for tournament dates, locations and ticket information.
How to get Tickets
If you’re looking for good seats, it’s best to buy them in advance because they can sell out quickly! They can be purchased through the official vendor website or on buysumotickets.com. Tickets are available for each day of the tournament. Tickets go on sale about one to two months before the tournament start date.
There are different types of tickets depending on which type of seat you are looking for. There are three different types of seats available.
The first are Ringside Seats, which are very difficult to get and are extremely expensive (around $150 per person).
Next are Japanese-style Box Seats, which typically seat 4 people (some hold more or less). Spectators with these seats must remove their shoes and sit on cushions on the floor. Box seats are organized into A, B and C. This simply denotes the distance to the ring (A is closest).
Lastly are Arena Seats, which are the most affordable option. These are Western-style seats on the second floor balcony. Arena seats are also split into A, B and C sections. Typically, sections A and B are reserved seats and C is general-admission.