Sumo Wrestling Tokyo – Martial arts are one of the pillars of traditional Japanese culture and so are sumo wrestlers who are regarded as living gods in Japan. Given their social status, they are quite difficult to approach, especially champions. So if you’d like to see sumo wrestlers, you can of course attend a match during national competitions. There are only 6 sumo matches per year and only 3 of them are held in Tokyo (in January, May and September). If your stay in Japan coincides with tournament days, you can book your tickets here.
When travelling to Japan, it is not always easy to make your trip coincide with tournament days. But don’t worry, there is another way to get close to those famous wrestlers. You can actually attend a sumo morning training session in one of the heya (training stables) of Ryogoku in Tokyo. Let me tell you how!
Sumo Wrestling Tokyo – How To Book
To visit a heya in Ryogoku, you will need to book in advance. Sumo clubs are generally reluctant to open their doors to the public but some heya do. To attend a training session, you will need to book your spot through an agency that will organize the tour and and plan things out directly with the sumo club.
I booked a tour with Voyagin and everything went really well. Book ahead of time and an English speaking Japanese guide will immediately contact you by email to give you details on the place and time of your tour. In my case, I had to be at the Ryogoku train station at 7:30. The visits are done in groups that are generally quite limited in number with a maximum of ten people.
Sumo Wrestling Tokyo – Ryogoku District
Before I tell you about the sumo training session, I would like to (very quickly) tell you about the district of Ryogoku. It is located northeast of Tokyo, not far from Asakusa and Akihabara. It is the heartland of professional sumo in Tokyo and you will definitely notice that when you arrive at the Ryogoku train station (photos below).
Most sumo stables in Tokyo have been established in Ryogoku for years. The first arena ever built in Japan in 1909 (Ryogoku Kokugikan) is in also in Ryogoku and it is in that same arena that the 3 national sumo tournaments are held.
In Ryogoku, you can even eat chankonabe which a staple dish in the sumo diet. I’ll tell you more about it at the end of this blog post.
Sumo Wrestling Tokyo – The Training Session
As I said before, you will meet your guide at the station and then walk a few minutes to the sumo training stable. Then you’ll need to take off your shoes and sit on a tatami mat to watch sumo wrestlers train. A small video is always worth a thousand words so here is a preview of what’s going to happen next.
As you can see, sumo wrestlers have different sizes and there are as many young ones as there are experienced wrestlers. In the heya, there are several rules to follow and you probably need to take some notes because you’re going to visit an almost sacred place! Let’s start with one of the rules that wasn’t specified and that I learned the hard way: when you sit on the tatami, be sure to do so behind the person sitting in the front row, who is actually the owner of the heya (photo below).
He was actually a very interesting person to observe. He was quite tough and strict with the wrestlers and even if I understand very little Japanese, I could tell he was very keen on imposing a certain discipline and was unshakable in doing so. Don’t be surprised if you see him smoking inside the stable, it doesn’t seem to be a problem for anyone.
As for the other rules, here are the most important ones:
- Be quiet and keep a low profile.
- Never enter the sumo training area (where there is sand)
- Do not wear a hat, a beanie or sunglasses inside the heya
- Do not point the soles of your feet at the wrestlers (it’s a sign of disrespect)
- Try to hide your tattoos if you have ones
- Do not eat or drink during the training session
I felt really privileged to be able to watch such a show and be so close to such impressive wrestlers. What surprised me most during the session was their impressively quick moves. For wrestlers this size, I think it’s quite remarkable.
What was also quite remarkable was their flexibility. Almost all sumo wrestlers could perform splits and had great flexibility which gives them a lot of agility.
Let’s not spoil the whole experience but I’m sure you will love it! By the way, you will spend about two hours in total with the wrestlers. At the end of the session, you can even take a picture with them. You might feel small all of a sudden… Consider this a warning! 🙂
Sumo Wrestling Tokyo – Chankonabe: Eat like a sumo in Ryogoku
If you’re a foodie (or even if you’re not) and happen to be in Ryogoku, you can try the sumo wrestlers’ staple dish, the famous chankonabe. It is a kind of meat broth (for protein) with many vegetables. The dish you see above serves about 3 people, but a sumo wrestler eats it all by himself!
There are many restaurants who serve chankonabe but one of the best known is the Chanko Tomoegata (exact location here).
Let’s end this blog post on Ryogoku’s sumo wrestlers on this yummy note! Don’t forget to let me know your thoughts on this if you get the chance to live the experience.
See you around,