Fragglepuss Visits Japan: Tokyo Grand Sumo Tournament at Kokugikan and the Fragglepuss Introduction to Sumo
By: John Fragglepuss Evans
I made it back to Japan! I had no choice but to go back after I enjoyed myself so much last year. I visited some new places this time around and am presenting this year’s list of recommendations.
If you want to see last year’s recommendations as well as others from this year, you can find them here
Tokyo Grand Sumo Tournament at Kokugikan
If you are going to schedule your visit to Japan around an event, I recommend the cherry blossoms, the festivals, and the sumo tournaments. A tournament is held every other month and lasts 15 days. The January, May, and September Tournaments are held at the Kokugikan in Tokyo. The March Tournament is held at EDION Arena in Osaka. The July Tournament is held at DOLPHINS ARENA in Nagoya. The November Tournament is held at Fukuoka Kokusai Center in Fukuoka. It will make for a more enjoyable experience if you learn the basic rules of sumo before attending. I started with the basics and went further down the rabbit hole of sumo as I was learning the rules and history. It’s such an intriguing sport with an incredibly rich history.
Introduction to Sumo
Sumo is a full contact wrestling sport where two wrestlers face off, attempting to force one another out of the ring or into touching the ground with anything besides the soles of their feet. The sport originates in Japan with the first professional tournament dating back to 1684. The matches are associated with Shinto ritual, from the shrine roof over the dohyo to the salt thrown for purification purposes.
Common sumo terminology includes:
- Rikishi – Wrestler
- Dohyo – Wrestling ring
- Mawashi – The cloth rikishi wear during a match
- Banzuke – Listing of sumo rankings published before each tournament
- Honbasho – Grand sumo tournaments
- Gyoji – Referee
- Kimarite – Winning techniques
Professional sumo is split into six divisions:
Within the top Makuuchi division are four titles:
Wrestlers start in the Jonokuchi division and work their way up to the top Makuuchi division through winning tournament records. Generally, a winning record at one of the six yearly tournaments will move the wrestler up a division while a losing record will move them down. The Makuuchi titles are more complicated and take longer than a single tournament to gain. Yokozuna is the top honor a sumo may earn, and few wrestlers receive the prestigious title.
A few additional factoids:
- Everything has significance in sumo. The referees wear different outfits showing various rank. The outfit a sumo wears before their match denotes their division and title. Even the differences in topknot mean something.
- While technically forbidden, it is common and expected for spectators to throw their seat cushion into the ring if a Yokozuna is defeated by a lower-ranked wrestler.
If you’re attending a tournament, know that each tournament day begins with the Jonokuchi rank and works up the divisions as the day passes. It’s an option to show up the morning of the tournament and buy a single ticket, but make sure you show up at least an hour before the box office opens and know that you can only buy one ticket per person in line. These tickets are the cheap seats, but they are significantly less expensive than other tickets. The seats are far back, but it’s not that bad. It’s just such a blast to be there taking in the whole experience. The start of the day will be practically empty in the arena since it’s lower division wrestlers, but the stadium will be packed by the end when the Makuuchi are wrestling. I spent the whole day at Kokugikan and could have spent another day there, but if you’re the type that only wants to watch a few matches, you can show up early to buy your ticket then go back in the early evening to catch the top bouts. I’ll say this, the Japanese stadium experience was beyond anything I’ve seen in the United States. The sumo merchandise was amazing, and the food choice was incredible. I bought mochi ice cream, bento boxes, Shochu hi-ball (alcoholic beverage), sake, beer, and several types of noodle dishes.