While most people have heard of sumo wrestling and know it’s associated with Japan, they probably know little else about it. In fact, sumo is an ancient sport, full of ritual and tradition. Because of this, watching sumo is not only fun, it’s a fascinating cultural experience as well.
My first sumo match in Japan was in Nagoya, in 2012. I went mostly on a whim, but I’m so glad I did. Now, I go to sumo every chance I get. Here’s why you should check it out too.
5 Great Reasons to See Sumo.
See the Normally Reserved Japanese Cut Loose.
In some ways, sumo matches are like sporting events anywhere else in the world. You have people yelling, whistling, clapping and rooting for their favorites. In Japan, this is pretty significant though, because in most situations (outside of sporting events and concerts), the Japanese are generally pretty reserved. So seeing them yell, heckle and cut loose is very entertaining.
One of my favorite matches was in Tokyo in 2014, when the favorite wrestler lost and everybody yelled and threw their seat cushions in the air to show their disappointment. (It was essentially the Japanese version of going “cray cray”…and it was awesome!!)
Sumo Perpetuates Tradition and is a Unique Cultural Event.
Not only is sumo fun and exciting to watch, it is also rich in history and steeped in ritual. For example, the canopy that hangs over the sumo ring is made to resemble the roof of a Shinto shrine. The rikishi must also perform rituals, such as throwing salt prior to entering the ring in order to purify it. Wrestlers also lift their legs in a sort of dance and slap the belt of their loin cloth (called mawashi) to drive evil spirits from the ring. It’s pretty neat to watch as everyone has their own style.
To Hang with the Locals.
Sumo matches are packed with mostly Japanese spectators (and most are over 30, as Japanese youth tend to prefer sports like baseball and soccer). In fact, at every match I have been to, I have been one of the few foreigners in attendance. I love this aspect of sumo though, because it feels so authentic – like I’m experiencing the real Japan, away from the tourists, like a local does (and that makes it even more special I think.)
Sumo is Something You Won’t See Anywhere Else.
To me, this is one of the best reasons to see sumo while in Japan. You won’t be able to see a true sumo match anywhere else. So go while you can – it’s an experience you’ll never forget.
Sumo is Just Plain Fun.
In my experience, sumo matches are really fun. Not only are you seeing something you won’t see anywhere else, it’s an event where you can join in the excitement and just enjoy yourself. Sumo stadiums have concessions (with really cool snacks like bento and mochi balls on sticks). Sumo events also offer the chance to take home some really cool sumo-themed souvenirs you won’t see anywhere else.
Another one of my favorite things is the seats, because you can stretch out and make yourself comfortable on cushions (which is nothing like our cramped stadium seats in the U.S.!). I like to purchase box seats (literally just a box-shaped seating area), which typically start at about 10,000 Yen, and arena seats run anywhere from 400-900 Yen.
How You Can See Sumo.
Sumo tournaments take place every year, with a match occurring every other month in a different city. So seeing a match takes a little planning. It’s usually best to buy tickets ahead of time so you’re guaranteed a seat (especially the closer you get to the final match of the season, as seats start filling up more quickly). I use BuySumoTickets.com to see schedules and buy tickets, and I have always had a great experience with them (and they specialize in helping English-speaking customers outside of Japan).
So if you want to have a fun only-in-Japan experience, check out sumo. It’s a great way to experience Japanese culture. And remember, if the favorite loses, be sure to throw your seat cushion like a local!